Mental Models and Sustainability
I've just finished a great book by Laurence Gonzalez called Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies and Why. Gonzalez does a great job of synthesizing a lot of the fascinating research that makes a connection between neural network activity and human behavior. Much of this research has been popularized by helpful books by Peter Senge and Daniel Golemen (and colleagues).
Gonzalez gives examples of how our mental models can conflict with reality and eventually lead to our destruction. With the mental model of horse and pedestrian travel in mind, a man begins crossing a railroad track ahead of a train, thinking it is safe. He fails to take in consideration the speed the train can travel compared to a horse and buggy and doesn't make it across. His mental model didn't allow him to account for such a fast moving vehicle. You can probably think of your own examples of how the failure to update a mental model has lead to negative or fatal consequences.
I started thinking about all of the mental models that most of us (at least in the West) have regarding issues that have significant sustainability implications. Some of them are obvious: easy to use and inexpensive energy and water; the use of the auto as a primary means of transportation; consumption of goods produced and shipped from all over the world under conditions that are unjust for those most closely involved in the production process. Certainly there are many others.
I'm curious to hear from the higher education sustainability community to see what kind of mental models you've run up against you your attempts to change your campus culture. I think using the mental model approach could be very helpful in teaching the principles of sustainability in the classroom or other settings as well. It is a helpful way of understanding a significant barrier to achieving sustainability: our own thought processes.
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