Indulging Eco-Freaks

"For people who feel an acute unease about the future of the planet, a small but growing number of psychotherapists now offer a treatment designed to reduce worries as well as carbon footprints: ecopsychology."

This Saturday, the Times ran two sympathetic articles on overweening and extreme environmentalism, one on the front page by Patricia Leigh Brown from (where else?) California, "For New Wave of 'EcoMoms,' Saving Earth Begins at Home." The other dealt with people seeking psychological help to deal with their fears of environmental apocalypse, especially global warming.

The women gathered in the airy living room, wine poured and pleasantries exchanged. In no time, the conversation turned lively - not about the literary merits of Geraldine Brooks or Cormac McCarthy but the pitfalls of antibacterial hand sanitizers and how to retool the laundry using only cold water and biodegradable detergent during non-prime-time energy hours (after 7 p.m.).

Move over, Tupperware. The EcoMom party has arrived, with its ever-expanding "to do" list that includes preparing waste-free school lunches; lobbying for green building codes; transforming oneself into a "locovore," eating locally grown food; and remembering not to idle the car when picking up children from school (if one must drive). Here, the small talk is about the volatile compounds emitted by dry-erase markers at school.

Perhaps not since the days of "dishpan hands" has the household been so all-consuming. But instead of gleaming floors and sparkling dishes, the obsession is on installing compact fluorescent light bulbs, buying in bulk and using "smart" power strips that shut off electricity to the espresso machine, microwave, X-Box, VCR, coffee grinder, television and laptop when not in use.


The notion of "ecoanxiety" has crept into the culture here. It was the subject of a recent cover story in San Francisco magazine that quotes a Berkeley mother so stressed out about the extravagance of her nightly baths that she started to reuse her daughter's bath water. Where there is ecoanxiety, of course, there are ecotherapists.

"The truth is, we're not living very naturally," said Linda Buzzell, a therapist in Santa Barbara who publishes the quarterly EcoTherapy News and often holds sessions in her backyard permaculture food forest. "We're in our cars, staring at the computer screen, separated most of the day from the people we love."

"Activism can help counteract depression," Ms. Buzzell added. "But if we get caught up in trying to save the world single-handedly, we're just going to burn out."

Like many young women, Ms. Pinkson's motherhood - her son Corbin is now 6 - coincided with Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" and the advent of and A favorite online column is "Ask Umbra," whose author weighs in on whether it is better to buy leather shoes or "pleather" ones that could contain solvents.

A similar subject is dealt with by Gabrielle Glaser in "Anxious About Earth's Troubles? There's Treatment," a respectful treatment of thebizarre new "eco-psychology."

For people who feel an acute unease about the future of the planet, a small but growing number of psychotherapists now offer a treatment designed to reduce worries as well as carbon footprints: ecopsychology.

Like traditional therapy, ecopsychology examines personal interactions and family systems, while also encouraging patients to develop a relationship to nature.


Dr. Doherty advises clients with global warming anxiety to recognize their concern about climate change and accept the limits of what they can control. He recommends "fasts" from shopping, the news and sending e-mail, while cultivating calmer pursuits like meditation or gardening.

Would the Times show similar sympathy (and give similar publicity) to conservatives unduly worried about terrorist attacks (a far more clear and present danger than hypothetical global arming threats), or Christians preparing for the Second Coming? More likely, the Times would portray those people as deluded and paranoid right-wingers - if it covered their stories at all.