The PelicanWeb's Journal of Sustainable Development

Research Digest on Integral Human Development,
Solidarity, Sustainability, and Related Global Issues

Vol. 6, No. 5, May 2010
Luis T. Gutierrez, Editor

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Sustainable Development in the Gaian Perspective


This issue of the journal is on sustainable development in the context of the Gaian paradigm. The basic premise of Gaia theory is that humanity and the human habitat, taken together, constitute a living organism in which human actions have environmental consequences and vice versa. The current status of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is discussed in a Gaian context, and some ideas are offered for consideration at the forthcoming "MDG Summit" scheduled for 20-22 September 2010 in New York. The outline for the feature article is as follows:

1. Humanity and the Human Habitat
2. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
3. Synopsis of Self-Determination Theory (SDT)
4. Looking Ahead to the Forthcoming MDG Summit
5. List of References and Online Databases
This issue includes two supplements:

Supplement 1: Advances in Sustainable Development, is a monthly snapshot of significant recent contributions to in-depth understanding of the sustainable development process in general and integral human development in particular. This supplement includes the following items:

1. Suggestions for Prayer, Study, and Action
2. News, Publications, Tools, and Conferences
3. Advances in Sustainable Development
4. Advances in Integral Human Development
5. Advances in Integrated Sustainable Development
6. Recently Launched Games and Simulation Tools
7. Visualizations of the Sustainable Development Process
8. Sustainable Development and the "Second Wave" of System Dynamics
9. Sustainable Development and the International Community

Supplement 2: Directory of Sustainable Development Resources is an annotated directory of online resources on sustainable development and related issues. Links are provided to selected online content in the following categories:

1. Population and Human Development
2. Cultural, Social, and Security Issues
3. Financial, Economic, and Political Issues
4. Ecological Resources and Ecosystem Services
5. Renewable and Nonrenewable Energy Sources
6. Pollution, Climate Change, and Environmental Management
7. Land, Agriculture, Food Supply, and Water Supply
8. Current Outlook for the Planet and Human Civilization
9. Transition from Consumerism to Sustainability

The invited papers this month are the following:

A Mathematical Model of Sustainable Development Using Ideas of Coupled Environment-Human Systems, by Jason Phillips, University of Exeter, UK (Page 2)

Political Engagement with Design: A Design Intervention for Local Development in an Area of Gentrification in Istanbul, by Cigdem Kaya and Burcu (Yancatarol) Yagiz, Istanbul Technical University, Turkey (Page 3)

The State of the Earth, 2010, by Rebecca Solnit, Syndicated Writer and Author, San Francisco, USA (Page 4)

Lessons from the Making of the Millennium Development Goals, by David Hulme, University of Manchester, UK, and UNDP International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth, Brasilia, Brazil (Page 5)

Sustainable Development in the Gaian Perspective
Luis T. Gutierrez
Editor, The Pelican Web & Journal

Sustainable development is a human-intensive process. It happens in the context of humanity and the human habitat. Geographically, it happens at the local, national, and global levels. Geologically, it happens primarily in the biosphere, which in turn is sandwiched between the atmosphere and the lithosphere. The Gaian paradigm encompasses humanity and all the geographic and geological dimensions of the human habitat. In this context, the U.N. Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are taken as a point of reference to discuss the current status of sustainable development worldwide. It is noted that some powerful institutions (both secular and religious) continue to create obstacles for the MDGs. It is also noted that competent systems thinking and effective psychological motivation are often lacking in sustainable development practices. Some appropriate system analysis methods are suggested, and the application of Self-Determination Theory (SDT) for enhancing human motivation in support of the MDGs is explored. Finally, some recommendations are offered in response to the U.N. Secretary-General's convocation of a "MDG Summit" meeting currently scheduled for 20-22 September 2010 in New York.

1. Humanity and the Human Habitat

"Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet?" Ezekiel 34:18

The core concept of Gaia hypothesis (now Gaia theory) is that humanity and the human habitat form one system -- Gaia, the global ecosystem -- which is "one grand organic whole" in which human actions have environmental consequences and vice versa.

"The Gaia Theory posits that the organic and inorganic components of Planet Earth have evolved together as a single living, self-regulating system. It suggests that this living system has automatically controlled global temperature, atmospheric content, ocean salinity, and other factors, that maintains its own habitability. In a phrase, “life maintains conditions suitable for its own survival.” In this respect, the living system of Earth can be thought of analogous to the workings of any individual organism that regulates body temperature, blood salinity, etc. So, for instance, even though the luminosity of the sun – the Earth’s heat source – has increased by about 30 percent since life began almost four billion years ago, the living system has reacted as a whole to maintain temperatures at levels suitable for life.

"The Gaia theory was developed in the late 1960’s by Dr. James Lovelock, a British Scientist and inventor, shortly after his work with NASA in determining that there was probably no life on Mars. His research led to profound new insights about life on Earth. The theory gained an early supporter in Lynn Margulis, a microbiologist at the University of Massachusetts. In the past 15-20 years, many of the mechanisms by which Earth self-regulates have been identified. As one example, it has been shown that cloud formation over the open ocean is almost entirely a function of the metabolism of oceanic algae that emit a large sulfur molecule (as a waste gas) that becomes the condensation nuclei for raindrops. Previously, it was thought that cloud formation over the ocean was a purely chemical/physical phenomenon. The cloud formation not only helps regulate Earth’s temperature, it is an important mechanism by which sulfur is returned to terrestrial ecosystems."

Source: The Gaia Theory - Model and Metaphor for the 21st Century

The Gaian paradigm constitutes the most comprehensive framework for research in sustainable development. It includes the concrete totality of humanity and human activities. It includes the biosphere, which is the subset of the human habitat in direct contact with humans and all biota. And, it includes the atmosphere and lithosphere that encapsulate the biosphere and serve as interfaces between solar radiation and tectonic phenomena, respectively. This is the scope of the Gaian system, and this is the system that must be considered when facing climate change.

"Over the past two decades climate change has increasingly become recognised as a serious threat to sustainable development, with current and projected impacts on areas such as environment, agriculture, energy, human health, food security, economic activity, natural resources and physical infrastructure." Lorena Aguilar, Gender and Climate Change, IUCN, 2009.

Climate changes are utterly unpredictable, and their potential impact on human affairs is incalculable. Furthermore, "the most severe impacts of climate change are being experienced by vulnerable populations who have contributed the least to the problem" (Keeping the promise, section 37). The current status of climate change research and assessment is well documented in a recent paper by Richard Moss and a team of climate scientists:

"Advances in the science and observation of climate change are providing a clearer understanding of the inherent variability of Earth’s climate system and its likely response to human and natural influences. The implications of climate change for the environment and society will depend not only on the response of the Earth system to changes in radiative forcings, but also on how humankind responds through changes in technology, economies, lifestyle and policy. Extensive uncertainties exist in future forcings of and responses to climate change, necessitating the use of scenarios of the future to explore the potential consequences of different response options. To date, such scenarios have not adequately examined crucial possibilities, such as climate change mitigation and adaptation, and have relied on research processes that slowed the exchange of information among physical, biological and social scientists. Here we describe a new process for creating plausible scenarios to investigate some of the most challenging and important questions about climate change confronting the global community." The next generation of scenarios for climate change research and assessment, Richard H. Moss et al., Nature, 11 Feb 2010

In other words, climate change is a Gaia-wide phenomenon that emerges from the interaction of biophysical and geophysical forces throughout Gaia, including all Gaian variations and both natural and anthropogenic forces. Therefore, climate change transcends both national boundaries and the boundaries between the lithosphere, the biosphere (where human abide), and the atmosphere. This in turn requires that mitigation of climate changes, and adaptation to climate changes, be planned and coordinated at the global (Gaian) level. This is an international collaborative task for which the nations of the world are utterly unprepared. The Gaian scope of the situation is aptly summarized as follows:

"The Earth System is a single, self-regulating system comprised of physical, chemical, biological, and human components." Amsterdam Declaration on Global Change, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 13 July 2001.

According to Lovelock, Gaia will take care of itself:

"The only near certain conclusion we can draw from the changing climate and people's response to it is that there is little time left in which to act. Therefore my plea is that adaptation is made at least equal in importance to policy-driven attempts to reduce emissions." James Lovelock, The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning, Perseus, 2009.

But the sustainability of human civilization (in fact, the survival of humanity) is at stake:

"The two main characteristics of the Ecocosm [=Gaia] Paradox are: (1) If human consumption growth continues, the planetary life support system will be disabled and humanity will itself become endangered. (2) If consumption growth is stopped, the viability of the world's economic and financial systems will be threatened, and the stability of governments and society will deteriorate." Willard R. Fey & Ann C.W. Lam, Ecocosm Dynamics Ltd, 2000.

Exponential population growth is the root cause of our current predicament, but population growth is further exacerbated by consumption growth and waste disposal growth. As used here, the term "consumption" includes all the production activities (extraction, supply chain, storage, delivery, etc.) required before, during, and after human consumption. The environmental impacts when all production and consumption factors are taken together is enormous. For instance, a recent report by the Worldwatch Institute estimates that "livestock and their byproducts actually account for at least 32.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions." In the following diagram, Fey & Lam clearly convey the excessive load placed on natural resources dynamic interaction between population and consumption:

Closed-Loop Coupling of Population, Consumption, and Natural Resources
Source: Willard R. Fey & Ann C.W. Lam, Ecocosm Dynamics Ltd, 2000

Facing the future requires facing climate change. Continued long-term exponential population and consumption growth in a finite planet is an oxymoron. The exponential growth of population and consumption in turn induces exponential generation of emissions (CO2 among others) and all manner of toxic waste. And we might not have to wait until drinking water, eating food, and breathing air become the three greatest hazards to human health. For the industrial revolution and profit-seeking consumerism have reached the point in which severe changes can be readily observed and measured in the biosphere, including biodepletion (both quantity and diversity) as well as global warming as measured by the temperature and level of the oceans. When this biosphere changes reach a certain threshold, compensatory feedback forces between the atmosphere, biosphere, and lithosphere may be activated as Gaia tries to maintain optimal living conditions in the biosphere, and the probability that this will not include severe climate changes is infinitesimal.

Many people are still in denial about this issue, but good reality checks are provided in two recently published books: The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning by James Lovelock (Perseus, 2009), and Gaia in Turmoil: Climate Change, Biodepletion, and Earth Ethics, edited by E. Crist & H.B. Rinker (MIT Press, 2010). Other pertinent references are listed below.

2. The Millennium Development Goals

"Human development, if not engendered, is fatally endangered."
Mahbub ul Haq

There is one, and only one, global program that offers a semblance of the kind of international collaboration that will be required to face climate changes and related issues of sustainable development in the years ahead: the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), defined as follows:

MDG1 - Eradication of Poverty and Hunger
MDG2 - Universal Education for all Children
MDG3 - Promotion of Gender Equality
MDG4 - Reduction of Infant Mortality
MDG5 - Improvement of Maternal Health
MDG6 - Mitigation of the HIV Epidemic
MDG7 - Assurance of Environmental Sustainability
MDG8 - Develop a Global Partnership for Development
The following video captures the past and present of the MDGs:

Courtesy of GOOD Magazine

The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, is calling for all nations to participate in a summit meeting about the current status and outlook for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The meeting is scheduled to take place 20-22 September 2010 in New York. The agenda for this meeting is defined in the Secretary-General's report, Keeping the promise: a forward-looking review to promote an agreed action agenda to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

The following are the "key success factors" listed in the Keeping the promise report:

"1. Effective Government leadership and national ownership of development strategies.

"2. Effective policies to support implementation, defined in this context as laws, regulations, standards, administrative procedures and guidelines (general or specific to the Millennium Development Goals) that affect private behaviour and the conduct of service providers and others with whom they must interact.

"3. Improved quantity, quality and focus of investments, financed both by domestic sources and international development assistance, based on a holistic approach, including smallholder agriculture, health, education, infrastructure, business development and environmental conservation.

"4. Appropriate institutional capacity to deliver quality services equitably on a national scale, such as adequate facilities, competent staff, appropriate supplies and equipment and effective monitoring and evaluation.

"5. Civil society and community involvement and empowerment, which enhances the likelihood of success by giving individuals and communities the ability to take charge of their own lives.

"6. Effective global partnerships, involving all relevant stakeholders, including donor Governments, local communities, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and foundations, with mutual accountability of all stakeholders."

Keeping the promise, UN, 12 February 2010, page 16.

The success factors listed above, and the entire Keeping the promise report, point to the need for a holistic-global strategy if further progress on the MDGs is to be made. James Lovelock defined Gaia as "a complex entity involving the Earth's biosphere [humanity included], atmosphere, oceans, and soil; the totality constituting a feedback or cybernetic system which seeks an optimal physical and chemical environment for life on this planet." Gaia theory provides a holistic-global perspective - the planet and humanity as a single organism, or living system - and therefore offers an appealing context for research and reflection on sustainable development in general, and preparation for the September 2010 "MDG summit" in particular.

The most critical of the MDGs is MDG8 - to develop a global partnership for development. It follows that MDG3 is equally critical and may in fact be a precondition to make progress on MDG8; for, how could there be a global partnership for development as long as 50% of the human race is trying to dominate/manipulate the other 50%? As Mahbub ul Haq has pointed out, "human development, if not engendered, is fatally endangered."

It is paradoxical that, at a time when most of the secular world is awakening to the shortcomings of the patriarchal mentality, most of the religious world remains attached to the "phallic syndrome," i.e., a preference for the masculine that in extreme cases amounts to idolatry of the Y chromosome and translates into pervasive male domination in most religious institutions. Given the enormous influence of religion in social affairs, the religious manifestation of the "phallic syndrome" is a serious obstacle to sustainable development and, in particular, integral human development. It is by now well known that there is an inverse correlation between economic/human development and adherence to religious traditions. This is not to say that religion is bad. In fact, a sound foundation in prayer and spirituality is essential for human development. But it is time for religious institutions to face the fact that excluding women from roles of religious authority is theologically baseless, morally wrong, pragmatically silly, and socially harmful.

As long as the patriarchal mentality of male domination prevails, it is hard to see how a global partnership for development could materialize. For the spirit of domination kills any initiative to foster human solidarity and creates a propensity to settle things by the use of power. This in turn makes short-term financial profit and wealth accumulation a primary concern, as huge budgets are needed to sustain military or paramilitary capabilities. Needless to say, it is not a matter of all men being "bad" and all women being "good." The old saying that "the good are not so good and the bad are not so bad" applies to all human beings, male or female. As a matter of fact, there are men who have overcome the phallic syndrome and there are women who are as patriarchal as any patriarch can be. But, in the ultimate analysis, it is a matter of who dominates whom. Some forms of domination might appear to be benign and tolerable, but this is not the way of the future. The way of the future is partnership rather than patriarchy, collaboration rather than competition, solidarity rather than domination, sustainability rather than consumerism, survivability rather than self-destruction.

The financial crisis of 2008 is a recent example of the precariousness of economic institutions when short-term profit is top priority no matter what. The graph below shows the net result: a negative growth rate of the Gross World Product (GWP) for the year 2009. The data from 2000 to 2009 is taken from the UN Global Economic Outlook Database as of 21 April 2010. The figure for 2010 is the current estimate.

Annual Growth Rate (Percent) of Real Gross World Product (GWP)
Source: UN Global Economic Outlook Database as of 21 April 2010

If the number of UN-registered partnerships is any indication, we seem to be at a point of stagnation:

Cumulative Number of UN-Registered Partnerships
Source: UN Department of Sustainable Development - Registered Partnerships as of 21 April 2010

Population and consumption per capita are growing exponentially, and they shouldn't. Collaborative partnerships should be growing exponentially, but they aren't. There is a lack of political will for international collaboration. But underneath this lack of political will there is an enormous amount of inertia among the current 6.8 billion inhabitants of planet Earth. People are too busy trying to dominate and/or manipulate others. Clearly, this is an unsustainable and unsurvivable situation. As James Lovelock and others have repeatedly pointed out, it is no longer a matter of "saving the planet" in the sense of sustaining "business as usual." It is now a matter of saving humanity, and humanity is utterly dependent on the total human habitat, especially the biosphere. The geophysiology of Gaia as a living organism will take care of making whatever adjustments are required for planet survival. But human survival may require significant adaptation, including massive migrations as some regions of the world may become inhabitable.

It is time for Homo economicus to become Homo ecologicus.

There are two basic sets of strategies to resolve the dilemma of sustainable development: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation tries to resolve the dilemma by reducing emissions, shifting to renewable energy sources, etc., but otherwise it fosters "business as usual" in the sense that short-term profits are top priority and upscale lifestyles need not change. This is the Homo economicus mindset. Adaptation tries to resolve the dilemma by accepting that unlimited population and consumption growth are not feasible in a finite planet, and sooner or later humans must seek ways to behave in ways that are more conducive to the common good of humanity, which includes taking good care of the human habitat even though short-term profits might suffer. This is, for lack of a better term, the Homo ecologicus mindset.

Mitigation is necessary but not sufficient. James Lovelock may be utterly wrong, but seven billion profit-driven people extracting resources from the planet and dumping garbage on the planet is not a sustainable proposition in the long-term. What global population would be sustainable? It depends on the amount of extracting, consuming, and dumping per capita. What about the rich-poor gap? Adaptation means, among other things, supporting development in geographical areas that lack basic standards of living and compensating this by an equivalent reduction of luxuries in the overdeveloped areas. It is impossible to anticipate how many kinds of adaptation will be required, let alone how people will behave when they have to make choices. But it seems reasonable to anticipate that "business as usual" will not forever be the path of survival for the human species. Sooner or later - and perhaps sooner rather than later - Homo economicus must outgrow "business as usual" and become Homo ecologicus.

But, how can Homo economicus be persuaded to become Homo ecologicus?

3. Synopsis of Self-Determination Theory (SDT)

"Freedom is central to the process of development for two distinct reasons: (1) The evaluative reason: assessment of progress has to be done primarily in terms of whether the freedoms that people have are enhanced. (2) The effectiveness reason: achievement of development is thoroughly dependent on the free agency of people." Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom, 2000.

Self-Determination Theory (SDT) is a psychological needs-based approach to motivation and human behavior. It was developed by Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan at the University of Rochester (New York, USA) in the 1970s-1980s. According to Deci and Ryan, "to be self-determined is to endorse one's actions at the highest level of reflection. When self-determined, people experience a sense of freedom to do what is interesting, personally important, and vitalizing." The Self-Determination Theory web site at the University of Rochester introduces SDT as follows:

"Self-Determination Theory (SDT) is a theory of motivation. It is concerned with supporting our natural or intrinsic tendencies to behave in effective and healthy ways. SDT has been researched and practiced by a network of researchers around the world.

"The theory was initially developed by Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan at the University of Rochester, and has been elaborated and refined by scholars from many countries. Deci and Ryan are professors in the Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology at the University of Rochester, where they direct a pre- and post-doctoral training program focused on SDT.

"This website presents a brief overview of SDT and provides resources that address important issues such as human needs, values, intrinsic motivation, development, motivation across cultures, individual differences, and psychological well-being. Also addressed are the applications of Self-Determination Theory to: Education, Organizations, Health Care, Sports and Exercise, Relationships, Goals, Psychotherapy, Health and Well-being, Psychopathology, Environment."

It is noteworthy that none of the listed application areas are irrelevant to sustainable development. Obviously, applications to Education, Organizations, and Environment are very closely related to sustainable development. The SDT web site offers a wealth of content about SDT as a testable theory, questionnaires used to empirical testing, publications, conferences, etc. Another comprehensive overview of SDT can be found in Wikipedia. Critical reviews (refutations?) of the theory have been published by A. J. Marr (click here and here).

According to Deci and Ryan (2000):

"Self-determination theory (SDT) maintains that an understanding of human motivation requires a consideration of innate psychological needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness. We discuss the SDT concept of needs as it relates to previous need theories, emphasizing that needs specify the necessary conditions for psychological growth, integrity, and well-being. This concept of needs leads to the hypotheses that different regulatory processes underlying goal pursuits are differentially associated with effective functioning and well-being and also that different goal contents have different relations to the quality of behavior and mental health, specifically because different regulatory processes and different goal contents are associated with differing degrees of need satisfaction. Social contexts and individual differences that support satisfaction of the basic needs facilitate natural growth processes including intrinsically motivated behavior and integration of extrinsic motivations, whereas those that forestall autonomy, competence, or relatedness are associated with poorer motivation, performance, and well-being. We also discuss the relation of the psychological needs to cultural values, evolutionary processes, and other contemporary motivation theories." E.L, Deci and R.M. Ryan, The "what" and "why" of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior, Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), 2000, 227-268.

The question is then: can the "innate psychological needs" (denoted below as N1, N2, and N3) be understood in terms that pertain to sustainable development?

N1. Autonomy -- the ability to pursue individual/local initiatives without central government interference as long as they are needed to meet human needs and are not harmful at any level (individual, local, national, ....)

N2. Competence -- the need to build capacity for sustainable development, where "capacity" includes (beyond K-12 education) such things as the capability and willingness to balance self-interest and the common good; to engage in long-range planning rather than just short-term gratification; to analyze the interdependencies between social, economic, environmental, cultural, and other factors; to foster integral human development (e.g., enabling people to move up Maslow's pyramid).

N3. Relatedness -- the ability to recognize the difference between self-determination and self-isolation; to understand and practice the principles of solidarity, subsidiarity, and sustainability; and the willingness to think and act in a collaborative rather than purely competitive manner (i.e., "dog eats dog" competition is not "politically correct"). In particular, cross-gender collaboration is imperative ("machismo" is no longer sustainable).

The triad of "autonomy, competence, and relatedness" brings to mind another triad, "freedom, capacity, and concern." Autonomy, or freedom, means authority commensurate with social responsibility. Competence, or capacity, means the ability to act authoritatively and responsibly. Relatedness, or concern, means acting so as to resolve both individual and social issues.

If this is a reasonable understanding of the three basic psychological needs, then SDT could be a powerful ingredient of education for sustainable development; even more so if SDT can offer effective motivators to show people that much is to be gained by participating in the transition from an unsustainable human civilization to a sustainable one. This is very important, for it has been shown that fear (of destroying the planet) and guilt (for destroying the planet) utterly fail as a motivators.

It should be noted that by "people" we mean individual human beings. It is in individual persons that self-determination induces an affective response. In other words, it is the feeling of autonomy, competence, and relatedness within individuals that is important. Other methods might be more effective for creating collective motivation in social groupings. But if key national and community leaders become "self-determined sustainable developers," it would seem reasonable to think that the communities they lead will be less resistant to sustainability concepts and initiatives.

Likewise, it should be noted that while SDT is not value-neutral, it does not require altruism, let alone holiness. Experiencing an inner sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness does not require a high level of moral behavior. For instance, SDT explains the lure of street gangs (organized crime/violence) for marginalized youth. Street gangs can provide marginalized individuals not only an income, but a meaningful role (relatedness) in groups they can serve well (competence) while enjoying a some measure of acting on their own initiative (autonomy). However, even though street gang membership may contribute to the psychological well-being of gang members, it is certainly not beneficial to utilize street gangs in building sustainable communities -- violence and sustainability don't mix.

Self-determination is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for sustainable development. For sustainable development entails taking into account the needs of Gaia as "one grand organic whole". For an excellent discussion of this point, listen to the recent interview with Professor James Lovelock, who originally coined the term "Gaia" to describe the planet inhabited by humanity as a "living organism."

Osbaldiston and Sheldon (listed above) have explored the applicability of SDT to fostering sustainable development. They have tested the theory and found that when authorities support subordinate autonomy, subordinates develop greater internalized motivation to pursue self-selected environmental goals. An "autonomy supportive" request has the following attributes (denoted below as A1, A2, and A3):

  • A1. Acknowledging where the requestee is coming from in terms of culture-conditioned behavior.
  • A2. Allowing the requestee the maximum possible range of choices about how to comply with the request, albeit excluding choices that can be harmful to others.
  • A3. Anticipating objections and providing a reasonable explanation about why excluded choices are excluded.

Examples for attributes A1, A2, and A3:

  • We understand that consuming more is generally considered to be good for the economy.
  • You can consume to meet all your basic and leisure needs as long as you avoid excessive consumption of goods and services that deplete nonrenewable resources and/or generate toxic pollutants harmful to human health.
  • Excessive consumption are bound to harm your own health (e.g., obesity) and the health of others (e.g., contaminated water), now and in the future.

It is interesting to note that there is homomorphism between the three innate psychological needs, the three components of autonomy supportive requests, and the three most fundamental principles associated with sustainable development: the principle of solidarity (P1), the principle of subsidiarity (P2), and the principle of sustainability (P3). In fact, there is also a mapping (albeit not one to one) between the three basic needs, the three elements of autonomy supportive requests, and the fundamental skills known to be required for modeling and simulation of complex systems. For instance, Barry Richmond (1993, 2004, 2010) proposes the following eight skills (denoted below as S1 to S8):

  1. S1. high altitude thinking, to gain a view of the interdisciplinary "big picture" rather than intradisciplinary minutiae
  2. S2. system-as-cause thinking, to include only the factors that interact to generate the behavior of interest
  3. S3. dynamic thinking, to visualize behavior patterns over time, i.e., behavior modes rather than specific events
  4. S4. operational thinking, to capture how the system parts interact to generate the behavior patterns of interest
  5. S5. closed-loop thinking, to identify the web of feedback loops that link together all the interacting parts
  6. S6. scientific thinking, to use math models/simulation experiments as hypotheses linking behavior to feedback webs
  7. S7. emphatic thinking, to communicate working hypotheses effectively for individual/organizational learning
  8. S8. generic thinking, to understand how certain feedback structures generate the same behavior across disciplines


A1 satisfies N1, complies with P1, and enhances S1 and S7
A2 satisfies N2, complies with P2, and enhances S2, S3, and S8
A3 satisfies N3, complies with P3, and enhances S4, S5, S6, and S8
Osbaldiston and Sheldon have provided empirical evidence that autonomy supportive requests make a significant difference in people internalizing requests for environmentally responsible behavior (ERB). It would seem that the same positive results would be observed regarding requests for socially responsible behavior (SRB), which requires overcoming "social dilemmas" in balancing self-interest and the common good.

How can Homo economicus be persuaded to become Homo ecologicus?

In response to this unavoidable question, SDT does appear to offer a good model for the "psychology of sustainable development." If SDT could be applied extensively via programs such as UNESCO's Education for Sustainable Development program, it could become instrumental in the monumental task of overcoming the denial/inertia (and lack of political will) of national/community leaders, which is a reflection of the massive inertia that seems to prevail at the moment. As Osbaldiston and Sheldon conclude:

"On the surface, the idea of developing a sustainable society appears to be the process of asking people to sacrifice all their current comforts and convenience and return to a lifestyle where we are "shivering in the dark." This picture is a bleak and overly dramatic description of what a sustainable society would be like, and in forming this picture, we have only looked at the utilitarian or economic outcomes of such a shift.

"There is a much brighter psychological picture. In the process of developing programs that help people internalize the values necessary to live sustainably, we will help people move away from much of our modern madness induced by pressure-filled occupations, dehumanized urban centers, and a complete abyss of contact with nature and move towards a way of life that focuses on life itself, including being connected to past and future generations, as well as being connected to all the life that is necessary to keep the delicate balance in harmony.

"By developing a society that helps focus on people's internalized motivations, including developing strong personal values and creating interesting and challenging settings to work and live in, and moving away from a society that focuses on external rewards, guilt, and imposed obligations, we will be creating a society in which humans can be truly human: humane, fair, just, and loving."

A similar conclusion is reached by Kasser (2009). Sustainable development is, in a most fundamental way, a psychological issue. In other words, homo sapiens will remain blind and insensitive to warnings about self-destruction (via destruction of the human habitat) until homo economicus freely becomes homo ecologicus. Attaining this self-determination is crucial for all human beings, but perhaps it is especially crucial for those of us who are rich and prosperous: "We are not trying to solve someone else's problem but to liberate ourselves from a toxic and unjust situation in which we, the prosperous, are less than human. The way forward is not simply the shedding of surplus wealth on to grateful recipients but an understanding that we are trying to take forward the process by which the other becomes as fully a 'giver' as I seek to be, so that the transaction by which I seek to bring about change in the direction of justice for another is one in which I come to be as much in the other's debt as they are in mine" (ACNS, Rowan Williams, 13 November 2009).

There are other psychological theories of human motivation. These include Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, Sarkar's Progressive Utilization Theory (PROUT), Doyal & Gough's Theory of Human Need, Herzberg's Hygiene and Motivational Factors, McGregor's Theory X and Theory Y, Alderfer's Existence/Relatedness/Growth (ERG), and Vroom's Expectancy Theory. For a good summary of these, click here. Furthermore, there are theories of human motivation based on economics and other disciplines. In their paper, Affective Decision Making and the Ellsberg Paradox, Anat Bracha and Donald J. Brown provide an interesting comparative analysis of "rational" versus "emotional" motivation. SDT is primarily a psychological theory, but one that includes reasoning as shown, for example, in the third attribute (A3) of "autonomy supportive" requests. In this regard, SDT is very appealing as a motivational method to foster the cultural transition from consumerism to sustainability.

In brief: "To be self-determined is to endorse one's actions at the highest level of reflection. When self-determined, people experience a sense of freedom to do what is interesting, personally important, and vitalizing" (Deci and Ryan). "When people are intrinsically motivated by their own values to act in environmentally friendly ways, they are more consistent and committed, relative to people who act out of extrinsic reasons, such as group pressure, rewards, or convenience" (Koger and Winter, 2010, page 102). Hopefully, SDT can be instrumental in making what is "interesting, personally important, and vitalizing" for the individual to include what is universally critical and vitalizing for Gaia.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: This section benefited greatly from inputs by Charles Partridge of Ohio State University, Kennon Sheldon of the University of Missouri, and other members of the SDT community. Needless to say, they are innocent about any errors that might remain.

4. Looking Ahead to the Forthcoming MDG Summit

"Sweet flowers are slow and weeds make haste."
William Shakespeare, ca. 1600

The agenda for the September 2010 "MDG summit" is defined by the UN Secretary-General as follows:

"Our challenge today is to agree on an action agenda to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. With five years to go to the target date of 2015, the prospect of falling short of achieving the Goals because of a lack of commitment is very real. This would be an unacceptable failure from both the moral and the practical standpoint. If we fail, the dangers in the world — instability, violence, epidemic diseases, environmental degradation, runaway population growth — will all be multiplied." Keeping the promise: a forward-looking review to promote an agreed action agenda to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, 12 February 2010, section 4.

Thus the action agenda to achieve the MDG targets for 2015 must include overcoming the worldwide "lack of commitment" to face issues that have worldwide repercussions. Gaia theory, and decision-support tools such as Problem Solving Matrix (PSM) and Explainer Engine and Tracing Connections (System Dynamics) must be used, in conjunction with climate models, in order to rank priorities and understand social and geological repercussions. But using all the scientific tools in the world will be an exercise in futility unless national leaders can be persuaded to collaborate here and now. This is where the "autonomy supportive requests" and other SDT methods could be instrumental in making the "MDG summit" capable of "keeping the promise" of the MDGs.

Using Gaia theory/systems thinking, in conjunction with SDT (or perhaps some appropriate variation of SDT), is a recommendation that applies at all levels and for all related issues. According to the Keeping the Promise report, the following are more specific statements that describe the current status of the MDGs:

"Progress on poverty reduction has been uneven and is now threatened" (section 11)
"Hunger is increasing and remains an important global challenge" (section 12)
"Target for full and decent employment for all remains unfulfilled" (sections 13-14)
"Progress on universal access to education, but the goal remains unmet" (sections 15-17)
"Insufficient progress on gender equality" (sections 18-22)
"Significant progress on some health-related goals" (sections 23-29)
"Least progress in reducing maternal mortality" (sections 30-32)
"Limited progress on environmental sustainability" (sections 33-35)
Any of these symptoms needs to be understood in the "total system" Gain perspective, and each one requires persuading the right individuals (i.e., the leaders of nations) to start "walking the talk." In the same report by the UN Secretary-General, the following are mentioned as emerging challenges:
"Climate change" (sections 37-40)
"The current crises: finance, the economy and food security" (sections 41-43)
"Intensifying prevention of violence and responses to humanitarian crises (sections 44-46)
"Addressing the special needs of the most vulnerable" (section 47)

Perhaps the best way to offer some suggestions for the forthcoming "MDG summit" is by commenting on the "guiding principles" proposed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Keeping the promise, section 99:

"1. National ownership and leadership complemented by supportive global programmes, measures and policies that align with national priorities and respect national sovereignty are essential."

  • Since global solutions are imperative, and solutions must be consistent with national priorities, it follows that national priorities must be supportive of global solutions. This closed-loop between global and national needs is unavoidable. Iterating around the closed-loop requires that all nations agree on the principles of solidarity, subsidiarity, and sustainability. The principle of subsidiarity is especially critical if global and national interests are to be mutually supportive. It must be applied to all sustainable development initiatives ate the local, national, and global levels.
"2. The interdependence of human rights, gender equality, governance, development and peace and security must be recognized to attain success and sustainability."

  • Respect for human rights and the need for governance, development, and peace and security are already acknowledged (at least in theory) by all nations. This is not the case with regard to gender equality. In this sense, gaining a universal commitment to gender equality should be a pivotal goal of the "MDG summit." It is reasonable to anticipate universal secular support for this commitment. But universal religious support is not to be expected. In fact, some religious institutions will actively try to sabotage any such commitment as being (for some contrived reasons) "contrary to the wellbeing of humanity." These are the same institutions that persist in excluding women from roles of real religious authority due to the inordinate attachment to the "phallic syndrome." If the religious dimension of gender equality is not addressed, MDG3 will never come to pass, and MDG8 will never come to pass either.
"3. The need to look at the Millennium Development Goals through a gender lens is critical, since women and girls typically face the greatest burdens of extreme poverty, hunger and disease. All of the action areas need to include specific strategies for tackling challenges faced by girls and women. On top of this, critical actions are needed to focus on overarching priorities for gender equality, including challenges of women’s political representation and the intolerable ongoing epidemic of violence against women."

  • Indeed, "a gender lens is critical." But when it comes to issues that pertain to vested interests and/or ancient prejudice, the lens must be really transparent; else, various interest groups will see only what they want to see. This brings to mind the concluding verses of the poem La Linterna (The Lantern) by the Spanish poet Ramón de Campoamor:
  • "Y es que en el mundo traidor
    nada hay verdad ni mentira:
    todo es según el color
    del cristal con que se mira."
    "For in this treacherous world
    nothing is true or untrue;
    everything has the color
    of the lens of the beholder."

    Gender equality is a visceral issue. In the secular world, people with a mindset that gender inequality is "the natural order of things" often display visceral reactions to any proposal in favor of gender equality. In the religious world, it is even worst as visceral reactions are exacerbated by religious fanaticism about obeying "God's will." Of course, men and women are genitally and psychologically different and, as the French say, Vive Le Difference! And of course, it is also generally recognized that gender inequities (economic or otherwise) are morally wrong. But the issue of gender equality transcends differences in genitalia and/or equity. Gender equality is about the equal dignity of men and women as human persons who share one and the same human nature. And gender equality is about fostering the integral human development of both men and women, boys and girls, without artificial restrictions imposed by primitive thinking, some of which persist as "sacred traditions" in many religious institutions. It is hoped that the "MDG summit" will be unequivocal in calling for gender equality in all nations and human institutions, both secular and religious; anything else would be a disservice to humanity and a sabotage of the MDGs.

"4. The norms and values embedded in the Millennium Declaration and international human rights instruments must continue to provide the foundation for engagement, in particular the key human rights principles of non-discrimination, meaningful participation and accountability."

  • Specifically, what is needed is a worldwide commitment to end all human rights abuses, all discriminatory practices, all exclusivist organizations, and all secular and religious structures in which the authorities restrict participation of all stakeholders in governance and make decisions (or evade making them) under the privilege of secrecy. Lord Acton's dictum remains prophetical: "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
"5. The need to empower the poor through scaled-up efforts focused on citizen monitoring of Millennium Development Goal delivery, capacity building and improving access to financial and legal services remains crucial."

  • Specifically, this should include supporting development in geographical areas that lack basic standards of living and compensating this by an equivalent reduction of luxuries in the overdeveloped areas. In all countries, it should include enhancing human development opportunities for girls and women to bring them into balance with those available for boys and men. This is not reverse discrimination. It is simply a matter of leveling the playing field.
These recommendations are difficult but not unfeasible. It might seem that system scientists and psychologists will have too much on their plates, but all the recommendations are interdisciplinary. Everyone who wants to make a contribution can have a piece of the action. Politicians will have to rise to the occasion. Let's hope they will. If the "MDG summit" meeting is successful in achieving the necessary national commitments, then the collaborative/integrative work could be accomplished via the National Sustainable Development Strategies. These national strategies might eventually be integrated into a Global Sustainable Development Strategy to be approved by the General Assembly. This will take time. Structuring some appropriate form of global environmental/climate governance will take time. Let's hope that Gaia is patient and kind.

5. List of References and Online Databases

Climate Change

Confronting Climate Change, Michael Oppenheimer & Joanne J. Myers, CCEIA, 23 May 2007.
Climate change mitigation and sustainable development, UN DSD, 2007.
Climate Change and New Security Issues, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson & Joanne J. Myers, CCEIA, 1 April 2008
The Cost of Climate Change, William Vocke, CCEIA, 18 December 2009.
Treaty Norms and Climate Change Mitigation, Darrel Moellendorf, EIA, Volume 23.3, Fall 2009.
The Global Deal: Climate Change and the Creation of a New Era of Progress and Prosperity, Nicholas Stern & Joanne J. Myers, CCEIA, 4 May 2009.
The Common Tragedy of Consumerism: Individual Climate Responsibility and the Tragedy of the Commons, Evan O'Neil, CCEIA, 4 August 2009.
Gender and Climate Change, Lorena Aguilar, IUCN, 2009.
Climate Change & Sustainable Development, UN DSD, 2009.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), UN WHO/UNEP, 2009.
Planet Earth, Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, 2009.
State of the World 2009: Into a Warming World - The coming century of climate change, and how to manage and survive it, Robert Engelman & Staff, Worldwatch Institute, 2009.
Livestock and Climate Change: What if the key actors in climate change are...cows, pigs, and chickens?, Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang, Worldwatch Institute, 2009.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, 2010.
Global Climate Governance Beyond 2012, Edited by Frank Biermann, Philipp Pattberg, and Fariborz Zelli, Cambridge, 2010
Climate Change: Solutions For Sustainable Development, Earth Institute, Columbia University, retrieved 20 April 2010.
The next generation of scenarios for climate change research and assessment, Richard H. Moss et al., Nature, 11 Feb 2010

Gaia Theory

Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, James Lovelock, Oxford, 1979.
The Ages of Gaia: A Biography of our Living Earth, James Lovelock, Norton, 1988.
Gaia: Medicine for an Ailing Planet, James Lovelock, Gaia Books, 1991, 2005.
Homage to Gaia: The Life of an Independent Scientist, James Lovelock, Oxford, 2000.
Nuclear energy for the 21st century, James Lovelock, International Conference, Paris, 2005.
The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning, James Lovelock, Perseus, 2009.
The Gaia Theory: Model and Metaphor for the 21st Century, Gaia Theory Homepage, 2010.
The Earth A Living Planet, Schlumberger Excellence in Educational Development, 2010.
Gaia in Turmoil: Climate Change, Biodepletion, and Earth Ethics, E. Crist & H.B. Rinker, MIT Press, 2010.
Lovelock: 'We can't save the planet', James Lovelock Interview, BBC News, 30 March 2010.

Millennium Development Goals

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), UN 2000-2009.
MDG Progress Chart 2009, UNDP 2009.
MDG GAP Task Force Report 2009, UNDP 2009.
Millennium Development Goals Report 2009, UNDP 2009.
Millennium Development Goals Indicators Database, UN STATS, 2009.
MDGInfo and MDG Data Wizard, DevInfo, 2009.
Poverty in Focus - The MDGs and beyond: Pro-Poor Policy in a Changing World, International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG), UNDP, Brasilia, January 2010.
Keeping the promise: a forward-looking review to promote an agreed action agenda to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, 12 February 2010.
MDG Summit Fact Sheet, UN March 2010.
MDGs at a Glance, UN March 2010.
Summary of MDG Targets and Indicators, UN March 2010.
The MDGs at 10 and Civil Society, UN March 2010.
Global Civil Society Consultation for the MDG+10 Summit, UN March 2010.

Human Development & Sustainable Development

Development as Freedom, Amartya Sen, Anchor, 2000.
Adaptation to Climate Change in the Context of Sustainable Development, UN DSD, 2007.
World Survey on the Role of Women in Development, UN WomenWatch, 2009.
Human Development and Capability Association: Human Development as Freedom, HDCA, 2010.
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster, Rebecca Solnit, Penguin, 2009.
Human Development Report 2009: Human mobility and development, UNDP, 2009.
Hatched: The Capacity for Sustainable Development, Edited by Bob Frame, Richard Gordon, and Claire Mortimer, Landcare Research (Manaaki Whenua), Lincoln, New Zealand, 2010.
Adaptation: from vulnerability to resilience, UN DESA, retrieved 15 April 2010.
Mitigation: reducing emissions and stabilizing the climate, UN DESA, retrieved 15 April 2010.
National Sustainable Development Strategies, UN DESA, retrieved 20 April 2010.
Partnerships For Sustainable Development, UN DSD, 2009.
State of the World 2010: Transforming Cultures From Consumerism to Sustainability, Erik Assadourian & Staff, Worldwatch Institute, 2010.
Critical Global Perspectives: Rethinking Knowledge about Global Societies, Binaya Subedi, IAP, 2010.
Global Economic Outlook Database, UN DESA as of 21 April 2010.
Human Development Reports, 1990-2010, UNDP HDR Office as of 25 April 2010.
Trends in Human Development, Francisco Rodriguez, UNDP HDR Office, 15 March 2010.
Human Development Report 2010: Pushing the frontiers of human development, UNDP, TBP Fall 2010.

Human Motivation & Self-Determination Theory (SDT)

Doyal & Gough's Theory of Human Need, Len Doyal & Ian Gough, Guilford, 1991.
The "what" and "why" of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R.M., Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), 2000, 227-268.
Social dilemmas and sustainable development: Promoting the motivation to "cooperate with the future", Osbaldiston, R. & Sheldon, K. M. In P. Schmuck & W. Schultz (Eds.), The psychology of sustainability, 2002, pp. 37-58. Boston: Kluwer.
Affective Decision Making and the Ellsberg Paradox, Anat Bracha and Donald J. Brown, Yale University, 2008.
Autonomy as a foundation for human development: A conceptual model to study individual autonomy, Mirtha R. Muñiz Castillo, Maastricht Graduate School of Governance, Maastricht University, 2009.
Sarkar's Progressive Utilization Theory (PROUT), Wikipedia, 2010.
Promoting internalized motivation for environmentally responsible behavior: A prospective study of environmental goals. Osbaldiston, R. & Sheldon, K. M., Journal of Environmental Psychology, 23, 2003, 348-356.
Alderfer's Existence/Relatedness/Growth (ERG), Don Clark's Leadership & Human Behavior Web Site as of 23 April 2010.
Herzberg's Hygiene and Motivational Factors, Don Clark's Leadership & Human Behavior Web Site as of 23 April 2010.
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, Don Clark's Leadership & Human Behavior Web Site as of 23 April 2010.
McGregor's Theory X and Theory Y, Don Clark's Leadership & Human Behavior Web Site as of 23 April 2010.
Vroom's Expectancy Theory, Don Clark's Leadership & Human Behavior Web Site as of 23 April 2010.
The Psychology of Environmental Problems: Psychology for Sustainability, Susan M. Koger & Deborah DuNann Winter, Psychology Press, 504 pages, 16 March 2010.
Psychological Need Satisfaction, Personal Well-being, and Ecological Sustainability, Timothy Kasser, Ecopsychology, 2010.
Brain circuits for empathy, violence may overlap, World Science, 18 April 2010.
Meeting Environmental Challenges: The Role of Human Identity, Crompton, T. and Kasser, T., Godalming, WWF-UK, 2009.
The Motivation Continuum (Self-Determination Theory), Video Presentation by Coert Visser, Driebergen, The Netherlands, 26 April 2010.

System Analysis/Synthesis Methods

The Ecocosm Paradox, Willard R. Fey and Ann C.W. Lam, 1999.
The Bridge To Humanity's Future: A System Dynamics Perspective on the Environmental Crisis and its Resolution, Willard R. Fey and Ann C.W. Lam, 2001.
Intellectual Roots and Philosophy of System Dynamics, Willard R. Fey, EOLSS, 2002.
Systems Thinking & STELLA Software, Barry Richmond, ISEE Systems, 2004.
The Difference between the Mechanistic and Organic Worldviews, Global Curriculum, 2005.
Problem Solving Matrix (PSM) and Explainer Engine, Donald Steward, 2009.
Tracing Connections, Edited by Joy Richmond et al, ISEE Systems, 2010.


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