I have always been interested in the human dimension of climate change and how human psychology, values, traditions, etc. shape how we view and treat our environment and the attitude we hold towards climate change.
Recently, I read “The World until Yesterday,” by Jared Diamond (which I would highly recommend). In this book, Jared Diamond compared existing traditional societies to modern societies. In one part of the book, he talks about his time spent with the native New Guinea Highlandlers. He tells that when a family with two young kids moved away from their traditional New Guinea society and began living in a modern society, they were asked what main differences they observed between the two societies (apart from the obvious lifestyle and disconnection with natural resources). The New Guinean kids both replied that the main difference they observed is that modern kids in western societies seemed very selfish to them. Growing up at first in a traditional society, everything is executed with team work and for the common welfare of the tribe. There’s no advancement for the individual. Whereas, in modern society, we’re all about the individual. We teach kids to strive to be better than their peers, to stand out, to become “accomplished.” Too often, I believe success is held as a virtue above kindness and cooperation. This attitude/value we hold in western societies does not foster a communal well-being, but rather an individual well-being.
Practiced capitalism in the modern world also seems to breeds selfishness and greediness; if you’re not better than your competitors, you’ll be left behind. Often, this translates to mean making decisions that will help yourself at the cost of others. The constraints of this economic system seems to keeps us short-sighted because we’re not working to enhance the welfare of society as a whole, we’re working to further ourselves. It doesn’t matter what may be happening throughout the rest of the world, as long as we’re alright and we can’t feel the effects, then it’s not relevant. As long as we have the means to protect ourselves, everyone else can fend for themselves.
This is just a tiny piece of the big puzzle of the human psyche and climate change. In modern society, we need to stop focusing primarily on the individual and start supporting our collective families, our communities, our towns, our states, and our countries as a whole. Decisions need to be made to benefit the majority, not to produce great winners and great losers. We need to lose the “I” and find the “we.” I believe that cooperation and team building skills need to be valued above independence. It’s great to be self-sufficient, but you know what’s even greater? To be able to ask for help without it being looked upon as weakness, and to be able to help others. We need each other to tackle life’s greatest challenges, and that’s alright. We’re all in this together and the sooner we can realize this, the sooner we can put aside our differences and come together for the common good.
Environmental health is reflective of the mental health state of our species as a whole, and right now, we are very mentally ill. I believe that the two are intertwined, and that both need to be recognized and addressed to solve this bigger problem of climate change.
Bringing these ideas to a more local focus, it strengthens the inner spirit and mental health to tackle the causes of climate change and build resilient communities together. Last month, nearly 2,000 people attended the Free the Seeds fair in Kalispell, a very popular event co-sponsored by Climate Smart Glacier Country. People gathered to swap seeds, share skills and knowledge, and combine efforts to build a sustainable and resilient future. Events such as this help to foster enthusiasm and empower people through a shared sense of purpose. They also provide an opportunity to bridge the gaps between people’s different interests and values by putting differences aside and drawing focus to a bigger, common goal.
Kaitlyn Farrar is Co-Chair of the Climate Smart Food and Soil Working Group.