Ecopsychology, Social Justice, and Environmental Activism

Apr 20, 2022

Ecopsychology is transforming environmental action through its emphasis on contemplative practices that generate personal sustainability and equanimity. Environmental and social activism are more effective when based on peace and compassion rather than on anger and shame. By developing healthy ecological identities and focusing on the inherent ecological-self, Ecopsychology utilizes the transpersonal understanding that there is a larger environmental-self, based on unity, as motivation for constructive, peaceful, environmental action. With a deeper sense of psycho-emotional bonding to the Earth, activists can heal internal grief and work with the difficult emotions of anger, despair, and outrage in a way that allows them to remain calm and collected during conversations or confrontations with a perceived “opposition.” Ultimately we find that in the Transpersonal-Ecopsychology model, there are no opponents, but rather multiple individuals with valid needs. We look for professional tolerance in our environmental missions and begin to understand the psychology of the perpetrator with minimized judgment. We acknowledge the damage caused by the industrial, but move beyond the criticism that causes reaction and perpetuates blame. The focus instead is on creating awareness that empowers change, while holding space for difficulties without disassociating from them or revenging them. This requires a tremendous amount of personal sustainability, or psychological self-care, which can be developed through a wide range of Ecopsychology and contemplative practices.

An important issue in the field of Ecopsychology is the dynamics of power and oppression in both local and global communities today. Healing our relationship to nature and repairing communities fractured by imperialism and colonization are parallel. If we deem that people are nature and we are calling for the intrinsic rights of nature to be recognized, then we have to recognize nature as people and confront both social and environmental justice issues. It is easy to be idealistic with a transpersonal standpoint and claim we are all but one organism, the biosphere, and gloss over the uncomfortable and complex topics concerning disparities in race, class, age, and gender that are born out of the domination-control based society. Sexism, racism, and speciesism are outcomes of the same root problem. Aldo Leopold, in his 1948 Sand County Almanac, points out that the modern human relationship with the land is of “privilege without obligation” just as women were once treated, (and sometimes still are,) as "property" or slaves. In order to realize the ideal of a new inclusive paradigm we have to fit all of these pieces together. If we are indeed one great Gaian life form, then it’s time we listen to the places of disparity for the wisdom they offer from the “front lines” in this struggle. In Psychology, when we work with the shadow sides of our psyches, we seek to be informed by them. We seek to breathe life into those areas of ourselves that were previously shoved away, discarded, and devalued. By applying this metaphor to the outer world as a reflection of our collective psyches, Ecopsychology can breathe life into the areas of our communities that have been shoved aside, abused, neglected, and devalued. Too long people of agency have been making decisions for people of non-agency. This is the model of a culture of oppression and domination. In order to really construct a new paradigm based on community and power-with, everyone must be heard and agency must be freed to develop where it has previously been squelched. How can this be done if our society still operates from a subtle paradigm of separateness and otherness, blinded by factions of invisible privilege? If those with agency view the disparities from a vantage point, looking down at those of less agency, the disempowerment is perpetuated. Creating an accessible community model for shared venue will help remove the invisible barriers to equal say in redesigning our communities and implementing change. Just as biodiversity is necessary for the success of an ecosystem, developing safe venues and equal opportunities to express differing viewpoints and experiences will contribute to the dynamic health of our human communities too.

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