Worldviews and values – inspiring the shift to zero carbon

Our values and worldviews are central to how we comprehend the world around us, and how we see our place in it. Understanding how this shapes our attitudes and actions towards nature could be a key part of facilitating the shift to zero carbon.

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Many now believe that climate change is not the root of the problem, but an escalating symptom of our dysfunctional relationship with nature and with each other. The values that our consumer society currently promotes, and the activities they encourage, do little to help us rise to the climate challenge.

An aspect of our inability to deal with climate change stems from the belief that we regard ourselves, as a species, as separate from nature and separate from each other. Yet there are now no ecosystems without human influence and no humans who do not depend on an ecosystem — or on other humans. Even in ecological thinking, any reference to ‘the environment’ can subliminally lead to a perception of humans and nature as distinct entities. This belief, that we are separate from or even somehow ‘above’ nature, allows continued inaction even when there is clear evidence that our actions are deeply damaging.

Global spiritual leader, peace activist and writer Thich Nhat Hanh puts this succinctly: “The Earth is not the environment. The Earth is us. Everything depends on whether we have this insight or not.”

The values we hold also have a profound effect on behaviour. Currently the UK has a very materialistic culture; people are encouraged to consume more and more ‘stuff’, most of which is deliberately designed to end up as landfill after a very short time. Even significant life events like having a baby or getting married have now become heavily commercialised. The prevalence of advertising and media stories that focus on money, competition, status and celebrity culture serve to continually reinforce such values.

Studies have shown the detrimental effects of a materialistic worldview on well-being and mental health; young adults whose primary focus is financial success show higher levels of anxiety and depression [source 1]. Anxiety makes us want to consume more, but the more we consume the more anxious and depressed we become [2] — whilst also having record carbon footprints!

10 good ideas to make change happen

Since its launch in 2007, CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain research has clearly demonstrated that we already have the tools and technologies needed to rise to the climate challenge. In Zero Carbon Britain: Making it Happen, CAT researchers explore the barriers to change and offer a tool-box of ideas on how we can overcome them.

Changing how we see the world is a core part of this shift. Worldviews that are rooted in concern for other humans, other species and future generations are more likely to support action on climate. Fostering ‘intrinsic’ values which are associated with stronger expressions of social and environmental concern and deeper commitment to society (such as ‘responsibility’, ‘helpfulness’, ‘social justice’ and ‘equality’) rather than ‘extrinsic’ values (such as ‘wealth’, ‘social recognition’ and ‘public image’) could play a key role in the transformation necessary to deliver a zero carbon future, whilst actually increasing our own wellbeing in the process.

Here are ten of the good ideas that our research team uncovered:

For ideas 1–40 see our earlier blogs on food, transport, buildings and energy

adventure-1868255_192041) Connect with nature

Increasing direct engagement with nature through activities such as hiking, outdoor play, rambling and nature walks increases the sense of connectedness with nature, which in turn leads to higher levels of pro-environmental behaviour, health and wellbeing. By encouraging reconnection with nature, we can start to shift towards being a society that cares about climate and other ‘bigger-than-self’ problems, such as climate, and works together to solve them. [3–6]

To find out more see Making it Happen page 143

42) Work fewer hours

It has been suggested that over-consumption is interlinked with a range of other problems such as overwork, unemployment and a reduced quality of life [7]. Reducing the working week to 21 hours has been proposed as a way to break this cycle, and so help people become less attached to consumption of stuff, and more attached to relationships and activities that absorb less money and more time [7].

To find out more see Making it Happen page 151

london-692137_192043) Buy less stuff

Reducing consumption does not mean we will all be worse off, indeed quite the opposite, as non-material factors such as health, social cohesion, family and community are much more important elements of wellbeing than how much stuff we consume [7]. Buy Nothing Day is a global campaign to reduce consumerism by encouraging people to experience what it is like to spend a day without spending.

To find out more see Making it Happen page 151

44) Recognise that many others think like we do

Unfortunately most people underestimate the extent to which others actually do recognise the importance of intrinsic values, whilst also overestimating the importance of extrinsic values. Projects like Carbon Conversations, which gets people talking on these issues, can help correct this misunderstanding, encouraging people to publicly act on intrinsic values, creating further social proof of their importance — producing a positive feedback process. [8]

To find out more see Making it Happen page 148

45) Recognise the power of faith and spirituality

In a world where many wider many political and cultural attitudes do not support the zero carbon transition, religious faiths can have enormous influence on the attitudes and actions of their followers.

The major faiths also wield significant economic and political power [9], and in the run-up to the COP21 UN Paris Agreement all the major religions raised climate as a core concern.

On a practical level, the Church of England’s ‘Shrinking the Footprint’ campaign is a national campaign to address climate change, whilst Muslim Climate Action share best practice and showcase work that the Muslim community is doing to tackle climate change. For example, the resources on its website include a toolkit to support young Muslims to get their local mosques and communities thinking about environmental issues.

To find out more about what these and other faith groups are doing, see Making it Happen page 155

46) Promote helpful ‘intrinsic’ values

Strengthening these more helpful values across society has wider benefits. In one experiment drawing attention to ‘broadmindedness’ was found to lead to a strengthening of concern about climate — even without any mention of social or environmental issues [10]. When people are stimulated to think about a pro-environmental behaviour such as a car-share using intrinsic motives, a completely different behaviour, such as recycling, can emerge [11].

To find out more see Making it Happen page 149

47) Help enable change through spiritual practice

The Dharma Action Network for Climate Engagement (Dharma is a Sanskrit term used to refer to wisdom teachings and deep inquiry) has a network of groups that generates projects with a wide range of responses to climate change. Examples include sponsored vigils, awareness-raising bicycle rides, and direct action at London museums as part of the arts collective “Art not Oil” to protest for an end to oil company sponsorship of the arts.

To find out more see Making it Happen page 157

48) Engage the Arts

Arts have long been a powerful catalyst in transforming social norms and worldviews. Art has the power to create spaces for dialogue, communicate information which might otherwise be alienating, bring communities together and inspire people with positive visions of a sustainable future. Groups like Platform London, Cape Farewell, Julie’s Bicycle, Artsadmin, Emergence, Creative Carbon Scotland and many others work to help us to reimagine a future where we have risen to the climate challenge.

The handbook Playing for Time has gathered over 100 stories of artists reclaiming a traditional role as truth-tellers and agents of change.

To find out more see Making it Happen page 159

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Brussels Repair Cafe — picture Creative Commons / Leo Fellinger

49) Set up, use and promote repair cafés

Originating in the Netherlands, repair cafés are meeting places where volunteers teach people how to repair household items for free, to prevent waste and share valuable skills. There are now over 1,000 repair cafés worldwide, including a growing network across the UK. The Swedish government is introducing tax breaks on repairs, including slashing the VAT rate, allowing people to reclaim half of the labour cost of repairing appliances [12].

To find out more see Making it Happen page 151

50) Support those campaigning for change

Joanna Macy’s Work That Reconnects draws on deep ecology and Buddhist practice to help prevent ‘burnout’ in hard working campaigners by building motivation, creativity, courage and solidarity.

The Transition Movement has developed a process of ‘Inner Transition’, which involves a revisiting of relationships with ourselves, each other and the Earth. Their practical measures include a free mentoring service, inviting local therapists, coaches and supervisors to offer support to activists; a group simply taking time to get to know one another; and supporting people who are taking on too much.

To find out more see Making it Happen page 158

Making it happen

The cultural shift which drives the transition to Zero Carbon Britain offers many extra benefits. Moving on from excessive consumerism through more time with nature, friends and communities or engaging in activities such as meditation or mindfulness can challenge the expectation that we will have more fun, better relationships and greater success if we buy more, eat more, travel more and spend more — whilst actually make us feel happier, healthier and more connected!

You can download the full Making it Happen report here.

The Centre for Alternative Technology also offers a wide range of education, training and short courses which can help us reconnect with nature and with others — visit www.cat.org.uk.

From 5–7 May we are running a retreat weekend for those working towards a zero carbon future — come and join us!

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1. Kasser, T. and Ryan, R. M. (1993) A Dark Side of the American Dream: Correlates of Financial Success as a Central Life Aspiration. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, pp. 410–422.

2. James, O. (2007) Affluenza — How to be successful and stay sane. Random House.

3. Mayer, F, S. and McPherson Frantz, C. (2004) The connectedness to nature scale: A measure of individuals’ feeling in community with nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 24 (2004), pp. 503–515

4. University of Rochester (2010) Spending Time in Nature Makes People Feel More Alive, Study Shows.

5. Kamitsis, I. and Francis, A. J. P. (2013) Spirituality mediates the relationship between engagement with nature and psychological wellbeing. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 36 (2013), pp. 136–143

6. Jordan, R. (2015) Stanford researchers find mental health prescription: Nature. Article 30, June 2015.

7. NEF (2010) 21 Hours. Why a shorter working week can help us all to flourish in the 21st century. New Economics Foundation: UK.

8. Crompton, T. (2017) Values Matter. Contribution to Zero Carbon Britain: Making it Happen. Centre for Alternative Technology.

9. Hulme, M. (2016) Varieties of Religious Engagement with Climate Change. Contribution to the Routledge Handbook of Religion and Ecology (eds.) Mary E Tucker et. al. Routledge.

10. Chilton, P. et al. (2011) Communicating Bigger-than-self Problems to Extrinsically-oriented Audiences. Common Cause Foundation: Machynlleth, UK. Available at: http://valuesandframes.org/downloads/

11. Evans, L. et al. (2013) Self-interest and pro-environmental behaviour. Nature Climate Change, 3, pp. 122–125

12. Orange, R. (2016) Waste not want not: Sweden to give tax breaks for repairs. Article in The Guardian, 19/09/16.