This episode, I have the pleasure of speaking with Sam Gandy, an ecologist and researcher whose interests in nature, wildlife and psychedelics have led him far afield from Kefalonia, Almeria and Texas, to the Peruvian Amazon, Vietnam and Ethiopia.
We discuss everything from ecological restoration and resilience, to psilocybin research, eco-anxiety and the importance of actively working to heal the damage we’ve caused in the living world.
Sam has a PhD in ecological science from the University of Aberdeen and an MRes in entomology from Imperial College London. He has experience of working in the psychedelic field, including as a scientific assistant to the director of the Beckley Foundation, and is at the present time a collaborator with the Psychedelic Research Group at Imperial College London.
He has written papers, book chapters, articles and spoken at conferences and festivals on psychedelics and he is fascinated by their potential to benefit human lives.
Sam has a particular research interest in the intersection of two of his big passions: nature and psychedelics… and the capacity of psychedelics to reconnect our increasingly disconnected species to the natural world, for the betterment of humanity and the biosphere at large.
Written, recorded & produced by Nathalie Nahai © 2019.
NN: So Sam, thank you very much for joining me today. I would like to start by asking you a very big question. And that question is, where do you think we’re headed as a species?
SG: So I think if we carry on business as usual, we are in big trouble. So earlier this year, the intergovernmental science policy platform on biodiversity and ecosystem services, so this was a huge assessment, I think by about 145 world experts from 50 different countries took three years to complete and look back at 50 years worth of data. So it was the most comprehensive assessment of its kind ever undertaken. The news from it was not good. The rates of ecological degradation and biodiversity loss are unprecedented anytime in human history and they are accelerating. And the basic conclusion of this assessment was that without a sort of global ecological mobilization, kind of on the scale of world war II we’re in deep, deep trouble as a species, as a civilization.
So this kind of already adds increasing evidence to the already sort of well established view that we are in an orchestrating a thick mass extinction event single-handedly on our part, which is fairly impressive really. So the overall picture looking forward is from where I’m standing is not particularly positive at this present time.
NN: And in terms of … because we’re talking about a scale that is almost unimaginable for us to get our heads around. Given that you’ve been studying this in depth both through your research and then traveling and meeting people in different parts of the world, how do you integrate this knowledge with the way in which you live your life?
SG: Yeah, it’s a good question. I think in a few different ways. So I mean, I’ve always been very nature centric and orientated. So my background, my PhD looked at soil degradation and its regeneration in Ethiopia and the role of termites. So that falls under the umbrella of the science of ecological restoration. And I see this as like a very important branch of science now, applied science. Like if we kind of want a future and a pleasant future on this planet, we really need to start …. Sustainability is not enough. We need to actively be regenerating and restoring our ecosystems. And through that obviously nature benefits, but through the greater resilience, the ecological resilience, environmental resilience that come through that, we benefit. So it’s kind of a win win.
So that’s sort of partly my sort of background in terms of academic backgrounds. I support a number of different organizations like Cool Earth, a really interesting organization. They’re basically, they’re buying up tracks of rain forest where indigenous people live. And it’s kind of in terms of bang for your buckets, a really good organization to support because they keep areas of forest intact. So that has a few benefits. It keeps carbon locked up that would otherwise be yes or in the atmosphere contributing to climate change. It preserves the biodiversity of these areas and it also preserves the livelihoods of these indigenous people.
And that’s interesting as well because that report I mentioned before, one of the really interesting and few positive findings of it was the areas of land inhabited and sort of managed by indigenous people were the only areas and habitat by humans not undergoing ecological degradation. That was even a study earlier this year that found the areas inhabited by indigenous people can sometimes harbor greater biodiversity than equivalent protected areas.
NN: Isn’t that extraordinary because I think we have this narrative now in many parts of the world where we’re just starting to wake up to the severity of the situation. We have this narrative that humans are bad and that we have failed in our stewardship of nature and yet when you look at the research around how there is the potential for great partnership and for regenerative relationship between humans and our environments, especially when looking at the ways in which indigenous groups are so wise and able to do a lot of the stuff that we now so badly need to do at scale. Do you think there’s space there for us to kind of rewrite the narrative as humans being bad for the environment and something more positive that we could, I don’t know, use to spur us on to make the changes that we need to?
SG: Yeah, no, I think so. So I mean, one of the sort of things I’m interested in here just to use a bit of an example in the UK is like reintroducing beavers because beavers are very powerful ecosystem engineers. They were part of our landscape till about 400 years ago. And like they have this huge effect on their surrounding environment that goes far beyond them as individuals that benefits and sort of affects many other different like species. And humans have that effect too. But we can use … We’re a very powerful species and we were very intelligent resourceful species and we can absolutely play a fundamental and very important role in actively regenerating, restoring degraded landscapes and ecosystems. And there were many case studies to show this.
So yeah, absolutely. I think we can play a more positive role than we are maybe playing as a whole. And I also think the eco anxiety as an illness, as a mental illness and nature deficit disorder and all these new conditions linked to degradation of the environment are on the rise. And I think by actively restoring nature and regenerating it, I think it can be also a psychologically healing act as well as good intrinsically itself.
NN: That’s fascinating. It’s funny as you’re saying this, it’s reminded me of a couple of things I picked up in a podcast I was listening to earlier today and two of the things that they’re talking about, one is that we have device modern civilizations so that humans generally extract from the environment and don’t then put nutrients back in unless we’re doing it through fertilizers and natural or otherwise. But actually our bodies don’t go back into the soil. They’re kind of preserved or segregated, I suppose in a sense. And there’s a place in Washington DC, I forget the name of the startup, but it’s basically been legalized for the first time this year, the process of putting a body back into its own composting heap and then giving the humus to the relatives so they can put it underneath their favorite plant or go and take it to beloved forest. So it’s actually bring our bodies back into the equation. So we’re giving something back. I mean, what do you think about that? Because it’s probably quite a radical idea in modern society.
SG: Yeah. Well I think that sort of quite an interesting idea in the sense of being connected with the earth and cycles. I know there’s been other sort of startups of where you kind of, I think we’re actually, I think it involved cremation, but then you have your ashes put in a biodegradable pot with a tree seed in and then from that a new true will grow. And also these fungal mycelium suit things you wear to kind of facilitate being broken down by fungi.
So, yeah, no, I think there’s a few different things kind of going on there and we definitely have a societal to boo against death and thinking about it and we also … well, we’re increasingly disconnected from nature and from the planet cycles as well in some ways. So it’s interesting, something like that kind of makes you address or confront both of those issues at once.
NN: It’s made me think also of your connection with Imperial College London, because I know that one of the things, if you think about the earth for instance, as the kind of womb and tomb of life that we spring from it and then we go back to it and our fear of death and our desire to postpone the inevitable and the work that I know the Imperial College London does around psychedelic research and how often psilocybin trials are used to help people towards the end of their lives to confront their own mortality and hopefully to alleviate the anxiety that can come with that and the existential questions and fear that arises from that. Can you tell us a little bit about your work where the psychedelic research group and some of the interesting things that you encountered in that?
SG: So firstly I think that kind of research using psilocybin into ease existential distress and anxiety in the terminal ill is very important. Like the strength of the scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of psilocybin for that are very strong and they’re stronger than anything else that psychedelics have yet been tested for. So I see that as really important because we don’t have any really effective therapies for people who are facing their mortality. We numb the sort of the physical pain of people, but the existential spiritual needs of people that have kind of been overlooked or ignored. And this is a way to confront that. But my particular collaboration with the Imperial Group centers on the capacity of psychedelics to connect us or reconnect us to nature and the implications of that. And so that’s kind of a kind of cutting edge area of research right now.
There’s been a few correlative studies and Robin Carhart-Harris, who’s the sort of head of the psychedelic group a few years ago, he published with a colleague the first kind of perspective before and after research showing that psilocybin can cause this increase in nature relatedness, which is can be otherwise considered one’s self identification with nature. So the degree to which you see yourself as part of nature, and this is really important for a few reasons because it firstly, alone it is associated with many measures of psychological health and wellbeing. So in heart life satisfaction, life meaning, vitality, positive effect, enhanced functioning at the state and trade level.
So it comes with a decreased anxiety. It comes with quite a few different benefits. It also acts as a mediator for some of the benefits one receives when actually spending time in nature as well. Particularly positive effect. And importantly and relevant to this discussion like is also the strongest, if not the single strongest psychological predictor of pro environmental behavior and attitudes. So I see increasing nature relatedness or connection right now as being something of utmost importance, both for the individual and for the planet, for the biosphere. And it seems from the evidence coming in, the psychedelics can increase this robustly and an enduring sense as well. So longer term, there’s not some kind of fleeting thing.
Yeah, we’ve just actually submitted a paper on this using some of Imperial’s psychedelic survey data. But because that’s unpublished, I can’t really say anything more about that at this time.
NN: And do you know when It’s going to come out?
SG: It’s very hard to tell with journals because each has got their own sort of time trajectory in terms of reviewing and publication. So I mean I can say that it will hopefully if and when it is published, add a good body of sort of evidence and sort of expand this frontier and move it forward hopefully. Yeah, it’s quite exciting to be involved with it.
NN: It’s interesting because one of the things that you hear people talking about quite a lot, or at least in some of the cycles that I’m connected with is the desire for people to go off to far flung places to do things like a bogus ceremonies or I’ll ask ceremonies or some Petro ceremonies or any number of more exotic noninvasive to Europe plants. And I think one of the things that I find really difficult about that is that in the one breath people are wanting to commune with nature and in the other breath many of them are then going in planes, which I do too. So I recognize the difficulty here, but then going in planes to places that are very far away and then having these experiences and jetting back.
And I wonder if we tend to exalt and make more interesting that which is further from our everyday experience. And yet in some of the research that I’ve read when you’re talking about this phenomenon of nature relatedness, it’s actually psilocybin which provides the highest, most robust experience of that specific thing over and above the effects of, for instance, iowaska or Bogo or some Padre. What are your thoughts about that? Do you want to unpack some of that?
SG: So well firstly sort of at this time, the bulk of psychedelic research has been with psilocybin. It’s the current, definitely the main focus right now. There’s been a bit of up a bit on iowaska and PDF and these other things, but psilocybin is very much hogging the limelight and advancing the research is the main sort of thing a focus. So that’s partly a reflection of that. The fact that it’s sort of the central focus. Either my colleague of mine friend David Luke, he did sort of an early survey to kind of looking at the sort of nature connection potentially of the different psychedelics and psilocybin in mushrooms definitely came top of the pile.
But again, that might partly reflect that they’re one of the more commonly used of the psychedelics as well. So we have to sort of take that into account. But yeah, I think to keep in mind is the psilocybin mushrooms, they are native indigenous psychedelic, obviously bogus central Africa, iowaska is a part of the Amazon and they have a obviously mushrooms as well in central America. But we have our own native psilocybin mushrooms here on our items. So I kind of see them as our kind of indigenous psychedelic and yeah, from the research coming in, like psilocybin alone has many different facets and potential aspects of like beneficial aspects when used with care.
NN: What are some of the ways in which you find psilocybin being most unexpected in terms of how it changes people’s traits in States or there may be others who are not so familiar with the research might find unexpected and surprising.
SG: So yeah, well just coming to mind actually this is more sort of focused on the use of psilocybin to treat existential anxiety and in terminally ill cancer patients. So yeah, there was two very rigorous high profile studies conducted by Johns Hopkins and New York University and published a few years ago, phase two studies. And it was a rigorous placebo controlled design. And it was interesting hearing the accounts of people undergoing this research and some of the accounts from people to Imperial as well. It’s sort of even I think the bulk of people participants in this research where they were identified as being atheist or non religious non-spiritual yet the descriptions of the experiences they had under psilocybin were wildly spiritual at very deep and transformative. So even people, the power of those experiences has a depth that it transcends the need to have faith in anything at all, if that makes sense.
People feel like they really come away feeling like they’ve touched some something deeper even if that deeper is a part of them that they had not previously fathoms existed through that and acknowledging that sort of people come away with more levity and they have a different often more sort of solid perspective on life. It changes how one perceives and navigates their subsequent life experience and it can be very useful at therapeutic if one is faced with a terminal diagnosis in particular, it seems that the psychedelic therapy really targets that in particular.
Just on the nature connection side of it. I’ve spoken to a few people now who even after a single psychedelic experience, they’ve been turned on to nature in a very big way. And what’s interesting about some of these people that I’ve spoken to is that previous to this they didn’t really identify with nature in any profound way. And so this is what I find interesting in the sense that, we think from the research it seems your nature connection in later life, your degree of nature connection is hinges partly on your childhood exposure to nature. So where you’ve grown up has an impact on that. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have access to green spaces and nature on their doorstep. And if you haven’t, you may not have developed that connection to nature, a tube to your loss and to its loss as well because you’re not going to gain the benefits of that and you’re certainly probably not going to be connected to it and then want to protect or conserve it through that lack of connection.
What seems to happen, and this is only kind of anecdotal at the present time it seems that people who have rate low in nature connectedness or don’t have much of a connection like a psychedelic experience can give people this sort of … yeah, this powerful perspective shift on how they view themselves and sort of how they relate to the rest of life and nature and the sort of the perspective shift that that agendas really stays with people and in a lasting enduring way. That’s an important point. This isn’t some fleeting thing. It’s a perspective shift that really stays with people.
NN: I find it fascinating when people talk about this desire for transcendence or for connection with something bigger that often we think that it’s something which is very cosmic and outside there and out in the universe. And actually what we find is that our desire for connection routes us back firmly onto this beautiful planet. I was reading today about the depth of, well how far down you can find life in the earth and how it is essentially a huge universe just literally beneath our feet. And it’s so funny because we don’t often think about that when we’re walking a path or on the roads that there’s just miles and miles of living a community beneath where we walk, where we drive, where we eat and play. What are some of the ways in which you found that psychedelic experiences have challenged people’s ideas about belonging and spirituality?
SG: That’s an interesting question. I think I’m going to need to have a bit more of a think about that.
NN: So I’m kind of thinking that sometimes people come into this, I’m thinking of people that I know who have previously been raised, maybe in a very religious setting, monotheistic setting, and they have this very specific idea about some people call it sky God religions where there’s about an eternity beyond the flesh that we have this dualistic idea.
SG: Yeah. I’ve read a few sort of accounts actually of people who had religious beliefs prior to going into their psychedelic sessions and then sort of it kind of very much shaking off the shackles of their faith to put it on lonely but also people being liberated because of that as well. Or other people who may had a theistic belief on what God was to them having through psychedelics, a pantheistic opening. So it’s like, actually God slash nature or the universe are one in the SGe thing. They’re two halves of the SGe coin or they’re just the SGe coin. There is no division, there’s not a higher sort of entity looking down at us and judging us for all our little actions. It’s all happening right now here and we’re a part of it.
And then you go the other way and then you hear accounts of people who were staunch atheists or non-spiritual people and they find a deeper connection to something bigger than themselves. So yeah, it can kind of go a number of different ways depending on what one takes with them into those sessions I think.
NN: And so I’m wondering what you make of the source of renewed desire for people to experience psychedelic journeys or trips or rituals and ceremony and safe settings, because this is something that’s been underground and it’s been there for a very long time, but the media has now kind of warmed back to the idea of maybe writing about and giving our time to psychedelic retreats, et cetera. And it’s something which I think people are feeling more able to discuss freely and share in more of a public domain. What do you think is happening there?
SG: Yeah, no, I think it’s true. I mean, I think the media is playing a definite, this is a few things are happening at the SGe time. So firstly, yes, the media is much more receptive and positive when it comes to reporting on psychedelic research and other things like a reefer madness style hysteria of the 60s is long gone, which is a good thing. I mean, maybe sometimes this can be almost a bit too evangelical but like overall I think things are much more balanced now than they used to be. So that’s one thing.
Secondly, I think the internet is playing a really important role like it did obviously previously in the 60s when I didn’t read this. So those John, the existential anxiety cancer psilocybin studies that I mentioned earlier, I think a few sort of high profile online magazines reported on those studies. And apparently between those articles there were a billion hits. So that doesn’t factor for people who’d read the SGe news in different on different platforms. But it gives an impression of like the amount of interest and also that people have access that many people have access to that information as well.
So I think like a kind of my web, the internet is connecting us all and sort of we’ve got all this information now at our fingertips so the people are kind of connecting with these movements and we’ve their fellow like minded people and it’s easier to find resources and guides and experienced people and possible retreat avenues for retreats and stuff. Awareness is definitely spreading through that medium.
And then also I think an important thing not to in any way neglect is the scientific research that’s going on. So the standards of science have come on quite a long way since the 50s, 60s and I think that people are sort of looking at these studies and sort of taking them seriously. And that’s kind of, I think finding the flames of the defeminization movements now that are kind of popping up in the US and elsewhere. It was interesting in Oakland when the counselor unanimously voted to decriminalize organic psychedelics. It was the people who gave testimonies as to why they thought that was a positive step. They kind of used a mixture of personal transformative stories and also referred to the scientific research. So it was a mixture of subjective benefit and more objective evidence.
NN: Feeling and fact.
SG: Exactly, and both definitely have their place I think. So I think that there’s a sort of entourage effect of those different things playing out together I think.
NN: I can hear your lovely parrot in the background. It’s so nice. What’s his name?
SG: I put it upstairs to kind of clean it and he’s outside the door looking at me making noise for attention.
NN: I love it. What’s his name?
NN: George, the parrot. I wonder, well, let’s talk about George the parrot a bit, but I wonder with people’s experience of psychedelics, how it changes the ways in which they relate to other beings because I’ve definitely noticed that when I’ve had experiences that connect me back to nature, I perceive personhood and other beings so much more easily than when I’ve been living in a city for a long time. And I imagine when you’re living with other beings, you probably attuned to that as well. You can’t help but attuned to that.
SG: Yeah, no, I think so. It’s interesting. There were so many tales of people actually being under the influence of psychedelics and animals are behaving really quite differently, including wild animals as well. Animals very suspiciously seem to lose their fear of humans, while they’re in that state a lot. It sounds a little bit kooky, but I know there’s so many firsthand accounts of people I know and otherwise like rational, skeptical people. But no, I think when you kind of the filters on your brain sort of calm down when you’re under the influence of these things. So you do sort of like pay attention to things and to little details around you that you would otherwise maybe miss or your brain would kind of overlook, like our brains are sort of, they partly operate in this reality by its taken to be an efficient organ is taking shortcuts when it can.
And partly what the brain does is it projects what it thinks is out there, quote unquote, even though technically it’s all in here, it’s all in our heads. It projects what it thinks is there based on its prior experiences and expectations. And that could that takes away some of the processing powers that are required for sentience. But when you’re on a high dose of a psychedelic, that sort of projection filtering mechanism becomes a bit sort of scrambled. So you end up taking more raw, unedited uncensored data in. There’s this fascinating test and it sounds quite simple, sounds a bit recruited task, but it’s quite revealing and all it is, it’s a white mask rotating. And when you’re sober you can’t tell whether this mask is facing towards you or facing away from me, whether it’s concave or convex. But when you’re under a psychedelic, you can see it, you can see if it’s looking head on or if it’s looking away from you.
And schizophrenia can also see that. And that’s what that sort of indicating is that sort of filtering mechanism, that projection mechanism of what the brain thinks is there is being disrupted and taken down. So you’re actually interestingly getting a more objective picture of what’s actually going on.
NN: That’s fascinating. That’s so fascinating. It’s interesting to think that because people will say, on psychedelics you’re opening your mind. A lot of people, if you have a high enough dose, have very synesthetic experiences where senses start to blend. And we somehow think that that’s well an altered state in as much as it’s not something that you experience every day. And yet we forget that every day we’re living in an altered state by virtue of the fact that our systems are filtering constantly in order to live with greater ease. And yet we’ve got these kind of framings sort of in a way that suits us, but it doesn’t necessarily reflect reality.
NN: So I have another question. I kind of want to go down a little bit of I suppose a different route. So a friend of mine was recently reading a syfy book that sets in the future. And he was talking about how the idea in this book is that kind of like this Allen Watson idea that as an Apple tree apples, so an earth peoples, so with the progeny of the earth and we’re sent in the way that humans are sentient, and that creates a certain kind of consciousness that otherwise wouldn’t exist if we want to hear. So we’re able to experience ourselves and ourselves as a part of nature in a way that otherwise wouldn’t exist anyway.
And it talks about this idea and in the book they take it further and they say that the humans are the ones which are basically the seeds of the earth that go off and populate other planets. And I don’t want to necessarily take it that far. But I do want to ask, what are your thoughts about our role in trying to use the networks available to us? The networks of people, the networks of the internet, that parallels what we’ve my CDO networks to get ourselves out of this extraordinary mess that we find ourselves in with the climate crisis.
SG: That’s a big question. Yeah, no, I think that potential is there, but if I’m on to see it happening, I used to be I think more … I think I am great and positive and optimistic overall, but given the way things are playing out now and human nature, unfortunately from what I know of it in some facets, basically we have an academic understanding of what we’re doing to the planet. It’s beyond down the that we are changing things and changing things badly on a global scale in many different ways. But the knowledge of that it’s not sufficient to catalyze the change at the necessary speed or scale it needs to make a difference. So that’s pretty worrying.
And I see this partly, this is a kind of a side effect of our profound disconnection from nature, is one of the great tragedies or the great negatives of our very successful materialistic technological civilization is our disconnect from nature. And we know from the research that as your connection to nature goes up as a side effect, your concern for it goes up as well. Your desire to protect and preserve it. But yeah, we sort of like, we do need a fundamental shift in how we relate to the planet and in order to better preserve it and be stewards of it because right now we’re not really, or most of us aren’t really living up to that. But I don’t want to go on a soapbox. I’m complicit. I’ve done fossil fuels and thrown away plastic and I’m far from flawless.
And my very presence here is having a negative impact on stuff. So, it’s hard because they’re all kind of complicit. But we need a huge overhaul basically in capitalism, in the current political system. It’s like a serious undertaking. I just don’t see our society in terms of like the sort of the short term economic gain model and the current political model. It’s just not compatible with a longterm ecologically bright future. So I mean, I don’t think it’s even repairable. It just needs tearing down something else building up in its place, which doesn’t sound sort of particularly pleasant, but I would like it personally if they were much more strict laws on eco side and damage to the environment, that would be a priority. We need to move past this model of sustainability and be much more regeneration, restoration focus.
So instead of investing billions into the military and other things, let’s reinvest that money into statewide, nationwide, global ecological restoration, regeneration products, longterm viability and sustainability needs to supply this short term economic game, which is really a sort of like a massive four minute aside of moving forward in a good way. And yeah, I think we need to kind of re-establish our ever growing disconnect from nature. Unless we address that root psychological connection, I don’t see things as likely to radically change.
NN: Okay. So here’s another question for you. Given that as you say, the scale and speed at which we need to change does not look particularly promising in terms of the actions currently being undertaken. What can those of us who are worried about this do to change our lives so that we are living more resiliently in 10 years? Does that look like perhaps moving out to the country of possible and learning permaculture and creating smaller communities and micro-grids of food and energy? What do you think helps at this point that we can do so that we don’t become completely mired down with despair and so that we create a sort of a possible future that’s maybe worth living.
SG: Well, I mean I think those things you listed there like it seems we know from sort of research that’s being done that these smaller community permaculture projects, even in the big cities actually where you get these sort of community gardening allotment projects that the quality of the soil, can be excellent. Like certainly much superior area to soil under intensive agriculture. The overall sort of viability and health of soya is a great concern because obviously like large, all our terrestrial food production hinges on that.
So yeah there is something like this as well as this disconnect from nature, there’s this kind of disconnect from community. Loneliness is increasing, suicide rates are like the leading cause of death in males I think under 50. Depression is considered by the world health organization, the leading cause of disability worldwide it’s growing. And I think this is more hinge towards to do sort of with disconnection from self and from others. So it’s kind of not so macro level of disconnection is that from nature, but it is a never form of disconnect.
So, yeah, I’m kind of like, I think the suggestion you made are good, I think getting involved with doing some actual ecological restoration activities and this doesn’t have to be a big thing. So the simple act of plant your tree, the simple act of life. You’ve not got much space, having a little few plant parts or having a few window boxes and planting some wild flowers in there, you will provide a lot of food for pollinators and for bees. Insects and pollinators in general and our native bees are in decline in the UK, a long way from where most of our insects and there’s like following the second world war, we lost like 97% of our wildflower meadows and following the war those meadows were never replanted or anything.
So yeah, that we’ve sort of like, we can all do a little bit. I think it’s important to sort of like, I think we can get a bit depressed if we kind of keep sort of banging our head against the wall. There’s the bigger picture. To a degree, so I think we can work on doing our bit and being part of local networks and communities that are making a positive contribution. And there’s many different ways to I think make a positive contribution. It’s not a one size fits all approach here, but yeah, it’s a sad thing that we can’t, if we carry on business as usual. Business as usual is not really a viable option, but it’s a big part of the problem to begin with. And if we carry on business as usual consuming the way we do, our current sort of economic growth is essentially modeled on a cancer cell in terms of its infinite growth on a planet of finite resources.
And you can see that that’s not really going to work out in the long term. So we need a different system kind of overhaul. I think part of what makes things a bit hard is the brains that we’ve kind of inherited from where our evolution. So, most species including our species, our paleolithic kind of ancestors like, “We have brains that are programmed to respond to very short term threats to our existence”. So like a saber tooth cat or whatever else predator out there that could kill us. And then our brain sort of jumps into action and flight or fight kicks in. When we’re dealing with these kind of more sort of opaque and longterm threats to our existence, it doesn’t trigger this SGe flight or fight response to most people, or too many people, so we mistakenly view these things as not a threat to us because they seemed far off or not really in plain sight. And that’s unfortunate. And it doesn’t rid us of the risk that those things may pose.
NN: It’s interesting because I know that recently with the floods in Venice, when we start looking, especially in the global North, when we start looking at the impact of worsening climate and extreme events on beloved landmarks, then suddenly we realized that we’re not infallible as we may think that we are. And I think that sense of, or for instance, the floods in the UK that are getting ever worse or the fires in California, I think we’re getting to the point where the immediacy of the crisis and its implications is really starting to hit. So the fact that this is already on our doorsteps that we can’t ignore it anymore and yes it might be too late to act to save many of these places, the sea levels are going to continue to rise even if we stop all fossil fuel consumption this very moment. And so you think, well what’s the balance there between, I don’t know, how much are we willing to lose before we act on the level that we need to act?
SG: Yeah. Well that’s a good question. Knowing from what I … my suspicions are probably quite a lot given what I know of human nature. I do have this weird thinking like with certainly capable of like big change very radically. Like the ozone layer damage is a good example of that. We identifies that like CFC, certain sort of fluid chlorinated compounds using refrigeration and stuff where we’re degrading and damaging the ozone layer. And we identified that problem and as a global sort of civilization, we took kind of rapid measures to stop that. And we know now that the ozone layer it’s rebounded following our actions there. So we are capable of quick, rapid, effective action.
NN: Well that has to come from the top down. Because that was legislation that was put into place to enable that transfer.
SG: This is it. I think it’s going to need to be a top down thing. But I wonder, I mean who knows how it’s going to play out, but there might need to be some big, some large scale negative impacts before it incites us to sort of act on a large scale to motivate that change.
NN: Yeah. I think he might be right. And I wonder what that means in terms of preparing ourselves. I know the Extinction Rebellion for instance, are doing lots of interesting work around how to deal non-violently with expressing emotions that rise up in relationship to relating authentically with others and things that mean that well that hopefully are preparing us for greater resilience in the face of difficult times. And I wonder how much psychedelics could have a role to play in helping us find that psychological and emotional resilience to face things that may well be very difficult.
SG: I think they definitely could. Yeah. I remember Gail Bradbrook sort of spoke about this where there was a type of her speaking about this at the Ayahuasca Conference in Spain earlier in the year, that was interesting. And that, part of the research one of my friends Dr. Rose Watson Imperial. She found that the psilocybin seems to sort of work therapeutically. I mean, there’s a few things going on, but it facilitates connection as we’ve been discussing. So connection in a broad sense to core self to other people and to the world at large, but also acceptance of what would be maybe considered unpleasant emotional states. So rather than numbing you to things you don’t want to sort of like deal with it kind of brings them into before and sort of confront you with them to process and go through.
So yeah, part of the thing I think with the ecological crisis is the acceptance that is going on, feeling that and grieving for that destruction and loss. We need to be aware about, I don’t think numbing it is going to sort of like solve anything really.
NN: From a pastoral perspective, do you find that you kind of like a wave I guess, that you come in and out of that grief?
SG: Yeah. For me in person, I mean I’m genuinely, and I’m a lover of life overall. I’m really grateful just to be here having this experience of being alive on this planet. And yeah, no, I am sad that the way things are playing out, but unfortunately sees part of it seems to be inevitable. And the other part is there are lots of other, I try and put my energy into positive proactive things rather than dwelling too much on the negatives, because there’s other good stuff, proactive, positive stuff that we can be doing with our time.
Also see we don’t live very long and I think you want to be experiencing your fair share of joy and connection and all the good stuff really as well while being acknowledging that there’s bad stuff.
NN: I love that perspective. So before I moved to the last question, I’m kind of curious, what do you find your joys in?
SG: Okay. So joy for me. So definitely nature, that’s been a consistent and constant source of joy and connection since my whole life, knowledge, hunger for knowledge, finding out new things, things that interests me in particular. That brings me meaning and purpose. I’m working on things I enjoy working on and yeah, writing is something that I like to do in different contexts and also connecting with people. Connecting with good people as well, that brings me joy. So I don’t feel like I’m lacking in joy or connection really. I’ve got this on a few different fronts. I’m sort of cultivating that I think.
NN: That makes me happy too. So on that note then, I’d like to close by asking you what one insight or piece of advice would you give to anyone listening?
SG: God, you asked me good on the spot question. Piece of advice? Well if anything, let’s go back to the nature connection stuff. So I would encourage anyone listening to this, make some time for nature. There was a recent study and it was a very large SGple size, so we can kind of have a good amount of trust that the data is pretty solid and it found that spending two hours in nature a week has profound effects on your health and your sort of longevity. And it doesn’t matter if you get those two hours in one go. It doesn’t matter if the two hours are spread about across the whole week. It doesn’t matter if you’re actually exercising in nature or if you just sitting in it. It doesn’t matter if you’re in pristine wilderness or just an urban green space with a few trees. It still has this restorative effect.
So find whatever gives you joy outside, wherever it be, like gardening or running or walking or tracking or beekeeping or biking or sailing or whatever activities. Pull your attention and desire to be getting out there, interfacing and interacting with nature in some way. Combine that if you can with your friends and family. So you’ve got that added human connection as well because it will do you tremendous good.
And yeah, if we want to keep enjoying, yeah. If we want to sort of preserve and hopefully restore nature moving forward, that connection to nature that’s facilitated by actively interfacing with it is also dependent on us getting out into it. So that’s what I would say.