Our world, our only habitat, is a biotic system under such stress it threatens to fail in fundamental and irreversible ways. Major change is required to stabilize and restore its functional integrity. This topic has been extensively elaborated by the scientific community and debated by many in policy and government. This issue has not yet emerged, however, as a high priority among the public or altered prevailing values, attitudes, or behavior toward nature. It is now critical that we understand these failures and determine how we can help catalyze a transformation of our values and behaviors toward the natural world.
Examine any of the great environmental challenges confronting us – climate change, biotic impoverishment, pollution, resource depletion – and a similar pattern emerges. A modest number of people know a great deal about these afflictions and unfolding tragedies – the nature of the threat, what is driving it, what can be done to change course before the impacts become irreversible – but their messages have difficulty overcoming public apathy, political denial, or entrenched opposition. Most of all, they rarely spur responsive public action, basic shifts in values and attitudes, or the behavioral change needed at the scale or within the time frame required. The result is what is commonly referred to as a “failure of political will,” but this phrase fails to capture the depth of the cultural void or social malfunction involved.
At its deepest level, if we are to address the linked environmental, social, and even spiritual crises, we must address the wellsprings of human caring, motivation, and social identity. To understand these issues, we must seek the help of fields not regularly associated with environmental issues. We have many sophisticated scientific and policy analyses of climate change, species loss, and other environmental issues, but our situation also requires the knowledge and wisdom of psychologists and philosophers, poets and preachers, historians and humanists to help us see and communicate hard truths and inspire individual and social change.
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