Article

Transitioning to a New Normal: How Ecopsychology Can Help Society Prepare for the Harder Times Ahead

Ecopsychology 12/2013; 5(4):237-239. DOI: 10.1089/eco.2013.0065

ABSTRACT However vast were the resources used to create industrial civilization, they were never limitless. Biophysical constraints, always a part of human existence, could be ignored for these past few centuries, a one-time era of resource abundance. This is no longer possible. Many of the challenges we face can be traced to our centuries-long consumption and construction binge and, soon, to its abrupt culmination. Climate disruption, a consequence of our rapacious use of fossil fuels, is intensifying. The amount of available net energy (the energy available to society after deducting energy used during extraction and production) was massive at first, misleading us with the false prospect of endless growth. False because, easily unnoticed, net energy has been on a relentless decline. We are approaching the day when net energy becomes insufficient for maintaining, let alone building out, modern society. Technological innovation, to which we attribute much of our success, cannot create energy or natural resources, and our industrial prowess cannot negate the laws of thermodynamics. Thus, while our ingenuity can slow the approach of a resource-limited future, it will not fundamentally change that outcome.

We will all, of necessity, accept that biophysical limits are a defining characteristic of life. Such acceptance is long overdue but hard for us, hard because it demands profoundly different worldviews and patterns of living. Yet acceptance is but the first step and not nearly as hard as what comes next. The depth and duration of the required transition is unprecedented. Adapting well to a drawn-out decline in resource availability is not something with which we are familiar. Furthermore, since we seem to be starting late in the process, having tem-porarily delayed the needed behavior change, we will likely need to quickly respond to events. Prefiguring our response could ease the transition. It is here that psychology can play an essential role, since what is being faced is not a technological or political challenge but an existential one. The coming transition provides us with a rare moment. During the initial phase of downshifting, there likely will be a period of flux, a time during which people might be willing to reshape their emotional connection and moral stance toward each other and the rest of the planet. It is during this time that our on-going efforts to promote ecological consciousness and to help people reconnect with nature might turn to the even larger goal of adopting an ecological partnership society to replace the extractive dominator society.

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May 21, 2014