How might psychology and religion lend insights that spur action against climate change?
At the Center for Healthy Minds, when we talk about well-being, we embrace the idea that it’s something you can actually learn. But well-being isn’t just an internal state of mind; it’s also a way of leading a life and a way of interacting with others.
As the old saying in Buddhism goes “The mind is what pulls the cart.” Without a basic starting point in the mind – even just a sincere wish to lead a better life – our efforts at enhancing our well-being are unlikely to succeed, even if we have all of the right external circumstances. But starting with that basic motivation, we can use our minds to learn how well-being works, and then apply that understanding by acquiring the skills that enable us not only to help ourselves, but also our families, communities and institutions. And it’s probably clear how this relates to climate change.
As our UW–Madison colleague Jonathan Patz notes in the book, climate change can be thought of as a public health issue on a global level, and just as well-being for us as individuals can be trained, so too we can learn what it takes to enhance our well-being in a more global way. Again, we start with that motivation, and then we need to educate ourselves about what we can do both collectively and individually to face this challenge.
As it turns out, even very small changes at the individual level can have a significant impact when they are scaled up in a global way. Changing the thermostat even just a little to save energy in one household can have a huge impact when many others do it. The same is true of other simple and small changes, such as choosing to bicycle or walk or use public transportation a bit more often. And when individuals work together, they can also make institutions change in ways that intelligently manage our environmental impacts at the level of governments, corporations and the like.
Certainly, all this is challenging, and we already see that climate change is not going to be easy for us. But just as we can choose at any time to become more aware and attuned to what contributes to our personal well-being, we can also learn to bring our capacity for constructive change to the larger realm of the environment itself.
Interview conducted and edited by Marianne Spoon