Years back when studying communications and psychology at university I wrote a thesis on Ecopsychology. At the time ecopsychology was a fairly obscure arm of psychology and my lecturers had never heard of it.
Ecopsychology explores the synergistic relation between personal health and well-being and the health and well-being of the Earth. It’s an interdisciplinary field at the intersection of psychology, ecology and environmental philosophy.
Ecopsychologists theorize that human beings have become disconnected from the natural environment which significantly contributes to widespread unhappiness. They also theorize that we all have a collective eco-unconscious which is aware at some level of our current environmental crisis. This deep, sometimes repressed, sense of urgency to take action and protect our species can express itself as “anxiety” and “depression.” In other words if the planet is suffering so too do we as individuals on some level.
In my thesis I suggested that the environment movement might have a greater impact if they were to apply the principles of ecopsychology to their public relations and advertising campaigns. That reconnecting people to their ecological unconscious would help ignite their passion to protect nature and preserve our own species.
A conservation organisation I was working for at the time took these ideas onboard with enthusiasm and had great success applying ecopsychological principles to their campaigns. Traditionally their marketing messages had been mainly fear based; filled with horrific images of environmental destruction, clear felled landscapes, toxic rivers, uranium mining disasters and so on. Similar to quit smoking campaigns the idea was to create a sense of urgency to act now and change.
Whilst this kind of technique seemed to work for quit smoking organisations it wasn’t as effective for the environment sector. Planetary health was a little more complicated and hard to convey than personal health. I suggested reconnecting people to their deep ecological unconscious would trigger a genuine care for the planet and help people to find that lost part of themselves.
The PR manager rolled with this and the organisation got a whole lot of publicity about their attempts to reconnect people with nature. We saw many inspiriting images make it into mainstream media – A campaigner next to an old growth tree discussing his deep connection to forests… an interview with the CEO discussing “sustainable extravagance” and how we could feel abundant in nature as an alternative to throw away consumerism… an advertising image featuring children playing in a nature reserve.
All of this seemed to reach people on a deeper level and I witnessed the effects of this messaging: a wider variety and higher number of people becoming involved in the organisation’s environmental campaigns.
On a more personal level, ecopsychology has enriched my life and well being by helping me understand my deeper ecological self. As I uncovered those parts of me that were deeply sad for the state of the environment I realised I needed to be on a life path that was contributing to the change I wanted to see. I realised that working towards planetary sustainability gave me a greater sense of meaning and purpose.
Ecopsychology reminded me that I’m a species in nature and need to see myself as part of the web of life rather than separate from it. I am connected to everything and effected by everything. As cheesy as it might sound. I am the world and the world is me.
Ecopsychology reminded me to walk in nature as much as possible. To hug a tree, be that metaphorically. It inspired me to consider growing my own veggies or sourcing food more locally. It gave me that push to get out and door knock for the Greens political party.
But becoming aware of your eco-unconscious also has a dark side. It’s not an easy path to walk. It’s arguably more authentic and rewarding in the end but the process can also be very painful. Many people prefer to bury their heads in the sand about what’s going on globally. But the sand is an illusion in my opinion. The truth lurks and waits for an opportunity for expression.
How do you process the fact that climate change and massive extinction loss threatens the web of life we depend on? How do you come to terms with the fact that future generations may not survive on this earth? It’s not easy, and for some it might be too overwhelming to think about.
For me I try to do my bit to contribute to the earth. I can’t do everything and my own personal sustainability is important too, but I try, where I can to do make an impact. I live a frugal existence. I go for quality not quantity. I try to buy food that’s grown in Australia and I support organic when I can afford it. I make my own moisturizer from olive oil. I buy much of my clothes recycled. Sometimes, when time permits I volunteer.
I’m not perfect, and sometime I’ve gone through phases where I’ve thrown it all in and decided it’s pointless: that we’re a boom an bust species destined to, at some point, perish like the dinosaurs . But as with everything there’s always a choice to be made between optimism and pessimism. And for me the seeds of possibility are more compelling.
What seed of possibility could you plant today?
P.S. the title of this post was taken from a book by the same name.. a great read. You can check it out here
P.P.S. If you’d like to do your bit to restore the earth consider a donation to Greenpeace