New book about climate change presents a dynamic and powerful way for individuals to take control and fix our global environmental crisis. Here is an excerpt from the Introduction of The EnvironMental Fix: How Reprogramming Your Mind Achieves Wellbeing and Resolves Climate Change.
Help us, we’re EnvironMental!
When we began writing this book, Australia was burning. Literally, the country where we live was on fire. For several months, fires raged in many states and territories. Where we reside near Brisbane, we experienced smoke and ash from wildfires burning more than fifty kilometres away in the weeks leading up to Christmas 2019. We weren’t alone. A poll conducted by the Australian National University in January 2020 found that nearly 80 percent of Australians were affected in some way by the summer bushfires, ranging from experiencing smoke, anxiety, and worry to being evacuated, threatened, or having property damage.
Out of control fires – the largest of which was a mega-blaze over 512,000 hectares in size – were burning in many Australian national parks and surrounding towns and regions. Some bushfires were not too far from Sydney, covering the city in a dangerous smoke haze, eleven times the hazard level. From July 2019 to early January 2020, bushfires destroyed 17 million hectares of land in Australia, thousands of properties were affected, and an estimated one billion animals were killed.
As if the fires weren’t enough, Australia then experienced record rainfall in February 2020. The storms ended up controlling or extinguishing many blazes in fire-affected areas, but the heavy rain caused widespread flooding and further damage; thousands of residents across Australia were without power and roads were cut off.
While all this was happening, China became the centre of an outbreak of COVID-19, or the Coronavirus, which then spread to over 200 countries and territories. The pandemic brought disruptions to industries, mandatory lockdowns, travel restrictions, and panic shopping. The lives and livelihoods of billions of people were threatened. This health disaster demonstrated how our supply-and-demand economic model affects emission levels. Air pollution around the world dropped due to decreased emissions from fossil fuel combustion, manufacturing and production, and traffic. The ensuing economic downturn led to carbon-intensive industries pressing governments for financial help. In the midst of the outbreak, climate activist Greta Thunberg – along with many others – spoke out about the world’s response to COVID-19, saying that it proved we can act and change our behaviours quickly in times of a crisis.
Many public health crises have come and gone during past decades and centuries. Climate change brings a different crisis, one that no vaccine or self-isolation can eliminate. Wildfires, floods, hurricanes, typhoons, and earthquakes have become more frequent in recent years and are likely to continue, bringing destruction and suffering. Whether you believe this is the stark reality of climate change induced by human activity or whether you are a sceptic who believes that climate change is part of a natural process or a ‘big hoax’, the devastation caused by these natural disasters is a reality.
A recent Yale University survey revealed that nearly six in ten Americans are now either ‘alarmed’ or ‘concerned’ about global warming, and the proportion of ‘alarmed’ nearly tripled from 2014 to 2019. Indeed, with climate anxiety on the rise, scientists and health experts are diagnosing another emergency alongside the climate emergency – a mental health emergency. Young people are fearing their future, climate scientists are suffering from ecological grief, and even business leaders are getting concerned that most governments don’t have a plan with a future direction mapped out.
Many people get caught up in the debates about climate change, scientific evidence, and how we should fix the problem. In some countries, these debates have been circular or toxic and have gone on for many decades. Depending on our dispositions, debating the issue may either give us a sense of comfort or trigger climate anxiety because the situation feels out of our control. Although it’s important to be well informed, no discussion or debate or scientific research can change the fact that our natural environment supports us to live. The regular occurrences of natural disasters and the seemingly illogical way we are living our lives makes it evident, today more than ever, that we need a completely different approach. Do you bulldoze over the walls of your house without thinking of the consequences? Do you dump tonnes of rubbish in your bedroom? The answer is no. We wouldn’t do it in our own homes, so why would we do it in humanity’s bigger home, the earth?
Time for change
It’s now time to embark on a new and practical way forward. Whether we are heading towards an eco-collapse or not, human beings seem to be taking irresponsible actions such as polluting oceans, rivers, and the atmosphere; causing animals to become extinct; dumping billions of tonnes of waste into landfill; and destroying the earth’s biodiversity. Is it not crazy that we act in this way? Quite simply, we need to stop these behaviours. As sisters and brothers of one global family, we all need to prioritize our environment and take immediate and dynamic action.
But what can we do?
Until now, our approach has been to rely on governments, businesses, advocates, academics, researchers, scientists, and many others to lead the way. We have done this either through good-faith, the electoral process, or protesting to call for stronger action. History has proven that protests have resulted in women being given the right to vote, the Berlin Wall being knocked down to reunite West and East Germany, and India breaking free from British rule. While protests can be an effective way to instigate significant political change, the global call for climate change is not as simple as past calls for social action. Fixing climate change does not involve simply making a new law or amending legislation to grant us a certain human right. Legislating to tackle climate change, similar to what the UK government has done, makes a government accountable but fails to instantaneously solve the situation – for example, in the same way that legislating for women to vote did.
Protesting for climate change is still a worthy cause, and it is surely virtuous that we take every opportunity we can to ensure that this beautiful planet – our lifeblood – is protected. But what we need to acknowledge is that we can no longer solely rely on governments to offer us the vision and guidance that is needed to move forward. Legislation won’t fix the problem, nor will Paris agreements. For decades, we have been listening to the rhetoric of politicians while very little environmental action has been taken. Ice caps continue to melt and sea levels rise. Half of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia (one of the seven natural wonders of the world) has been bleached to death. Blue skies turn hazier from smog and thousands of species of animals and plant life are either endangered or driven to extinction every year due to pollution, deforestation, and global warming.
At the same time, we cannot blame the lack of clear direction and action entirely on politicians or businesses. They operate within economic, political, and social structures that are ultimately not focused on achieving environmental harmony. In the same way that many climate scientists are trying to repair the earth’s climate, many legislators, leaders, and businesses are also trying to take positive action. But without tremendous courage and a long-term commitment, more often than not governments and businesses are compelled to align with the incentives of their systems – driven by short-term interests, immediate political goals, and the need to serve specific financial objectives – that often differ from those of environmental protection. When we, the general public, observe their wavering commitment and half-hearted actions, we feel powerless and we feel as though the situation is out of our control.
Yet, there is a more personal and dynamic approach. If we feel that there is a problem and our leaders are unable or unwilling to mobilise, then it is our responsibility to pursue a solution and do our utmost to succeed. This takes courage and it takes commitment. If we all take a greater level of personal responsibility, we will behave differently in all aspects of life – socially, politically, economically, and environmentally. With this changed behaviour, we would begin to transform our lives, and these changes could eventually impact and reform the economic systems and social structures around us.
A dynamic new fix
Our vision for an effective fix to climate change is not wishful thinking. The information and research in the following chapters present a different yet feasible approach – one which places the power directly in your hands. The EnvironMental Fix is not anti-government, nor anti-business. While governments, businesses, and industries would still be involved, their support and commitment would not be the first and crucial step required, nor would it be the driver for change. The EnvironMental Fix isn’t radical or revolutionary in an ideological sense either; it’s just based on the fundamental logic that we are all responsible in one way or another for creating the situation we find ourselves in, so we all should be involved in fixing the problem together with a united force.
If you have taken even one flight, driven in one car, used coal-powered electricity once, eaten a cheap chocolate bar, gotten rid of a perfectly good mobile phone so you can get the latest version, bought or sold goods ‘shipped’ across the sky, then you are responsible in some way. We all are. Up until now, we may have lived in ignorance, but from now on, the future can be different. Whether you earn billions of dollars or are unemployed, each one of us can play a role in caring for our environment and fixing the problem we have all created.
Yet, there’s something crucial that stands in the way: our mind.
Being environmental is more mental than you think
To make a significant impact on the state of our environment, we need to take personal responsibility and action. This means looking at the way we think, the way our thoughts work, the way our minds function, and how all of this shapes and informs our behaviour. With this new level of awareness, we can then reshape our thoughts and mind – which not only reshapes our behaviour but also allows us to address the growing and pervasive sense of anxiety, including climate anxiety, that has come to mark our social and individual lives. We then become meaningful actors in the improvement of our relationship with the environment and place our future firmly in the palms of our hands.
We must do whatever it takes to transform the debris of Mother Earth’s devastating fires and floods into opportunities for empowering the next generation to live conscious lives, fulfil their highest potential, and be healthy and successful. We are all in this together. Climate change is a global issue, and for that, we need a united global response that is led by you for you.
Ultimately, the EnvironMental Fix is about shifting your way of thinking – or reprogramming your mind if you will – so you can empower yourself to take conscious action. Part of fixing the environmental problem is ‘fixing the fix’, and how we do this will become clearer as the discussion unfolds.
As you make your way through the following chapters, you will read about the life and work of some inspiring people. You will delve into the uncharted waters of your mind and desires (and return safely, we promise). You will discover the symbiotic relationship between the health of your mind and the state of the environment. You will learn about the root cause of our global environmental crisis, and what each one of us can do to resolve climate change. And you will take a look into the future and see what incredible possibilities await us EnvironMentalists.
Our future doesn’t need to be doom and gloom. We can save this beautiful home of ours. In fact, we must save it. And perhaps, we can do better than just save Mother Earth. May we aim for a new level of environmental and mental wellbeing like nothing we have experienced before.
The opportunity to fix the global environmental crisis is a thrilling and inspiring one. We all can contribute. If we unify our individual efforts, we can collectively create a brilliant future for humanity. Each human being born on this earth deserves the opportunity to grow, to love, to learn, to prosper, and to fulfil their innate potential. But we should not imagine that only humanity’s future is at stake – indeed we must remember that we humans are just one group of inhabitants of this planet. Countless beings and innumerable lives hang in the balance, and it all depends on our wise and transformative action for their continuing survival and future flourishing. With so much at stake, we must not falter.
Copyright © James Golding and Leisa Golding 2020