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Where Do You Stand?

How deeply have you considered your views of the environment and humanity’s contribution to what many describe as our current ecological crisis? The answer might seem simple: “Sure, I know where I stand”. But do you know where your views are located on the sustainability continuum? Consider, for example, whether you agree or disagree with the following sets of statements (adapted from the work of Environmental Education academic, Vicki Keliher 2012).

As you consider these statements, ask yourself “why” you believe what you do, and (importantly) “how” your position affects the way you live and work:

  • People are essentially different from all other life. They have dominion over the other creatures of earth.
  • While humans have exceptional characteristics, they remain one among many different species that are interdependently connected in a global ecosystem.
  • People are the masters of their destiny: they can choose their goals, discover and learn what is necessary to achieve them, and then act in accordance with their ambitions.
  • Human existence is influenced by connections of cause and effect that deliver feedback within the web of nature. Human actions have potentially unintended consequences.
  • The world is vast. It provides unlimited opportunities for humans.
  • Humans live within (and are dependent on) a finite biophysical environment. This necessitates restraints on human activities.
  • The history of humanity is one of progress: for every problem there is a solution; progress, therefore, need never cease.
  • Although humans are inventive and can solve many problems, ecological laws cannot be ignored nor will they go away.

Each of these statements reflects underlying values of two very different worldviews – the Dominant Social Paradigm and the Environmental Paradigm.  The vast majority of us operate within the dominant paradigm, yet increasingly more people aspire to the environmental paradigm. It is interesting, however, in light of straddling different ways of seeing and being in the world, to consider how these values and beliefs affect different areas of human existence. How do your own perspectives (derived from the dominant and environmental paradigms) view the following:

  • Population growth worldwide
  • Exploitation of resources near and far
  • Intergenerational equity (future generations having access to choice as we do)
  • Economic growth and equity between the “developed” and “developing” worlds
  • The role of governments, citizens, and private business in decision-making
  • The role of science and technology in present and future society
  • Market competition in both local and global contexts

Think about it. The path to sustainability is a complex one indeed. The challenge of finding common ground between different viewpoints, of bridging knowledge gaps and promoting social change – all this is simultaneously exacerbated and facilitated by the double-edged sword of globalisation. While pondering your position on the sustainability continuum, consider where you stand on the following:

  • Globalisation reduces the choices available to different communities and ultimately leads to the homogenisation of cultures within and between nations;
  • Globalisation advocates and promotes a global consciousness that breaks down cultural barriers, enhances communication between groups, stimulates cultural diversity, and supports local cultural identity.

That’s before we even start looking at the economic pros and cons of globalisation. What a tricky world we live in. And what a trick it will be to collectively agree on a path that moves us forward toward a healthy future for people, planet and prosperity alike. Fortunately, despite (or perhaps because of) our differences, we humans have more than a few tricks up our sleeves!

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