A guide for sustainability advocates

Creating a sustainable world is about getting individuals, organisations and nations to shift their perspectives and practices. What can you do to influence this process? Nicki Harré describes three psychological principles to help sustainability advocates be more effective. From Fleeing Vesuvius.

Winter vitamins

by Brian Kallor. We in the modern West have grown up surrounded by mountains of food – grown, picked, processed, preserved, cooked and refrigerated for us, and in such quantities that a third of it is through away uneaten, and obesity presents a major health crisis. Fossil fuels made this brief state possible, and now that we see their end on the horizon we must reacquaint ourselves with the more basic methods of getting nutrition -- ideally allowing more of us, not just to survive, but to eat well.

Comment on Busy doing nothing – seven reasons for humanity’s inertia in the face of critical threats and how we might remove them by Floro

Again, like Nat Hagens, Brian Davey’s discussion, “Reason for Inertia 6: Our brains are maladapted to modern life”, based on the 1997 book Evolutionary Psychology by Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, uncritically adopts outdated principles of evolutionary psychology. I would like to call this the “modernist fallacy”—the fallacy of attributing our present inadequacies and excesses to our alleged inheritance of the brain of our stone age ancestors. It definitely does not do justice to our, in many ways, more intelligent ancestors (who did not have the “crutch” of computer technology) In fact, we can argue that modern man has lost the skills of prehistoric peoples—I’m referring, in particular, to the navigational and voyaging skills of Neolithic Austronesian peoples. If modern capitalist, industrial, urbanized humans had these skills, they would surely survive what Kunstler calls “the converging catastrophes” of the 21st century, and thrive in a post-capitalist, post-carbon, post-industrial world. Instead of relying too much on a 1997 book on evolutionary psychology, I suggest that we get a thorough knowledge of the skills and cultural ways of non-Western prehistoric peoples, in particular the Austronesians who amazed Captain Cook about their voyaging and navigational skills without the use of instruments. Indeed, these are the sort of knowledge and skills that would be prized in the Transition Town movement. I give an overview of Wayfinding here (based on a paper I read in 2005): "As we search for a new paradigm to guide us through the triple crunch of financial crisis, peak oil and climate change, we will do well to learn from the Austronesian voyagers of prehistoric times who had the knowledge and skill of wayfinding. Without the science and art of wayfinding, the expansion of Austronesian peoples from island Southeast Asia to Oceania (Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia)--which may have begun around 4, 000 years ago--would not have been possible. This east-ward settlement of the numerous volcanic islands and coral atolls dotting the Pacific ocean had already been completed by the time of Captain Cook's arrival in Tahiti in the 18th century. Ignorant of Oceania's wayfinding traditions, Captain Cook had wondered how such trans-oceanic migrations could be achieved simply with canoes, and without the aid of navigational instruments. Wayfinding is navigation by "reading" the stars, sun, ocean swells, wave patterns, cloud formations, wind directions, color of the sea, flight of sea birds--and integrating all these information with the aid of a mental compass--to determine and maintain a sailing course towards an unseen or unknown land target. Distance, speed, and position are calculated mentally, without the aid of paper and pencil, and clock. Intelligence, memory, and sustained concentration are crucial--if the navigator forgets or gets distracted, the voyage may fail, and lives lost. The voyage (in a traditional outrigger-, or double-canoe about 60 feet long) could take more than 30 days over thousands of nautical miles. It requires not only knowledge and skill, and planning and preparation, but also discipline and teamwork, and physical fitness, strength and endurance. It is demanding mental and physical work for the whole crew--culminating in either landfall or total disaster. It takes a few years to learn the basics, but at least 20 years to become a master navigator [a master can navigate even with his eyes closed over an extended period]. Wayfinding in Oceania is not just about navigation and voyaging. It is a whole way of life, a tradition with its own rituals and spiritual dimensions. The whole community is involved--in the making of the canoe, the education and training of navigators and crew, and the preparation for, and the launching of, the voyage. Pacific wayfinding has its origins in island Southeast Asia, that is, Indonesia and the Philippines. Wayfinding is still practiced in Indonesia, particularly among the Bugis of South Sulawesi. Unfortunately, it seems to have disappeared without a trace in the Philippines. The situation is different in Oceania. Wayfinding never disappeared in the isolated tiny atolls of Micronesia--notably Satawal, Puluwat, and Lamotrek. A revival in Polynesia was triggered by the formation of the Polynesian Voyaging Society which initiated the Hawaiian Hokule'a project in 1975. The master navigator Mau Piailug from Satawal (a tiny coral atoll in the Carolines Islands) was brought to Hawaii to teach the native Hawaiians. It was picked up first by Mau's brightest disciple, Nainoa Thompson, who, in turn, helped fellow Hawaiians learn the difficult craft. [NOTE: I was a University of Hawaii graduate student in anthropology in the second decade of this Hawaiian revival and made a documentary film about it]. Hokule'a stimulated a wayfinding revival in New Zealand, French Polynesia, and the Cook Islands, then in Taumako in the Solomon Islands, then back in Guam in the Marianas. Almost full circle, but not quite." We don't have to search far and wide for a new paradigm--all we need to do is to look back with the eyes of a child, a la Levi Strauss, to our prehistoric past. From there, we can embark on a new journey of discovery. For detailed information about wayfinding knowledge and skills, and the socio-cultural dynamics of voyaging, please visit these wonderful websites: http://www.penn.museum/sites/navigation/Misc/contents.html http://pvs.kcc.hawaii.edu/

Comment on The psychological roots of resource overconsumption by Floro

I'm afraid that Nate Hagens, whose expertise is in Finance and natural resources, has ventured into territory for which he lacks the background knowledge. I may have misread him, but I get the impression that in his discussion of STATUS and NOVELTy, Hagens is unwittingly or unconsciously reading modern capitalist values into the alleged facts of human evolution and resorting to social Darwinism which has been discredited. Hagens' discussion of status seems to be underpinned (again unconsciously) by a capitalist class ideology. In many neolithic peoples, status was based more on cooperation than on competition. The group member who gets status usually is the person who not only has the best knowledge and skills in performing tasks for survivial, but also, and more importantly, has the knack for organizing or orchestrating cooperative behaviour among the members. A classic example is the Navigator who leads a crew in a voyaging canoe in pre-Historic Oceania. Such trans-Oceanic voyages--with no navigational instruments and based soley on "reading" the stars at night and the swell patterns during the day--depended on a high level of coordination and cooperation among the crew, and this made possible the peopling of the scattered atolls in the Pacific Ocean. This is how it worked: The Navigator is in command during the voyage and usually becomes the chief when the voyaging canoe ends in landfall (thereupon the passengers in the canoe--men, women and children--start colonising the land. But here's the rub--the privilege of reproduction is not limited to the navigator or chief. In fact, everyone--including the lower status members--gets to mate. In such a culture, women are not considered prizes for the most able or strongest men. Indeed, women can have more than one mate (this ensures that no one gets left behind--remember the motto in wonerful animation, set in Hawaii, "Lilo and Stitch"?) Unfortunately, Hagen's notion of mating harks back to the Social Darwinist notion (now proven to be false) that humhans behaved much like Baboons or chimpanzees or the great apes--in which the strongest male had monopoly of all the women. This was NOT--probably NEVER--the case among the sea-faring Austronesian peoples of neolithic times (about 5,000 years ago) or, for that matter, among the hunter-gathering 'Kung peoples of the Kalahari, as well as the hunting-gathering mountain Mangyans or Agtas (mislabeled as "Negritoes" in the past) of the Philippines. Among these peoples, status was based on knowledge, skill and cooperation--and not on the acquisition of wealth or the consumption of resources. This is a crucial point. This later trait of needing to use resources and accumulate wealth is, I'm afraid, more a product of the culture of capitalism (which emerged over 500 years ago, accoring to the World Systems theorists). My point is that the hunting-gathering as well as voyaging cultures are probably better models for envisioning our post-capitalist, post-industrial, post-carbon future. As a corrective to a discredited reductionist social darwinism, may I suggest that we brush up on recent developments in cultural anthropology, and also read Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs, or Erik Erikson's stages of psycho-social development--which views human growth and development in terms of the epigenetic interaction between genes and the environment, within a soci-cultural context--in which cooperation (not acquisition and consumpiton of resources) is the crucial factor. These are much better models than the model of status and novelty, which flows from an unconsciously presumed capitalist mind-set. INCIDENTALLY, WHY IS THE WORD CAPITALISM TABOO IN THE ESSAYS OF FLEEING VESUVIUS?. Do I detect an unconscious bias here? Or a fear of antagonizing the Right?