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.
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Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
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In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>
Limitations<p>Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.</p>
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