peripatetic precipitates: on nature, healing, and homecoming

A column by Craig Chalquist, PhD

Locating Good Places for Ecotherapy Work

When we work ecotherapeutically, whatever the methods we choose, we are always involved in transforming someone's relationship to nature. That, of course, can be done anywhere: in a forest, by the sea, in the heart of a suburb, on top of a high-rise.

Doing the work where people are suffering from toxic or damaged surroundings gives it a special urgency. I live not far from Richmond ("Strong Hill"), California, a site of immense oil refineries, tanks laid out like pillboxes guarding the hills, and decades of chemical warfare conducted against the land. Refineries here emit more than two million pounds of waste per year. The EPA has recorded hundreds of spills, most of which run directly into adjacent neighborhoods. Groundwater has been found to be contaminated by benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, and xylenes; also found are toxic heavy metals like chromium, lead, nickel, and vanadium. Locals complain that their children have chronic asthma, skin rashes, recurring nosebleeds, and coughing attacks. Throughout Contra Costa County, residents are exposed to sixty tons of benzene, thirty tons of formaldehyde, and smaller amounts of other carcinogens every year, all from the six aging refineries: hence the name Cancer Belt, a region more responsible for global warming gasses than any other in the state.

Richmond appears in the Contra Costa Times almost daily because of yet another shooting or stabbing. The poverty there is appalling despite the fact that Chevron, California's largest corporation, is established there to pull billion of dollars a year in wealth from the ground while brazenly circumventing numerous environmental safety regulations and paying fines instead of cleaning up its operations. And yet nobody seems to be asking whether the human devastation there somehow parallels the ecological devastation.

I am always glad to hear about therapists and other professional healers taking clients outside, including animals in the work, conducting vision quests, and so forth, but there's a huge need for ecotherapeutic action in the trenches of social and environmental injustice. Exactly what that should look like I can't say, and wouldn't undertake to because the possibilities are almost without limit. The ecotherapist can work therapeutically, individually, socially, politically, ecologically, spiritually...and always on behalf of the vision of a just and healthy community.

If you live near such a perilous and woebegone place, you might start by studying its history, cultural groups, and most pressing social and ecological needs. Look for the linkages between human and environmental suffering, and do what you can to make these visible--and end a disastrous psychic split that runs all the way back to the no-longer-Fertile Crescent.



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