My very first blog for Psychiatric Times, back in January 2010, was on the psychological aspects of “going green.” It turned out to be one of many articles I’ve written since on exploring the apparent resistance to address what I’ve come to call climate instability and global heating. Hypothetical explanations include comfort, conscious and/or unconscious guilt over our destructive behavior, denial, fear of the unknown, Freud’s death instinct, greed, narcissism, and resistance to change. Actually, those in some environments may even desire global warming because it may help their economies.
Right now, we have some cogent clues to the instability and heat, given the rare hailstorm in Hawaii, a snowstorm in Arizona, and thousands of record high temperatures in the upper Midwest. Even so—and even though human behavior has been thought to be a major culprit—organized psychiatry remains apparently unconcerned.
Many others have looked at this problem from other perspectives: cultural, economic, political, and whatever the state of science about the climate may currently be. Strategies range from advocating personal life changes to political protests. But progress has been slow.
However, spring is here, officially starting March 21, and, as it is said, hope reigns eternal. Those environments emerging from a cold and barren winter see green again. Romances are thought to bloom and many people supposedly feel sexier.
Sexier?! What does that have to do with climate instability and global heating? Have I been barking up the wrong tree, so to speak? If not exactly an epiphany, at least this seems to be the shock of insight that you might be lucky enough to get in psychodynamic psychotherapy. However, in this instance, I was in the waiting room of a Toyota facility, awaiting the 95,000-mile servicing of my car. Of course, this car is too old to be a hybrid, but at least my son bought a Prius. Unexpectedly, I was told that I needed 2 new tires because of a nail, so I ran out of the reading material I had brought. I looked at theirs and picked up the current issue of that prestigious medical publication, Men’s Health. This publication is generally geared to younger men, but I’m still young enough in my mind to recall my past physical prowess.
Then, what did I find in the Table of Contents but the article “Save The Planet, Save Your [A . . .],“ by Richard Conniff. No punches pulled in this title! Already, I was getting a clue for what’s been missing in our psychological approach—locker room language to interest the guys!
Although the article focused on the planet’s diminishing biodiversity, it is within the universe of climate change. Indeed, climate change is poised to exceed habitat loss in causing the extinction of species. Another psychiatrist, Eric Chivian, MD, has edited a well-received book on the importance of biodiversity for human health called Sustaining Life: How Human Health Depends on Biodiversity (Oxford University Press, 2008). Dr Chivian ([email protected]), is also the founder and director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School.
Certainly, plants have been very important in the early development of psychopharmacology. One of our early manufactured medications, reserpine, came from plant roots. Research indicated some benefits for depression and psychosis. Actually, it was used in India for centuries to treat “insanity,” and even Gandhi used it in modest quantities for its tranquilizing effects. In more recent times, we’ve had so many synthesized “me-too” medications that our APA has begun to lobby for a revived pharmaceutical push for new kinds of medications. So, a return, if not too late, to plant derivatives, may contribute to new medications in psychiatry and medicine, among them perhaps cures for baldness and impotence. And the latter gets us back to sex and the punch line. Maybe the motivation for behavior change conducive to the environment is much simpler, as the article highlights:
“If you want men to care about biodiversity, tell them it will help them live longer, avoid baldness, and have better sex.”
Is this the pitch we need to give men, especially the baby boomers still in control of politics and the economy? All we may need to do is clarify the links to climate instability, and see what core issues are of concern for women.
At one time in psychiatry, it would have been hard to ignore the connection of sexuality to anything. However, since the demise of interest in Freudian concepts, sex doesn’t seem to be on the minds of most psychiatrists. Not that Freud himself didn’t anticipate the importance of biology in psychiatry, but I doubt at the disappearance of exploring sexual conflicts. Selected interest remains in the sexual side effects of some of our medications, as well as any history of sexual abuse in our patients. The sexual misconduct of (mainly male) psychiatrists with their patients has also dramatically decreased, especially since the APA deemed it an ethical violation in 1993 for such interactions with any current or former patient. I guess I’ve been affected by this change also, since this is the first time I’ve mentioned sex in any blog!
Sex sells, though. Advertisers know that, and use psychologically astute overt and subliminal sexual images. Could we do so, too?
Have you noticed that our weathermen and weatherwomen on TV are getting more and more attractive? Maybe they could advertise our environmental problems on billboards and the Internet, saying something like:
•Getting “hotter” may be attractive for humans, but not for our planet!
Or, maybe even recruiting an attractive psychiatrist to say:
•We have no known cure for climate instability!