On Being Green

Toward a sustainable future

How to Help Families

Are environmental issues irrelevant?

flooding in NYC
Last week at the Republican National Convention, Mitt Romney received applause by mocking President Obama for a promise to “begin to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet.”

“My promise,” Romney said, “is to help you and your family.”

There’s no question that many environmentalists are disappointed that Obama has not done more to protect the planet. Nor is there any question, really, that presidential campaign promises tend to be exaggerated. 

What was troubling about Romney’s remarks is that they imply a distinction between “the planet” and “my family” that is just not sustainable.

As comedian Jon Stewart said, “How many of your families live on the planet?”

Rising sea levels have already begun to threaten many families, communities, and countries – and not just abroad. Sea levels are rising fast along the US East Coast.

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In addition to the physical destruction that rising waters create, there’s a psychological toll. Stress and anxiety about the actual or feared loss of one’s home are negative consequences. In some cases they can contribute to increased domestic violence.

Displaced communities don’t just pick up and put down somewhere else. There’s a destruction of both economic and social ties, as institutions and people scatter in different directions. The breakdown of social ties affects immune system functioning and makes people more vulnerable to illnesses.

Homes are psychologically, socially, and economically important. As the residents of the Gulf were reminded last week, many of them are threatened by climate change. (And I haven’t even addressed the other ways in which environmental changes might impact human well-being.)

You want to help my family? Think about healing the planet.

 

Susan Clayton, Ph.D., is the Whitmore-Williams Professor of Psychology at the College of Wooster.

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