Gratitude, Mental Health, and Climate Change

Today I listened to part of a broadcast discussion of new research from Stanford University regarding accelerating climate change. The study found a strong likelihood that heat waves, such as we endured last week, will become increasingly common over the next thirty years. Indeed, one finding was that extreme heatwaves, events that now occur about once every fifty years, could be expected to occurred several times per decade in any given local in North America, by the year 2039.

One researcher, quoted in the Stanford Daily, noted, “that the rise in heat waves could lead to what he calls “extreme” weather, which is “anything above normal, such as below or above normal temperature and a consistent anomaly for a long period [of time],” he said. “Extreme temperature is associated with extreme weather; anything beyond normal is going to have adverse effects on natural and human systems.”

via Study suggests rise in heat waves by 2039 | Stanford Daily.

The radio broadcast sought to be balanced, and encouraged rapid action to address the effects of global climate change. One commentator noted that not all the news was negative, as in North America, most weather related human deaths are due to cold. He reasoned that rising winter temperatures should result in fewer human deaths overall.

Of course, the picture is more complex, with rising temperatures having cascading impacts on all species, including humans. One little-discussed impact of climate change is the rapid rise in species extinctions worldwide. With climate change occurring at a rate far faster than previously theorized, one can only expect extinctions to follow the same curve. While people in the industrialized countries probably can adapt to climate change, other peoples, and the rest of the Natural world likely cannot. The result will be a world without diversity, a lonely world. It will also be a world in which the gap between haves and have-nots increases, and where billions of persons are displaced.

There is arrogance and a lack of empathy in the view that such suffering is acceptable. There is also a belief, unstated, that we do not need the plants, animals, and other cultures that have co-evolved with us to create the patterns and connections that are the ecosystems of this small, thickly interconnected world. There are few, I imagine, who would see these views as suggestive of mental health. Mental health, by definition, acknowledges connection, fragility, and complexity. Sanity understands that connectivity and diversity are fundamental to workings of mind, nature, and culture. Mental and spiritual health, as we have learned over a century of genocide and environmental degradation, requires us to acknowledge hat our fates are connected to the fates of all beings.

I was raised to be grateful to the Great Spirit for my life, to Mother Earth for my abode, and to the rest of creation for their support and companionship. I was taught we cannot live without the aid off all living beings, and the spirits. This seems to me to be a sane teaching. Gratitude, even in adversity, soothes the spirit. Respect for others, and acknowledge of our kinship with them, brings comfort. Knowing we are all in this together encourages compassion. Let’s practice.

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