to change ways, change minds: on sustainability thinking

sustainability thinking

Humans act like we think. Nothing new about this. Yet, if we're talking about changing human behavior, we gotta start with how we think.

Since sustainability necessitates a whole different way of living on this planet, it follows that we need a whole new way of thinking...Which is why I like to talk about sustainability as a way of thinking.

Start with how we 'modern' humans have been trained to think. We thought we could take the resources, make the products, and dump the waste. Call this 'Take-Make-Waste' (TMW) thinking, says Bob Doppelt (via CSmonitor). Now, switch to sustainability thinking...

We now think we can borrow the resources, use them temporarily, and return them to the larger ecological and social systems in which our economic system is embedded.

Call this 'Borrow-Use-Return' (BUR) thinking.

See the difference?

We know TMW thinking doesn't work. Not for humans; not for other species; not for this planet.

To his credit, Doppelt calls this "the greatest failure of thought in human history ".

Question is: can we switch to the BUR thang?

Of course, this way of thinking isn't really new. Here in Hawaii, we still talk about "the life of the land" ("ka ea o ka `aina" is in our State motto), and native culture still instructs us to "take what you need, and put something back."

Problem being: there's no law that says you must put something back. Folks go ahead and take-take-take...because they can.

So, short of making unsustainability, say, flat out illegal, we might at least frame it as unethical.

Oh, and we might show how an ethic of sustainability isn't all that new, either.

I've been pondering an anthropological perspective on sustainability thinking, as I prepare to keynote the annual gathering of Hale o na Ali`i here on Kauai next month. This venerable Hawaiian civic club brings together many of the culture's most distinguished kupuna (elders) and practitioners. (Naturally, I'm humbled and honored by this invitation to speak.)

And, I want to show how sustainability is a Hawaiian issue. I also want to suggest that moral leadership from our kupuna is a key success factor in our islands' capacity to switch away from these 'old' thoughts and unsustainable practices...

...and how, ironically, the leading edge of sustainability science is taking us full circle to a way of thinking we've known for a very long time, indeed.

[Oh, and, the week before Hale o na Ali`i, I will address the Hawaii Congress of Planning Officials...where the theme is "E Ola Pono" (living and doing what's right). I'm wondering how we might rally planners around a whole new way of thinking...]

Published by Ken on August 29th, 2008 tagged Sustainability Science, Systems Thinking

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