Green technology may get an indirect boost from a growing academic field: ecopsychology. The idea that humans’ emotional and mental well-being is related to the surrounding environment is not new. It goes back at least to Henry Thoreau. More than a decade ago Theodore Roszak was using the neologism “ecopsychology.” Back then he wrote about "healing our alienation from the rest of Creation." Now the issues and ideas of ecopsychology are getting wider attention and direct research inquiry.
Why does ecopsychology matter in the greentech economy? Because it directly opposes many of the dominant political and economic assumptions of our fossil-fueled current culture. One basic assumption of ecopsychology: as we destroy the planet and other living organisms we also endanger own mental and physical well-being. This is a direct challenge to pumping oil, burning coal, paving parking lots, logging rainforest and even driving electric-powered cars. Ecopsychology would have us believe we cannot batter the earth’s environment without damaging our own bodies and human society.
From one ecopsych website. “To our great loss, we deny that the nature-disconnected way we learn to think deteriorates our personal, social and environmental well-being.” This is a soft-spoken but direct attack on consumer values, resource exploitation without regard to effects, globalization of energy and mineral markets and the whole economic web that destroys mountaintops in West Virginia to run coal-fired power plants to power my laptop, to keep our cities air conditioned and electrically lighted.
Ecopsychology points to connections between humanity's effects on the environment and depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, even eating disorders. If anyone doubts the strength of changing ideas, reflect on the size and wealth of the whaling industry in 19th Century America when whale oil was major source of fuel for lighting homes across the country. Even if there were enough whales still living--and there aren't--can you imagine Wal-Mart or Costco trying to market whale oil lamps today? Whale oil as fuel is now unthinkable to most Americans even though it's a chemically viable fuel.
Even the language of ecopsychology challenges many of the assumptions upon which our current nations and corporations operate. “Solastalgia” is the kind of homesickness a person gets when the home place is changed beyond recognition or destroyed. “Biophilia” could be seen as opposing shopping as a recreational sport. “Ecotherapy.” “Rewild” the human mind. “Soliphilia.”
Perhaps one of the most influential progenitors of ecopsychology was Gregory Bateson whose attacks on the current politico-economic system were harsh: “There is an ecology of bad ideas, just as there is an ecology of weeds, and it is characteristic of the system that basic error propagates itself.” One of his essays is entitled simply “Mind and Nature A Necessary Unity.”
If it becomes widely accepted that “drill, baby, drill” and mountaintop demolition are not healthy ideas, greentech will get a lot more attention and perhaps investment.