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The Connection Between Slowing Down and Saving Our Planet

Creator:
Published:
December 14, 2023
October 9, 2023
Find out how the slow living movement and prioritizing mental health could actually help us save the planet.|Find out how the slow living movement and prioritizing mental health could actually help us save the planet.|Learn how dystopian novels help us to appreciate our world and realize the choices we can make for a better future.

As the climate crisis continues to gain momentum and the endless list of social and environmental catastrophes builds, I’m here to offer a controversial opinion: what the world needs is for everyone to slow down. 

Before I begin, I want to note that I’m mainly referring to the need for the world’s highly industrialized Western countries to slow their roll. So many other countries have contributed very little to global emissions yet are dealing with the consequences of our productivity-driven culture — burning and flooding and baking in the vulnerable corners of our world.

I want to make space to honor this inequity and say that many societies are, and have always, moved much slower than our own. More than anything, I want this brief piece to be an ode to a future full of hope, agency, and peace for every single living being on this giant, spinning rock.

A different approach to saving the environment

Out of curiosity, when you read the word slower, did it have a negative connotation? Does slow seem bad, maybe even countercultural? As the notifications bombarding our symphony of screens builds up, should we respond similarly and speed up our attempts to engineer and adapt our way out of this climate crisis?

That may be our instinct, but it’s not the only answer — I would argue it’s not even the best answer. But we’ve become so accustomed to our current luxuries, it is much more attractive for us to implore STEM professionals to find a way out, rather than slow down or give anything up ourselves. As Greta Thunberg wrote in a Times article earlier this year, our society’s emphasis on economic growth “has proved beyond all reasonable doubt that our ambition was never about saving the climate, it was all about saving our way of life. And it still is.” The solution isn’t about crafting new ways to capture carbon. It’s a lifestyle shift, which is scary for people who derive their sense of self and fulfillment from their possessions and status. 

Making mental health a part of the conversation

So how do we make the necessary changes a little less scary? Can we give people more agency by helping them feel at peace within themselves, without needing external validators? This is the conversation that is missing in most climate change discussions: how significant our collective mental well-being is in allowing positive change to happen. It is strikingly difficult to find articles and reports that link these two key issues together (though here is one). 

Science, engineering, and technology have a place in helping our planet remain habitable, but focusing solely on these tools can distract us from a bigger systemic issue — more people than ever are suffering from crippling mental and emotional health issues. I don’t have the time or space to list the very valid reasons for our collective collapse into mental despair (though I will recommend the book Lost Connections), but I’ve done enough research to realize that when we are not living in a baseline state of calm and connection with our self and our community, we are generally unwell. And when the societal scale of well-being tips to compensate for all of this distress, we are left with people trying to fix, solve, and engineer a new future without being fully connected to themselves. Actions are performed out of desperation, the crises worsen, and we lose our agency to change our lifestyle because we are trapped in fear. 

Where does slowing down fit in?

Slowing down can be one of the most empowering decisions we can make for our mental health. For me, this looks like longer walks with my dog and less time at my computer. It means prioritizing time with friends and family over time spent chasing deadlines. It means reading, cooking, doing yoga, running, and breathing more mindfully. While some interpret this as a lack of commitment to my work, I know that prioritizing this balance allows me to feel more recharged and focused when I am at work. In fact, my work is better because of it. 

Ultimately, slowing down creates space for doing more of what we love, which is soothing for our nervous system and reminds us of the joys of being alive. It can help us get into our flow state more, improving our work and fueling our passions. It allows us to stop and observe our environment, which can help us feel more connected to the greater whole. 

All of this contributes to a greater sense of well-being. And when a person feels emotionally well, they can connect again to what is important. If we can get to this point, maybe we’ll realize that the lifestyle changes and societal shifts aren’t so scary after all, because we have all we need for fulfillment inside of us. As Johann Hari says in the aforementioned book Lost Connections, “We have to change the culture so that more people are freed up to change their lives.”

More fulfillment, less consumption

So what happens when more and more people feel a sense of well-being and fulfillment? A general state of peace and calm would permeate our interactions with friends, family, and colleagues. This would have remarkable butterfly effects; calm would spread throughout their circles. Joy is contagious. More people would be content in their lives. They would stop striving for the material possessions and status that their ego so desperately craves, which is what keeps us stuck in climate-crushing lifestyles. They would recognize their worth comes from inside, from their very existence, not from anything they do or accomplish or buy. 

And what happens when millions of people want less? It becomes harder to sell them things. Our consumer culture fizzles. Society would have to reorient itself, and maybe, just maybe, emissions would finally start to decrease. Maybe we wouldn’t feel the need to take extravagant vacations that put our carbon footprints through the roof, because we would be content in our own communities and bodies. And maybe we would be okay living a simpler life. 

I know this is a dramatic simplification of the reality we’re facing. But it is enough to remind us to applaud the mental health professionals that are helping to solve the climate crisis by giving people the tools they need to receive agency, awareness, and inner peace. 

One of my biggest rallying cries is that we cannot move past this climate crisis without addressing this significant deficit in our society's mental well-being. Johann Hari brilliantly reflected on solutions for the mental health crisis in Lost Connections: “I wondered at times — am I asking too much? But when I reflected on it, I realized that the audacity of the changes we need now doesn’t tell you anything about me. It reveals only how deep this problem runs. If those changes seem big, that tells you only that the problem is big.”

So it’s not too much to ask. In fact, slowing down might be an essential ask of each and every one of us. Take a deep breath, put that phone on “Do Not Disturb”. We can do this.

Creators:
Lauren Fritz
Published:
December 14, 2023
October 9, 2023
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