Socio-cognitive perspective to sustainability HENVI seminar on Current Trends in Environmental Research Janne Hukkinen, University of Helsinki [email protected] Outline • Motivation for the work • The dilemma of human-environment interaction • Concluding remarks Motivation (1) • Cognitive approach to human-environment problems can overcome division between objective realism and social constructivism – Realism: truth reachable with universal observation and reason – Constructivism: truth claims represent social constructions subject to change • Contrast this with findings of embodied cognition and cognitive anthropology: Human reason is – Evolutionary and embodied in neural and bodily mechanisms – Mostly unconscious and metaphorical, always emotionally engaged Motivation (2) • Resolving realism versus constructivism with embodied cognition: – Humans have universal, evolutionary, embodied capacities to make heuristic sense of the world around them (aspect of realism) – But specific claims about truth sometimes differ because contexts of humanenvironment adaptation differ (aspect of constructivism) • What changes if we take a cognitive approach to the sustainability challenge? Outline • Motivation for the work • The dilemma of human-environment interaction • Concluding remarks Dilemma of human-environment interaction • • • “On the one hand, by making use of increasing quantities of natural substances and other living species and enhancing their productivity by transforming them into „natural resources, humans might be said to have freed themselves from the constraints of Nature; “on the other hand, this increased freedom created exponential functions, especially population increase and an increasing dependence on Nature” (J.W. Bennett) A double bind between individual and system level (Bateson) Presenting the double bind as a belief network • Positive links (+) refer to mutually reinforcing relationship between beliefs • Negative links (-) refer to mutually weakening relationship between beliefs • Dashed nodes and links (- - -) indicate individual’s decision on whether or not to include belief in network • Beliefs of an ”average” individual in a culture Belief 1 [+] Belief 2 [-] Belief 3 Belief systems in hunter-gatherer societies Examples from hunter-gatherer societies • (1) Individual and system-level safety directly and positively linked – less concern for personal wealth than today – taboos enforced link, double bind only during exceptional resource scarcity • (2) Short chain of positively linked beliefs between system-level safety and individual action – Ancient taboos, mental images: • red spirits will punish if fell certain trees (Tsembaga) • taboos prevent overfishing (Tikopia) • one child killed for each fish caught in a stretch of river (Tukano) – These mental images are cultural representations of past depletion crises, encoded in simple practical instructions Present belief systems Characteristics of today’s dilemma • (1) Individual and system-level safety not linked (or linked negatively to create double bind) – Striving for profit and power to reduce individual dependence on other members of society is a key structuring force in contemporary societies – Resulting strategies include high discount rates and declining cooperation – End result: dire environmental consequences • (2) Long chain of beliefs between system-level safety and individual action (vulnerability to criticism) – Technological worldview widens nature-culture division – Link between system-level safety and environmental management action involves complex chain of beliefs Belief systems to be built Dealing with the dilemma • Lesson from history: surviving ancient communities culturally encrypted their ecological understanding and created cognitive shortcuts between core safety centers and codified answers to pressing environmental challenges • Therefore need to create shortcut between socioecological systemic safety and individual environmental behavior: ”We have to save our civilization” • Mental representations like this are physically present in our brains (Lakoff and Johnson) and need to be reinforced by repeating the statement and its underlying values across a wide range of issue areas Outline • Motivation for the work • The dilemma of human-environment interaction • Concluding remarks Practical implications • IPCC focus on uncertainties opens up points of attack for skeptics and gives grounds for psychological defense • Instead, it should integrate science with visionary energy mission, such as Solar Europe 2020 • Manhattan / Apollo project analogies to tackle energy and food security • It has been done before, with less science (financial crisis, Apollo, Finnish social security) Ethos • Winston Churchill to House of Commons in World War II: – “nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat,” – but also “victory […], for without victory there is no survival” References • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Bateson, G., 1972. 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