Two Centuries of Change
Ecopsychology is the study of the human mind and mental health amid a new world.
The world has changed rapidly since the early industrial revolution. As it is well known, our modern age is powered by a massive, well-oiled machine dependent upon fossil fuels that keeps seven and a half billion people extracting resources, churning out goods, conducting commerce, and consuming, and of course, creating garbage.
Until all of that stops.
The COVID-19 virus now sweeping the globe has disrupted the twenty-four-hour conveyor belt of commerce, and in many places, it is grinding to a halt.
Some of us are at home, working, but many service workers are not. All governments, all wealth, all our interdependence upon one another, is being tested.
Taking a moment to breathe, one can look around, and remember that two worlds surround us, the natural world, and the man-made world. They intersect, of course, but never before have so many people at once had to come to terms with just how our complex relationships with nature create our daily reality. Our relationship to animals and how we eat them, our relationship with how we interact with them, and each other, and the overall relationship of habitat healing that we all need.
Our human habits need to better appreciate our habitats.
Many of us are trying to navigate this new and unfamiliar landscape, and for almost everyone, the mental states we find ourselves in are a messy stew of news addiction, fear, bewilderment, hope, confusion, loyalty, outrage, and more. In fact, in such unexplored territory, many of us are just hanging on to hope of the next morning bringing in some welcome news about treatment or our ability to “go back to normal.”
The modern environment, such as it is, keeps changing moment to moment, along with our instructions, our rules, and our advisers.
For a lot of people, spending time at home means reconnecting to family and pets. It may even mean longer walks with your dog if you live far from crowds. It may be spending much more time indoors, learning about the quirks of your kitty. If you have cats, you know already that they are incredibly fascinating and fun.
Or maybe you just have the sky above, the trees, or hills in view, or spring birds returned from the worlds they never left, but you find unfamiliar. If so, take time to take all of it in, nature’s beauty, nature’s resiliency, inspiration, and answers.
Remembering our crucial relationships to animals and plants is vital. When we create better relationships with the wider world, we are given a chance to reconnect to our kinship, and our mutual interdependence.
The natural world presents a different view than our hectic and high tech lives. Some of us are slowing down, seeing our own backyards, and neighborhoods, for the first time. Without as much traffic and commerce, birds and animals are showing up. In China, new protections are being created to keep exotic animals such as bats, pangolins, and palm civets, to be kept wild. We can better protect ourselves, by protecting them and their habitats.
When a zoonotic, virus host animal is not bought and sold in close quarters to people, the kinds of outbreaks of recent decades is greatly reduced. SARS, MERS, H1N1, and Ebola, to name a few, are all delivered to the human race courtesy of the human race. Our commerce feeds the fever.
Lest you think this is a southern hemisphere problem, remember that our overuse of antibiotics, our crude factory farming methods, and our erosion, deforestation, and pollution from all those industries is at least as destructive.
Ecopsychology came about when a wider consciousness about our unique ability to affect the quality of life on earth — especially the quality of human lives — was realized.
For almost a century, psychology examined the mind inside the body. But, as if a veil was lifted, in the mid-twentieth century, people realized our environment affects us as much, sometimes, more, than our human minds.
Our species evolved on Earth, but with requisite balance among other living organisms. Abstraction, or even virtual worlds, are created by human beings. Writing, which arrived shortly after we began farming, greatly changed the nature of reality. We learned to convey concepts that have no representation in the real world: Money, religion, a border on a map, none of these things have natural parallels, but today they all but control our “reality.”
Your dog or cat can remind you that, it is who we protect and cooperate with, that allows us to have healthier minds and bodies. Natural networks and diversity make all life possible.
It has been noted, for example, that pollution, now clearing is places, makes respiratory conditions that make one much more susceptible to COVID-19. What will we do with this evidence, moving forward?
During the pandemic age, we are forced to contemplate all the many ways in which we share this planet. Coming weather disasters, fires, floods, refugees, famines and more pandemic still loom ahead.
All of these have been predicted since Biblical times, but a process we use now, science, helps us to better understand, pinpoint cause, and assess our coping mechanisms.
Plenty of research suggests that the COVID-19 may not even be the BIG One. Some nations are more unsteady than others, politics continually finds ways to divide us when we need alliance more than ever. Sexism and racism must be kept in check hour to hour.
More effective ways to share, and to provide sustainable infrastructure are continually implemented.
Even before COVID-19 arrived, many people were talking about Eco-anxiety and Eco-grief.
That is easy enough to understand, the old world dies, we lose people and places. The new era we have entered, where our species must choose what kind of world to make, is unsettling. When it was realized that climate justice and equality is just as crucial as environmental protections, even more people became involved.
Despite this, many people still do not realize just how valuable reconnecting to our co-evolved status with the living world really is. Or, perhaps they think that having a cleaner, and greener world is a fantasy.
Being positive about the future and our resourcefulness, but most of all our shared values, is key.
To anyone still thinking that we can continue with 19th century technology, let’s invite them to move past Century 19 and COVID-19.
As a species, it’s time to leave our teens and enter a more responsible adulthood.
Previously published on Medium.
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Photo credit: Unsplash