Acupuncture and Climate Change

Seattle sunset 2016Avid readers of my blog may notice that I do not often write about acupuncture.  Here’s my annual paragraph: Acupuncture works. It’s relatively painless, safe, and offers effective, non-pharmaceutical relief for hundreds of different conditions. As a licensed practitioner of acupuncture for 18 years and the founder of Washington state’s first low cost sliding scale clinic, it would be my honor to serve you. My web page offers a wealth of information on the philosophy and practical applications of acupuncture. Or just make an appointment and start feeling better now.

There, done. Now to the main reason for this web post: The thermostat on our planet is broken. Our collective frog pond is dangerously overheated and very soon we will all be cooked if we don’t address the source of the problem: Human activity fueled by greed, ignorance, and self-centered desire is tearing apart the fabric of life in our world, rendering it increasingly uninhabitable, not just for humans, but for ninety percent of the animals, birds, and sea creatures.  Good medicine, and good medical practice in 2016, requires that we not only practice preventive care for our individual selves – body, mind, and spirit – but first and foremost, tend to the needs of the biosphere to which all life is inextricably linked.  Everything is connected. Without a healthy planet, there can be no healthy humankind.

As a health care professional, I believe that anyone working in this field has a moral responsibility to educate their patients about climate change. It’s not simply a matter of doing the right thing, but letting people know that their health is already being directly affected by climate change. If we think that government will “fix the problem”, we ignore the structural obstacles preventing a top-down government fix.  Even within a theoretical democracy, government’s function is not to fix problems, but to respond to the will of the people. In other words, the people need to define the problems before government can begin the fixing. Which brings us to the second issue – Americans do not live in a democracy, but increasingly in an oligarchy designed to funnel massive profits to a few while offering “bread and circuses” (i.e. appeasement) for the rest. To ignore these systemic issues, charging large sums of money for vanities like cosmetic facial acupuncture, is to participate in the cancerous plague of imagined human self-importance as the basic foundational life support of our planet crumbles.

My primary goal as an acupuncture is to assist individuals on the path of mind-body healing in order that they may contribute – in their own unique way – to the healing of the planet. Of course, basic to that role is helping people feel better physically and emotionally, offering pain relief, and supporting the body so that it can be healthy. However, the fundamental role of a health care practitioner is to educate people about wellness and that requires taking a long view, not simply of lifestyle issues such as  stress, sleep, diet, etc. but also of the water we drink, the air we breathe, the health of the soil, and the health of the biosphere in general. To that end, I endeavor to lead my life in an exemplary fashion that inspires others to think about using this precious life as a means to bring benefit, not harm, to all living beings.

For example, I regularly take time off to be on the front lines of climate activism.  It’s a simple fact that if we do not stop fossil fuel extractive industries and advocate for a just transition to a renewable energy economy, we have already punched our ticket on a runaway train of climate warming. And speaking of trains, another oil “bomb” train just blew up in the Columbia Gorge, not far from where my daughter and her seventh grade class were camped just a few weeks ago.  I remember hearing the trains rumble through in the middle of the night and distinctly wondering, when will the next inevitable oil train bomb detonate here?  The train was destined for Tacoma, Washington. Which neighborhood will be next?  The clock is ticking and our individual actions and efforts can make a difference. However, it is important to understand the broader context of social change and not mistake rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic for systematic changes which need to be addressed before global healing can occur.

I also endeavor to live a simple life, reducing my carbon and first-world greed footprint. I have no plans to fly anywhere again. I speak out at Seattle City Council meetings on issues of global importance, such as at the recent hearing unanimously approving the Carbon and Nuclear Free Resolution. I grow vegetables, recycle brown water in my home, compost, and sometimes help little old ladies cross the street. I could probably do a lot more, but the point is, I do my best with the resources and time I have.

Okay, if you are still with me, another short paragraph on acupuncture is warranted. These are difficult times. Toxins in our food, water and air are having a negative effect on our health. The threat of climate disasters constantly looms over the lives of communities and loved ones, creating an underlying current of stress and anxiety in our lives not always acknowledged.  Warmer temperatures are creating imbalances in the local ecosystem, which when combined with other factors, bring on health problems like allergies, asthma, increased susceptibility to viruses and infectious disease. The list goes on. In order to make a difference in the world, first we need to have our own vehicle (i.e. body and mind) running smoothly. Acupuncture can help. Everything is connected.

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