Fellows, Andrew. Gaia, Psyche, and Deep Ecology: Navigating Climate Change in the Anthropocene. London: Routledge, 2019. Pp. xviii + 232. ISBN: 978-1-138-30050-7.
This is an ambitious, swirling, dense, intensively researched, and ultimately important book. The author is a practicing Jungian analyst and a physicist, who blends psychology, environmental science, and cultural history into a lively, undulating, and fascinating monograph.
Over 30 years ago, cultural historian and Passionist priest Thomas Berry spoke of our ecological moment as one of “cultural pathology”. Fellows, in this work, resonates with this insight, talking about the pathological dimensions of the human community destroying that which gives it life, the earth itself.
Noting that the laws of nature do not bend to human will, Fellows avers that to deny this fact is “simply delusional” (p. 5). He proceeds to propose a less impaired worldview, teasing out its pragmatic and moral implications. Critiquing a laissez-faire, neoliberal economy that propounds unlimited economic growth on a limited planet, the author is attempting a radical re-envisioning of the human-earth relationship.
His chief interlocutors are James Lovelock’s Gaia theory, which claims that the earth is a living, self-regulating organism, classical Jungian theories, especially those related to the dynamic interplay of conscious and unconscious dimensions of self, notions of mind and matter interweaving following Spinoza and David Boehm, the deep ecology of Arne Naess that underscores the intrinsic value of all reality, and the notion of evolutionary panentheism, à la Frederic W. H. Myers, and others, which sees the divine presence in all creation. A very narrow intellectual bandwidth, indeed.
Despite its wide intellectual tent poles, the work works. Part of the reason it does is that the author ultimately roots his reflections in the notion of love. Concurring with Aldo Leopold’s insight that we need to develop “love, respect, and admiration for land” as a basis for any further ecological practice, Fellows claims that “the greatest motivator of all for this book… Is love-a deep fierce love of nature in all her guises and a determination to play my small part in healing our broken relationship with her” (p. xvii).
This parallels aspects of current environmental thinking, from E. O. Wilson’s “biophilia” and Richard Luov’s “nature deficit disorder” to the recent Canadian film of Nathalie Lucier, “To the Orca’s, with Love”, which confirms that love for animals and for creation has tremendous epistemological and ontological, and indeed scientific, value.
This book is an important contribution to the psychic-spiritual dimensions of our current ecological morass, proposing a deep synthesis of the aforementioned thought systems as an antidote to the prevailing rapacious approach to the earth adopted by our current corporate-driven economy.
In reading this work, one is reminded of the old joke, “How many laissez-faire economists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Answer: None. They wait for the ‘invisible hand’ of the marketplace to do it”.
But it is no “invisible hand” that is destroying the earth. As Canadian filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal’s arresting film, the Anthropocene, devastatingly shows, the technological assault on the earth for commercial purposes is jaw-dropping, and life-threatening. Fellows maintains that this requires a deep psychic, spiritual, and cultural shift to a new way of being human. In this, he is both correct and compelling.
Like Thomas Berry, however, Fellows does not fully developed the socio-economic, political, and racial dimensions of our current ecological crisis, and the need for what Pope Francis calls an “integral ecology” which adopts both the preferential option for the marginalized and for the earth. However, nothing in this analysis would prevent such a deepening of his project, and, given the refreshing candor and humility of the writing, one would suspect the author would be willingly to engage in such a dialog.
While this work is nuanced and detailed in its research, it is not strictly an academic endeavor. Based in part on his private practices in Zürich and Bern, the author grounds his reflections in the lived reality of dealing with persons suffering under the weight, the ponderous weight, of our current climate chaos and ecological despoliation. There is a refreshing, down-to-earth ingenuousness in the writing that renders the argument both immediate and cogent.
This work represents welcome “medicine” in our struggle to heal our relationship with our planetary home.
Stephen Bede Scharper
School of the Environment, University of Toronto