The multiple and frequently conflicting narratives around climate change and care for Earth can be overwhelming, and we seem to be making little progress moving the conversation forward. It’s no wonder, since climate change and its cause and effects are beyond complex. We don’t know what to focus on, how to process the information, or even know where to begin.
When we feel overwhelmed and/or anxious, we diminish our ability to have clarity around our beliefs and actions. Though impossible to consider every angle, identifying major themes is helpful for acquiring clarity about the big picture. I made a list of the perspectives that inform our relationship to Earth and the natural world to see what trends and themes emerge.
Evolutionary – Indigenous and ancient practices and beliefs where people lived in harmony with Earth, only took what was needed, and treated Earth and nature as sacred.
Financial – Economic growth as a priority, but considering the long term financial impact of environmental devastation on our economy, infrastructure, and quality of life; focus on the economic opportunity of restoring Earth to health.
Scientific – Research shows that Earth health is deteriorating and we’re contributing to climate change and environmental destruction at risk to our own health, wellbeing and survival.
Psychological and emotional – Our mental, emotional, and physical health is improved when we have a healthy and vibrant connection with Earth.
Moral – Earth cares for and provides to us; we should care for and provide to Earth in return, for the sake of fairness and reciprocity.
Theological – Conflicting viewpoints of dominion over Earth, versus the narratives in sacred texts speaking of humanity’s responsibility to care for creation (see Interfaith Power and Light for holy scriptures and text that indicate God wants us to care for Earth.)
I acknowledge that this is neither a complete list, nor does it completely cover opposing perspectives. However, a “balanced” perspective is not always appropriate. The news often covers the pros and the cons of an argument, the implication being that both sides have equal credence. For example, we know that climate scientists are overwhelmingly in agreement about the causes of climate change, yet the opposing narrative represents mostly a fringe perspective, yet given equal air time. In the end, promoting equal air time can misrepresent the prevailing wisdom and evidence.
Where I do think we need more balance is the strategy of using fear and guilt to overcome complacency with regard to the environment. Fear and guilt are healthy and adaptive in limited doses, and only to the degree that it fosters action. We can too easily overshoot and create disengagement and a sense of hopelessness. Even when we choose action, the choices and the magnitude of the solutions can feel overwhelming: educating ourselves about how to make the greenest choices, getting involved politically to help elect and influence legislators to care for the environment, adopting and promoting green practices like recycling, etc. Who, what, where, when, and how do we best accomplish all this on an individual and group level?
We have the opportunity to counter-balance fear with a sense of confidence and satisfaction for doing the right thing by starting with small steps within our sphere of control. Viewing our relationship with Earth more holistically, in a way that supplements physical care (energy, recycling, regulatory) with the emotional and spiritual, provides many opportunities to take action within our sphere of control while also providing many personal benefits.
Providing emotional and spiritual support for Earth is simple, doesn’t require any additional money or time, and directly benefits us right away. Such support for Earth, and care for ourselves, is also glaringly absent from our current suite of solutions, and potentially can go a long way to providing the mutual care that is so long overdue and urgently needed.
Even though these caring behaviors may feel somewhat counter-intuitive to us right now, they are in alignment with who we are: our origin within the ecosystem, our evolution as a species, and in alignment with sacred texts and moral philosophy.
Environmental psychology shows us that fostering a healthy connection to nature is good for our minds, bodies, and spirit, and I believe it’s good for Earth as well. Ways to create healthy connections with Earth include:
- Being present when outdoors or in the presence of nature’s plants, animals, or minerals (rocks, water, air)
- Noticing and appreciating aspects of nature’s plants, animals, or minerals
- Expressing gratitude for nature and creation
- Beautifying and improving the natural environment (please avoid the use of chemicals and select hardy and indigenous species)
- Celebrating nature using creative expression – sing, dance, draw, whatever strikes your fancy
- Praying or meditating for Earth’s wellbeing
These practices are free, within your sphere of control, and you can do them whenever you are already outside. All it requires is the intention to do so and a commitment to sustain these practices. What’s at stake is a vibrant and healthy you and Earth.
Written by Dr. Susanna Wu-Pong Calvert