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In a previous post – From Economic Mind to Eco-Mind – Desmond Berghofer (grandparentsfortheturure) is inspired by Frances Moore Lappe’s use of the phrase ‘Thought Traps and Thought Leaps’. There are seven thought traps and seven thought leaps needed to move forward, allowing us to change our mental map and embrace the eco-mind. Editor ~ Rolly Montpellier-BoomerWarrior.

Thought Traps and Thought Leaps

Thought Traps and Thought Leaps

Thought Trap number one:

The first trap is the improper framing of our major problem as growth versus no-growth.  What we need to recognize, says Lappé, is that what we’ve been calling “growth” leads to waste – and that’s our problem: wasting energy, water, food, just about everything – it’s a nightmare of excess.  We are deathly afraid of scarcity, but everywhere we turn we see nothing but waste.  That’s our problem.  If we call it for what it is, then we can see – and here’s the “thought leap” – that the way out is to focus on limiting waste and addressing the positive question: What does it mean to flourish?  As we answer that question, we must then look for ways to measure what we are seeking in a successful society.  The Genuine Progress Indicator is one such existing measure.  Growth is good, but it has to be the right kind of growth.  Not wasteful excess, but qualitative growth in relationships, education, health, social harmony, etc.

Thought trap number two:

Trap two is related to number one.  We are confusing symptom with cause.  We say consumerism – too much stuff – is our problem, but in reality it’s just a symptom of forces in the economy that deny us choice.  The thought leap is to imagine and create the things that will give us true enjoyment – rich, stimulating, and beautiful lives honoring the laws of nature.

Thought trap number three:

Focusing on limits is not helpful, says Lappé, because it falls flat in the minds of people who feel that they were never invited to the “Too Good” party in the first place.  Again, the way out of this trap is to focus on “what brings health, ease, joy, creativity – more life,” which means aligning the way our societies operate with the laws of nature.

Thought trap number four:

We believe that we have to overcome human nature to save the planet.  Sure, we know that people can be selfish and fixated on material gain, but “we’ve also evolved deep capacities for cooperation, empathy, fairness, efficacy, meaning and creativity.”  So let’s focus on those qualities and change the norms and rules of our societies to bring out the best in us.

Thought trap number five:

But people don’t like rules. It’s not that people don’t like rules, it’s just that they don’t like rules forced on them that they had no participation in shaping.  Knowing this, says Lappé, “we can go beyond rules that limit harm and establish rules that avoid harm to begin with.”  If people are engaged in this kind of decision-making, our societies will flourish within the laws of nature.

Thought trap number six:

But isn’t that the problem?  We have lost our sense of connection to nature.  “Not true,” says Lappé.  People are engaged in a multitude of activities all around the world that show their appreciation for nature.  What we have to do is acknowledge this and focus on nourishing it, rather than throw up our hands in despair at the abuses that some human activities impose on nature.

But it’s too late – thought trap number seven.  Too late for what? asks Lappé.  “It’s never too late for life.”  What people need is a sense that they have a real voice. Most of us want to contribute to solutions that turn our planet towards life.  So “the mother of all issues” is removing the power of concentrated wealth  from public decision-making and infusing citizens’ voices instead.

Scripting a New Cultural Narrative

Thought traps and thought leaps
Source: Global Footprint Network

Dr. Bill Rees, from the University of British Columbia, is the originator of the concept of the ecological footprint. Rees says that:

We must learn to override our innate expansionist tendencies and abandon our perpetual growth myth. Instead of forcing the environment to conform to our demands, we must learn to adapt our expectations to ecological reality. A good start would be a new global cultural narrative that shifts the values of society from competitive individualism, greed and narrow self-interest toward community, cooperation, and our collective interest in repairing the earth for survival.

Without human consciousness the universe would be a grand, but unknown physical phenomenon. The fact that it is known, that its truths are being revealed daily in astonishing detail by human consciousness is the most marvelous story of all. We are still struggling to tell that story. But if we can do so, and proclaim it broadly above the din and despair of other things that distract us, then we can indeed envision a great future for our grandchildren whose own fertile imaginations will enliven it more in ways that we can barely anticipate.

How we shape and tell the bold new story is the underlying deep purpose my writing. I feel privileged to be on this journey with you. It is a participatory adventure on which we know that together we can achieve more than any of us can achieve alone.

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  1. Great article……change is all about overcoming SQS ( Status Quo Syndrome ) which unfortunately seems to have afflicted some people , especially of the Boomer generation.

  2. This is a great start, Des! (And thanks for sharing it, Rolly.) I’m sure there are more than seven thought traps and thought leaps … ooh, we can have some fun with this concept!

    For example, I consider 350 ppm (as promulgated by 350.youknow) a thought trap that we’ve fallen into recently. That organization has down such a good job of branding itself that there is now no room for discussion about any other numbers (zero, for example — as in, zero carbon emissions, or the Cochabamba People’s Agreement 35,000-person consensus that 300 ppm is a better safety target).

    But the bigger trap is that 350 is just a number, and one that people can’t visualize. I once did an experiment at a learn-in. I asked participants to close their eyes and try to visualize a world with only 350 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere. You can imagine the consternation on their faces. Then I asked them to keep their eyes closed and try to picture a world of zero-carbon energy. Solar, wind, hydro, wave and tidal energy. Heat from the ground. A world that is safer, cleaner, healthier, more equitable and more peaceful without fossil fuels and the pollution and wars they bring. Now *that* they could do!

    So I think an 8th thought leap could be The Burning Age is Over! And just as the Stone Age didn’t end because they ran out of stones, so we can leave remaining fossil fuels in the ground and get on with the Perpetual Energy revolution. Indeed, except for ambulances and fire trucks, the only fossil fuels I want to see being burned right now are those ushering us into the Golden Age of Solar and other zero-carbon energy sources.

  3. Greenhearted – Thank you for your detailed comment. I do agree that there are a lot more traps and thought leaps required to move into the post-carbon age or more realistically, the low-carbon age.

    The 350 ppm is now rather meaningless since we’re hovering around 400 ppm. Sure we need to get back to 350 bit that will not happen until a little later in the next industrial revolution featuring renewables.

    I like your reference to the Stone Age not ending because they ran out of stones. I will use that somewhere I’m sure.


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