This Term's Writer: Bonnie Wang by The Green Medium

Hi everyone! I will be the resident writer for the next week! I'm currently a grade 11 student at Old Scona, and am extremely excited to be able to write on a topic I am passionate about. In my spare time, I love to paint and draw, watch k-dramas, and bullet journal! An odd combination of hobbies, but it keeps me happy while I plow through the endless piles of homework.

As the years progress, environmentalism has grown to become a big movement - and with good reason too! It is essential that we embrace these messages and try to spread them far and wide. Although our planet is constantly warming, we are also constantly finding new and innovative ways to combat climate change, and the future still looks bright for us! I can't wait to share some of the unique ideas I have found with you!

-Bonnie

The power of nature: the mental health benefits by The Green Medium

Taking a walk alongside a serene lake or a hike through the forest has long been known to create a sense of peace and relaxation. But studies have shown that exposure to the natural environment could lead to a lower risk of depression.

As the world progresses and technology thrives, the global population is increasingly living in urban settings. Urbanization and the disconnect from nature is on the rise, and not so coincidentally, mental illness. In fact, city dwellers are more likely to develop anxiety, mood disorders, and schizophrenia, in contrast to their rural neighbours. It seems, therefore, that exposure to nature is linked to mental health and overall wellbeing.

A Stanford study found scientific evidence that by taking a walk in nature for 90 minutes, there is decreased neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex of the brain, in comparison to the other participant group, in which participants took a 90 minute walk along a traffic-heavy road. The subgenual prefrontal cortex of the brain activates during rumination, which is repetitive thinking clouded by negative emotions.

The results of this study are fundamental in that they show that exposure to nature can help with reducing the symptoms of depression. In particular, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), in which the majority of those diagnosed with SAD experience their symptoms during the dreary-skied months of the winter, can be alleviated through exposure to sunlight and artificial light therapy. Because SAD is primarily caused by the lack of Vitamin D that is lost during the winter months when the main source of it, sunlight, is unavailable, it is a prime example of a psychological disorder that is directly caused ― and remedied ― by nature.

So if nature is beneficial to mental health, what can we do with this evidence? Besides encouraging others to engage in nature, this can be difficult for those who are financially unstable and cannot escape the city often for a weekend camping trip, or for those who must work many hours in order to financially sustain themselves and cannot afford the time off. To ensure that the mental health benefits of nature are not exclusively for those who can afford it (like professional treatment for psychological disorders is in many parts of the world), urban planners and local governments can work to integrate accessible nature into city cores, such as parks and hiking trails. The use of nature as a form of therapy is something that requires more scientific research, but it shows definite promise as a habit that should be incorporated into everyday life in order to reduce the risk of depression and overall increase wellbeing.

- Jenny Le

Sources:

http://news.stanford.edu/2015/06/30/hiking-mental-health-063015/

http://www.pnas.org/content/112/28/8567.abstract

http://www.naturakademin.se/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Engagement-with-natural-beauty.pdf

http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2016/08/20/spending-time-in-nature-heals.aspx

http://www.medicaldaily.com/benefits-ecotherapy-being-nature-fights-depression-improves-mental-health-and-well-being-261075

http://www.everydayhealth.com/hs/major-depression-resource-center/how-nature-helps-depression/

 

The stigma behind environmentalism by The Green Medium

It may not come as a surprise to the idea that there is stigma surrounding being an environmentalist. Living in oil-rich Alberta, proclaiming yourself as an environmentalist means treading into potentially dangerous waters ― the risk of being perceived as a radical socialist is quite high, considering the fact that before the economic recession a large chunk of the Albertan population was employed in the oil industry. When you label yourself as an environmentalist in a community that flourishes from practices that damage the environment, it is impossible to escape a certain degree of judgement.

When I tell someone I’m an environmentalist, most people don’t take me seriously. Perhaps this has something to do with the stereotype that environmentalists are either vegan hipsters who read literature in locally owned coffee shops or wealthy philanthropists, and I don’t really fit those stereotypes, although I do enjoy the local coffee scene. The stigma surrounding environmentalism, it seems, is that to be an environmentalist, one must completely trade in their lifestyle, one that relies on convenience and affordability, to one of pricey energy-saving vehicles and time-consuming habits.

In reality, the definition of an environmentalist is simply someone who cares about the environment and makes a conscious effort to reduce their negative impact on the environment. Being an environmentalist does not call for drastic lifestyle changes overnight, nor does it require one to spend more money in order to use fancy environmentally friendly gadgets. Rather, being an environmentalist means doing what you can in order to reduce your environmental impact and acting as an advocate for environmental issues. It means continuing to proclaim yourself as an environmentalist and understanding that economic stability and environmental sustainability are not mutually exclusive.

Reducing the stigma behind environmentalism is crucial in reducing the world’s collective environmental impact. Through education, advocacy, and spreading the idea that being an environmentalist isn’t as hard as it may seem, we can fundamentally change the way society views environmentalism, integrating its concepts and practices into the general population and making environmentalism something that everyone can adapt.

- Jenny Le

Sources:

http://www.gatheringgreen.com/what-its-like-to-be-an-environmentalist-in-2015-bu-on-gg/

http://www.voicesofyouth.org/en/posts/consumer-habits-and-environment

Why do some people become environmentalists? The psychology behind it by The Green Medium

Nature vs. nurture ― this is a question commonly debated upon in nearly all aspects of psychology, but who knew it could affect how much of a tree-hugger you are? That is something that psychologists are beginning to grasp through recent studies in the correlation between personality and environmentalist leanings. Although it may appear that an interest in environmental advocacy is something that is learned through education and social/media influence, studies show that perhaps the “nature” aspect of us ― our personality, which is partially determined by our genetics ― shapes our view of environmental issues.

For example, a study has shown that people who score on the higher end of the personality traits of openness, extraversion, and conscientiousness (traits based on the Five Factor model developed by Paul Costa and Robert R. McCrae) seemed to be more likely to have green tendencies. This definitely does not mean that if you prefer to spend time alone and keep to yourself that you’re not a fan of the environment! After all, correlation does not imply causation. Another study has revealed that people who show a heightened sensitivity to the suffering of other people also show green tendencies ― perhaps this shows that many human rights advocates are also environmental activists, and vice versa. This is not a surprising result, because one who generally cares about the plight of their fellow human beings would likely care about the surroundings human beings are in and will live in for the future.

What is surprising, however, is the results of an experiment performed by Stefan Pfattheicher of Ulm University in Germany and two colleagues. They attempted to test if there was a causality, and not just a correlation, between empathy and environmentalism. Test subjects who were told to feel compassion when shown pictures of suffering were more likely to have stronger environmental intentions in contrast to test subjects who were told to remain neutral when shown the same pictures. Perhaps this suggests that a different approach should be taken when trying to persuade others to become more environmentally aware ― rather than giving them hard facts about climate change, endangered species, and the like, it appears that an indirect approach through the means of convincing others to feel compassion for the general suffering of others can provoke green tendencies.

The psychology behind why some people just seem more inclined to care about the environment than others is fascinating. Not only can it explain why we care, but also how we can convince others to do so as well ― and this can be fundamental in changing societal views on approaches to environmental issues we face today.

- Jenny Le

Sources:

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0013916514554695

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0013916515574549

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/03/19/the-surprising-reason-why-some-people-become-environmentalists-and-others-dont/?utm_term=.ddb46548aadb