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The Yin and Yang of Cancer and Climate Change

Climate
The Yin and Yang of Cancer and Climate Change

Almost all of what we hear about cancer comes from our usual western perspective. Things like how smoking can increase the likelihood of developing the condition and how eating vegetables can reduce the chances. However, if we look at cancer from a different view, we begin to see that what’s happening within us is also happening in the world around us.

According to the American Cancer Society, for those of us now living in the U.S., one in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with cancer. And one in four men and one in five women will die from the condition. With a population of about 310 million, that’s 125 million cancer diagnoses and 72 million deaths.

Along with these extraordinary rates of cancer, there are voluminous amounts of data that demonstrates clearly that the climate is destabilizing. For several decades, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been documenting the worldwide research that shows conclusively that the planet is warming from the gases we’re releasing. More recently, data also indicates that the ability of the planet to maintain its coolant is also being affected.

Climate research now demonstrates that the well-documented warming is happening as the ability of forests and oceans to sequester greenhouse gases has been compromised. As we are losing the cooling affects of trees through deforestation, the oceans may have reached their saturation point in how much greenhouse gas they can absorb. In looking at the condition of the climate and the rates of cancer through the holistic lens of Chinese medicine, we can begin to see that rather than being two separate issues, they are similar issues happening at different scales.

For several thousand years, eastern medicine has understood the world holistically. In the treatment room, all of our organs are connected and the physical, mental and emotional parts of our lives are interrelated. Similarly, it recognizes that we are part of the world around us and that what happens within us is a reflection of what happens in nature. Looking at cancer and climate change from this larger vantage point, we can begin to see how both conditions have the same underlying cause.

Looking again at information provided by the American Cancer Society, all cancers start because abnormal cells grow out of control and can spread around the body. From my clinical experience treating people with a cancer diagnosis, the root cause of cancer fits well with the Chinese medicine diagnosis of Yin deficient heat.

Heat corresponds to over activity in organs and cells, which causes both the abnormal growth and the movement around the body. Yin is associated with water and fluids and is our internal coolant. When our internal heat increases, it can cook off our fluids, as would a pot of water left on a hot stove. Yin deficient heat means that our internal condition is inflamed both from the increased warmth and from the decrease of coolant.

Looking at the condition of the climate, Yin deficient heat is a very good description of what’s happening globally. The planet is warming—indicating heat. And the ability of the planet to keep things cool through the effects of oceans and forests is decreasing—indicating Yin deficiency. Rather than being two issues, the overstimulation of our cells internally and the rapid warming of the planet externally are mirroring each other.

In our era of climate change, with 40 percent of Americans projected to be diagnosed with cancer, an essential question is: Where is this increasing heat and decreasing Yin coming from? The answer is in how we see the world and as a result, how we live our lives. Fundamental to Chinese medicine is the understanding of Yin and Yang. As mentioned, Yin is associated with coolant and it’s also about quiet, peace, doing and having less, the small and the old. The other side of the Yin/Yang circle is about heat, being loud and active, doing and having more, the loud and aggressive and the new—all of this is associated with Yang.

Just as the planet and our cells are overheating, we often value the new over the old, doing over non-doing and more over less. And just as the cooling effects of forests and oceans are decreasing and our Yin decreases internally, we often value the loud over the quiet, the big over the small and the aggressive over the peaceful. The condition of the planet, the condition of our internal environment and our cultural assumptions all speak to the same condition—too much Yang and too little Yin.

An essential part of the deeper remedies to treat the incredible rates of cancer and our rapidly destabilizing climate is to revalue the Yin in all parts of our lives. The Yin of slowing down, doing less, wanting less and being quiet and peaceful internally. This contentment makes us less susceptible to buying more than we need, thereby reducing emissions. The cooling affect of Yin also reduces our heat internally, treating the root causes of conditions like cancer as well.

Brendan Kelly is the author of The Yin and Yang of Climate Crisis: Healing Personal, Cultural and Ecological Imbalance with Chinese Medicine. The co-founder and co-owner of Jade Mountain Wellness, where he currently practices acupuncture and herbalism, he has also been actively involved with local, regional and national environmental issues for 25 years.

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

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With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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