We need to change the way we frame problems if we want to come up with real solutions to our environmental challenges.
[Part One of an Eight-Part Series]
By Frances Moore Lappé
Bombarded almost daily with news of “food scarcity,” “energy scarcity” and “resource scarcity,” it’s sure easy to absorb the scary notion that there’s just not enough of anything: from food to fuel to parking spaces. In fact, modern economics, now the dominant world religion, defines itself as the science of allocating scarce goods.
Looking at the world through the lens of lack, we see it everywhere. Perceiving ourselves in endless competitive struggle over scarce goods, no wonder depression has become a global epidemic.
But we shouldn’t be too surprised, for a defining trait of our species is that we each see the world through culturally formed frames that determine, literally, what we can see and what we cannot—even including what we can see in our own nature, and therefore what we believe is possible for our species. Philosopher Erich Fromm called them our “frames of orientation.”
Yet, the hard fact of human existence is that if our mental frame is flawed, we’ll fail no matter how hard and sincerely we struggle.
Remaking Our Mental Map
So the central problem I address in my latest book EcoMind, is that, sadly, much of humanity today is stuck in precisely this “hard fact”—trapped in a mental map that defeats us because it is perversely aligned both with human nature and with the wider laws of nature. So, the question is, Can we remake our mental map? Can we learn to see through a different lens?
I believe we can. Current research by neuroscientists on the extent of neuroplasticity shows that new thoughts actually create new neural pathways in our brains. Breaking free of the dominant but failing mental map thus starts, for me, by identifying its “thought traps” that reinforce fear and feelings of powerlessness and then replacing them with evidence-based, freeing “thought leaps.”
Below I offer seven widely believed ideas shaping our culture’s response to the global environmental and poverty crises, ideas that seem self-evidently true to many of us. Yet, they may in fact be blocking us from real solutions.
One: Endless growth is destroying our beautiful planet, so we must shift to no-growth economies.
Two: Because consumers always want more stuff, market demand and a growing population drive endless exploitation of the earth.
Three: We’ve had it too good! We must power down and learn to live within the earth’s limits.
Four: Humans are greedy, selfish, competitive materialists. We must overcome these aspects of ourselves if we hope to survive.
Five: Because humans—especially Americans—naturally hate rules and love freedom, we have to find the best ways to coerce people to do the right thing to save our planet.
Six: Now thoroughly urbanized and technology-addicted, we’ve become so disconnected from nature that it’s pretty hopeless to think most people can become real environmentalists.
Seven: It’s too late! Human beings have so far overshot what nature can handle that we’re beyond the point of no return. Democracy has failed—it’s taking way too long to face the crisis. And because big corporations hold so much power, real democracy, answering to us and able to take decisive action, is a pipe dream.
In seven blogs to follow in this series, I’ll ask you to suspend disbelief and entertain the idea that even seemingly obvious truths might need reframing if we are to grasp the roots of our crises and to release the energy we need now to turn our planet toward life.
I’ll suggest that as we reframe each of these thought traps, we can move from the scarcity-mind to the eco-mind, and, in so doing, our way of seeing life—and our place in it—moves from the premise of
…separateness to connection.
…stasis to continuous change.
… scarcity to co-creation.
From Scarcity Mind to EcoMind
The scarcity-mind, for example, focuses narrowly on quantities, and through my life’s work on food and hunger that means a fixation on bushels grown or calories produced. It ignores the quality of human relationships that ultimately determine whether people have power to access to what is grown.
In this world created by the scarcity-mind, we continue therefore to produce more food and yet more hunger at the same time.
Fortunately, we can leave behind the lens fixed on quantities and choose to see through the lens of ecology—one incorporating the relationships among organisms and their environment.
Visionary German physicist Han-Peters Düerr once reminded me that in biological systems, “There are no parts, only participants.” We are therefore all co-creators. From this ecological worldview the only choice we don’t have is whether to change the world.
Every act we take, or don’t take, shapes the world around us.
Through an ecological lens, we can rethink the thought traps that keep us in scarcity-mind and make the “leaps of the mind” that release us from the paralysis of fear. We discover we can move forward creatively with our fear, for in developing our eco-minds we realize our power to create the world we really want.
An Interview with Frances Moore Lappé