from the world's big
How we view our environment impacts our wellbeing, says Australian philosopher
In his book, Earth Emotions, Glenn Albrecht coins "psychoterratic."
- Australian environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht has written the manual for understanding how societies must grapple with climate change.
- Language not only reflects reality but produces it, prompting Albrecht to coin several new words.
- Among them is psychoterratic, which relates to how our view of nature impacts our wellbeing.
Have you ever gazed upon a vast stretch of terra nullius? Or been hypnotized by the sounds of slogger? Northerners have likely experienced blinter, while beach goers are tickled by kimmeridge, perhaps right after picking up a glassel.
In Landmarks, nature writer Robert MacFarlane gathers thousands of words in danger of extinction. (Definitions of the above are at the end of this article.) "Language," he writes, "does not just register experience, it produces it." He is concerned that dictionaries add technology-based words while subtracting terms associated with the natural world. This produces a screen-based existence — one good for capitalism, not so much for the planet. We abandon language at our peril.
While MacFarlane salvages words, others coin them. Australian environmental philosopher, Glenn Albrecht, hopes that humans can leave the Anthropocene—the latest geological age, dedicated to human impact on climate and the environment—behind as quickly as possible. To facilitate our exodus, Albrecht wrote Earth Emotions to introduce a number of terms, including Symbiocene: the next age, one filled with hope and optimism as humans return to a more harmonious relationship with nature. Or, at least, one in which we don't destroy it outright.
While such a concept cannot be tackled in one article, let's focus one term Albrecht introduces. Psychoterratic refers to how we see the world around us — and how that perspective impacts our wellbeing. A discordant view of nature, for instance, the philosopher says, facilitates "environmentally-induced mental distress and physical illness." He continues,
"Psychoterratic dis-ease arises from a negative relationship to our home environment, be it at local, regional or global scales. The negative relationship involves a loss of identity, loss of an endemic sense of place, and a decline in well being."
We're witnessing this imbalance in real-time. Psychoterratic effects are separate from somaterratic issues—illnesses directly caused by climate change, such as toxic pollution. The two run in parallel, however. There is no purely physical effect without emotional malaise, and vice-versa.
TEDxSydney - Glenn Albrecht - Environment Change, Distress & Human Emotion Solastalgia
We think nature is on our side. In some ways, sure, such as an oxygen-rich planet and bountiful resources, but overall humans are the outcome of millions of years of biological experimentation. In many ways we evolved in spite of nature, being slow and weak among larger mammals. We thrived, for a while, until we started procreating at unsustainable rates thanks to advancements in medicine, lugging our bad habits along with us. We locked nature out of our lives, every step removed becoming safer yet less satisfied.
In America, rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide are rising. Pundits speculate on a variety of causes, some of which likely contribute, but let's be honest: you can't sever the relationship to your creator (in this case, the planet) and expect there not to be trauma. In fact, Albrecht suggests the creation of the Ghedeist, a secular spiritual connection that every human can invest in. It has less to do with earthy New Age philosophies, instead simply acknowledging that our lifestyles are burning down the house. We need to better coordinate to tamp down the flames.
Trauma is inevitable in the age of climate change. Government buyout programs have already begun, with homeowners in Staten Island, Houston, New Orleans, and the Florida Keys selling their houses in order to be bulldozed. Every year, American regions are becoming uninhabitable. An estimated 13 million Americans will have to move by the century's end due to rising ocean levels. This loss of property and, more importantly, identity, crushes the human spirit.
While few want to face the prospect of relocation, some academics have called for managed retreat, such as is happening in Indonesia right now. Researchers are watching Greenland closely, as the island is considered ground zero for climate change. Residents recognize their existential crisis — given current climate trends, the situation looks bleak. How they organize and manage this transition will be greatly determined by their willpower and attitude.
Estimated 250,000 people marched in New York City as part of a global strike protesting climate change. Organizers have estimated around four million people took to the streets in thousands of cities worldwide.
Photo by Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
Not that all is lost. Humans would not have survived as long as we have without hope. We might have dug our own hole, but we can also pull ourselves out from it. Albrecht devotes the last chapter of his book to suggest how we can move from the Anthropecene to the Symbiocene with as little friction as possible.
Usually, calls to actions in the modern age include "self-healing" techniques, like drinking a cup of turmeric tea or shutting off your phone two hours before bedtime. While such lists offer individual healing, they are self-focused and therefore egocentric — they're all about you. While it is true that taking care of yourself can lead to empathizing with others, Albrecht's book details what we collectively need to do in order to transition to widespread ecological awareness. Each prescription focuses on mobilization and action, not personal restoration:
Hold politicians accountable. Not very sexy, yet every day we're witnessing what happens when societies check out of politics. I recently discussed cancel culture as it relates to Equinox Fitness, with people canceling their memberships as a political posture while some of those same people don't bother to vote. Individual contributions for addressing climate change matter, yet not nearly as much as electing politicians that will hold corporations accountable. Refill your reusable water bottle all you want. If you're not actively engaged in local and national politics, it doesn't matter. You might feel better, but little is actually being done to address the world's most pressing problem.
Albrecht shows little patience for the economic argument proffered by politicians and CEOs. "Under the logic of gigantism and homogeneity," he writes, "we are destroying the very economy we are trying to build. As value in the world is converted to increasing shareholder profit, everything else becomes impoverished and all forms of heritage are lost."
The only way to begin is to actually drain the swamp.
Pebbles polished by the Atlantic Ocean waves, emerging during low tide, Ireland -- or, as Robert MacFarlane reminds us, glassels.
Creation of a new identity in a bioregional movement. Buddhists are especially adept at understanding interdependence. The "self" is an illusion insofar as it is inextricably entwined with the environment. Change your surroundings and you are transformed. Fixed identity is often an ideology born of fear, not reality. In a time of forthcoming mass relocations, we have to be willing to surrender who we are in order to transform into who we were destined to become, as Joseph Campbell phrased it.
Albrecht is critical of ethnicity-based nationalism. A nationalism of place is a different story. Xenophobia and racism must obviously be left behind, as does the capitalist thrust of globalization. The force that connected the world, trade (and the economics behind it), has to be rethought, as it has created a rift in our knowledge of our surroundings.
"Each generation knows less about their bioregion as an outcome of cumulative environmental desolation. The so-called environmental crisis experienced as a loss of diversity is also ultimately a human identity crisis."
The only solution, Albrecht writes, is to reimagine societies that simultaneously address identity, inequality, and environmental destruction. This means that new cultures will have to take humans, nonhuman organisms, and landscapes into consideration.
Identify and maintain life bonds. This all leads to World War 3, which Albrecht believes will not be fought between nations, but between positive and negative Earth emotions.
"A psychoterratic drama that has been unfolding over many decades must now tip over into open emotional warfare."
Earlier in the book, Albrecht points out that the word "emotion" comes from a Latin word meaning "disturb," which has as its root a Latin term meaning "to move." The neuroscientist Rodolfo Llinas made a similar observation when he noted that thinking is internalized movement; at root of cognition are emotions. How we feel about circumstances dictates the thoughts that arise, both dependent on our relationship with the environment.
When Trevor Noah asked Greta Thunberg the difference between Americans and Swedes in terms of climate change, she said only in America is it a "debate." The world has to prepare to act; lack of readiness will only cause more emotional distress. This means that beyond partisan bickering we have to now evolve beyond tribal inclinations to reimagine what we are actually bonded to.
Albrecht has written the manual. It is at our peril to ignore it.
Words cited in Landmarks:
- Terra nullius: "nothing-place," uninhabitable land.
- Slogger: sucking sound made by waves against a ship's side.
- Blinter: a cold dazzle.
- Kimmeridge: the light breeze that blows through your armpit hair when you are stretched out sunbathing.
- Glassel: a seaside pebble which was shiny and interesting when wet, and which is now a lump of rock.
Emotional intelligence is a skill sought by many employers. Here's how to raise yours.
- Daniel Goleman's 1995 book Emotional Intelligence catapulted the term into widespread use in the business world.
- One study found that EQ (emotional intelligence) is the top predictor of performance and accounts for 58% of success across all job types.
- EQ has been found to increase annual pay by around $29,000 and be present in 90% of top performers.
Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.
- Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
- They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
- The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
What's dead may never die, it seems<p>The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called Brain<em>Ex</em>. Brain<em>Ex </em>is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.</p><p>Brain<em>Ex</em> pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.</p><p>The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if Brain<em>Ex</em> can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.</p><p>As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.</p><p>The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.</p><p>"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told <em><a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2019/04/pig-brains-partially-revived-what-it-means-for-medicine-death-ethics/" target="_blank">National Geographic</a>.</em></p>
An ethical gray matter<p>Before anyone gets an <em>Island of Dr. Moreau</em> vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.</p><p>The Brain<em>Ex</em> solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness. </p><p>Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death. </p><p>Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?</p><p>"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/17/science/brain-dead-pigs.html" target="_blank">the <em>New York Times</em></a>. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."</p><p>One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.</p><p>The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01216-4#ref-CR2" target="_blank">told <em>Nature</em></a> that if Brain<em>Ex</em> were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.</p><p>"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.</p><p>It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.</p><p>Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? <a href="https://bigthink.com/philip-perry/after-death-youre-aware-that-youve-died-scientists-claim" target="_blank">The distress of a partially alive brain</a>? </p><p>The dilemma is unprecedented.</p>
Setting new boundaries<p>Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, <em>Frankenstein</em>. As Farahany told <em>National Geographic</em>: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have <em>Frankenstein</em>, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."</p><p>She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.</p>
A study published Friday tested how well 14 commonly available face masks blocked the emission of respiratory droplets as people were speaking.
- The study tested the efficacy of popular types of face masks, including N95 respirators, bandanas, cotton-polypropylene masks, gaiters, and others.
- The results showed that N95 respirators were most effective, while wearing a neck fleece (aka gaiter) actually produced more respiratory droplets than wearing no mask at all.
- Certain types of homemade masks seem to be effective at blocking the spread of COVID-19.
Fischer et al.<p>A smartphone camera recorded video of the participants, and a computer algorithm counted the number of droplets they emitted. To establish a control trial, the participants spoke into the box both with and without a mask. And to make sure that the droplets weren't in fact dust from the masks, the team conducted more tests by "repeatedly puffing air from a bulb through the masks."</p>
Fischer et al.<p>The results, published Friday in <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/early/2020/08/07/sciadv.abd3083" target="_blank">Science Advances</a>, showed that some masks are pretty much useless. In particular, neck fleeces (also called gaiters) actually produced more respiratory droplets compared to the control trial — likely because the fabric breaks down big droplets into smaller ones.</p><p>The top three most effective masks were N95 respirators, surgical masks, and polypropylene-cotton masks. Bandanas performed the worst, but were slightly better than wearing no mask at all.</p>
Fischer et al.<p>Research on mask efficacy is still emerging. But the new results seem to generally align with <a href="https://newsroom.wakehealth.edu/News-Releases/2020/04/Testing-Shows-Type-of-Cloth-Used-in-Homemade-Masks-Makes-a-Difference" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">prior tests</a>. For example, a study from June published in <a href="https://aip.scitation.org/doi/10.1063/5.0016018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Physics of Fluid</a> found that bandanas (followed by folded handkerchiefs) were least effective at blocking respiratory droplets. That same study also found, as <a href="https://newsroom.wakehealth.edu/News-Releases/2020/04/Testing-Shows-Type-of-Cloth-Used-in-Homemade-Masks-Makes-a-Difference" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">others have</a>, that masks made from multiple layers of quilter's fabric were especially effective at blocking droplets.</p><p>The researchers hope other institutions will conduct similar experiments so the public can see how well different masks can block the spread of COVID-19.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This is a very powerful visual tool to raise awareness that a very simple masks, like these homemade cotton masks, do really well to stop the majority of these respiratory droplets," Fischer told CNN. "Companies and manufacturers can set this up and test their mask designs before producing them, which would also be very useful."</p>
Sharing QAnon disinformation is harming the children devotees purport to help.
- The conspiracy theory, QAnon, is doing more harm than good in the battle to end child trafficking.
- Foster youth expert, Regan Williams, says there are 25-29k missing children every year, not 800k, as marketed by QAnon.
- Real ways to help abused children include donating to nonprofits, taking educational workshops, and becoming a foster parent.
Real ways you can help stop child trafficking<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="21fc2dc85391501eec28c4bf46d7db15"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/AXL0q9jNZGU?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Williams is the founder and CEO of <a href="http://www.seenandheard.org/" target="_blank">Seen and Heard</a>, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that helps foster youth develop character through the performing arts. She's been involved with foster youth for years; I <a href="https://bigthink.com/politics-current-affairs/child-sex-trafficking" target="_self">wrote about her work</a> in child trafficking just over a year ago. Tragically, since that time, the situation for these children has only gotten worse, in large part because of QAnon.</p><p>Williams says child trafficking is an easy cause to rally people together. Fear is also a powerful unifying force, one that QAnon believers are already primed for via the news they consume. Almost every parent cares about their children, making them the ideal target to solidify groups. </p><p>The real problem, she says, is that the youth she works with are falling for these conspiracy theories. Trauma is a particularly powerful tool for indoctrination. If you're a teenager that's been abducted or abused, your trust level is already extremely low. Then you read about a global cabal of powerful men (and a few women) secretly abusing children, and the narrative seems ready-made for your personal history.</p><p>When Williams tried to "lovingly and kindly correct" the youth she was working with after learning about the Wayfair conspiracy, the girls' response was, "well, who owns the media?" </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"She goes from this small little thing to a QAnon talking point. I've been thinking about why she would believe such a preposterous idea—and there are others; it's not just one student, and they're in in deep. I think that when something horrific happens to you as a child, it's a lot easier to distance yourself from the immediate reality that it was an uncle or a parent or a sibling that hurt you. By detaching from that immediate person, they project it onto Bill Gates or Chrissy Teigen. Then it's not so personal, it's global." </p>
A man wear a shirt with the words Q Anon as he attends a rally for President Donald Trump at the Make America Great Again Rally being held in the Florida State Fair Grounds Expo Hall on July 31, 2018 in Tampa, Florida.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images<p>As Williams mentions, there are over 30,000 kids in foster care in the Los Angeles area alone. It's easy to fall through the cracks. The systems in place aren't perfect; they're certainly underfunded. When you're in a system trying to support you yet isn't capable of doing so, viewing the world as imperfect, and even harmful, becomes the lens through which you see reality. Again, this makes for a perfect indoctrination tool.</p><p>One popular QAnon talking point is that 800,000 children are missing. As Williams says, child trafficking experts "don't buy this for a minute." The number makes for a good meme but a poor representation of the problem. </p><p>To source better data, Williams turns to the <a href="https://www.missingkids.org/" target="_blank">National Center for Missing and Exploited Children</a> (NCMEC) and the <a href="https://www.fbi.gov/services/cjis/ncic" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">National Crime Information Center</a> (NCIC). An important factor when reading data: if a teacher <em>and</em> a caregiver report a missing child to NCIC, that counts as two children, not one, which accounts for some of the fluctuations in numbers. In total, between 25,000 and 29,000 kids go missing every year. Importantly, 94 percent of those children are recovered within four to six weeks. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They're not documenting the recovery rate. It's not like these numbers are perpetually hanging out there. So this 800,000 number is just ludicrous." </p><p>Williams compares what's going on to Black Lives Matter. Blacking out your Instagram profile picture is performative. It signals that you actually care, which is great, but if you're not supporting Black-owned businesses, for example, there are no teeth to your activism. </p><p>Of course, blacking out your profile doesn't cause the real-world harm the QAnon virus does. Sharing misinformation is ultimately harmful to the children in need of help. Williams offers the resources below—ranging from donations to nonprofits to educational trainings to becoming a foster parent—for people that actually want to do something to help victims of sexual and physical abuse. They might not make a great Twitter meme, but in the actual world, this support makes all the difference. </p><p><strong>To report abuse/neglect, call the child abuse hotline: 800.540.4000 (LA county) / 800.422.4453 (National)</strong></p><ul><li>Support anti-trafficking organizations by donating to <a rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" href="http://savinginnocence.org/" target="_blank">Saving Innocence</a>, which runs the continuum of care from rescue to recovery, <a href="http://gozoe.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Zoe</a>, a reputable faith-based organization, and <a rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" href="https://withtwowings.org/" target="_blank">Two Wings</a>, which helps to rehabilitate female survivors</li><li><a rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" href="http://www.nolabrantleyspeaks.org/" target="_blank">Nola Brantley</a> offers in-person and online trainings to help combat the commercial sexual exploitation of children</li><li><a rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" href="http://instagram.com/imrebeccabender" target="_blank">Rebecca Bender</a> is a trafficking survivor that runs "Myth Busters," which combats conspiracy theory disinformation</li><li>The <a href="https://www.instagram.com/missingkids/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">National Center</a> of Missing and Exploited Children</li><li>Operation <a href="https://www.instagram.com/ourrescue/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Underground Railroad </a></li><li><a href="https://www.instagram.com/defendinnocence/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow">Defend Innocence</a> offers tips for parents and caregivers to keep kids safe</li></ul><p><span></span>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>