«Annick Hedlund-de Witt Worldviews and the transformation to sustainable societies An exploration of the cultural and psychological dimensions of our ...»
312 Worldviews—and the cultural and psychological dimensions of sustainabilityissues more generally—remain too often overlooked in the sustainability discourse, while potentially providing an essential key in the necessary largescale transitions towards more sustainable societies and lifestyles (see e.g. O' Brien, 2010). Tracking and researching (changes in) worldviews is salient for environmental policy, policy-makers, and politicians, as their effectiveness appears to be greatly influenced by the extent to which their messages are able to speak to and resonate with the Zeitgeist—that is, the deep cultural meanings, values, and worldviews arising within the public sphere. As extensively discussed in chapter eight, an understanding of the incredibly complex, highly pluralistic, and dynamic cultural landscape that characterizes our contemporary world appears to be essential to the development of effective sustainability policies and tailored communications. In that way, environmental policy may be empowered to not only be more keenly attuned to where a substantial portion of the population is at (and headed), but potentially also engage our increasingly urgent global environmental issues in a more creative and inspiring, hopeful and meaningful way.
Sustainability practices and policies could therefore benefit from a systematic reflection on, and exploration of, worldviews—both of the policymakers, communicators, and strategists in case, as well the of publics they are intended to engage with (see also Sarewitz, 2004). Systematic and comprehensive reflection on, and exploration of, our collective and individual worldviews is likely to generate more pluralistic, inclusive, and attuned policyproposals and initiatives that can unite and mobilize the larger public, instead of (further) polarizing it. A systematic and self-reflexive worldview-analysis of policy proposals and campaigns could go a long way of ensuring that the needs, interests, values, and frameworks of the population as a whole are (as much as possible) taken into account and included, rather than these proposals merely reflecting the ideas and interests of the policy-making elite itself. In some sense, such a more inclusive and pluralistic policy-strategy could, in a context in which public policy is intended to serve the public at large, potentially even be considered a democratic obligation. Moreover, such a systematic, self-reflexive approach to sustainability-issues could profoundly support the kind of cultural transformation that is frequently argued to be essential in the shift towards more 313 sustainable societies. Such self-reflexivity— psychological, cultural, and political—should therefore become the rule rather than then exception, and could potentially be institutionalized in the policy-making process. Also PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency has argued that national and international policy-making could be made more effective by explicating the underlying worldviews that policy-proposals and strategies are based upon (PBL, 2004, 2008). Although clearly much research remains to be done (including studies exploring this kind of practical potential in the context of the policy-making-process), the IWF has the potential to contribute to such applied reflexivity.
Additionally, the cultural development coming to expression in newly emerging worldviews such as the integrative worldview and such phenomena as contemporary (nature) spirituality can be seen as a fundamental cultural and/or spiritual re-orientation of a substantial amount of the public in Western societies.
These developments signify discomfort with, and reflection on, dominant assumptions and attitudes, resulting in experiments into alternative ways of living and working, relating and consuming, being and seeing. These experiments are gradually transforming mainstream culture: one just need to look around to see how conscious businesses, vegetarian food, green technologies, complementary medicine, self-help therapies, yoga-studios, spiritual ideals, natural living, and creative solutions are penetrating contemporary culture, art, fashion, and media (e.g. Heelas & Woodhead, 2005;
Ray & Anderson, 2000; B. Taylor, 2010; E. Taylor, 1999). Moreover, environmental challenges may also catalyze and reinforce such a profound cultural, ethical, and even spiritual reflection and re-orientation in the larger public, including the mainstream. For example, the concept of anthropogenic climate change and its potentially catastrophic consequences for (human) life on earth may challenge certain worldviews and invite for existential inquiries into the meaning and purpose of life (Hulme, 2009; O' Brien, 2010). Policy-makers and politicians can—and should—thus enact environmental issues as an opportunity to ask essential questions and invite reflection on our worldviews, values, and our vision for the future, on our relationships to nature and our fellow human beings. In the words of Hulme (2009), “We need to reveal the creative psychological, spiritual and ethical work that climate change can do and 314 is doing for us. By understanding the ways in which climate change connects us with these foundational human attributes we open up a way of re-situating culture and the human spirit at the heart of our understanding of climate” (p.
xxxvii). Issues of sustainable development have the potential to make us re-think our relationship to ourselves, each other, and nature—to life and love itself. And since, in the words of Tarnas (2007) “world views create worlds” (p. 16), this may prove to be of powerful importance in the transformation to more lifeenhancing, thriving, sustainable societies.
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