Ecopsychology is an interdisciplinary field that attempts to understand how human thought, behavior, and experience emerge against the background of our practical relationship with the natural world. Although there are important parallels between ecopsychology and environmental psychology, ecopsychology tends to be much more critical of traditional psychological investigations of cognition, behavior, and experience. Rather than ask how orthodox psychological knowledge can contribute to our understanding of environmental issues, ecopsychology interrogates the social, political, and economic foundations of modern psychological research and practice. Insofar as ecopsychology draws attention to the relationship between modern psychology and some of the dominant institutions in modern society, it also suggests that any effort to address the environmental crisis necessarily involves challenging epistemological and ontological assumptions that remain central to modern psychological inquiry.
The reading list for my ecopsychology course is available here. Throughout the course, students have an opportunity to engage in various experiential activities such as community tree plantings, a field trip to a local old growth forest, and additional assignments and activities that explore our experience of the natural world.
Passive Solar Design
When it comes to designing an energy efficient home, there are a number of options to consider. One option is to deploy the most advanced sustainable technologies to reduce your overall environmental footprint. While this approach is clearly an improvement over traditional design and building practices, the financial commitment can often place this option beyond the reach of the ordinary homeowner. An alternative to this approach involves designing a house that it is already prepared to receive elements in the environment that can help minimize our environmental impact. An example of this approach to sustainable living is the passive solar home.
When we think of solar energy, we tend to think of the solar panels we see mounted on the outside of buildings and telephone poles. Solar panels — or solar photovoltaics (PV) — convert radiation from the sun into electricity that can be used in the home. While these panels can make an important contribution to reducing our environmental impact, the mechanical systems involved in converting solar radiation to electricity can malfunction and often come with a hefty price tag. In contrast, passive solar design takes advantage of seasonal shifts in the sun’s position in the sky. With passive solar design, light from the low winter sun enters the home where it is absorbed by thermal mass (concrete, tile, etc.) distributed throughout the house. With proper insulation, the house retains heat throughout the day and releases stored heat at night as the temperature drops. In the summer, the high sun passes over the house and the thermal mass absorbs heat to maintain the home at a comfortable year-round temperature. The result is an environmentally friendly heating and cooling system that cannot break and that adds little to the cost of building a home.
With help from a LEED Certified Architect, we designed a small (1234 square feet) passive solar home that combines our commitment to sustainable living with our love of modern architecture. At the center of our house is an energy efficient modern combustion wood stove which supplements the heat from the passive solar. On average, we need 2-3 cords of wood to heat our home each winter. Since we buy 8-foot lengths of hardwood, the cost is about $200-$300 each winter. Working with Gary Schneider at Macphail Woods, we have also developed a sustainable forestry management plan so that we can harvest wood from our property while contributing to the restoration of the Acadian Forest.
Our home exhibits all of the elements that are central to a passive solar home. The floor plan is rectangular with the longest sides on the north and south. This maximizes the amount of sunlight that can be collected while minimizing the distance it needs to travel to saturate our home. The shorter sides on the east and west also minimize solar gain from the summer sun. The house is oriented to the south where windows are positioned to maximize winter solar gain. Few windows are on the north to minimize heat loss. A polished concrete floor and two interior concrete walls absorb heat from the sun for redistribution and to regulate overheating. Tight insulation keeps the heat in even in the coldest weather. On a sunny day in the winter, the temperature inside our home averages 20 C without the use of the wood stove and even when it is as low as -30 C outside.
Old Growth Forests
For some preliminary research on the human experience of old growth forests, please click here.