The Waking Up Syndrome

Environmentalists are now finally realizing that this is actually a problem of human psychology and human behavior, not just climate science, technology or resource scarcity.
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I've been reading a lot lately about the disastrous scenarios the experts are predicting if humans don't make rapid and radical changes in how we do things on this fragile planet. The scientific evidence is very alarming and the expert consensus is that if we don't change NOW, humanity is in deep trouble.

I believe the warnings are accurate. But are we humans really going to make the changes we need to make in the time frames the scientists are recommending?

I'd say the chances are 50/50 at best.

Environmentalists are now finally realizing that this is actually a problem of human psychology and human behavior, not just climate science, technology or resource scarcity. As a species, we don't seem to be very good at understanding enormous, complex challenges like the ones we're presently facing, let alone processing our emotional responses to these threats and moving into action.

The core problem is that humans are HIGHLY resistant to cultural and behavioral change!

Dr. Sarah Anne Edwards and I have written an essay called "The Waking Up Syndrome" in which we explore the stages people go through as they wake up to the reality of the rapidly-worsening environmental situation, as described by the majority of credible scientists. Our goal is to help people emerge from denial and face reality but not get stuck in despair or disempowerment as they move forward into constructive action.

Since all of our constructive actions may or may not avert the predicted catastrophes, some people in addition to doing what they can to solve problems are also preparing for the transition to a different way of life.

The irony is that this may turn out to be not only the smart and prudent thing to do ("expect the best, prepare for the worst"), but also bring more happiness into our lives. A simpler, more local and neighbor-connected lifestyle may turn out to be far more satisfying than the rushed and stressed rat-race so many of us endure today.

You can read our "Waking Up Syndrome" essay in Sierra Club Books' new anthology Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind or an earlier version in HopeDance magazine.

One important thing to remember is that both psychologically and practically, humans cannot cope with this degree of change alone. Few of our problems can be solved by one or two individuals, but whole communities can come together to care for one another in challenging times.

The Transition movement is particularly helpful in bringing towns and neighborhoods together in a positive way to prepare for the shift to a different way of living. Check out or to see if there's a Transition Town group in your area. Or start one with a few neighbors.

The "Awakening the Dreamer" symposium is another initiative helping people make the necessary intellectual, spiritual and practical changes.

The Center for the New American Dream helps people transition to a simpler, more sustainable lifestyle.

Other positive responses can be seen in the growing international permaculture movement the local food trend, the growth in home and community gardening, new support for sustainable local businesses and the Neighborhood Exchanges popping up in many places.

I'd love to hear how you and your community are preparing for a different future.

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