The authors conclude that culture is an effective predictor of people’s relations with the planet.
Facing a global sustainability crisis, scientists know how important culture and psychology are in addressing the challenges. A new paper in Anthropocene suggests that individualism, a cornerstone of Western identity, might be among the root causes of our ecocide.
Based on an analysis of Gallup Poll and Global Footprint Network datasets, the authors found that countries with high levels of individualism in most cases have higher ecological footprints while they are also less eager to take responsibility for their impacts on nature.
Explaining their findings, the researchers suggest that people in individualistic societies are less likely to get organized for collective pro-environmental action and more likely to care only about personal benefits rather than the social good. The team also found that even among countries that similarly perceive nature, those where individualistic attitudes are more apparent also tend to have higher impacts on nature.
The authors conclude that culture is an effective predictor of people’s relations with the planet. They consider a global shift towards mindsets that value collective goals over personal ambitions to be a critical step in global transformations towards sustainability.
The researchers also emphasize the need for dialogues and discussions around ethical aspects of sustainability research, education and interventions, considering the ways they often reiterate selfish attitudes. Emphasis on individual behaviors and personal benefits (because those are the ones that work) provide little space for deeper reflection and greatly narrow the spectrum of motivations to engage with sustainability.
These insights arer important for promoting broader social change, showing that mere pursuits for efficiency, tweaking of behaviors or spreading sharing economies is not enough. Collective action and care for the social good might be precisely what we need beyond pursuits for “cutting edge sustainability innovation” and “competitive advantages of the circular economy” for more meaningful change to start happening.
Only by understanding that we are all in this together and that nothing here is just about being more competitive or winning over others can we start moving towards a more livable world for all.