Monday, November 5, 2012


Blog Post 1, November 5, 2012
In her classic song, "What's Love Got To With It?," icon Tina Turner admits that love is a "second hand emotion" and a "sweet old fashioned notion." People often think the same about "culture" and "community engagement." It's loosey-goosey. It's mushy. It's emotional rather than rational. And it can't be measured.

And that's all exactly true! But just like in Tina's song, culture (and love) underlies many of our beliefs, values, and behaviors. And sustainability, just like everything else in life, is a cultural as much as an environmental issue--as these beautiful quotes by two environmental anthropologists explain so eloquently:

“…‘landscapes are not just “views” but intimate encounters. 
They are not just about seeing, but about experiencing with all the senses.’”
  - Barbara Bender, Anthropologist

“…humans experience the world through active engagement with their environments. […] the landscape is constituted as an enduring record of, and testimony to, the lives and works of past generations who have dwelt within it, and in so doing have left there something of themselves.”
  - Daniel H. De Vries, Anthropologist

In this blog, I will draw on my own work as an applied anthropologist and share the work of others to explore the cultural questions of sustainability and climate action, like: How do people's communities and family histories influence their sustainability beliefs and actions? How can we communicate climate change in culturally motivating ways? How can we work collaboratively with diverse communities to expand and implement the menu of possible solutions?

I will focus a bit on the social science issue related to sustainability and climate action that gets the most attention nationally and internationally: behavior change. But I am more interested in the question of cultural transformation. To address this major challenge, we need to nurture a broad-based movement that further integrates sustainable, climate-friendly living into people's everyday lives. Sustainability needs to become like church. People tithe more in a recession, not less. And we need to develop new, sustainable lifeways that persist, and perhaps become stronger, even when they might not make economic sense. 

This will require lots of creativity. On this blog, I will post the most creative initiatives and solutions I come across.

Sustainability needs to be about community-building. About inspiring new participation and leadership. And working together, and separately, to come up with a huge menu of creative solutions to this big challenge that can be replicated and adapted in different places.

I have been wanting to start a network of people working on cultural engagement in sustainability and climate action--and this is the beginning of that network. Please join and share your thoughts!





  1. Hi, Jenny --

    Great reading and food for thought! I look forward to more.

    Can I suggest that indigenous peoples generally do connect sustainability intimately with their culture? And, as you suggest when you say people tithe more in a recession, everyday spirituality of eating is the connection that holds everything together.

    One of my favorite authors has come out with a new book this year that speaks even more directly than his previous books to these connections. I can't recommend it enough, especially to people who are aware that the "local food" movement (AKA community food security, food democracy, food sovereignty) is a place where these interconnections -- the web of life -- are being discussed.

    Here's the book, followed by details of a conference being held in Madison, WI later this month.

    The Unlikely Peace at Cuchumaquic: The Parallel Lives of People as Plants: Keeping the Seeds Alive. By Martin Prechtel. The final 70+ pages of the book is actually a handbook for "sacred agriculture", titled "Keeping our Agreement with the Wild".

    Sacred Agriculture: Creating a new relationship with the earth. Annual conference of the National Biodynamic Assn.
    Nov. 14-18,2012, in Madison Wisconsin.

    Very auspicious that you're starting this just before a very important Election Day.

    -- Debbie

    Debbie Hillman
    Evanston, Illinois

    1. Thanks Debbie! You've given me inspiration for my 2nd blog post, on sustainability Check it out--and comment more please!

  2. If culture is a medium through which we're to create a measurable impact, then let's not forget the importance of scale. Feeding billions is a monumental task. Stories are wonderful tools for distributing ideas and inspiring action, but let's not allow our good intentions to get the best of us.