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Disassociation with the planet (Dr. Kenneth Worthy)

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bigstock-Visualization-Of-Mathematics-43605037Protecting the planet can start with us.  What are the unhelpful thoughts and habits many of us have developed with respect to tending to our planet? Where did they come from?  Part of changing any behavior is first being aware of its root causes.  Dr. Kenneth Worthy, author of “Invisible Nature” provides a scholarly analysis of the root causes of why many of us have a disassociation with the environment and the societal conditioning that keeps us in a holding pattern.


Show Summary:

Blog Post from our Guest

Regaining our ethics, connecting with nature

by Dr. Kenneth Worthy

Many people want to see less environmental destruction happening in the world. Just about every week, we hear about new environmental problems: polar bears drowning for lack of arctic sea ice, disappearing due to climate change; a radioactive landscape around Fukushima; the poaching of African elephants by the thousands for their ivory, their carcasses left to rot; the Pacific garbage patch. We realize that many of these problems relate to our everyday individual choices, yet the problems seem beyond our control. Between us and them lie corporations, government agencies, and myriad others making important decisions that determine whether there will be more contaminated landscapes, healthy forests, or flooding due to climate change.

This fragmentation of our lives, our disconnections from nature and from the consequences of our actions, makes it difficult to follow our own values and ethics. We can no longer be fully ethical beings because we can’t control how we’re individually affecting the world. Modern life is like a juggernaut racing out of control. We ride it, but we’re not quite sure how to steer it. It’s ironic: modern technologies give us tremendous powers including intercontinental travel and products from all over, but it also results in unintended consequences including species extinctions and contaminated landscapes.

Certainly, many people make choices in line with their own values and ethics. You may stop buying plastic water bottles or processed food containing palm oil (because it leads to the clear-cutting of rainforests and the loss of precious habitat for animals such as orangutans). You may reduce your electrical use so you contribute less to climate change. But even as we try to do good, we’re so dissociated from the consequences that we can’t fully know them and respond to them. Today’s manufacturing processes are so complex, that even the experts aren’t quite sure of all the environmental costs of a product. Perhaps you buy an electric car or a hybrid car wanting to reduce energy consumption. But a meta-study by the National Research Council says the full life-cycle energy costs (including manufacture, use, and disposal) of an electric car may actually be the same or even more than those of a regular gas car. Our ethics are thwarted by the dissociations running through our lives.

How can we regain control over our impacts on the world and over our ethics? The first stage is to begin to learn more about the products we consume, such as palm oil, and to be more involved in political processes, such as climate change policy, taking them out of the hands of corporations. It can be a fun and interesting project to delve into the recesses of our industrial culture.

But psychological studies show that information is vital but it’s not enough. We must begin to witness the outcomes of our actions and to get more personal experience in the pulsating, complex world of wild nature, to know it with our senses and our whole body. Only by directly sensing how we individually and societally impact nature can we be motivated and informed enough to protect it. Such reconnections will be a generations-long project, but the process itself will be gratifying, and the end result—a healthy planet and sustainable society—will be worth every effort.

Above is a link to a recent radio interview I did on Fire it UP with CJ, where we talked about how to be more conscious and empowered with our individual choices and to know that there are many other cultures that we can draw from in creating new ways of thinking and behaving. These ideas come from my book Invisible Nature: Healing the Destructive Divide between People and the Environment


About Our Guest

kenneth-worthy_2 Kenneth Worthy, Ph.D., a research associate at the University of California, Santa Cruz, earned his Ph.D. in environmental humanities at UC Berkeley and works as an independent scholar and lecturer teaching environmental history, philosophy, and ethics at UC Santa Cruz, St. Mary’s College of California, and UC Berkeley. Worthy’s recent book Invisible Nature: Healing the Destructive Divide between People and the Environment has been hailed as “a tour de force” and “required reading” by environmental thought leaders. While it bridges the gulf between humans and nature, his research also joins diverse fields of inquiry—psychology, anthropology, classics, ecopsychology, philosophy, environmental ethics, and environmental science—including an innovative look at what Milgram’s famous obedience experiments say about environmental crisis. Worthy has traveled to hundreds of places around the world, from dry-cultivated orchards on a Hopi desert mesa to flood-irrigated rice terraces on Balinese hillsides, observing how modern and non-modern cultures think about and shape nature and how nature in turn defines human possibilities.


Follow Dr. Kenneth Worthy on his new Twitter feed,  on Facebook, or his environmental blog: Finding the Human Place in Nature.

My book Invisible Nature.