Earth Day Psychology

Earth Day provides us with an opportunity to reflect on our place on this planet. The planet needs action not just reflection. Lessons from psychological science can help us convert good intentions into planetary health.

Beginning in 1970, much of the world recognizes April 22nd as Earth Day. The event was established as a means to raise awareness and demonstrate support for environmental protection. When it was founded, the issues of the day were land and water pollution, ozone depletion, and proliferation of harmful chemicals. By the 2020s this list of priorities has now been expanded and is now a clarion call for climate action.

The issues that fall under Earth Day are growing in number, scope, scale, and threat. We will never face something bigger than the survival of our planet’s life forms. This is not about seeing a need to protect nature as apart from us, it is, as the David Suzuki Foundation notes, recognizing that we are nature.

Psychology has an enormous role to play in addressing the climate crisis. Most of what we face in this crisis is of our own making (or substantive contribution) due to short-sightedness, ignorance (scientific and willful), and mindsets. But it’s not a done deal: there is reason to hope and plenty of space to act.

On a day when the world asks about what to do I’d like to share some ideas.

Fresh Starts

We recently. Katy Milkman (and others) have looked extensively at something called the Fresh Start Effect and its role in stoking change-making. Her research suggests that we can find a new beginning or ‘fresh start’ at any time by anchoring our change to a significant date. That significant date could be an anniversary, the turn of a calendar (think: New Years Resolutions), or even the start of a new week. What’s even better is that — like New Years Resolutions — we can always re-start them. We don’t need to make our resolutions once a year, we can do it anytime.

So if this Earth Day doesn’t prompt change today, make that day tomorrow. Add significance to that day and you’re off to a fresh start in helping our planet.

Love

Author, broadcaster, and plant-medicine coach Geoff Wilson notes that much of our motivation in life is directed in some way toward love or money. Instead of monetizing Earth, Geoff suggests we try falling in love with it.

Buy and care for a plant or use our bodies and senses to embrace our connection to the earth — and fall in love. Get to know and love the earth around us. I love this message from my dear friend Geoff. He has spent years exploring the ways to use love to connect with action through plant medicines. If you’re interested, check out his podcast (The Parables of Plant Medicine) and a soon-to-be-released book on the subject titled Evolve.

Reframe the Issue

But what to do next? That’s a question that many of us ask when it comes to tackling the climate crisis and dealing with issues that seem. Sometimes we need to reframe the problem.

Something that recently caught my attention is from the David Suzuki Foundation which has a Declaration of Interdependence. They want us to recognize that we are all connected. Nature and the environment are not separate from us –– we are a part of it all. By reframing our place in the world we can start to see that the harm we cause to nature is harm to the self.

A further psychological strategy that they use is a commitment of intent through the declaration. Signing up to be a signatory on this declaration makes a set of clear actions a commitment. This kind of declaration also connects you to a community of people…which is where our next example comes in.

Community and Conversation

Community is a powerful motivator for change and a place where we can learn to practice what we want to do. Talk Climate To Me, an initiative of Project Neutral, does this through creating a space for women to come together to talk, learn, and share their experiences. Talk Climate to Me (TCTM) does this through building the skills to have and host meaningful conversations about climate action with those around them.

By creating a community around conversation and purpose, (TCTM) provides women with a chance to learn from their peers and feel that they are not alone. This model provides knowledge, models strategies, offers chances to practice, and to connect with others.

Just like with TCTM and women interested in climate action, find your tribe and through it engage with others. Creating a space to learn and model change is exactly what our next example provides in a different way.

Connected Change

Multi-media producer, entrepreneur, and podcaster James Donison‘s message is simple: make a small change and connect them to something bigger. For Earth Day, this Australia-based innovator (and another great friend of mine) has decided to literally disconnect for the day. He’s taken his entire studio offline for a day to unplug as a means to save energy but also to connect that to the real need to take a digital break.

By connecting the power in his tools with the power to take a rest and reflect on Earth Day, James is talking with his feet. He is doing a number of small things and scaffolding them together. James is showing his young daughter, clients, family, friends, and followers what can be done. He’s modelling and educating at the same time and showing how to link issues together, simply. He’s also putting ‘skin in the game‘ by literally shutting down the tools of his business for a day (it’s hard to run a digital production company without power).

Change-making

All of these have roots in a set of fundamentals of change that I covered in the first season of Censemaking: The Innovation Podcast. If you’re interested in learning more, check out the first season where I go through the ten factors that influence change and innovation.

All of the examples above are illustrations of some of these factors. Together we have a powerful group of examples that can allow us to start taking real action on an issue that has never been more important.

Happy Earth Day. Let’s make this day last every day.

If this kind of systemic change-making is something you want to do for the earth or your organization and want help with, contact me and let’s have a coffee and talk.

Photo by Robert Lukeman on Unsplash

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Cameron D. Norman

I am a designer, psychologist, educator, evaluator, and strategist focused on innovation in human systems. I'm curious about the world around me and use my role as Principal and President of Cense Ltd. as a means of channeling that curiosity into ideas, questions, and projects that contribute to a better world.

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