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Saturday, March 25, 2017

What To Do With Climate Change Stress

Source: Grist Climate Article
We are animals, there’s no way around that. We have the instinctual reactions of our animal ancestors within us in the form of fight or flight stress responses. But our stress today is different than anything our ancestors faced because of our ability to know what is happening around us. Ancestral human-like creatures used their fight or flight triggers to give them speed and agility when facing an immediate threat. If a cave lion is stalking you, run! If there’s a fire headed toward your village, run! And run fast! The physiological effects of being in a stressful situation are designed to give the body a short-term boost of energy, strength, and coordination. What they don't do is respond well to long-term stressors. 

Chronic stress is a leading killer in today’s world, possibly more harmful than smoking. Evolutionarily it’s as if our bodies haven’t yet adapted to our intellectual capacity. We can remember the past in great detail; we can look into the future and deduce the most probable scenarios of what is to come. This intelligence leads to long-term stress, and our bodies can't handle being in stress mode for very long. When we’re stressed, our bodies shut down less important processes like tissue reparation and digestion. Our blood pressure spikes, our heart rate increases, and our sympathetic automatic nerve system takes over. When exposed to stress chronically, our bodies start to break down and eventually, we develop heart disease or other long-term illnesses.

So, if we aren’t designed to live in constant stress, how do we deal with a collapsing ecosystem, energy system, and financial system? How do we find happiness in what can seem like such a hopeless world? How do we avoid the dark chasms of grief, and how should we live?

It appears as if each of us is going through a different stage of grief for the loss of our beloved environment. There’s plenty of denial out there, anger, hopelessness, and even some acceptance. When we lose a loved one, we’re expected to move through all of the stages of grief…so should it be different when we’re faced with the loss of our civilization? The fire is edging the village. What are we to do…Fight? Flee? Or Mourn?

Focus on the Breath

Meditation is the act of clearing the mind of clutter and worry. In times when life seems overwhelming, sometimes a few conscious breaths go a long way. Through teaching our minds to focus on the present moment instead of the perilous and uncertain future or painful past, we can counteract many of the stress responses that occur within our bodies. Taking some quiet moments, or even an hour, each day to clear the mind and focus on the breath will combat any stress, whether it be climate related or not. We can take this consciousness and inject it into every moment of our lives through practicing mindfulness. 
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on what is, and what is right now. Give all of our attention to the task at hand, even if you’re doing the dishes…and do them well. When the Dalai Llama was asked by a college student what she should be doing in the face of all this climate change and societal collapse his response was a question.

Dalai Llama: “What are you right now?”
Student:  “I’m just a college student…”

Source: Mystic Medusa
Dalai Llama: “Then just be the best student you can be.”

It reminds me of Joseph Campbell’s famous advice, "follow your bliss." Follow that which makes you feel fulfilled and joyful even if it doesn’t seem like the most logical path. People often respond to this with something like, “if we all did that then who’d take out the trash?” I don’t think a world full of fulfilled and joyful human beings would be trashy. As we place our security into the hands of nature and community…we will naturally take better care those things. Responsibility is part of living a purposeful life, we want a working role to give us purpose within a community. Human beings typically all want the same things: security, purpose, and community. We have proven over the ages that we will stand by and defend any system that offers us even a sliver of those feelings.

Nature is highly adaptable, and the universe is in constant change. Like in Permaculture, nature controls through rampancy. A fish lays 3000 eggs so that 100 will survive…but think about it. 100 fish just came from the one, that’s prolific! The point, please? It’s just that life, to quote Jurassic Park here, "finds a way.” The point is we are adaptable, our systems can change and us with them. Even when facing imminent doom, even after so much life has been can all turn around. I think that is why we exist with our big brains, language, and underdeveloped stress responses. We exist to predict the future, to participate in it, and to drive our evolution toward a sustainable existence.

Horror Science vs. Hopeful Science

The media is great at triggering our stress responses. If they succeed, then our attention is suddenly focused in on them as if they are giving us the biggest news of our lifetimes. Recent events have given them a lot of fuel to throw on that fire, and they are soaking it in gasoline (okay, enough with the metaphors). We are faced with unending studies warning of climate collapse, ocean acidification, melting arctic ice, methane release, pipeline contamination, etc. These make the news channels because they rally us around the televisions. The studies that don’t make the news channels are hopeful scientific studies, the ones that inspire us to turn off the noisy TV, breath deep, and smile.

The reality is we have all the tools we need to reverse climate change. I don’t put much stock into claims of a ‘tipping point’ or ‘point of no return,’ however scary they may sound. Those studies are based on models that don’t incorporate the potential of human-led reparation. Elaine Ingham at the Rodale Institute has demonstrated the ability of spirulina to bioremediate soils. This means that it removes toxins like arsenic, lead, and other heavy metals from the soil by breaking them down into constituents that are sequestered. Her active compost can break down asphalt and grow plants in oil contaminated soil.

Paul Stamets in his work with fungi has uncovered the massive healing characteristics of mushrooms. The Agarikon mushroom has shown the potential for being the world’s best defense against multiple viruses and pathogens. The Red Belted Polypore mushroom breaks down pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. It will likely be able to prevent colony collapse disorder in bee colonies. Oyster mushrooms have the ability to clean oil out of water.

Geoff Lawton along with those mentioned above is currently experimenting with mycelium’s ability to lock up salt in sandy desert soils so that plants can grow without extensive flushing, erosion, and microbiological loss. They also lock up fertilizer salts (nitrates) and prevent them from washing into lakes and streams. We can pull carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in the ground simply by re-greening portions of the earth. We now know that through repairing the life in our soils and greening deforested land, we can not only mitigate climate change but can reverse it.

The healing, like the destruction, will spread exponentially creating a domino effect of climate stabilization. The best part is that all the actions we’ll take to heal the earth will also make it fertile again so we can grow more and healthier food. It will incorporate animals, so we'll have vast herds of livestock that are treated with the utmost care and reverence, even, after we realize they are an essential part of this global ecosystem. Nature will diversify, adapt, and provide us with more solutions to future problems we haven’t even faced yet. We must embrace biology as a technology, but instead of trying to reduce it to its constituents, we’ll begin to study the connections and interactions within biological systems.


So fill your days with hopeful science, and learn about the solutions. The next time you find yourself in a climate discussion that seems hopeless, you can spread the word that nature is mend-able and we as humans are redeemable. It isn’t just a possible future, it is our future. As if trapped on a sinking ship with no land or lifeboats in sight, inevitability will catch up to us. We will set down our pride and humbly take a knee to the awesome power that was here before us, the natural world. It’s the coming of age ceremony for the morphogenic field of humanity, and after we learn some of life’s greatest lessons, we will celebrate this.

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