Freeing Yourself from Environmental Despair

Our planet is indeed beautiful. Who cannot be moved by the images of our fragile looking earth taken from the moon?

earthriseAlas the fragility is real and the pillaging of our natural world is creating a collective despondency. Environmental melancholia, as some have called it, affects everybody whether we are aware of it or not. As our ecological systems break down people distance themselves more from nature because our environment has become harsh or just plain ugly.

Diversity in life is essential for our wellbeing and the scaffolding for expansive thought and creativity. But the planets natural diversity (or ecological diversity if you like) is taking a pummelling and that’s despairing if not heartbreaking.

Climate change is real. I will leave it for the climatologists to decide how much is anthropomorphic, but such changes are certainly causing trouble in populations around the world. And not just physical displacement but mental harassment.

Nature is dangerous and scary if you don’t understand it. People’s fear suggests an internal battle for control of nature. Their preference then is to buy it packaged up in a plastic bottle at the supermarket. We do our best to protect children from nature. Why would children venture outside when they have so many rules about what they can and can’t do when interacting with nature?

So do we need to fight the good fight to protect nature? By all means join Greenpeace; protest at the logging of a forest; pick up rubbish and teach children about the good and bad of plastic. I sincerely believe that such choices are for our own healing. If you have that in your heart and mind when you are chained up to the bulldozer – that the people operating the machines are not evil; that the Japanese whalers are not actually happy about killing whales; that the cleanup day brings people together even though it makes little difference on a planetary scale – then you will win the internal battle for the forest or the oceans. You will heal your life and the planetary healing follows (or not).


Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. …There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter. ~ Rachel Carson, Silent Spring.


Just recently I was on the beautiful island of Koh Lanta in Thailand and spent time frolicking on the beaches there. I like to think of myself as a bit of a roving naturalist having a keen eye for all things ecological.

I was pottering about on the beach amongst the rocks (see pic). The water looked lovely and clear but around me was a dead zone. There were a few tiny fish and and a couple of molluscs here and there but I was quite shocked at the lack of diversity. The area was relatively remote being only sparsely populated.

Tellingly there was a thin layer of algal slime (seaweed) over the rocks so I knew two things were at play. The reef has been grossly overfished and there is too much nutrient in the water. The lack of algae grazers (certain species of molluscs, fish etc) plus nutrient load (sewerage and agricultural fertilizer runoff) leads to an explosion in algae growth which is the overabundance of slime you see on beach rocks in many parts of the world.

I was speaking to a Canadian friend who snorkelled on a different island and she said the coral looked sparse and the only thing she saw were sea urchins. Such sea urchin “barrens” (as they are called – see pic) indicate an imbalance in a reef ecosystem where the fish, crustaceans etc have been depleted and the urchins are left to go on a  rampage – they eat algae and tend to take over. I have seen the same thing in the Mediterranean which in large parts is a dead zone – especially around Greece and Turkey. Too many can be very harmful to coral growth.

We don’t like to see the natural world in strife. At times I feel very sad about it. How do we free ourselves of environmental melancholia created by the constant mental harassment?

Anxiety created by doom and gloom stories in the media is not action – it just internalises the problem leading to apathy. Anger will get things done but creates an opposing force that seems only to grow in strength which may pop up elsewhere.

sea-urchin-barrenWe are all responsible for our environment. This battle for the environment mirrors our internal battle for control over our lives. Our planet’s biosphere is a complex dynamic system and therefore innately unpredictable, so how do we know that saving a forest will better the world? We simply don’t. For this reason we can’t fix the planet in the way that we want. This desperate need for things to be different is an attempt to conquer the internal anguish that we feel about our own unravelling; our own pain.

So healing the planet is not something that we can force to happen. We can only fix or heal ourselves. Gaia will dance her dance and we will need to adapt. And in adapting we see nature for what it truly is  – a perfect representation of humanity’s spiritual unfolding.

I believe this understanding gives us the opportunity to take real action. There are a couple of things we can do. Firstly get out into nature as much as you can and train up on environmental things – study the details. Know nature.

Secondly look at your day to day life and identify where you can make changes that help you with the environmental challenges you meet and greet every day.

These actions compliment each other and become very empowering. We don’t need an opposing force to motivate us to effect change – we just need to grasp that the only change we truly understand is the one that occurs within. Only then can we relate that to back to our natural environment.

The other important thing we need to grasp, and one that will be very controversial to many readers, is to accept that all the destruction going on is perfect – in an evolutionary sense – whether biological or metaphysical. Humanity is creating a new world and the path we seem to be taking is away from pristine nature. There is a good chance we will survive because despite our apparent stupidity we can adapt.

Explore James Wild audio at Quiet Earth

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