01 Nov 2018

Inner Space: Our Final Frontier?

Posted in: Inspiring Action

Inner Space: Our Final Frontier?

The benefits of mindfulness (our intentional, non-judgmental attention to the present moment) include better physical and mental health. Research on this ancient practice is now growing by 30 percent each year.

Is this just another health fad, or can mindfulness help meet the urgent need for climate action at a global scale?

In the second of three articles, Enviro-Mark Solutions Principal Sustainability Advisor Shaun Bowler explores the latest trends to find out.


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We’ve explored the far-flung corners of our solar system. Today’s teenagers have 120 million times more processing power in their smartphones than the computer that first got us to the moon. And yet, for all our technological wizardry, climate change and its devastating impacts loom larger than ever. What gives?

Climate researchers are now exploring ‘inner space’ – the interior mind-sets, worldviews, beliefs and emotions that govern our ability to bring about the actions we need to transform our society.

Swedish researchers Christine Wamsler and Ebba Brink have found that as mindfulness increases, so does our understanding of the urgent need for climate action and the probability that we’ll take action.

They‘ve unpacked different dimensions of mindfulness, including non-judgment and acting with awareness. They found that people who judge themselves more harshly and who run on auto-pilot mode (less aware of their actions) are more likely to be fatalistic about the future, and believe that climate danger is exaggerated or that taking action is pointless.

Having the skills to step out of auto-pilot and kindly and deliberately draw our attention to the present, is a prerequisite for accepting we have a climate challenge and more importantly, doing something about it.

How does mindfulness work for the wider good? Wamlser and Brink’s study was correlational, meaning that we can’t simply assume mindfulness causes climate action. But there are tantalising clues, including the role of mindfulness in:

  • Increasing our ability to connect with nature and view others compassionately
  • Steering us away from ‘compassion fade’ – feeling remote from the challenge and switching off
  • Being ‘other-focussed’ rather than obsessed with self-interest

This is how Wamlser and Brink believe mindfulness supports support collective climate action, leading to more effective governance and planning.

It appears that individual mindfulness and the inner shift in our awareness it creates, is coupled to the wider societal transformation we all so desperately, according to the latest IPCC Special Report, need. The 12 Thai schoolboys and their coach rescued from the Chang Rai cave had mindfulness skills - a key factor in their miraculous survival. Now, as those young men did, we have a slender margin for success. Unlike them, we won’t be getting outside help any time soon. Time, then, to look to our inner spaces?