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 Befriend the Earth  
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Simply Well by . View all columns in series

When the air in cities becomes so toxic that allergic and sensitive individuals must wear masks and eye shields, there is trouble afoot. When major segments of a population can no longer trust the quality of the local water and resort to using their own filtration systems or buying bottled water, it’s time for some serious reevaluation of priorities.

In Greek mythology, the earth was seen as our mother and was called Gaia. The hypothesis that Gaia is a living entity, a single organism, was first suggested by Johannes Kepler hundreds of years ago. James Lovelock developed that concept further in Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth. Observing that our planet has systems that closely regulate temperature, oxygen concentration, and at least twenty other variables, Lovelock reasoned that the earth is much more than a hunk of rock with different species of plants and animals living on it. Rather, he proposed that it is a whole system made up of many smaller systems, including humankind.

I begin to look at this earth as my home, and myself as part of everything here.

- Susan Griffin

There is no precise point at which the mind stops and the body starts. Similarly, there is no place where the individual stops and the environment starts, and vice versa. The nuclear accident at Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union affected the agriculture of the entire European continent. We are all interdependent. People no longer have the luxury of thinking of themselves as belonging to separate nations. Just as you cannot expect to find healthy fish in a polluted pond, you cannot expect to remain a healthy human being when you’re breathing polluted air, eating devitalized food, and watching the earth being stripped of her resources. Wellness is an illusion if there is no commitment to the health of the whole planet.

Did You Know?

  • If everyone in the U.S. recycled one-tenth of their used newspapers, it would save twenty-five million trees a year.
  • Every ton of recycled office paper saves 380 gallons of oil.
  • Recycling glass instead of manufacturing new glass from sand reduces related air pollution by 20 percent and water pollution by 50 percent.
  • Americans recycled over two billion pounds of aluminum cans in 2000.
  • If only 10 percent of the population purchased products with less plastic packaging 10 percent of the time, it would eliminate 144 million pounds of plastic from landfills and reduce industrial pollution caused by the manufacture of plastic packaging.

Nobody made a greater mistake than he [sic] who did nothing because he could only do a little.

- Edmund Burke

You Can Make a Difference
Contribute to a saner environment by examining your own lifestyle for waste. Start a family recycling program. Take the time to separate newspapers, glass, plastic, and metal items from your trash and send them to a local recycling center. Bring your own boxes or bags to the grocery store, buy in bulk, and buy foods and beverages in containers that can be recycled. Save and reuse mailing envelopes, boxes, packaging of all kinds, wrapping paper, aluminum foil, and so on. Contribute clothing, old furniture, and household items to charitable organizations that distribute them or prepare them for resale.

There are many other practical, everyday choices you can make that will contribute to your own health and support the earth at the same time.

  • Plant trees. One million new urban trees would reduce CO2 emissions in the U.S. by eighteen million tons and energy consumption by forty billion kilowatt-hours (worth ~$4 billion) annually.
  • Eat lower on the food chain. The reliance on meat and meat products in the world’s industrialized countries is upsetting the entire world economy, necessitating the destruction of rain forests and farmlands to support the grazing of beef cattle.
  • Consider reducing your energy "footprint." Do this at home and in your workplace. Pay attention to how much energy you waste—lights left on, hot water running down the drain, excessive automobile use, and poor insulation with temperatures set too high in winter, too low in summer. Solar technology is growing in sophistication every year. You can install solar panels on your roof and reduce your draw from the power grid, sometimes even feeding power back into the grid during peak demand times and getting paid for it. Until we start thinking in terms of reducing our consumption and using alternative sources of energy, we will continue to live out of balance with the earth’s self-regulating systems.
  • Reflect on the interdependence of all things. Realize that everything you think or say or do has an effect—either for good or ill—on your state of health and ultimately on the health of Gaia. Share what you know.

Without music life would be a mistake.

- Nietzsche

Reprinted with permission, from Simply Well by John W. Travis, MD, & Regina Sara Ryan. Copyright 2001. Celestial Arts, Berkeley, CA.

The online version of Dr. Travis' Wellness Inventory may be accessed at ( The Wellness Inventory may also be licensed by coaches, health and wellness professionals, and organizations.

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 About The Author
John W. Travis, MD, MPH, is the creator of the Wellness Inventory and its parent, the Wellness Index. He is the founder and co-director of ...moreJohn Travis MD, MPH
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