Sustainability begins within the self. Until we unlearn bad habits that arise from our acceptance of unquestioned notions that lead to these kinds of unsustainable behaviors we will be stuck in modes of behavior that will prevent us from achieving the kinds of changes we need to achieve.

by Chris de Morsella, Green Economy Post Follow Chris on Twitter @greeneconpost

The single most profound thing we need to change in order to make our world sustainable is ourselves. We must revisit how we view ourselves and our place in the world. Nothing will really succeed in the macro world as long as so many still subscribe to a kind of cornucopian world view of endless plenty and fail to grasp the very real physical facts of limits to growth. We need to begin living within the planetary budgets such as they are and until we learn how to do this we are not really living sustainably. Our outward behavior is the result of our beliefs and habits and these are much more resistant to change than we often would like to believe.

There is just so much momentum in habit. We humans, like other creatures are in most ways creatures of habit and once a habit forms it is really very hard to break. Ask any marketer about this; the momentum of habit is something marketers count on and is one reason they target the young, who are just beginning to form what will become long term and often life time consumer habits. How we see the world and our place in it is also the result of these unquestioned accepted notions and beliefs. Notions such as the view that resource supply can always rise in response to price rises or that growth is always good for example will lead us to act in ways that are unsustainable and cause long term harm even to our own self interests.

Of course there is the outward practice of sustainability, the formal definition of programs and policies, all the institutional reformations and so on. This is all very important stuff and what I am saying in no way minimizes its vital importance. I am fascinated by the goings on in the sustainability space and support the many virtuous attempts to help organizations adapt to and adopt sustainability — and in meaningful, measurable ways. This outside visible manifestation is however supported within us all by our own internal notional, intellectual and habit rooted superstructures of sustainability and conversely is obstructed by our bad habits, bad unquestioned beliefs or notions, by all the stubborn knowledge we have become habituated to know without examination.

How do we unlock sustainability from within? How do we sort through our pre-existing layered strata of notions, beliefs, memories, pre-knowing, and so forth? How can we unlearn the anti-patterns that exist within each of us and that put together can effectively roadblock even truly sincere attempts at living sustainably. Looking within is always the hardest (and paradoxically easiest) thing to do, but in this case of discovering the path to sustainable living within ourselves, it is worth turning over the proverbial stones within. To turn them over in order to see what they are really made of in light of our current (hopefully a little bit more enlightened) understanding of the bigger picture.

This goes for each one of us, within ourselves, and this is foremost of course. However it is also critically important, especially at the millennial juncture of history we are now living in, to perfect good practical techniques to help others to cross their own inner bridges to find, within themselves ways to live and ways to form habits that are sustainable. I mention history, because, as many are aware, human activity is causing us to bump up against our world’s physical limits to growth. We will soon begin to discover just how real reality is compared with the shadow world of our human notional constructs. A shadow world that we have used for the last few centuries to fool ourselves into thinking that these limits did not apply to us. The patently absurd economic theology of eternal growth will soon to be shown out for the short sighted long and very long term mistake that is always was.

The Realities of Limits to Growth Will Shake Things Up.

Sometimes civilizations need to get hit over the head by reality before they abandon deeply ingrained ways of doing things and of looking at life or, as is very often the case, perish in the dustbin of dead civilizations. Unfortunately, sometimes it seems to me that we are going to have to play it out by this script and that collectively the various internationally significant societies of our world, will all do too little, too late in order to affect the outcomes of drastic climate instability, inexorable energy depletion, loss of bio-diversity, water scarcity, desertification and so on that are looming ever larger. Certainly, most would agree that the world is now at a grand cross road; what we do and accomplish or do not do and don’t accomplish is going to be critical for how things evolve over the next five decades and this period of the next five decades, in so many ways is going to determine what kind of future our world will have for the next ten thousand years or more.

Soon we will reach the global peak of oil production — some argue that the world has already crossed this threshold and the entire industrial/transportation/urban/agricultural complex that in so many fundamental ways relies on cheap abundant oil will begin to discover just how dependent it is. Societies that have with foresight done more to build alternative means of powering their critical infrastructure and that have become more sustainable and efficient in everything they do will tend to fair better than those that have had a corresponding lack of wisdom in terms of their policies.

This impending energy shock will do wonders — within five years or so — to concentrate minds and action The force majeure of sky-rocketing liquid fuels prices — within a matrix of what I believe will be pronounced price swings in both directions driven by massive speculation is going to really start forcing people to really question how they live and what they will need to do in order to survive. Unfortunately, for most, these wild swings are going to continue to buffet the global economy. For example crude spot price are once again toying around the psychologically important $100 per barrel price. If the price goes up much further than this it will likely begin to tip many of the world’s economies back into recession. The attendant drop in demand will lead to a subsequent bust in the spot prices of crude and yet another wild swing in energy spot prices. This is far from ideal; it would be much better for the world if there was a better price stability, but I do not see how this could be engineered.

I think it is safe to say that the five year moving average price of oil on the spot market is going to keep rising in spite of chaotic shorter duration price swings and that on average oil is going to become so expensive that it will have major impacts on just about every thing we do and it will spur people to really start thinking hard about finding other ways to do the things they need to get done that are less dependent on oil products.

Sustainability Begins Within

I went on this detour into the likely near term experience of peak oil to say that very soon we may be getting just the kind of kick in our collective rear ends that will awaken us from the blind momentum of habit that is leading us into an increasingly unsustainable way of life. Many argue that by then it will be too late. Perhaps, but I prefer to remain an optimist, not out of naive ignorance, of what we do face, but because I have a (perhaps misplaced) faith in human ingenuity and adaptability.

Hopefully the minds of enough people everywhere and in all the most influential societies will begin to learn to unlearn these deep seated destructive habits, anti-patterns and ways of living that have grown out from long held notions and beliefs… deep unquestioned notions about the world and how it works and our place in it. Until enough people and in enough different places begin to really make these profound life changes the world is going to keep careening on a fossil fuel and resource consumption binge, careless and not caring about the inevitable hangover… and what a hangover it will be. It is also a hangover that is going to get worse the longer we continue to do nothing much about it.

Still… it is just so very hard to change ourselves. Even though many of us are aware, to one degree or another, of the need for profound changes, in how we live and how we view the world, it is so much harder to actually begin the long arduous process of looking within and consciously acting on our own inner beings. It is so much easier to talk about it, to pontificate (and hopefully I have not just fallen into this annoying habit).

Reaching into my own inner world and trying to change my own set of maladapted habits and notions is the hardest thing for me personally — I have met with some success, but all too many failures as well. I am wondering how other people are approaching this stubborn and difficult issue, in their own inner existence and what are some of the techniques and advice that people have discovered, within themselves to learn how to unlearn and to question that which is largely sub-conscious and unquestioned. It is a personal journey for each of us, but we also need all the help we can get. Does anyone have some special insight on this? I for one would like to hear it.

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© 2011, Chris de Morsella. All rights reserved. Do not republish.

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Author: Chris de Morsella (146 Articles)

After a decade performing as a lead guitarist for rock bands, Chris de Morsella decided to return to the career his uncle mentored him in as a youth....Software Engineering. Since that time he has thrown himself into his work. He has designed a compound document publishing architecture for regulatory submissions capable of handling very large multi-document FDA regulatory drug approval submissions, for Liquent, a division of Thompson Publishing. At the Associated Press, Chris worked with senior editors at facilities around the world, to develop a solution for replacing existing editorial systems with an integrated international content management solution. He lead the design effort at Microsoft for a help system for mobile devices designed to provide contextual help for users. Chris also helped to develop the web assisted installer for LifeCam2.0, the software for Microsoft’s web cam and developed late breaking features for the product He also served with the Rhapsody client team to redesign and build a major new release of Real Networks Rhapsody client product. His most recent assignment has been Working with the Outlook Mobile Time Management team for the next release of Outlook Mobile for the SmartPhone. Chris' interests are in green building and architecture, smart grid, the cloud, geo-thermal energy, solar energy, smart growth, organic farming and permaculture. Follow Chris on Twitter.

  • Susan Marks, L.C.S.W.

    Excellent article, of course, being a psychotherapist, I know how hard it is to have people change their habits. You should be in touch with mental health professionals so we can help with ideas to help our planet survive. Susan

    • Chris de Morsella

      Susan — I like where you are going with this… sustainability therapy. I think that most of us could benefit from some sessions. You are right of course, changing our habits is about the hardest thing for a person to do and I think that you have hit upon something here; there is a role for mental health professionals to assist others in learning how to unlearn bad or shall we say maladapted habits and to learn how to question in a supportive non-judgmental environment their own deep long held beliefs and notional constructs that to such a large degree are what informs our lives and orchestrates our behaviors.
      Maybe this is a specialty practice you could pioneer.