At Exploring Roots, we advocate for the wellbeing of people, our communities, and the Earth as a whole.  The way we see it, these seemingly unrelated topics are inextricably connected - they are one in the same. In an age of extreme environmental degradation, health advocates must necessarily be advocates of a healthier planet. A scientific evaluation of the state of our environment reveals growing pressure on ecosystems worldwide - a verifiable result of human activities - with threats of mass extinction and the undermining of the web of life itself. We have too easily forgotten that humans are animals, and we are just as dependent on the web of life, natural processes, and a healthy environment as any other species. Any animal that does not have the biological conditions for its wellbeing met will find its own health compromised, while those that do have the opportunity to flourish.

Research has shown that having a connection with nature has a wide range of health benefits, while being deprived of nature has a long list of consequences.  Why is that?

Human beings are the product of millions of years of evolution, so our bodies, brains, nervous systems, and souls have developed to rely on the specific, biological fit within nature itself. The forests, prairies, mountains, riversides and seashores are the homes that every aspect of our being craves. These wild places are where our ancestors spent 100% of their time - except for the most recent generations, which have rapidly established a modern lifestyle that is altogether unnatural. From the beginning of the human timeline, up until the late 1800’s, an overwhelming majority of people on the planet were immersed in completely wild landscapes, or could at least access wild places with relative ease. At the same time, up until the last century, most people lived lives that shared similar characteristics with those of our ancient ancestors - plenty of rest, communal living with closeness to family and friends, a natural diet, spending a majority of time outdoors, etc. Only in the last 100 years has modern life become so radically different from the life humans evolved to live, that the average modern person fails to recognize his/herself as a part of nature, and does not realize the degree to which this separation has negative effects on his/her wellbeing. We are essentially like fish born in a fish bowl, unaware of how much better life at sea could be. This separation causes us to live lives that do not recognize or value the laws of nature, and results in a way of being that is destructive to the whole of nature - including ourselves.

In this age where wild places are rare, tiny, isolated pockets, and most people experience near complete separation from the natural world, our actions and those of our recent ancestors have led us into dangerous territory. Human-caused global warming, climate change, ocean acidification, pollution, dams, deforestation, habitat loss, mass extinctions, soil degradation, and unsustainable industries and practices have placed such severe stresses on the environment and ecosystems that the world will never be the same again. Man’s actions have altered the Earth so severely that scientists have declared a new epoch: the Anthropocene. Planetary changes have always been a result of natural processes, until now, and the changes brought upon the Earth by man threaten the future of life itself.

What person would pollute his lands, and undermine his own wellbeing, except for a mentally ill one? Like addicts, who unconsciously and neglectfully march forward in careless development and consumption, we endanger ourselves, others (including plants and animals which help form the web of life we depend on), and the future of this planet. The psychologist Theodore Roszak’s book, The Voice of the Earth: An Exploration of Ecopsychology, is a highly recommended text examining the psychological dynamics explaining our predicament. 

To learn more about human history and what life was like for our ancient ancestors, check out the documentary series, First Peoples.

If we are to address the issues of our wounded Earth, we must simultaneously address the wounded human psyche. These two wounds are inextricably linked, as Roszak demonstrates. Our separation from the Earth is a wound. Because we have been shaped through millions of years of contact with the natural world, our sudden disconnection puzzles and stresses every aspect of our being. To be separated from our home creates a longing, though we no longer recognize what it calls for. We instead tend that wound with addictions: materialism, consumerism, technology, social media, alcoholism, pornography, or whatever will give us a boost of serotonin or oxytocin to make us feel a little better. Worse still, the psychological suffering in our world leads to violence, exploitation, and the decay of our communities - and this only makes the condition of our sick environment, and sick people, more severe. It is a vicious cycle. Our drive to medicate in ways that are unnatural only makes the wound worse - bringing us farther from the Earth itself. Our consumption requires resources, and destruction of that which we require for our wellbeing. Like any animal though, an imperiled habitat causes us stress - though we may fail to recognize its roots. If a bear’s forest is on fire or there is a lack of food, she will exhibit symptoms of distress. In the same way, we cannot be at peace while our home is threatened by global warming and the vast array of other human-caused threats. Even if we are unaware of such threats and their potential consequences, we do not escape the suffering. As is well known in the field of psychology, wounds that we are unconscious of still cause us suffering - and in most cases, the hidden wounds tend to cause the most trouble.  The unconscious will do what it can to make the one-sided ego aware. Denial - the beginning of the grieving process and an ineffective coping mechanism - will not serve us, no matter how much we wish it might.

We must accept the reality that the unhealthy state of our environment is contributing to the erosion of public health. So long as our environment is in peril, we cannot get what we need from it.

We must rediscover our connection with nature, and our love and need for it. In doing this, we must necessarily encounter wild places, and learn to recognize our kinship with the rest of life on this planet. An inevitable result of experiencing an ecological awakening - discovering one's place in the web of life - is the simultaneous appreciation for nature, and a profound sense of concern given the challenges we face. Next, we must go through the inevitable grieving process that comes from realizing that the home we love is under threat. From denial, to anger, to bargaining, to sadness, to acceptance, we must trek the wilderness of our wild souls so that they can be at home again. Only through the process of tending these unconscious and conscious wounds can we learn to have a mature relationship with our environment, and develop solutions that improve the wellbeing of people, our communities, and the Earth.

If we are to improve the potential for future generations to enjoy healthy, happy lives, we must necessarily create conditions in which the natural world is also healthy. That is why the Exploring Roots team is not only committed to improving health for our community members - it cannot exist in a vacuum in which the conditions for health are absent. We necessarily advocate for action on climate change, cleaner fuels and energy, protecting public lands and access to wild places, wildlife protections, and actions which lead to a healthier planet for all who inhabit it. We hope that you will join us in becoming advocates of health, conservation, and the environment.