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Dear EarthTalk: I caught the tail end of a discussion about “ecopsychology” recently on the radio, something about the negative impacts of people not communing with nature enough, spending too much time watching TV, sitting at computers, etc... Can you enlighten?
-- Bridget W., Seattle, WA

The term ecopsychology, first coined by writer and theorist Theodore Roszak in his 1992 book, Voice of the Earth, is loosely defined as the connection between ecology and human psychology. Roszak argues that humans can heal what he calls their “psychological alienation” from nature and build a more sustainable society if they recognize that we all have an innate emotional bond with the natural world.

The basic premise is that we operate under an illusion that people are separate from nature, and that humans are more apt to derive comfort and even inspiration from contact with the natural world—with which they evolved over the millennia—than with the relatively recent construct of modern urban society. Distancing ourselves from nature, Roszak maintains, has negative psychological consequences for people and also leads to ecological devastation at the hands of a society that, as a result, lacks empathy for nature.

In a more recent essay called “Ecopsychology: Eight Principles,” Roszak, who went on to start the non-profit Ecopsychology Institute, states that the core of the mind is the ecological unconscious, which, if repressed, can lead to an “insane” treatment of nature. “For ecopsychology, repression of the ecological unconscious is the deepest root of collusive madness in industrial society,” he writes, adding that “open access to the ecological unconscious is the path to sanity.”

While many psychotherapists have adopted aspects of ecopsychology in treating various mental illnesses and psychological disorders, the teachings of Roszak and other contributors to the still-evolving field can be helpful even for those not in need of a therapist’s care. John V. Davis, a Naropa University professor who teaches and writes about ecopsychology, for example, says that meditating in the outdoors, participating in wilderness retreats, involving oneself in nature-based festivals or celebrations of the seasons or other natural phenomena, joining in Earth-nurturing activities such as environmental restoration or advocacy work, and spending time around animals (including pets, which have been shown to have healing effects with the elderly and with people with psychological disabilities) are just a few ways in which the discipline can be used by everyday people to the benefit of their psychological health.

Getting kids involved with nature and the outdoors is viewed by ecopsychology fans as key to their development, especially in the technological age we occupy now. Richard Louv, author of the book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, argues that kids are so plugged into television and video games that they’ve lost their connection to the natural world. This disconnect, Louv maintains, has led not only to poor physical fitness among our youth (including obesity), but also long-term mental and spiritual health problems. His work has sparked a worldwide movement to introduce more kids to the wonders of nature through various planned and spontaneous activities.

CONTACTS: Ecopsychology Institute, ecopsychology.athabascau.ca; John V. Davis, www.johnvdavis.com; Richard Louv, www.richardlouv.com; International Institute for Ecopsychology, www.ecopsychology.org; Project NatureConnect, www.ecopsych.com.

Dear EarthTalk: I saw a cover line on a magazine that said, “The next world war will be over water.” Tell me we’re not really running out of water!             
-- Nell Fox, Seattle, WA

Today fully one-sixth of the world’s human population lacks access to clean drinking water, and more than two million people—mostly kids—die each year from water-borne diseases. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), an independent organization that provides economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world in support of the foreign policy goals of the United States, predicts that by 2025, one-third of all humans will face severe and chronic water shortages.

Needless to say, water is of primary importance to our survival, and protecting access to and the quality of fresh water supplies will likely become more and more of a challenge in the coming years. According to the non-profit World Water Council, the 20th century saw a tripling of the world’s population while freshwater use grew by a factor of six. With world population expected to increase as much as 50 percent over the next half century, analysts are indeed worried that increasing demand for water, coupled with industrialization and urbanization, will have serious consequences both for human health and the environment. Access to freshwater is also likely to cause conflicts between governments as well as within national borders around the world.

According to USAID, the world’s “water crisis” is not so much an issue of scarcity as it is of poor management and inequitable distribution. The hardest hit regions have been countries in the Middle East, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. Worldwide demand for water is presently doubling every 21 years.

Water-related problems are not the sole purview of the developing world though. We here in North America have polluted and diverted our fresh water supplies far beyond nature’s capacity to restore the flows, notably in the West where sprawling, thirsty metropolises have grown up in deserts where the only way water can be provided is to siphon it from other regions.

So how do we fix the world’s water woes? The key lies in using water more efficiently—especially in agriculture and industry, which together account for over 90 percent of the world’s total freshwater use. But changing the practices of millions of farmers and businesses around the world is a Herculean task.

Irena Salina, director of the award-winning documentary film, FLOW, about the world’s dwindling water supplies, thinks it can be done if world leaders, international banks, the United Nations and other governmental organizations establish cooperative agreements for the use of bodies of water, including groundwater, and economic mechanisms to make sure those who need access to water can get it.

As for the developed world—where we use 10 times the water as do developing countries—Salina remains pessimistic. “If our own leaders were serious about solving problems, we would not allow corporations to discharge pollutants into our water sources,” she says. “Instead of spending billions on technologies that clean up pollution, we would be using resources to prevent water pollution in the first place.”

CONTACTS: World Water Council, www.worldwatercouncil.org; USAID, www.usaid.gov; Flow the Film, www.flowthefilm.com.

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek/, or e-mail: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php.

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 94 - September 6193
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