Alexandra Ebert Gold

Shinrin-Yoku In My Japanese Bathtub: What the Climate Crisis Taught Me about Empathy, Anthropocentrism, and Zoloft |Non-Fiction|

When I first started taking baths on my own my mother told me to knock on the bathroom wall if anything happened while I was washing and she would hear me. I wonder if she would still hear me from Japan. Now I smoke myself out in the bathroom of the same suburban apartment with a leaking sink faucet; I crawl inside the drip. I lap up redwood bark suck on pine needles kiss the stream’s refrain; the bathwater is lukewarm. I am cold; my eyes are still. I sink further in the tub to Japan. Japan is nice. I do not want to go back to California.

When I am seventeen years old and surrounded by other seventeen-year old’s in a wide white California gymnasium I take the 2018 AP environmental science exam and I get a 4. This is the only AP test I take, despite taking other AP and Honors classes. I know I will get a 4 because I average 85% on a practice AP environmental science multiple-choice questions. I can fill in bubbles at the right pace. I am not as good at essay response questions because I do not care about the environment and that is why I do not get a 5.

The climate crisis means nothing to me before I start Zoloft. Before Zoloft, I am immune. I do not expect to live past 21. I do not care if my family or friends or strangers live past 21. There is no environment but my 10’ x 10’ white-walled room and no essay response questions but what am I going to lie in bed and eat what am I going to yell at my mom when she asks me why I am not going to class on time what am I going to wear so that I look good enough to get dopamine compliments from people I do not like. There is nothing but the past and the present and the

My mom does not let me keep the Zoloft in my room.

I wish my entire family would die. This is because I am selfish. I think if my family died, I would get attention and feel better. People would pity me and I would have a reason for being depressed and people would not say why are you depressed you have a great family and friends and life and you’re smart and well-dressed and vegetarian and never cancel plans and have nice eyebrows and small hands and can only lift 10-pound weights and your favorite fruit is raspberries and you have a radio voice and you prefer ice water to room temperature and

Genetics, I say.

When my [       ] dies I wear a black velvet dress and a black lace headscarf and black patent leather heels, and I sit in the front row and weep and sigh and perform and thank people for their condolences. Everyone tells me I am so strong so sweet so undeserving. I let myself be held. I wipe the tears off the faces of those younger than me. We sigh. I wish everyone a safe trip home. My [        ]’s death did not happen, but if it had, I would have been ready. See how prepared I would have been? See how my empathy is better than yours? I watch Schindler’s List to prepare my tears. They run freely and I fantasize; I would be the best at being at my [       ]’s funeral.

I should have realized that my [       ] did not have much time to live. Not with the first waves of the climate crisis already behind us. Everyone I know will die and I do not have to wish for it. I do not have a choice. I should have realized this, but I did not. I do not know what I did instead I do not remember what I did during the last year before I realized the climate crisis is here. I do not remember the details of my life from October 2018 through April 2019. But I remember May.

I remember in May in the confines of my dried snot and black mascara stained bedsheets I read this account from the United States National Inventory Report.

I read this report and I laughed at the 50,000-year atmospheric lifetime of CF4. 50,000 years is long. I laughed because CF4 can live 50,000 years and I did not think I could make it to 21. I laughed so hard I cried, and I could not stop because I was afraid of my future. I did not want to be outlived by greenhouse gases. I called my mom and I said mom, I can’t remember the last eight months of my life. I can’t remember Thanksgiving or Valentine’s day or my birthday last month, but I feel fear for the next hundred years and empathy for those faced with climate injustice and guilt that I did not care sooner, and I said mom I did not feel anything. I did not feel but I want to live long enough to feel the future. And my mom said that I had not wanted anything in a very long time.

She let me keep the Zoloft in my room from then on.

The 10 minutes when I thought my future might be 50,000 years were nice. I might have left my bathtub before had I realized that climate change has been happening and I did not have enough empathy for the hotspots living in the future of climate gentrification blue-green algae blooms and crunchy dried up no-longer forests. The Environmental Protection Agency says that the average American spends 93% of his or her time indoors. I spend 93% of my time in the bathtub. I don’t remember what I do for the other 7%. I think we all might have left our bathtubs if we had understood what the scientists said when they told us we are running out of time.

I am a Florida coast woman. I drink key-lime martinis I divorced my husband Pat twenty years ago I never remarried I live in a two-bed one-bath apartment by the water I make minimum wage as a waitress. I will be dislocated by sinking lands and coastal flooding.

Environmental justice is a profoundly anthropocentric ethic, meaning that human beings are the central moral concern. Endangered species and the health of ecosystems are not dismissed as inconsequential, but human welfare and social equity are presented as central concerns. Thus, concern for environmental justice has the potential to appeal to a broader human audience, those interested in human well-being.  

The water from my sweat glands lets me take the first swim of summer. I drool I spit I cry out all my water. The lake is shallow, but I have no more water. The sign says no diving. Everyone dives. I never learned how to dive. The bathtub suddenly seems like a very small place to be spending 93% of your time. It will be lukewarm soon and I will crawl out onto my blue tile floor and wait till I dry.

I am a daughter in rural Peru. My home is in the Andean Highlands my father farms exported vegetables my first language was Quechua now I speak Spanish I do not have health care. I will die from the warm-weather Malaria spread in my nation.

The environmental movement is inherently anthropocentric. It screams help me save me let me live I am human, and I deserve me. The environmental movement is inherently selfish, but it may have to be if we continue living with the lack of empathy in Americans. When the Zoloft takes effect and you start to empathize with Florida coast women and daughters in rural Peru you realize that you were not alone in your empathy-less state. You question the validity of empathy compared with the validity of egocentrism. You want to declare let egocentrism rule; let me live past 21. I want to live past 21.

Positive feedback loops enhance or amplify changes; this tends to move a system away from its equilibrium state and make it more unstable. Negative feedbacks tend to dampen or buffer changes; this tends to hold a system to some equilibrium state making it more stable.


Question 3 (continued)

(d) Explain how melting sea ice leads to a feedback loop that increases Arctic warming.

(2 points; 1 point for correct explanation of the connection between melting ice and the increased absorption of sun’s energy and 1 point for correct explanation that increased absorption of sun’s energy leads to increased melting of ice. For the second point the student must complete the positive feedback loop.)

• Melting of sea ice leads to a decrease in albedo, or reflectivity, leads to water surfaces absorbing more of the sun’s energy.


• Increasing absorption of the sun’s energy warms the water surface further, which leads to further ice melt (completes positive feedback loop).

(e) Many species, including some whales and birds, will travel thousands of kilometers during annual migrations.

(i) Provide one reason a species may migrate a long distance.

(1 point for a correct reason why a species may migrate a long distance)

●        Limited food/water supply leads to migration to locations with more food/water supply

●        Food supply migrates and species follow prey

●        More hospitable climate during certain seasons

●        Availability of mates/breeding/birthing occurs in different locations

●        Protection of offspring from predators

I answered three essay response questions for the 2018 AP environmental science exam. This was one of them. I remember this one because in the time since I wrote a poor response to how melting sea ice leads to a feedback loop that increases Arctic warming—I have seen feedback loops everywhere. Depression is a series of positive feedback loops melting serotonin levels in the brain until it has all dripped out in the wetness of my eyes nose mouth. Zoloft reverses the feedback loop; it is negative. I wake up every day with depression and I wake up every day with the awareness that population growth wars over water economic instability and depleting forests for taking Japanese baths wake up with me too. The warming will never be gone—but with Zoloft, the warming has slowed.



Alexandra Ebert Gold is an eighteen-year-old writer living in Manhattan and attending The New School in pursuit of a degree in Journalism & Design. Ebert Gold has studied poetry and flash fiction at Wellesley College, as well as poetry and its performance at the University of California Berkeley. Her professional literary studies originate in Paris, France, where she spent the summer studying creative writing and co-editing a literary magazine and was given the creative writing student award by her professor at the close of the month. She has previously published poetry with digital magazines The Ellipsis and Jewish Women of Words.

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