Christopher X J. Jensen
Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

Understanding [culture + multilevel selection] = potential for Sustainability

Posted 13 Jan 2016 / 0
2016-01-13People’s Climate Change March photo courtesy of South Bend Voice via Wikimedia Commons

There’s a really important new paper out entitled “A multilevel evolutionary framework for sustainability analysis“, due to be published in the journal Ecology and Society. Although it is not yet published, you can check out a pre-print via Michelle Kline’s site. (UPDATE: the paper was actually already published and is open access here).

The paper explores how — and why — a cultural multilevel selection (CMLS) approach needs to be taken whenever we analyze or try to solve a sustainability problem. This is one of those ideas that is really obvious once you hear it stated, making you wonder why someone hadn’t made this connection before. Essentially, all of our sustainability challenges stem from social dilemmas, situations in which the interest of one level of social organization comes into conflict with one or more levels of organization at a smaller or larger scale. These sustainability challenges also emerge from human culture and how it changes in response to selective pressures that occur at different levels of social organization. So if you want to understand — or do something about — the sustainability of our social practices, you need to consider these practices from a CMLS perspective.

This is a nice tidy paper that explains the need for CMLS and what a CMLS approach to sustainability challenges would look like. It also provides a number of case studies where the relevant levels of social organization and the selection pressures operating at those levels are identified and explained. Again, looking at these case studies makes one wonder why haven’t we always taken this approach? Turning theory into practical action is never easy, but the CMLS approach seems to have a lot of potential to confront the dilemmas we face as we try to become sustainable at a variety of scales.

I am excited to see how this paper is received. Every activist, practitioner, and policy-maker interested in sustainability should read it.

A Minor Post, Articles, Cultural Evolution, Multilevel Selection, Social Norms, Sustainability

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