Wrong Questions Yield Wrong Solutions
A few months ago, someone asked me and some other activist friends, “If our world is really looking down the barrel of environmental catastrophe, how do I live my life right now?”
The question stuck with me for a few reasons. The first is that it’s the world, not our world. The notion that the world belongs to us—instead of us belonging to the world—is a good part of the problem. The second is that this is pretty much the question that’s asked more or less constantly in mainstream sources (and even among some environmentalists) about the state of the world and our response to it. The phrase “green living” brings up 7,250,000 Google hits, or more than Mick Jagger and Keith Richards combined (or, to look at it another way, more than a thousand times more than the crucial environmental philosophers John A. Livingston and Neil Evernden combined). If you click on websites that come up under the “green living” search, you find just what you’d expect, stuff like “The Green Guide: Shop, Save, Conserve,” “Personal Solutions for All of Us,” and “Tissue Paper Guide for Consumers. Help save forests by choosing environmentally preferable alternatives.”
The third and most important reason the question stuck with me is that it’s precisely the wrong question.
By looking at how it’s the wrong question, we can start looking for some of the right questions. This is crucial because coming up with right answers to wrong questions isn’t particularly helpful.
So, part of the problem is that talking about “looking down the barrel of environmental catastrophe” makes it seem as though environmental catastrophe is the problem. But it’s not. It’s a symptom: an effect, not a cause. To make this clear, let’s think about global warming, and attempts to “solve” or “stop” or “mitigate” global warming. But global warming (or global climate catastrophe, as some rightly call it), as terrifying as it is, isn’t a primary threat. It’s a consequence. I’m not saying pikas aren’t going extinct, or the Arctic ice cap isn’t melting, or weather patterns aren’t changing, but to blame global warming for those disasters is like blaming the lead projectile for the death of someone who got shot, or blaming the final opportunistic infection for the death of an immune-suppressed victim. I’m also not saying we shouldn’t work to solve, stop, or mitigate global climate catastrophe: I’m merely saying we’ll have a better chance of doing so if we recognize it as a predictable (at this point) result of burning oil and gas, of deforestation, of dam construction, of industrial agriculture, and so on. The threat is all of these, and a consequence is global climate catastrophe.
The same is true on the larger scale of worldwide ecological collapse. Extractive forestry destroys forests. What’s the surprise when extractive forestry causes forest communities to collapse? We’ve seen it once or twice before. When you think of Iraq, is the first image that comes to mind cedar forests so thick the sunlight never reaches the ground? That’s how it was prior to the beginnings of this extractive culture: one of the first written myths of this culture is Gilgamesh deforesting the plains and hillsides of Iraq to build cities. The Near East, too, was heavily forested. Those were cut. Greece was heavily forested: Plato complained that deforestation harmed water quality (and I’m sure Athenian Water Quality Boards said the same as those boards say today: we need to study the question more to make sure there’s really a correlation). North Africa was heavily forested (those were cut for the Phoenician and Egyptian navies). And so on. It’s magical thinking to believe—especially after having seen these collapses so many times—a culture can effectively deforest and yet expect forest communities to sustain. It’s the same with rivers. There are two million dams just in the United States, with 70,000 dams over six feet tall and 60,000 dams over 13 feet tall. And we wonder at the collapse of native fish communities? We can repeat this exercise for grasslands, even more hammered by agriculture than forests are by forestry; for oceans, where plastic outweighs phytoplankton ten to one (for forests to be equivalently plasticized, they’d be covered in styrofoam ninety feet deep); for migratory songbirds, plagued by everything from pesticides to skyscrapers; and so on.
The point is that worldwide ecological collapse is not some external and unpredictable threat—or gunbarrel—down which we face. That’s not to say we aren’t staring down the barrel of a gun. It would just be nice if we chose the right one.
A second part of the problem is that the question presumes we’re facing a future threat—in effect, that the gun has yet to go off. But the Dreadful has already begun. Ask passenger pigeons. Ask Eskimo curlews. Ask great auks. Ask traditional indigenous peoples forced off their land. This is not a potential threat, but rather one that long-since commenced.
The larger problem with the metaphor, and the reason for this essay, is the question at the end: “how shall I live my life right now?” Let’s take this step by step. We’ve figured out what the gun is: this entire extractive culture that has been deforesting, defishing, dewatering, de-soiling, despoiling, destroying since its beginnings. We know this gun has been fired before, and has killed many of those we love, from Chestnut Ermine Moths to Carolina Parakeets. It’s now aimed (and firing) at even more of those we love, from Siberian Tigers to Indian Gavials to entire oceans to, in fact, the entire world, which includes you and me. If we make this metaphor real, we might understand why the question—asked more often almost than any other—is so wrong. If someone were rampaging through your home, killing those you love one by one (and, for that matter, en masse) would the question burning a hole in your heart be: how should I live my life right now? I can’t speak for you, but the question I’d be asking is this: how do I disarm or kill these psychopaths? How do I stop them using any means necessary?
Finally we get to the point. Those who come after, who inherit whatever’s left of the world once this culture has been stopped—whether through peak oil, economic collapse, ecological collapse, or the efforts of brave women and men fighting in alliance with the natural world—are going to judge us by the health of the land base, because that’s what’s going to support them, or not. They’re not going to care how you or I lived our lives. They’re not going to care how hard we tried. They're not going to care whether we were nice people. They're not going to care whether we were nonviolent or violent. They're not going to care whether we grieved the murder of the planet. They're not going to care whether we were enlightened or not enlightened. They're not going to care what sort of excuses we had to not act (e.g., “I’m too stressed to think about it,” or, “It’s too big and scary,” or “I’m too busy,” or “But those in power will kill us if we effectively act against them,” or “If we fight back we run the risk of becoming like they are,” or “But I recycled,” or any of a thousand other excuses we’ve all heard too many times). They’re not going to care how simply we lived. They’re not going to care how pure we were in thought or action. They’re not going to care if we became the change we wished to see. They’re not going to care whether we voted Democrat, Republican, Green, Libertarian, or not at all. They’re not going to care if we wrote really big books about it. They’re not going to care whether we had “compassion” for the CEOs and politicians running this deathly economy. They’re going to care whether they can breathe the air and drink the water. They’re going to care whether the land can support them. We can fantasize all we want about some great turning, and if the people (including the nonhuman people) can’t breathe, it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters but that we stop this culture from killing the planet.
It’s embarrassing even to have to say this. The land is the source of everything. If you have no planet, you have no economic system, you have no spirituality, you can’t even ask this question. If you have no planet, nobody can ask any questions.
What question would I ask instead? How’s this? How can we deprive the rich of their capacity to steal from the poor, and deprive the powerful of their capacity to murder the planet?
Or this: How can we get over our own precious selves, and actually work to protect the land where we live? One of the good things about everything being so messed up is that no matter where we look there’s good work to be done. We need it all. We need people to take out dams, and we need people to knock out electrical infrastructures. We need people to protest and to chain themselves to trees. We also need people working to ensure that as many people as possible are equipped to deal with the fall-out as the collapse continues. We need people working to teach others what wild plants to eat, what plants are natural antibiotics. We need people teaching others how to purify water, how to build shelters. All of this can look like supporting traditional, local knowledge, it can look like starting neighborhood gardens, it can look like planting local varieties of medicinal herbs, and it can look like teaching people how to sing.
I want people to work to stop the destruction. No! That’s not true. I don't want people to work to stop the destruction. I want them to stop it. There's all the difference in the world between those statements. Failure is not an option. I think often about a line by Soren Kierkegaard: "Twaddle, rubbish, and gossip is what people want, not action...The secret of life is to chatter freely about all one wishes to do and how one is always being prevented—and then do nothing." Well, the time is long past for that.
Or how if people do not ask themselves, “How shall I live my life?” but rather they ask the land where they live, the land who supports them, “What can and must I do to become your ally, to help protect you from this culture? What can we do together to stop this culture from killing you?” If you ask that question, and you listen, the land will tell you what it needs. And then the only real question is: Are you willing to do it?
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Farah Aqel
Overthinkers are people who are buried in their own obsessive thoughts. Imagine being in a large maze where each turn leads into an even deeper and knottier tangle of catastrophic, distressing events — that is what it feels like to them when they think about the issues that confront them.
Ruminating<p>According to the late Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, a professor of psychology at Yale University, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5796420/" target="_blank">ruminating</a> involves replaying a problem over and over in your mind. We ruminate by obsessing over our thoughts and thinking repetitively about various aspects of a past situation.</p><p>It usually involves regret, self-loathing and self-blaming. Rumination is associated with the development of depression, anxiety and eating disorders. </p><p>People prone to such patterns of thought may, for example, overanalyze every single detail of a relationship that breaks up. They often blame themselves for what has happened and are overcome with regret, with typical thoughts being: </p><p>- I should have been more patient and more supportive. </p><p>- I have lost the most perfect partner ever. </p><p>- No one will love me again.</p>
Worrying<p>Worrying is wanting to predict the future. It involves negative thoughts about things that might and might not happen.</p><p>- They'll not like me in the interview; they'll not give me the job. </p><p>- I haven't heard back from other employers. How long will I be unemployed?</p><p>These thoughts are energy-draining and distressing. They could happen to anyone under stress. But when you reach the point where your thoughts and worrying are preventing you from doing what you want to do — from living your life to the fullest — then you should take action.</p>
Catch Yourself Overthinking<p>Reuben Berger, a psychotherapist at the university hospital in the western German city of Bonn, recommends several practical steps that you could employ in your daily routine when you catch yourself worrying or ruminating.</p><p>One effective remedy, says Berger, is the <a href="https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uf9938" target="_blank">thought-stopping technique.</a></p><p>"When the negative thoughts come or ruminations start, you say to yourself: 'Stop!,'" he says, adding that it is more effective when you actually say the word out loud.</p><p>He even recommends having a rubber band around your wrist to ping against yourself while saying the word. Adding a visual component by imagining a stop sign also makes the technique more powerful, he says.</p><p>The main idea here is conditioning yourself to stop the loop of worrying (making future predictions) or rumination (obsessing over past events).</p><p>Berger says the technique could take up to two weeks to take effect and that it needs to be practiced every day. "Consistency is very important," he says. </p>
Thoughts Are Just Thoughts<p>Another way of dealing with negative thoughts often used in modern therapy is realizing that thoughts aren't facts, says Berger.</p><p>He says it is important when we think something to ask: Is that real? Did that really happen? What is the worst thing that could happen?</p><p>Flight anxiety is one example where untrue thoughts are accepted as facts. Although air travel is the safest way to get around, people suffering from fear of flying accept their thoughts and fears as reality, then act upon them by refusing to fly.</p>
Mindfulness<p>Berger also recommends the use of mindfulness techniques, in which attention is paid to experiences in the moment without judging them, as a way of reducing worrying.</p><p>"Mindfulness helps you to distance yourself from your thoughts and to be more present in the moment," he says.</p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3432145/#R2" target="_blank">Several studies</a> have shown that mindfulness has a positive impact on reducing stress-related behaviors such as rumination and worrying, as focusing on the moment makes anxiety about other problems impossible.</p><p>Mindfulness can be practiced during routine activities by paying attention to your body and your surroundings. For instance, when you leave for work in the morning, you can focus on sensing the breeze, listen attentively to birds, feel the gravel under your feet and monitor your breath. </p>
Trick Your Brain Into Happiness<p>People plagued by obsessive thoughts do not always choose healthy ways like mindfulness to distract from them, however.</p><p> Dr. Edward Selby, a psychologist at Florida state university, has shown in a study that people try to avoid rumination by engaging in a range of uncontrolled behaviors, such as binge eating and substance abuse.</p><p>But he says that a much better way to overcome such distress is by distraction and shifting attention away from problems that are obsessing us.</p><p>There are many activities that can be used to distract from rumination, he says, and people should choose the one that works best for them. Here are some examples:</p><p>- Listen to music</p><p>- Read a book</p><p>- Take a hot shower</p><p>- Dance or exercise </p><p>- Talk to a friend (not about the problem)</p><p>- Watch a movie</p><p>- Mindfulness meditation</p>
Changing the Perception of Events<p>The way people perceive a situation largely influences their emotions and behavior. It is not the situation itself that determines how they feel, but rather the way they interpret it.</p><p>Reframing negative thoughts can lead to positive emotions and, subsequently, healthier behaviors — including a reduction in damaging overthinking and worrying.</p><p>Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is currently a gold standard in psychotherapy. CBT aims to change the way people think and act. It largely involves challenging unhelpful beliefs or attitudes such as overgeneralization — thinking "I always fail at public speaking" when you have had one bad experience in front of an audience, for example — or "catastrophization," i.e., imagining the worst possible outcome to a situation. </p><p>A psychotherapist can teach people how to implement such thought-changing techniques into their lives. Techniques vary depending on their issues and goals.</p>
Solutions Are at Hand<p>Try to find ways of avoiding worrying, rumination and overthinking that make you feel most comfortable.</p><p>Incorporating any routine in your life when you're stressed isn't an easy task, but you can do it! If you feel overwhelmed, you can always seek professional help. </p><p><em>If you are suffering from serious emotional strain or suicidal thoughts, do not hesitate to seek professional help. You can find information on where to find such help, no matter where you live in the world, <a href="https://www.befrienders.org/" target="_blank">at this website.</a></em></p>
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By Michael Baker, Amanda Kvalsvig and Nick Wilson
On Sunday, New Zealand marked 100 days without community transmission of COVID-19.
Deaths From COVID-19 Per Million Population<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU0ODIyOS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MjkzMDc1OX0.7Yp1h1hokihlMJUurDukGmq-Y8NJB0V-07O1ukEjGt0/img.png?width=980" id="0fe6a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6bce85a610aee18e2f4f1c1caca7b8a0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
<div id="77fff" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ce7b34f8986d3d36bee5d4d83ac0822c"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1292270210238447616" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">COVID-19 Update There are no new cases of COVID-19 to report in New Zealand today. It has been 100 days since t… https://t.co/Cz55ixGZUz</div> — Unite against COVID-19 (@Unite against COVID-19)<a href="https://twitter.com/covid19nz/statuses/1292270210238447616">1596936201.0</a></blockquote></div>
Getting Through the Pandemic<p>We have gained a much better understanding of COVID-19 over the past eight months. Without effective control measures, it is likely to continue to spread globally for many months to years, ultimately infecting billions and killing millions. The proportion of infected people who die appears to be <a href="https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.05.03.20089854v4" target="_blank">slightly below 1%</a>.</p><p>This infection also causes serious <a href="https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m2815" target="_blank">long-term consequences</a> for some survivors. The largest uncertainties involve <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02278-5" target="_blank">immunity to this virus</a>, whether it can develop from exposure to infection or vaccines, and if it is long-lasting. The potential for treatment with antivirals and other therapeutics is also still uncertain.</p><p>This knowledge reinforces the huge benefits of sustaining elimination. We know that if New Zealand were to experience widespread COVID-19 transmission, the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3310086/" target="_blank">impact on Māori and Pasifika populations</a> could be catastrophic.</p><p>We have previously described critical measures to get us through this period, including the use of fabric face masks, improving contact tracing with suitable digital tools, applying a science-based approach to border management, and the need for a dedicated national public health agency.</p><p>Maintaining elimination depends on adopting a highly strategic approach to risk management. This approach involves choosing an optimal mix of interventions and using resources in the most efficient way to keep the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks at a consistently low level. Several measures can contribute to this goal over the next few months, while also allowing incremental increases in international travel:</p><ul><li>resurgence planning for a border-control failure and outbreaks of various sizes, with state-of-the-art contact tracing and an upgraded alert level system</li><li>ensuring all New Zealanders own a <a href="https://www.nzma.org.nz/journal-articles/mass-masking-an-alternative-to-a-second-lockdown-in-aotearoa" target="_blank">re-useable fabric face mask</a> with their <a href="https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12354409" target="_blank">use built into the alert level system</a></li><li>conducting exercises and simulations to test outbreak management procedures, possibly including "mass masking days" to engage the public in the response</li><li>carefully exploring processes to allow <a href="https://blogs.otago.ac.nz/pubhealthexpert/2020/06/16/preventing-outbreaks-of-covid-19-in-nz-associated-with-air-travel-from-australia-new-modelling-study-of-alternatives-to-quarantine/" target="_blank">quarantine-free travel</a> between jurisdictions free of COVID-19, notably various Pacific Islands, Tasmania and Taiwan (which may require digital tracking of arriving travellers for the first few weeks)</li><li>planning for carefully managed inbound travel by key long-term visitor groups such as tertiary students who would generally still need managed quarantine.</li></ul>
Building Back Better<p>New Zealand cannot change the reality of the global COVID-19 pandemic. But it can leverage possible benefits.</p><p>We should conduct an <a href="https://blogs.otago.ac.nz/pubhealthexpert/2020/06/11/five-key-reasons-why-nz-should-have-an-official-inquiry-into-the-response-to-the-covid-19-pandemic/" target="_blank">official inquiry into the COVID-19 response</a> so we learn everything we possibly can to improve our response capacity for future events.</p><p>We also need to establish a specialized national public health agency to <a href="https://blogs.otago.ac.nz/pubhealthexpert/2017/12/20/the-havelock-north-drinking-water-inquiry-a-wake-up-call-to-rebuild-public-health-in-new-zealand/" target="_blank">manage serious threats to public health</a> and provide critical mass to <a href="https://blogs.otago.ac.nz/pubhealthexpert/2020/02/05/a-preventable-measles-epidemic-lessons-for-reforming-public-health-in-nz/" target="_blank">advance public health generally</a>. Such an agency appears to have been a key factor in the success of Taiwan, which avoided a costly lockdown entirely.</p><p>Business as usual should not be an option for the recovery phase. A recent <a href="https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=12353555" target="_blank">Massey University survey</a> suggests seven out of ten New Zealanders support a green recovery approach.</p><p>New Zealand's elimination of COVID-19 has drawn attention worldwide, with a description just <a href="https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2025203" target="_blank">published</a> in the New England Journal of Medicine. We support a rejuvenated World Health Organization that can provide improved global leadership for pandemic prevention and control, including greater use of an elimination approach to combat COVID-19.</p>
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By Shawna Foo
Anyone who's tending a garden right now knows what extreme heat can do to plants. Heat is also a concern for an important form of underwater gardening: growing corals and "outplanting," or transplanting them to restore damaged reefs.
Coral Gardening<p>Coral reefs <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/education/resource-collections/marine-life/coral-reef-ecosystems" target="_blank">support over 25% of marine life</a> by providing food, shelter and a place for fish and other organisms to reproduce and raise young. Today, <a href="https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-ocean-heat-content" target="_blank">ocean warming driven by climate change</a> is stressing reefs worldwide.</p><p>Rising ocean temperatures cause <a href="https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coralreef-climate.html#:%7E:text=Climate%20change%20leads%20to%3A,to%20the%20smothering%20of%20coral." target="_blank">bleaching events</a> – episodes in which corals expel the algae that live inside them and provide the corals with most of their food, as well as their vibrant colors. When corals lose their algae, they become less resistant to stressors such as disease and eventually may die.</p><p>Hundreds of organizations worldwide are working to restore damaged coral reefs by growing thousands of small coral fragments in nurseries, which may be onshore in laboratories or in the ocean near degraded reefs. Then scuba divers physically plant them at restoration sites.</p>
Sea surface temperatures on Aug. 3, 2020, measured from satellites. Warning = possible bleaching; Alert Level 1 = significant bleaching likely; Alert Level 2 = severe bleaching and significant mortality likely. NOAA Coral Reef Watch