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UNDO IT! Slowing down will do good in more ways than one

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Wonderful,” my friend said as we sat on his Hampstead patio, overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway. The sun reflected deep pink and peach shades off the roofs and siding of homes in a new luxury development across the water.

My recently retired friend continued, “I’ve only been here a couple years, but it’s easy to see Wilmington is quickly overdeveloping itself. It doesn’t seem like a place I’d want to work myself to death. Why do that?”

Good question.

Our great-great-grand-children will be surfing Burgaw’s beaches. Yet, we insist working ourselves to death by clear-cutting pinelands for development and building three-story homes on stilts in the wetlands adjoining the Intracoastal Waterway and Cape Fear River.   

After enjoying a lovely lazy evening, I drove home, listened to young climate activist Greta Thunberg’s interview and reflected on September’s seminar at New Hanover Regional Medical Center with lifestyle medicine pioneer Dr. Dean Ornish. Ms. Thunberg urges the grownups in the room (if any) to forego the “fairy tale of eternal economic growth,” and make efforts to undo the dismal ecological and environmental damage of humanity’s rapid industrialization.

For 40 years, Dr. Dean Ornish has found heart and diabetes patients, and people with other chronic illnesses, can undo damage partly caused by our fast-paced, fast-food lifestyle. Patients willing to commit to eating wisely, exercising moderately, staying connected with loved ones, and slowing down tend to live longer, fuller lives.

Why do we insist on overdeveloping the region? Working ourselves to death?

Change isn’t easy. That’s an inconvenient truth.

Most people who have heart attacks or diabetes don’t dramatically change their lifestyles for very long. Many don’t even take pills they are prescribed. Unless catastrophe breaks down the door, we’ll pretty much stay in our busy little bubbles, working too hard, worrying too much, and eating thick burgers and fries. Business as usual. 

Thunberg wants us to slow down the well-oiled machines of industry. She wants us to “unite behind the science.” But uniting behind the science hasn’t been easy since Al Gore unintentionally made science a key player in sport politics. Partly because of Al Gore, rather than see science as an impartial observer or referee in our sport politics, many Americans have put science on the team. They split “science” into Republican science and Democratic science. Optimistic Republican science says the climate is doing fine.

Business as usual. Keep overworking. Go shopping. It’s good for the economy.

Pessimistic alarmist Democrat science and naïve children like Greta Thunberg scream, “The house is on fire” every election cycle. 

So which science wins?

It may disappoint Democrats and Republicans alike, but science isn’t a registered member in any political party. And science isn’t about “winning.” 

On the question of climate change, science continues to strongly support the contention that human activity is hastening climate change, and climate change will dramatically change human lifestyles. Even those that refuse to get behind the science of climate change should be able to see that, as we clear-cut whole forests, dump kilotons of waste in the oceans, we are destroying Earth’s fellow inhabitants. Our ever-accelerating economic progress is destroying the biodiversity that is necessary for our long-term survival. 

It’s not all doom and gloom. There may be a path to a “bright and wonderful future.” Dr. Ornish suggests we slow down to extend the length and quality of our individual lives. Greta Thunberg suggests we slow down our visions of eternal economic growth to extend our collective human lives. Thunberg’s “Fridays for Future” campaign, taking Friday off to call attention to the climate crisis, may be a way to help the individual and environment.

One of the best ways to lower our blood pressure is to stop stressing out at work. Taking Friday off to meditate, pray, exercise, connect with people we love, will help undo the damage of our fast-paced, overworked lifestyle. One of the best ways to help our human habitat is to slow down the engines of industry. The temporary slowdown of the economic crisis a decade ago may have been bad for business, but it was good for the environment. Perhaps if we keep working together toward climate solutions, and stop working ourselves to death, we can undo some personal and collective damage and enjoy a “bright and wonderful future.”

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