Sarah Wilson: This One Wild and Precious Life

Will you sleep throughout the revolution? Or do you wish to reconquer your one wild and precious life by waking up? Well if your answer is yes, then this week's episode is for you. I spoke with Sarah Wilson. Sarah is a multi-New York Times and Amazon best-selling author, podcaster, thought leader, minimalist, philanthropist, and climate advisor. She also founded the international I Quit Sugar movement and is the best-selling author of the books I Quit Sugar and First, We Make the Beast Beautiful.

In our conversation, we cover some territory. We talk about food, mental health, life's journey, the complexities of climate change, coronavirus, and our disconnection from what matters, in fact, back to life.

Health Podcast Highlights

Sarah Wilson: This One Wild and Precious Life Introduction

Well, today we’re going to cover some territory. We’re going to talk about food, we’re going to talk about mental health, we’re going to talk about life’s journey and who better to talk about all of those things with than my guest, Sarah Wilson.

Sarah is a former journalist, TV presenter, author, and activist. She wrote a New York Times bestsellers: (1) I Quit Sugar; and (2) First, We Make the Beast Beautiful – which Mark Manson described as the best book on living with anxiety that I’ve ever read. She’s also the author of another 11 cookbooks that sell in 52 countries. She’s the founder of the largest wellness website in Australia,, which closed in 2018, and she will tell you all about that.

She now builds and enables charity projects that engage humans with each other. Boy, if there’s ever a need for that, this is the time. In campaigns also on mental health and climate issues. In fact, Sarah ranks as one of the Top 200 most influential authors in the world, and she’s got a combined digital audience of 2.5 million. Sarah lives minimally, rides a handmade bike, and is known for travelling the world for eight years with one bag to pack so lightly – another thing I would aspire to.

If you haven’t read Sarah’s latest book, you must. It is truly wonderful, moving, and inspiring, and it’s called: This One Wild and Precious Life. A soul’s journey through the complexities of climate change, coronavirus, racial inequalities, and our disconnection from what matters, in fact, back to life. I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Sarah Wilson.

Podcast Transcript

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:00:01] I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which I am recording this podcast, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and pay my respects to their elders past, present, and emerging.

Hello and welcome to Unstress. My name is Dr Ron Ehrlich. Well, today we’re going to cover some territory. We’re going to talk about food, we’re going to talk about mental health, we’re going to talk about life’s journey and who better to talk about all of those things with than my guest, Sarah Wilson.

Sarah is a former journalist, TV presenter, author, and activist. She wrote a New York Times bestsellers: (1) I Quit Sugar; and (2) First, We Make the Beast Beautiful – which Mark Manson described as the best book on living with anxiety that I’ve ever read. She’s also the author of another 11 cookbooks that sell in 52 countries. She’s the founder of the largest wellness website in Australia,, which closed in 2018, and she will tell you all about that.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:01:10] She now builds and enables charity projects that engage humans with each other. Boy, if there’s ever a need for that, this is the time. In campaigns also on mental health and climate issues. In fact, Sarah ranks as one of the Top 200 most influential authors in the world, and she’s got a combined digital audience of 2.5 million. Sarah lives minimally, rides a handmade bike, and is known for travelling the world for eight years with one bag to pack so lightly – another thing I would aspire to.

If you haven’t read Sarah’s latest book, you must. It is truly wonderful, moving, and inspiring, and it’s called: This One Wild and Precious Life. A soul’s journey through the complexities of climate change, coronavirus, racial inequalities, and our disconnection from what matters, in fact, back to life. I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Sarah Wilson. Welcome to the show, Sarah.

Sarah Wilson: [00:02:18] Lovely to be here with you, Ron.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:02:19] Thanks, Sarah. Listen, you know, I love your books. I have to tell you that. I think I said to you when you wrote that book, I Quit Sugar, you guys, your whole team did more in however many years than the dental profession did in 50 or 60 years. And I’ve said that publicly, and I’ve said that to you many times. I thought it was great.

Listen, I don’t want to dwell on that for too long because there are so many other things to talk about. But I’m just intrigued that if there was a person on Earth that hadn’t read I Quit Sugar and you met them and said, “What do you do? What have you written?”, what would you say about I Quit Sugar? How was that to write and as an experience? Because it was much more than just a book.

Book: I Quit Sugar

Sarah Wilson: [00:03:00] Well, it was an experiment. You know, it was an experiment I did on myself because I had compromised immunity and had basically allowed the Western diet and Western living to take over my cellular system. And I went on a journey to try to sort of work out in a very naive journalistic way. Because I was a journalist at the time. I had an autoimmune disease, Hashimoto’s, for which there really is just a pill. That’s very imprecise. Well, a lot of imprecise science behind it. They think it works. It sort of tops up thyroid function that actually doesn’t fix the original problem.

And as you know, Ron, you’ve known me for a while. I’m not happy with a sort of Band-Aid solution, so I went deeper and it was called I Quit Sugar. Basically, it’s an invitation. It was I quit sugar, I gave it a go. I went down the rabbit hole of a science that was quite nice at the time emerged with a lot of information. It took me two years before I sort of emerged out there in the world with what I felt was a path through it. I gave it a go. It worked for me. This is what it did. If you would like to do it, give it a go.

It was never called ‘you must quit sugar,’ and it was done for a very precise reason. And that is because, humans, if we’re told to not do something, we invariably want to do it. You see the “Wet paint. Do not touch.” sign, you want to touch it. So I worked with a lot of psychology actually too, because it’s an addiction. It’s a physical addiction, and it’s an emotional addiction, and it’s a societal addiction, which makes it triangulation of issues.

Sarah Wilson: [00:04:30] So, yeah, that was the experiment. And it continued. And then it turned from an e-book. You know, it was very early days. This is shortly after the last Ice Age. I taught myself how to spend $100, finding out how to do a little course and how to write an e-book.

And I thought, OK if it discovers at 100 bucks, I’ll have done well. And anyway, it sold a few more copies, then that became an Amazon bestseller, and then it became a print book. It became a New York Times bestseller when it sold in the end in 53 countries. And then it became an online wellness programme with a bunch of stuff.

Why is the largest wellness website in Australia,, closed in 2018?

And then in 2018, I shut it down primarily because I felt like I’d done the work I was to do for the movement, which was to educate and get it onto the front page of newspapers. To get it out there. And I felt that I had done that, and anything further was about leveraging for money. And I’m not into that. That’s not my principle.

So I shut it down, sold off the assets, and gave everything, every cent to charity. And I still make money from it because I still own the rights to it, and so I still sell e-books. But all of that and I saw it recommends tick that goes on certain supermarket products like a heart foundation tick. I still give all of the money that I earned to charity going forward. That’s the story, I think.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:05:48] Yeah, it’s a wonderful story because I was actually, as you said, we’ve known each other for a while, and I was tracking how things were going, was it there like time-lapse photography of, “Okay, what’s happening now? And six months later, what’s happening now?” And it just grew into this amazing platform, which I know, you know, you were doing with Zoe.

Zoe Eaton was there. And I met Zoe. She’s wonderful, and she’s now working on Defeat Diabetes, carrying that on a little bit further. And then you wrote this amazing book, First, We Make the Beast Beautiful. Tell us a bit about that, because that was a real personal story.

Book: First, We Make the Beast Beautiful

Sarah Wilson: [00:06:27] Yeah. So throughout all of this and as a background to some of the autoimmune diseases, I mentioned earlier. Well, I was diagnosed with bipolar when I was 21, and prior to that, a bunch of other anxious quote-unquote “disorders”. Again, I went on a similar journey. I wasn’t satisfied with the medical understanding.

The medical understanding, you know, was fine, except it didn’t go far enough. You know, dead ends. I mean, that’s understanding. And so philosophy and spirituality filled in the gaps for me. And so I wanted to sort of work it out where it all came together and whether there was a framework or a fresh lens through which people like myself and the world broadly could view this phenomenon, which of course, was increasing and becoming epidemic, as we like to use that word these days.

Sarah Wilson: [00:07:17] So, yeah, I went on a similar journey, this one took me seven years before I merged with the book. And so I take a long time to do everything, Ron, like I’m a perfectionist and I’m glad because it means that I then don’t land into trouble afterwards, and I’m discussing very important topics, really big topics. As my publisher said, “Sarah, you just make a beeline for the hard stuff, you know. Sugar. Nobody wants to quit sugar.” I know. I’ll suggest people quit sugar.

And anxiety. Again, it’s something that people just want the drug, the diagnosis, and to go away and sort of hopefully live a normal life. But yeah, so this one, the premise of First, We Make the Beast Beautiful is it’s from a Chinese proverb, and it’s this idea that if we start to understand it as a superpower, as a gift, then and to see it as beautiful, then we can find better ways to navigate anxiety. You know, throughout history, anxiety and particularly the sort of so-called disordered ones, the ones such as bipolar, OCD, and so on have been seen as sort of gifts in many ways.

Sarah Wilson: [00:08:23] And so shaman and political leaders like the number of World War leaders or wartime leaders who were bipolar is phenomenal. There’s a huge number of them, something like 70% of scientists have an anxiety disorder, and poets, notoriously, artists, philosophers, inventors, a disproportionate number of them have bipolar and OCD in particular.

I’ve also got OCD, which isn’t me trying to plant myself in the same category as large poets and inventors, that the two disorders can sometimes travel together. That was, that’s a discussion, that’s a framing that we’ve forgotten about. Because in 1980, anxiety entered the DSM, the diagnostic tool that’s used by the US and Australia and much of the Western world, and it became officially a disorder only in 1980. And what do you know, one year after the first anti-anxiety drug was invented? I don’t know. I think something is going on there.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:09:20] I’m with you on that. Yeah, I’m actually reading a book at the moment called Overprescribing Madness, which is Martin, Dr Martin Whitely’s book and he’s coming on the podcast to talk about it because it’s a topic, you know, you touched on the food and the advice that we’re given food-wise, and that’s not great. But when it comes to mental health, the DSM 5, which for those that aren’t familiar with it, what is that? The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5?

Sarah Wilson: [00:09:49] Yes. Number five that I think came out in 2016, I think.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:09:54] I think the first one was about a hundred pages long and listed 30 or 40 or 50 conditions. The latest one was 900 pages long and listed 300 conditions or something like that. So we’re all, we all have a mental illness, don’t we?

Sarah Wilson: [00:10:11] Yeah, according to the DSM. And it’s really interesting actually. They’ve done studies to where they’ve got, I think, 100 psychiatrists to look at the same patients who display bipolar behaviour. Only in thirty-five percent of cases did they have the same diagnosis. Sorry, only thirty-five of the hundred were able to agree on the same diagnosis using the DSM 5. So even when you take the manual, the diagnostic tool, and psychiatrist work to the formulations and descriptions in there, they still can’t diagnose accurately. So it’s a very, very imprecise realm, as is the medication of these issues.

A Brief History of SSRIs and “chemical imbalances” 

Because, you know, I grew up in the 1990s, it was, you know, I got diagnosed with my first anxious condition not long after Prozac Nation came out and I was on one of the first SSRI drugs that were introduced into Australia. So very early days. And you know, of course, it was all about a chemical imbalance in the brain, and you just had to inject a whole heap of serotonin to replace the serotonin that apparently I didn’t have.

We now know that that’s a furphy. In fact, no science, there’s no science that points to this as a thing, and it’s the drug companies that perpetuate that science, much like the way that the sugar industry and big food perpetuate certain stories around sugar. So it’s a very, very similar aetiology. And that’s not to say drugs don’t have their place. That’s not to say that the impreciseness still can’t actually be of some help, but it is imprecise. It’s not set in concrete. And so this space for us to explore in a different way and to learn from how different cultures and eras were out to bring understanding and comfort.

And I believe that once you start to have a knowledge of all the facets of things, then that actually brings about understanding, which brings about compassion, which brings about a softness. And then it brings about an ability to make choices about how you’re going to use your anxiety, whether you’re going to be a victim to it.

Sarah Wilson: [00:12:18] And one of the big problems which I’m sure your guest (Dr Martin Whitely) will speak to because I’m sure this is the gist of the book in terms of overmedicating, is that it actually creates this sort of victim mentality where you’re at the behest of the drug companies. Oh, I’ve got an illness that I can’t help myself with. I need an external fix. And we all know that really, it’s the journey inwards to find your own inner resilience and storyline through your stuff that actually produces the results in the end. And drugs and therapy can help, but especially when you’re young.

I think for teenagers and young people until they get the knowledge until I can what I call it soul knitting. And in my latest book, I call it soul knitting, you go and research this stuff until you really get an understanding of how everything works. It is difficult. And so drugs and therapy and a diagnosis mean that you can put it on a shelf marked. Let’s just take a break, and I want to get on with my life as a young person and I’ll gradually, gradually learn more and more. But there is a responsibility, I think, to actually take that leap of faith inwards and the medical industry actually discourages that.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:13:32] And I think one of the confusing things for people is when there are experts or so-called experts, well, there are experts, I guess call them experts who will support the idea that, yes, there is a chemical imbalance and we need to intervene chemically otherwise it could be serious.

I think actually your focus there on young people, too, because youth suicide is a huge and growing problem. And yet, 15 years ago, the FDA said there are no antidepressants for kids under the age of 18 because of suicidal thoughts and outcomes. And yet still, there are many young kids on anti-depressants.

Child depression and suicide

Sarah Wilson: [00:14:12] Oh, look, it’s a tricky one. I think what you’re saying is some of these drugs can actually lead to suicide, and so they don’t put young people on them. Yet it’s probably young people that need something to get them through this difficult time. Now the ideal world, the something that they need is some frickin resilience training, and this is where we have let down young people.

And I was asked by the National Press Club a bit over a year ago to do a talk on anxiety in young people. And you know, I was really nervous about it and off I went and went down my rabbit hole as I do, I just said to call them and go, “Listen, the talk is about a lack of resilience epidemic. It’s not the anxiety epidemic. That’s the issue here.”.

Sarah Wilson: [00:14:54] And so that was that’s what I ended up speaking to is the fact that the lack of resilience and there’s absolute categorical evidence that this generation is less resilient than any previous generation, right at a time when they need to be more resilient, right at a time when ingenuity and ability to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity and risk is required to cope with what’s ahead.

And so they’re like a wound with no ability to form a scab because they haven’t been allowed to fall off the bike and form scabs and bruises and sort of rough elbows, you know, and scabby knees that will protect them next time and an ability to know, What if you do this? Then you’ll fall in this direction. And so it’s a real disservice, and that’s the more worrying phenomenon.

And of course, drugs and the medicalisation of any kind of distress and discomfort add to this because again, this is a generation and also a third generation. It’s an era because, you know us as adults as well, we’ve been sucked into this because we also live in the times that these children have grown up in. And so we’ve got no ability, we’ve got far less ability I witnessed in myself. I don’t know about you, Ron, but far less ability to deal with risk and ambiguity and unknowing this. Right?

Sarah Wilson: [00:16:20] So we don’t have to sit there wondering when the bus will come. We don’t have to wonder how long our takeaway pizza is going to take because we can see little hope on the app that tells us how far away it is. We don’t have to wonder if somebody is going to turn up because we can text them and go, ‘Where are you?’ And yeah, so we all the things that used to actually build up resilience, delaying gratification, sitting in unknownness, sitting in ambiguity and resting in it and staying longer with the problem.

And you know, Einstein famously said, “I’m not smarter than anyone else. I just stay with a problem longer.” Now our culture goes, “As soon as it gets uncomfortable, abort mission and place a complaint with management, you know? Or “distract yourself, distract yourself or tell mom and dad, I can’t even.” And this school refusal or whatever it is. And so we’ve bought into it and then we’ve passed it on to children because parents have witnessed it all the time. They’ve got no ability to handle the discomfort of seeing that child being bored. My parents, I mean if I was bored, they just go, “On, get out of my way.”

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:17:29] Yeah, I mean, I think to take that metaphor of the scab not forming, that’s actually being washed away constantly by these stories that we are constantly bombarded with through the media, social media, and advertising. Those are what constantly is washing away the scab to take this metaphor further. But anyway, you know…

Sarah Wilson: [00:17:50] That life is meant to be perfect and it’s not meant to be uncomfortable.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:17:53] Yes, yes, absolutely. Absolutely. And this focus on the self, the self, you know, we are focussed more on the “I” than the “we” and I must say, I’m rather proud of the way in Australia. We haven’t done that. But certainly, when you watch what goes on in, certainly in America, it’s defending the “I” above everything else. But that’s a whole other story.

The journey that you spoke of is a wonderful segway into your latest book, which was quite a journey. I mean, many journeys, in fact, and I loved, one of the things I loved about the book, and I really did find it very moving, very inspiring, and I could hear your voice in it. I actually, you know, I know you so I literally felt like you were there talking, and I loved your little footnotes as well, which, you know, I think writing is very cathartic at the best of times, and to have those little footnotes is an added catharsis. Tell us about that book. Tell us about that.

Book: This One Wild and Precious Life

Sarah Wilson: [00:18:53] Yeah, it’s called: This One Wild and Precious Life. And yes, that was me kind of really coming out. First, We Make the Beast Beautiful and touring the world and it, you know, it also became a New York Times bestseller, which, you know, I was very lucky that that happened and took off in the US and came out in South Korea and Lithuania and whatever. It’s been a gift, that book.

The biggest gift was that it took me to an edge where I had to really confront my anxiety. And it’s a bit like when you write a book about quitting sugar, you can’t walk down the street eating a magnum ice cream. Equally, I had to rise to the lessons I was preaching in my book, you know, and it was fabulous because it did get me there. So I built a certain amount of resilience and strength and wisdom from it, which, you know, is the biggest fix for anxiety – go and write a book about it. It’s what I would say.

Sarah Wilson: [00:19:44] So I reached this point where I realised I was able to, I was talking and out in the world and I was living on the road, as you know. I’d come back into Sydney every now and then go to the dentist, do that and then take off again. Yeah, to go off again with my backpack. Off to Greece or wherever. I was literally living as a nomad for eight years with a bag, one bag of possessions. I realise that the anxiety epidemic was now global. It was happening at a broad collective level. And so it should. Because anxiety is there to trigger us that something’s not right and shift course.

And that’s essentially what I feel is what COVID crisis, if you want to call it that, the climate crisis, the fragmentation happening, all directions. It’s the whisper in the ear, the tap on the shoulder to humanity going, ‘This is not right. Bring on flight or fight. Let’s fight for this. You know, let’s defend. Let’s survive.’ So I felt that that needed to be written about. Now I’ve been in the climate movement for 10 plus years, as you know. You know, I live it, I breathe it. I don’t own a car. I always arrive at your dental surgery with my bike.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:20:53] I think we have a special bike rack there for you.

Sarah Wilson: [00:20:55] I don’t think I.. I’ll just sit at the front. Your staffs are very tolerant. Yeah. So I realise that the message of the climate crisis and this emergency wasn’t getting through because we have..w we’ve gone into overwhelm. So this flight or fight. And then when those don’t work, which is very hard, when you’ve got a what’s called a ‘hyper object problem’, a problem that’s so large wherein it, we can’t actually extract ourselves to see what the hell’s going on and see how to fix it.

We then go into the freeze, and we’re in a collective state of freeze at the moment and which is exactly where we can’t be. It’s a bit like children who can’t form a scab at a time when they really need to protect themselves. We are in that vulnerable state if we are going into an overwhelmed frozen state. So I think we needed a book for that. And so it was in a path forward – A Hopeful Path Forward in a Fragmented World – is the subtitle and I went down, that one took me three years and I wrote it through the bushfires.

I wrote it through this onset of the COVID pandemic, then Black Lives Matter happened, and me too happened. And eventually, my friend said, “Can you just get this book to the printer? Because aliens are going to land next if you don’t, you know if you don’t get it there.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:22:05] A book is never finished. It’s abandoned…

Sarah Wilson: [00:22:08] That’s right.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:22:08] Like […] anyway.

Sarah Wilson: [00:22:09] Or sitcoms say, “You just ship. Just ship it. Get it out, just get it out.” It traverses all of that. And again, I write it with a bag on my back and I hike around the world, in the footsteps of the great philosophers, poets, thinkers who have confronted these issues previously, albeit at different levels, and essentially confronted our existential demise in various ways.

And so I wanted to find the right wisdom that could guide us forward because the current mindset, the current paradigm of I-I-I, of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ of blaming is not working and it’s destroying the planet. And neoliberalism has a big part to do with it and I write about that in the book. The Path Forward, just to give away the ending to everyone, is essentially to be found via nature. And it sounds very woo-woo, but I actually break down.

I go into the science, so I head off to Japan to meet a monk who is meant to be an expert in forest bathing. And of course, in Japan, they’ve consulted forty thousand studies that show how hiking in nature, it’s part of their health care system. You know how that can actually be one of the most powerful selves.

Sarah Wilson: [00:23:20] So, so that’s the book. It’s a journey to find the path forward. And it turns out that as I’m hiking around the world, I realise this is the path forward because we, as humans are extraordinary. We have incredible strength to save what we love. You know, the example of the mother, the forty-five-kilo mother who can lift a car of her toddler when it rolls back on her child? We can find Herculean, Kamikaze-like strength when we love something hard enough.

And so my book is a journey to remind us to take us to that place where we’re reminded of what we love and what we love is nature. We love the congruence, we feel complete, we feel like we belong, we feel loved, and we feel we feel part of something when we are in congruence with nature and with our nature. Our nature is collective as a collective. And so that’s what the book tries to do.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:24:18] Yeah. Well, it was, as I said, I just loved it. And particularly for myself, who had spent the last ten years hiking across Spain, through France and Italy, I’ve done the Camino, the French Camino, and the Francigena, as I pronounce correctly. And just that action of slowing down and walking from one village to another instead of driving, and what was that that just went by and we fly over things and we drive through things and just approaching things at a human scale is so cathartic. So for me, you know, that was, it is beautiful. It’s a beautiful book. I love it.

Now, the next thing I was interested to hear, you’ve now got your own podcast called Wild. And isn’t that the best thing? I mean, you know, like this, I get to talk to people who know so much more than I do. And they answer the questions every week and I get to learn and you’ve had some amazing guests. I mean, Tim Brown, I’ve had Tim on myself, and Tim is just an absolute legend, teaching meditation Rutger Bregman, another hero of mine. Tell me about your podcast and some highlights, a highlight.

Podcast: Wild with Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson: [00:25:32] Well, funnily enough, oh well yeah Rutger Bregman, he wrote the book Humankind, which is about the fact that we are actually far kinder than the evolutionary theory likes to postulate.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:25:45] Yes. I loved that.

Sarah Wilson: [00:25:46] Yeah, and even if there’s certainly big slabs of truth to it. Like, I’m convinced by his arguments, but even if you sort of go, ‘Well, it’s somewhere in between.’ I mean, it’s a fascinating romp.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:25:56] Hmm. Absolutely.

Sarah Wilson: [00:25:57] And and and…

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:25:58] Homo? What does he call it? Homo puppy or homo friendly?

Sarah Wilson: [00:26:01] Yeah, the puppy. Yeah, that’s right. I mean, it’s a wonderful book and he’s a great speaker. I mean, he’s 12 or something, I think it’s thirty-two, but you know, he’s an incredible thinker. And what I love about podcasts is, you know, forty-five minutes to an hour of nuanced discussion and to just bring it back into the walking side of things, walking goes at the same pace as discerning thought, right? As does handwriting, and as does human-to-human discussion. It goes at the same pace as discerning thought, and I would sum up all of the problems in the world as a lack of discerning thought. You know?

So, a podcast. Yeah, the podcast is Wild, where I take one wild idea that I’ve heard, a wild believer, you know, postulate and I go and do a deep dive with them for forty-five minutes or so. So Rutger Bregman, Seth Godin, had a big impact on me about 12 years ago.  So some people that I’ve met in my journey, travelling the world and running into people, and then it’s other people that I’ve read their book and I’m like, I want to discuss that idea further. And so I’ve just come from recording a guest for my next episode, and I don’t mind sharing it with you…

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:27:16] Sure, sure.

Sarah Wilson: [00:27:18] …Jill Bolte Taylor. Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. I don’t know if you recall her. It was the first TED Talk I ever listened to, and it’s the second most-watched TED Talk in history about how she had a stroke. She’s a neuroscientist who had a stroke, and she was able to witness her left brain shut down and her right brain, the intuitive side that experiences life as a oneness take over. And oh my god, that was the wildest conversation. So I’ve just, you know, I’ve just come from that and I get to talk to you.

But yeah, I mean, that’s where my life is at. And meta thing that I’m trying to do here is to steer conversations towards a way of living and thinking that can hopefully again bring us back to our nature so that we can, Goddamn well, save it.

Because everything I do now, I have given everything away. I have sacrificed everything and that’s not me big-noting myself. What I’m trying to say is like, nothing matters to me more than attending to the climate crisis, being of service in whatever way I can, whatever humble way I can to humanity as we face the reality of a planet that is on the brink, or species that’s on the brink, the planet, it’ll be fine. We are the sixth extinction.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:28:43] Yes. I mean, that is a source of great frustration. I wonder if part of the problem is that you mentioned the freeze response as a response to stress. And that’s an interesting one because we always hear about fight or flight or rest and digest. But there is that other one, the phrase response. And I wonder whether what we need to start doing is articulating for people a rosier future of what is possible so we can strive towards it rather than ignore what is facing us.

Fight, flight, or freeze responses. What is possible?

Sarah Wilson: [00:29:16] That has been the approach that the environmental movement has taken. It’s the approach that scientists have felt they’ve had to take until recently, and it hasn’t worked. So this idea of softly, softly, you know, oh, you can recycle your way out of this?

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:29:32] No, I’m talking about, imagine no fossil fuel cars, it’s quieter in the whole of this country. The air is cleaner, so six and a half million people aren’t dying from air pollution say, or all of those spaces that have opened up because we don’t need cars anymore. And now community gardens and we meet our neighbours and we do all that.

So to take it beyond the recycling, I just did an interview with Tim Silverwood, and he’s not convinced. I mean, recycling is good. You know, there’s no doubt about that. You’ve got to turn it into a commercial thing. But you know, I just wonder about really painting a picture that we can go, “Wow, I want to live in that world. I want to live in that world.”

Sarah Wilson: [00:30:15] Yes, I think that’s going to be a very big part of the messaging. But I will also say, very honestly, we’ve also got to grow up. We’ve got to grow up and face the difficult emotions. This comes back full circle to this resilience thing. We don’t like discomfort. Well, I hate to say it. The truth right now is really radically and critically uncomfortable. And so I think that this kind of rosy future thing can sometimes be a distraction from people facing their fear.

Now, the best way for us to move forward is radically, and it’s going to take a kamikaze effort. We have got negative time left. OK, so the IPCC report came out recently saying code red for humanity. Now, bear in mind that the IPCC report is one of the most conservative, watered-down versions of a scientific understanding of things because it’s going to get close to 200 countries to sign off on it. Australia signed off on it. America signed off on it. Right? For that to happen, it’s going to be a fairly watered-down version. So bear that in mind that we’re not even getting the full travesty scenario presented to us yet unless you actually speak to the scientists directly.

Sarah Wilson: [00:31:32] So I am more focussed on getting people to face the discomfort, to face these feelings of fear, anger, frustration because we’re not going to get anywhere because they’re going to come up no matter where we go with rosy future predictions and image painting.

And we’re not going to get there if we don’t fight for the government that will bring about electric vehicles, you know, incentives and infrastructure, and we’ll put an end to coal immediately. Like even the coal industry’s peak international body has said, to reach net-zero by 2050, we have to go zero coal now. Immediately. Even this sign in our government won’t say it so…

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:32:19] Yes. Well.

Sarah Wilson: [00:32:20] …The hard truth is the more important thing to focus on and the potential rosy future is a nice thing to talk about as dessert if we can put it in those terms. We’ve got to eat our meat and vegetables.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:32:32] Okay, no, no. I take that point and listen, what do you view the pandemic? How are you viewing it? What what are your thoughts on that? How are you seeing it?

Thoughts on the pandemic

Sarah Wilson: [00:32:41] Well, I see it as that whispering in the ear, the tap on the shoulder. It’s not the shelf, right? It’s basically saying this is not viable. The centre will no longer hold. Humanity, wake up. And so I see it as that, and it’s not so much that we got this virus because it will take us this direct lesson. It’s more about, well, it’s kind of perfect in the sense it centres to our bedroom to have a good hard look at ourselves.

Now, do we wish to, you know, I think Naomi Klein said this, like, no, it wasn’t Naomi. Naomi Klein quoted Milton Friedman as the sort of the original neoliberal. He said, “You know, only a great crisis brings about change, but it depends on the ideas that are lying around at the time.” And so as we emerge from the pandemic, this is what I’m interested in, what’s the world that we’re going to create?

Sarah Wilson: [00:33:30] And so right now, as we’re lockdown as we are in much of Australia, I’m sure we still will be when people listen to this podcast, or at least we may be back in another lockdown, you know, with another version of the pandemic, I don’t know. We have the opportunity to have a good, hard look at ourselves. This is, that’s what I feel this is about. The pandemic has been a great revealer. It’s been that as well. So it’s ripped that band-aid off and exposed the wound. And so what are we going to do about it? Or are we just going to put another band-aid back on and try to go to business as usual?

There is no new normal. There’s no normal. We can’t go back to the way it was. So we’re going to have to really start to create and it’s an opportunity and I see it as an exciting opportunity. But we’re going to have to let go of a lot of old ideas because they don’t work anymore. Look at retail. Retail cannot work in the new global order and we’re not going to go back like to where we were. It’s not possible, in part, because of the climate crisis. You know, in Australia, by 2050, we will not have a winter, and summers will be intolerable, and animals will have to be kept in zoos.

Sarah Wilson: [00:34:42] You know, I was speaking to Dr Lesley, Professor Lesley Hughes, who’s one of the IPCC scientists. She’s one of the lead authors. I said, “Oh.” She’s an expert in biology. I said, “What about these animals? That picture book animals we love? Koalas. Are they going to be extinct by 2050? Our children today are going to be able to take their children to out tonight […]”, “Oh look, they won’t be extinct. They’ll be in zoos. They’ll be like, we’ll have to have these climate-controlled, air-conditioned zoos with gum trees. No, you’ll still be able to see them.” And she saw that as a good thing because such as her mindset. So, you know, that’s how she’s trying to see a rosy picture for things.

That is what we’re facing. We are not going to be able to go back to normal. So, yeah, that’s my take on it. I also see it as an opportunity. We talked about the “I” versus the “we”. And so if we’re going to get into vaccination masks, leaving aside what we feel about the, again, the imprecision of the medicine, perhaps and that kind of thing. And these question marks valid question marks over all of it. And it’s not ideal. But then we are not in an ideal scenario, we are in an emergency, right?

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:35:47] Yeah, I agree.

Sarah Wilson: [00:35:49] In emergencies, we have to suck up the kind of shitiness and the compromise, and we’ve got to attend to the collective. So we don’t have fangs, we don’t have poison, we don’t have hooves, we don’t have anything to defend ourselves, all we have is the tribe. That is how we have defended ourselves and risen to the top of the food chain.

So all we have really as a species is our ability to coalesce as a collective. And what we’re being asked to do here is to wear a mask, to have a vaccine, to protect the collective. There. And what’s happened is the neoliberal system has seen us swing way too far to the individual where it’s all about sovereignty and my gut health and migraines smoothies and all of this. And we’ve forgotten that that’s a collective that we need to be also looking after. And so I don’t like a lot of aspects of things.

I’ve got lots of criticisms of the way it’s been handled, however, I suck it up. Because there is a bigger picture here and the bigger picture, even bigger picture than all of that is there’s a climate crisis. And while ever we’re talking about anti-vaxxers, vaxxers all this stuff, the bigger crisis is getting worse. It’s a distraction, people, and we need to get back to the real thing. We need to get back to the love of this planet. We need to get back to being human.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:37:12] Well, Sarah, you know, what a note for us to finish on, and now I have to see it as a great opportunity, this pandemic is an opportunity for a global reflection. So thanks for your thoughts and sharing that with us, we’re going to have links to your book, to your podcasts. They’re all so wonderful. And thank you so much for joining us today.

Sarah Wilson: [00:37:33] Oh, Ron. It’s a pleasure. Thank you.


Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:37:38] Well, Sarah is just so wonderful. I mean, she’s a prolific author and she’s a great thinker, and I just, I think what she’s been doing has been fantastic and I’ve known Sarah for over 10 years now, I think, and watching that journey from her time with I Quit Sugar.

And as I said, as a dentist, I could only admire what she’s done for sugar because the dental profession has been talking about it for 50 or 60 years. But she and the I Quit Sugar team achieved more in that time and raised awareness and made a huge difference and started a conversation which sadly wasn’t happening at the government, at public health message levels. So that was amazing.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:38:24] And then her book First We Make the Beast Beautiful and to take such a personal account of her own mental health issues and discuss them in such an open and honest way is really empowering and to see the positives in rather than pathologizing things. It’s so interesting when it comes to mental health, and we’re going to be exploring this in the coming weeks as I have the opportunity actually of talking to the author of Overprescribing Madness, Dr. Martin Whitely. But this whole mental health issue is a huge one.

The DSM 5, the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual that we touched on is just a book that really if you read it, we all would have mental health issues and no doubt there would be a medication attached to that. For example, you know how you feel better in summer than you do in winter. And one could certainly say that has something to do with your exposure to the sun and vitamin D. No, no. That’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder.

And you might need an antidepressant for something like that. Or you remember when someone died, you know you might grieve well. There’s a whole mental disorder there because grieving is apparently a part of a mental condition as well.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:39:40] So anyway, that book and then her last book, This Wild One and Precious Life is such a great journey. I mean, as I mentioned, I’ve been doing a lot of walking over the last 10 years, and when you set off on a journey and the pace of that, that movement is slow and in on a human scale, you don’t. I mean, you do fly to get there, but once you’re there, you cover 15, 10, 15, 20 kilometres or more a day and you walk from one place to another. It just slows you down. It connects you with nature. It puts everything on a more human scale, and we really need to be reminded of that.

And like Sarah, I see this pandemic as an incredible opportunity, an opportunity for us to reflect on a global scale. And hopefully, we will emerge from this really reconsidering what is important and I think the lesson we are learning is how important those real things around us are – nature, our local environment, our local community – but that all make up a whole global community.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:40:50] So while I kind of tried to pose a more positive spin and maybe we could articulate a more positive message and I wasn’t just talking about recycling, I was talking about painting an image of a city that is green, clean, renewable, recyclable. There is a circular economy. All energy is free, clean, and green. Every product that we buy.

And let’s face it, I don’t think capitalism is going away any time soon, but every product we buy has to be recycled, and that’s the responsibility of the manager of the manufacturer and all of us as consumers. So there is an opportunity here, you know, because we all have cars that are self-driven cars, we don’t need cars and that’ll free up a whole lot of space for us to start community gardens and connect more as a local community. That’s the sort of thing I’m talking about, but I totally get what Sarah is saying there and say, let’s not gloss over it.

We are facing a major existential threat and we need to grow up. We need to take it seriously. We need to stop being distracted by the “I” and the “me” and think more about the “we” and the “world.” Because as we’ve said many times on this podcast, we are all connected. So we are all of it. Look, we’re going to have links to Sarah’s site and Sarah’s books and have a listen to her podcast. She’s got some great guests. I hope this finds you well. Until next time. This is Dr Ron Ehrlich. Be well.


This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests who speak in this podcast express their own opinions, experiences, and conclusions.