Slow wins: patience, perseverance and behavior change

Carbon Management (Impact Factor: 1.72). 02/2011; 2(6):607-611. DOI: 10.4155/cmt.11.59

ABSTRACT The converging of climate disruption, energy descent and economic instability is stressing civilization, perhaps foreshadowing a downshift to a lower level of complexity. It is easy to despair at the unsustainability of human behavior; however, such despair may come from taking too narrow and pessimistic a view of human nature, such as believing unsustainability results from a motivational drive to reduce cognitive dissonance, which leaves us floundering in collective denial or that behavioral inertia is an immutable force making us unable to shift direction, or that humans are egocentric, short-term gain maximizers, consuming resources with little concern for waste, passing costs on to others and forming exclusive groups that neglect outsiders. While each is based on valid insights, the mistake is our believing that any one is the root of human nature. Such reductionism harkens, unfortunately, to an earlier period, when a then-dominant behaviorism argued that the existence of a behaviorist explanation made all other explanations irrelevant. After over a century of research, it would hardly seem necessary for us to argue in support of multiple determinants of behavior. Yet, single-determination theories abound. Their oversimplification is no more acceptable now than it was then; if indeed there is a demonstrable role for one view, this in no way eliminates the possibility that there is a role for other, and more positive, views as well. That humans can act in unsustainable ways is irrefutable. But when discussing human behavior, saying that our species' motivation is X or our behavior is to always do Y is simply wrong. There is no scientific basis for so narrow a view of human nature. The brain is more malleable and behavior more adaptive than such statements allow.

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May 20, 2014