For millennia, humans lived in relative harmony with the environment. Our ancestors took what was needed from the earth to maintain basic health and ensure survival. Then, beginning with the agricultural revolution, we learned how to manipulate natural environments to suit human needs. Slowly, that manipulation of the earth grew and people started to leave their imprints on the land.
Now, much of humanity lives in a world of plenty. We have become physically, culturally, and psychologically disconnected from the natural world (Leiserowitz & Fernandez, 2008), yet we still depend heavily upon it. Cultural values and worldviews in developed nations have evolved to place woman and man above everything else. This superiority has led to the destruction of the environment, both locally and globally, with little pause for moral or ethical reflection.
Not only have we separated ourselves from the physical realm, but we have also separated ourselves from each other. Advanced economies favour independence, individualism, and competition over community and cooperation. This is seen through our consumption of goods to maintain a certain status among our peers. We no longer have to display skills to gain prestige; we can simply buy prestige. The products available for consumption, and the materials required to produce them, have permanently altered the planet.
We are now coming to realize the scale of our destruction. However, many people expect to live the same lifestyle, hoping that human ingenuity can find solutions for us to be kinder to the natural world, while maintaining our rich existence. Unfortunately, it is the same human ingenuity that got us to where we are today.
Our cultural values and worldviews impacting the environment require a major shift. This important task may seem insurmountable, but environmental awareness is growing and there are solutions to change our destructive behaviours into reverence for all that sustains us.
The Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies gathered together leaders spanning various academic disciplines to identify the role that cultural values and worldviews play in behaviours that result in environmental degradation (Leiserowitz & Fernandez, 2008). Attitudes and choices in developed countries (and increasingly in developing countries) have greatly contributed to the environmental challenges that our world now faces.
Leiserowitz and Fernandez (2008) approach the article as a doctor might. First, they diagnose our collective illness by identifying the key values and worldviews responsible for environmental destruction. Then, they prescribe solutions that will “accelerate a paradigm shift in human values, attitudes, and behaviors toward the natural world” (p. 62). Major lifestyle and policy changes need to be implemented quickly to avoid reaching thresholds from which our planet cannot recover.
Why We Are the Way We Are
Working toward change requires an understanding of our...