Gus Speth, past administrator of the United Nations Development Program, described how when he started his career he thought the world’s environmental problems could be solved by good science, but after decades of working in the field, he concluded that The root cause is within us. Mindset and culture.
“I used to think that the top global environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could solve these problems, but I was wrong. Top Environmental Problems There are selfishness, greed and indifference, and to deal with these we need a spiritual and cultural change. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.” ,Gus Speth.
I was involved in a review paper, to be published in the journal this winter 2022 Lancet Planetary Health, Which confirms that our self-identity is an important factor in the fight to restore the world’s deteriorating environment. As part of a group of interdisciplinary researchers we showed that highly individualistic identity – seeing ourselves as separate from others and the natural world – is the root cause of many environmental problems.
work in subjects
The review involved environmental scientists, psychologists, sociologists and policy makers and gathered evidence from a range of fields to test a number of hypotheses about how our self-identification can lock us into a ‘vicious cycle’ of environmental degradation .
‘Vicious cycles’ are feedback processes where a self-reinforcing feedback loop perpetuates or worsens a negative situation. They are also known to occur in social systems (such as ‘poverty traps’, as well as cycles of alcoholism and depression) and in ecological systems, such as climate change both causing – and accelerating itself – melting ice sheets and forests. By the death of In this study, we explored how previously hidden vicious cycles link social and ecological systems together. Specifically, we found that self-identification is trapped in a vicious cycle of environmental degradation, and this may explain why previously proposed solutions to the biodiversity and climate crisis have been ineffective.
Self-identity is a unified image that one has of oneself, and is determined by a complex interplay of social context and personal history. There is great variation among people, with some having a highly individualistic self-identity—a very strong sense of ego, seeing themselves as discrete from others and the natural world, while others feel a greater sense of overlap and connection. (which previous researchers have called more ‘social connectedness’ and ‘nature connectedness’, respectively, and which can be assessed by various questionnaire surveys).
Biodiversity and our sense of connection to nature
One of the hypotheses we tested was that people with low nature attachment engaged in fewer behaviors to improve the environment. They are less likely to recycle, actively reduce their carbon footprint, or volunteer for environmental organizations. These actions result in less protected nature, which means plants and wildlife disappear from around our towns and cities. As a result, people have even less opportunity to connect with nature, which has an impact on their self-identity – living in highly urbanized environments reduces the sense of connection to nature, while providing time to experience nature spending increases it. So, self-identity and environmental quality change, in this case in a worrying spiral of decline.
University of Reading, 2022
vicious circle in institutions
These vicious cycles appear to be at play in many countries, reflecting increasing individualism and nationalism alongside increasing trends of disconnection from nature in most countries in recent decades. These changes in self-identity are thought to ‘cascade upwards’ to affect institutions such as government and the economy. Pointing to former President Donald Trump’s ‘America first’ policy, we suggest that changes in self-identity among national leaders may explain the harmful removal of environmental protections and reduced international cooperation, which may contribute to climate change, biosecurity, and climate change. It is necessary to solve global problems like diversity. loss, ocean acidification and air pollution.
In corporations, a highly individualistic approach can lead to a strong focus on generating profits at the expense of care and responsibility towards nature. There is a danger that the resulting environmental degradation exacerbates poverty, inequality and large-scale human displacement, giving rise to a more highly-individualistic ‘dog-eat-dog’ mentality, where people live only for themselves or their close family. Let’s see for
turn things around
Yet, there is hope, as we found that there are mechanisms by which these trends can be reversed. Expanding our sense of self-identity to include others and the natural world creates an attitude of care and responsibility. Subsequent actions lead to improvements in nature, for example by restoring plants and wildlife to our urban areas. This in turn gives more opportunities to connect with nature, which further increases the feeling of connection with nature. Instead of a vicious cycle, we can turn things around to create a virtuous cycle of human-nature restoration.