Deep Ecology and Sadness

The other day I met someone who thought that all environmentalists are sad.

They thought that people who want change can never feel ‘complete’ or ‘happy’ because ‘I can’t be happy until …’ – such and such happens – insert your own!

Now generally, as an environmentalist and ‘deep ecologist’, I do view myself as being capable of moments of joy, so I wanted to set about debunking such myths. I use the word ‘myths’ here to mean stories we tell ourselves about the way the world is. There are lots of these.

The first myth is one called ‘Economic Growth’. It is presently the dominant myth and it assumes that there is little need to change the way we live. Economic Growth is regarded as essential for our prosperity as individuals but in reality serves only a few. The central tenet is that in order to grow as individuals, as a society, even as a race, we have to focus on making money.

However to live this myth we are spending five planets when we only have one, and using the limited resources of our little planet as if it were an infinite income.

There are several forms of resistance that stop people recognising the negative effects of the myth of Economic Growth. Some of these are:

  • I don’t think that these effects are really dangerous
  • It just isn’t my business to sort out these problems
  • I don’t want to be seen as a non-conformist
  • This information is a threat to my interests
  • This evidence is just being made up

The second myth which I sometimes call ‘We’re Doomed Captain Mannering’ draws attention to the disasters increasingly created by Economic Growth. It is an evidence based account, ignored by many, about the collapse of ecological and social systems, climate changes, the depletion of global and local resources such as ‘peak oil’ and the mass extinction of species. This is the mythology of ‘Woe is me’, finger-wagging greenies who seem to want everyone to stop having fun and look after the planet. This mythology seems to be the one that non-environmentalists presume is held by people who claim to be ‘green’.

Barriers to people entering wholeheartedly into myth 2 include:

  • It’s so upsetting I prefer not to think about it
  • As soon as I start to think about the dangers I freeze up and feel panic. I feel paralysed
  • There’s no point in trying to do anything since it won’t change a thing or make any difference

The third myth ‘Positive Hope’ is held by people who know that the first is leading us to catastrophe and who refuse to give in or be scared off by the second. To enter this myth you need to be able to accept that myth 2 is upon us, and be able to face this. Hence the sadness.

But this third myth involves creative human responses to new and existent problems. It involves transformation at a personal level and the use of creative energy to change the poisons of economic growth into the nectar of a life sustaining society committed to the healing and recovery of our world. It is deeply challenging and exciting and, wait for it, can even be FUN! It means being closely in touch with your values and living an ethical life filled with meaning.

 Certainly there is sadness in accepting the things that the myth of ‘Economic Growth’ is doing to our planet and it’s people. But the sadness associated with these realisations is immensely preferable to the half-life created by the denial or editing of reality to see only what you want. Unhappiness is a basis to creative thought, but it is only one side of the coin. Without unhappiness there would be little reason to change, grow or enjoy the moments of happiness of a whole person.

simonthescribe writes and publishes articles, books and websites themed around living a sustainable life in tune with nature.

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