Kerstin Söderström, Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences
Dear Mother Earth –
Congratulations on this day April 22nd, the International Earth Day since 1970. Besides paying my respect and gratitude for the full span of life and natural beauty you give, I have another and more confessional and concern-ridden agenda in this letter. Sorry for the Code Red situation. We have failed our collective responsibility to promote harmony with nature. We failed to achieve a just balance among the economic, social, and environmental needs of present and future generations of humanity, as called for in the 1992 Rio Declaration (1).
I feel ashamed, embarrassed, and guilty. Feelings that lead to silence and passivity or attempts to justify. These feelings are mixed with an urge to understand and act, to sort out the complexity of the climate and environmental crisis. I empathize with Greta Thunberg (2) when she shouts in anger and pain: “How dare you!” to top-politicians and UN diplomats. When she sets respect aside and asks for “no more blah-blah-blah”(3). “Our hopes and dreams drown in their empty words and promises”, she shivers on behalf of the young and next generations. For good reason. A recent Lancet study (4) with data from 10 000 European children and youth concludes that “Climate change has important implications for the health and futures of children and young people, yet they have little power to limit its harm, making them vulnerable to climate anxiety” (Hickman et al., 2021).
I want to be an adult, but I feel younger and more confused than Greta when it comes to the issue of your health and wellbeing. I’m stuck in a squeeze between my habitual lifestyle and the growing awareness of how we humans misbehave and cause irreparable damage to you. I want to be environmentally responsible, but I often chose convenient over responsible. I still consume more than I need. It is hard to change when infused with a culture that values more, further, faster, and richer.
We are ignorant of the fine-tuned ecosystem services you offer for free, such as clean water, timber, recreation, insect pollination, and more. We take your gifts for granted. Although our awareness of the value is slowly emerging, the magnitude of the loss and costs of replacing these no-cost and sustainable services with man-made ones are almost unimaginable. Yet the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (5) has made some mind-blowing calculations.
Biodiversity is what sustains and saves us humans. I know you, Mother Earth, have experienced five mass extinctions before Homo Sapiens came with a mission to rule over all other living creatures and utilize land to our benefit. We changed the use of land, fragmented, and destroyed habitats. We domesticated wild animals, introduced invasive species, and spread pathogens, toxins, and gas emissions. Human activity is stipulated to cause extinction of up to one million plant and animal species, adding to the natural loss and the present sixth mass extinction. This and more I read in the 2019 IPBES report (5), the Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (6), and Britannica encyclopedia entry on biodiversity loss (7).
On a personal, local, national, and international level, we behave contrary to our better knowledge. Unfortunately, Mother, we will continue to do so, even though the Code Red emergency button for your planetary health and for humanity is blinking right in front of us. UN general secretary Guterres’ words “the time has passed for diplomatic niceties” is the polite version of Greta’s blah-blah-speech (8).
The Code Red situation is a real challenge for us psychologists, experts in human mind and behavior embedded in a social and physical environment. Professional interest is growing with publications on “Psychology and Climate Change: Human Perceptions, Impacts, and Responses”(9), on “Teaching Psychology and Climate Change” (10) as one way to meet the call for action. Several special issues are devoted to psychology and the environmental crisis (11, 12,13) and psychological associations prioritize and devote space for discussion (14). There are projects and books on One planet – One health that address biodiversity and mental wellbeing (15), and a publication on the complexity of climate change denial with suggestions as to what might be done to remedy this urgent ecological crisis from a Jungian analytical perspective (16).
In continuation of being personal, the closest client to analyse is myself. I lie on the couch and tell the therapist about my concerns, habits, and confusion. I am a psychologist fighting with my psychology. I approach the matter of the Code Red situation with avoidance, – too busy with more urgent tasks. I’ll read later, maybe during the weekend, next vacation. The matter is so complex, and I turn away. The matter seems hopeless, and I feel resignation. The matter is too big, and I restrict my sense of responsibility. The matter is urgent, and I feel tired and overwhelmed. Aware of the steal and betrayal of future generations, I feel like doing something and I become a small-scale activist. I bring up discussions with family, friends, colleagues. It usually releases hot emotions and bold armchair analyses.
Again, I get lost in the complexity and lack of knowledge. I google a list of must-reads and find a great resource page on climate facts (17). The pile of books and reports grows. The cover of Naomi Klein’s “This changes everything: Capitalism vs. climate” (18) shouts on me from the top of the stack. I feel incapable and stressed.
The imaginary, wise therapist suggests that I and my fellow humans are suffering from a loss of the deep connection to you, Mother Earth. That we are lost in our grandiose beliefs about what we can accomplish and how we can invent our way out of the crises. Lost in our obsession of using and transforming nature instead of fostering care and connection. The therapist guides me in the bookstack and pulls out a slim paperback from 1949 with the title “A Sand County Almanac: and sketches from here and there” written by Aldo Leopold (19). This is the bibliotherapy you need, the therapist says.
I read the almanac-observations of plants, landscape, and creatures from January to December. I read the sketches from here and there, written from a humble, knowing, nature-loving mind. It is poetic and it is healing. I read about conservation aesthetic, wildlife, and land ethics. “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. We do not own the land. The land is a community to which we belong” (19). The book speaks to me through showing the miracles, marvels, and beauty of nature. It describes settler colonialism and changed landscape, how human mobility and tourism, and the quest for trophies of various kinds impact land and wildlife, as well as our relation to nature. “Homo sapiens putters no more under his own vine and fig tree; he has poured into his gas tank the stored motivity of countless creatures aspiring through the ages to wiggle their way to pastures anew. Ant-like he swarms the continents” (Leopold, 1949, p. 166).
This, Leopold wrote before I was born. What would he say if he had been part of the 2022 Mother Earth Day? He would probably speak low key while desperation raged silently inside. He would be the grounded, wise grandfather of Greta Thunberg, realizing that his lifetime of speaking respect and connection with nature made impression on his readers, but changed nothing in the big picture of the rapidly increasing abuse of you, Mother Gaia.
I am one, still feeling weak. Yet, soothed and strengthened by Leopold’s great, little book I continue my education in conservation, connection, and care. I encourage others to read it as well. Regardless of where the reader stands in the big matter of climate and environmental crisis, they will discover their connection to their natural environment. Respect for you, Mother Earth will grow while Leopold’s words will heal and inspire.
With these last words I end my letter: Thank you. I love you!
- United Nations, 1992 Rio Declaration
- Greta Thunberg: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVlRompc1yE
- Greta Thunberg: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UryIL4kUcx8
- Hickman, C. et al. (2021). Climate anxiety in children and young people and their beliefs about government responses to climate change: a global survey. The Lancet Planetary Health, Volume 5, Issue 12, e863 – e873
- IPBES (2019). Global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. E. S. Brondizio, J. Settele, S. Díaz, and H. T. Ngo (editors). IPBES secretariat, Bonn, Germany. 1148 pages. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3831673
- IPCC (2021). Synthesis Report of the Sixth Assessment Report – A Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Retrieved from https://www.ipcc.ch/assessment-report/ar6/
- United Nations
- Clayton, S., & Manning, C. (2018). Psychology and Climate Change: Human Perceptions, Impacts, and Responses. San Diego: San Diego: Elsevier Science & Technology. https://www.elsevier.com/books/psychology-and-climate-change/clayton/978-0-12-813130-5
- Maier, K. J., Whitehead, G. I., & Walter, M. I. (2018). Teaching Psychology and Climate Change: One Way to Meet the Call for Action. Teaching of psychology, 45(3), 226-234. doi:10.1177/0098628318779261
- Wainwright, T. & Mitchell, A. (2020). Editorial. Clinical Psychology Forum, 332, 3-4.
- Wainwright, T. & Mitchell, A. (2021). Editorial Special Issue: Climate and ecological emergency. Clinical Psychology Forum, 346
- Wainwright, T., de Matos, M.G., Salmela-Aro, K. (2021). Special issue: Psychology and the Environmental Crisis. European Psychologist. Vol. 26, Issue 3, pp. 155–158 https://doi.org/10.1027/1016-9040/a000455
- Marselle, M. R., Stadler, J., Korn, H., Irvine, K. N., & Bonn, A. (2019). Biodiversity and health in the face of climate change(1st ed.)
- Mathers, D. (2020). Depth Psychology and Climate Change: The Green Book. Milton: Milton: Taylor and Francis.
- Imperial College: https://www.imperial.ac.uk/grantham/publications/climate-change-faqs/
- Klein, N. (2014). This changes everything : capitalism vs. the climate. London: Allen Lane. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ntwe.12044
- Leopold, A. (1949). A Sand County Almanac: and sketches here and there. Oxford: Oxford University Press. https://www.aldoleopold.org/about/the-land-ethic/