The Psychology and the New Warming War:Paradigm Writing as the Task of Educational Psychology


Современная эпоха охвачена социальным, экономическим и экологическим кризисами, что приближает нас к переходу от холодной войны к войне глобального потепления и взаимному уничтожению. Этот процесс неизбежен, если мы не начнем освоение новой парадигмы устойчивости. Данная работа посвящена роли психологии высшего образования в продвижении этой трансформации.

Общая информация

Ключевые слова: sustainability, globalization, economy, psychology, education , transformation

Рубрика издания: Проблемы экологической психологии образования

Для цитаты: Edelstein M. The Psychology and the New Warming War:Paradigm Writing as the Task of Educational Psychology // Психология образования в XXI веке: теория и практика.

Полный текст

Introduction. As we enter the second decade of the twenty-first century, an “aha moment” occurs. Worldwide, we have waged a continuing war against nature, successfully destroying the habitability of our only home, the Earth. I recently traveled to Uzbekistan to witness the Aral Sea disaster. As with climate change and panoply of other crises of sustainability, the fourth largest inland sea was transformed into a toxic desert by human decision. Such follies are, alas, not uncommon. In their wake, suddenly we realize that what we initially viewed as success is really a profound failure. This paper addresses the role for edu­cational psychology in the urgent shift from our disastrous ways of thinking to a new sustainable paradigm.

From Cold War to Warming War. Our Problems stem from the unique character of the Modern era. The “cold war” involved a dualism between contesting world views equal in their penchant for large scale destruction and their contribution to global crisis (Edelstein et al 2007). Moderns, engage in magical thinking, socially constructing a “reality” which grants them a special place on earth, outside and above nature (Abram, 1996; Olsen, et al, 1993; Von Uexküll, 1984; White, 1967) and thus allowing them to have few qualms about destroying it. After the end of the Cold War, a subsequent unified era of globalization framed the new “global warming war,” pitting those who promote ecocide against those who seek eco­logical balance and healing. The resources of nature and of the least powerful were hijacked for the use of the modern consumer and an economic system that ignored fundamental costs assured that the balance sheet almost always went up. In the Cold War, mutual assured destruction forced shared inaction. In the Warming War, only shared action will prevent it.

Our Failure to Think Sustainably. Disconnected, we lost the basic common sense necessary to live sustainably. While living on a finite planet, we nontheless developed the magical belief that there would always be more. This paradigmatic pillar served as a formula for conspicuous consumption of the few, but not for those not enslaved, colonialized or impoverished. Supporting fictions included beliefs that technology can solve any problem, that growth is normal, that those with the most are most deserving and those without somehow were not deserving. The perceiver distances themselves from bad outcomes, believing “Since we are good people, we are unlikely to be the ones harmed and those that become victims must somehow deserve their bitter fate.” Risks born by modern activities are acceptible largely because we expect them to be borne by others, a necessary “collatoral damage” required of in the production of wealth (Edelstein 2004; Olsen et al 1993).

Such magical beliefs are reinforced by systematic learning deficits. Even highly specialized scientific experts and technocrats have lost key commonsense lessons of science such as limits, carrying capacity, laws of energy and matter. We fail to grasp the implications of life on a finite planet with fast diminishing carrying capacity and habitability and a rising population demanding greater resources. And we have a tendency to respond in ways that manufacture Aral Sea-scale disasters. We are completely dependent on resources we can no longer find or afford and beset by uncertain and uncontrollable environmental, social and economic threats. Our situation is completely untenable.

Sustainability has emerged as the one word that best expresses what we have lost and what we want back. And countering the short term thinking that characterizes Modernity, it points to basic issues of equity that include the challenge to meet the needs of people today without sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their needs (Bruntland 1987).

Sustainability as the Successor Paradigm to the Modern Era. The problems of our unsustain­able society cannot be addressed piecemeal through business as usual in the existing paradigm. Rather, they require a fundamental make-over of society. As the successor paradigm to replace the Modern era, sustainability entails new ways of thinking, principles of organization and relationship, ideas of self and community and technologies and ways of living. It demands that we become paradigm writers and ex­perimenters. This transformation represents an important new area for study and an arena for activism.

Drawing upon the classic work of Thomas Kuhn on “scientific revolutions” (1962), we can posit the key elements required for the abandonment of the ways of thinking and doing. What are Kuhn’s key rules for paradigm shift?

Paradigm change begins with some anomalous event or events challenging the integrity of the existing order. Such anomalous events cannot be addressed within the rules of the existing paradigm. The sustainability crises have certainly done this. They have created what I term “Environmental Turbulence.” The rules are no longer trusted (Edelstein, 2004).

Facing this challenge to the prevailing paradigm, its strongest adherents act to protect, repair, re­store and perpetuate the old paradigm through denial, distorted information and/or force. There are ample examples of such resistance by the forces of growth, globalized corporatism and corruption. Perhaps of equal importance, the bulk of the global population lacks the organization, information or means to shift to sustainability. They are “disabled” in this regard [4] by their dependence for survival upon the systems, representatives and experts associated with the dominant paradigm.

These barriers are only overcome by the continuation of the anomalous events that undermine the old paradigm or the emergence of new ones. Eventually, issue advocates emerge to call attention to the challenge and establish its credibility. This legitimization of the anomaly and recognition that the old para­digm has failed results in what Kuhn called “a paradigmatic crisis.” The old way is recognized as failed. But transformation away from it is impeded because no new paradigm has emerged.

Eventually the disabling processes that enforce the old paradigm give way to a counter process that I term “enabling.” Activism and leadership emerges at the local, networked/local, regional, networked/ regional, national, networked/national and international levels to provide alternative information, interpre­tation, social and political support and power to change. Pockets of new thinking interconnect and grow and experiment with alternative rules and beliefs that can serve as the basis for an alternative paradigm. As a shift occurs from dependence to independence and interdependence, the counter process of “enabling” emerges (Edelstein, 2004). Instead of dependence on old expertise, people increasingly learn how to learn. Aided by the worldwide web, they enter into relationships of mutual learning. The importance of this transformation cannot be underestimated. Old assumptions can only be overcome with new learning.

Kuhn warns that paradigmatic shift demands both the failure of the old and invention of the new paradigm. To end the crisis, the new paradigm must be “fleshed out,” prove credibility by addressing the anomalous conditions that brought down the prior paradigm and be given widespread support. The success of this new alternative paradigm paves the way for a paradigmatic “revolution.” lifescape and lifescape are not only altered, but the organizing principle behind them changes. life makes sense along new lines.

The sustainability crisis has brought about just these conditions for a paradigmatic shift away from Modernity. The old paradigm has been deeply discredited. And, since the 1970s, a new paradigm has been under construction. With Peak Oil and other core resources, advancing climate change, and a looming world food and water crises, there is no time to spare. There remains the insidious danger that the shift will be usurped by efforts to superficially and rhetorically green the existing paradigm.

Problems of Social Learning. The transformation to sustainability must occur at all levels of social process, from the individual all the way up to global society. Accordingly, our attention must not only be to individuals but substantially to all levels of social learning. And at each of these levels of learning, the ability to supersede the existing paradigm tests our ability to learn at a meta-scale.

In the Club of Rome’s study titled No limits to learning [2], social blindness to limit conditions is explored by contrasting two modes of learning. “Maintenance learning” is limited by the presumptions of the existing paradigm and blindly supports the status quo. Expert specialists are trained to repair and maintain the system and to further its objectives. There is no attention to interdisciplinary or generalist approaches. There is action but little critical reflection.

In contrast, “innovative learning” is open and responsive to new information. It combines two key elements. On one hand, it is anticipatory, continually monitoring impacts from existing practice and testing the consequences of practices and system health to anticipate new developments. It is also participatory, preparing and engaging people in the tasks of monitoring and anticipating, valuing and decision making. While specialists have their place, the system’s intelligence is generalist and employs common sense and wisdom. Social learning rests predominantly on innovative learning.

Sustainability is an exercise in social learning. It requires key learning elements often missing from our education: It is critical, interdisciplinary, experiential and field oriented (local and global), promotes the knowledge needed for sustainable choices, and employs an innovative learning process that is antici­patory and participatory. It is inherently constructivist in its approach. And it utilizes such forms as social networking, Web 2.0 and face-to-case meetings to link collaborators, share information and expertise; provide mutual support and mutual learning.

Because so many of these elements are rare in society, including in our institutions, there is a need to build the learning capacity of the institution or community before sustainability actions can succeed. An important challenge in doing so is that sustainable change requires unlearning conventional approaches while learning new ones. links across institutional partitions are needed for an “interdisciplinary and integrated” approach.

It is a problem of too much of the wrong (specialist) education and not enough of the right learning to learn. Although perhaps well educated, people are ill prepared with the knowledge they need; often they are over trained in disciplinary or technical fields that force them to disengage from the real world. They may look at what is happening every day and never see it.

Social learning is a challenge where people are preoccupied with consumption and pleasure when times are good and with debt and overwork when they are not. In neither situation is the public attentive or engaged; necessary conditions for democratic involvement are absent.

A key dynamic used to dodge change is what my wife, lyudmila Smirnova, and I have termed “so­cial recidivism.” Rather than experiment with new unknown conditions, it is easier to revert back to well tested approaches. Dominated by a “culture of contamination” (Edelstein, 2004; Edelstein et al, 2007), it is hard not to replicate the same old problem set only in new permutations. For example, what I term the “engineers fallacy” (Edelstein 2004) is repeated like a broken record across the planet with too little learning from mistakes. As with the Aral Sea dilemma, the focus on “how to” replaces the consideration of “should,” illustrating that we cannot learn our way out of the paradigm’s blind spots by employing the tools of the paradigm for that learning. lyudmila’s work on this topic explores the exploding online op­portunities for learning, now fed by Web 2.0 tools that are inherently constructivist in nature and offer an open-ended information sharing source that stretches far beyond the providence of education. Importantly, this new on-line world may serve as a meta-tool for paradigm building, facilitating new “third path” ap­proaches for defining new ways for how you get from here to there. Such approaches demand stages of meta-analysis and thinking and the employment of innovative learning. And it must be conceived and directed from within the new paradigm rather than the modern Culture of Contamination [4].

Universities as Lead Institutions. As professors and intellectual leaders, we must take on the task of social transformation. Our Universities must be made into lead institutions. Our students must be em­powered to act for their future stake. And we must become inventors, writing the future script even while we create experimental and corrective processes to edit our errors.

Institutions of higher education are the best innovators for the new sustainable paradigm and experimental contexts for creating sustainable change. They are generally in a position to take concrete actions for sustainability. They have capabilities to do research, innovation and evaluation. They can offer observable and replicable models for the larger society. They are able to train leaders for sustainability and to do outreach and capacity building. Yet, our institutions are often tradition bound and loath to change. However, if we cannot remake our institutions as a model of sustainability, how can we expect to transform the rest of society?

This transformation must bridge the “4 C’s of Campus Sustainability”: curriculum, campus as a physical environment, institutional culture and the impacts of the institution on community. Each serves as a realm for observation and analysis, innovation and trial, evaluation and refinement and the creation of new paths. Cumulatively, they represent the interacting parts of a sustainable whole. As Table illustrates, each is supported by specific sustainable actions and offers a unique context for sustainable learning (see Edelstein 2004b and 2009).

4C’s, Learning and Examples


Actions, example


literacy examples


Require a core course on sustainability for all students; add sustainability components to all majors; require all students to take one sustainability elective; offer sustainabil­ity major programs

Ecological literacy

Understanding the key laws of sci­ence as they apply to the practice of life; understand the sustainability crisis that spurs change; prepare to participate to change


Build sustainable activities into campus events; promote sustainable on campus behavior; create a functioning campus com­munity; align the mission statement with sustainability; sign the Talloires Declaration and the President's Climate Challenge.

Sustainable Values

Taking responsibility for the conse­quences of actions and valuing the importance of future generations; se­lect appropriate means for appropri­ate ends defined by sustainability


Use green management for landscape, maintenance, green design for buildings, minimize hazardous materials, recycle

Sustainable Behavior

Reducing consumption, use of elec­tricity and water and increase recy­cling; achieve high efficiencies


Buy locally; support sustainable businesses, offer a «sustainability shop» to help com­munities solve problems; run expos and conferences for community members, run community events that highlight learning and celebrate achievement; be a model for the community

Community literacy

Knowing how to mobilize civil society through social networks; dif­fusion and infusion of new thinking and approaches throughout the com­munity

We now realize that college is neither a miniature representation nor a mirror of the society around it. In key ways, it instead exaggerates society through the potential for reflective experiment and study of the dynamics of the larger world. It is the perfect place to invent and implement a sustainable paradigm and to model the outcomes for the rest of society. It is no microcosm. It is a macrocosm!

MASS and the Concept of Sustainability Studies. My colleagues and I advanced the idea of a Masters program in Sustainability Studies in the mid- 1990s, but it was not until this year that we were ap­proved to offer it. Unlike many programs that have emerged in the past few years themed to sustainability, our program makes no effort to specialize on some aspects of sustainability at the expense of others. We seek to examine the transformation to a sustainable paradigm and prepare students to serve as leaders and change agents in bringing it about.

Ours is a two year masters program. Students take two courses per term and do field work in the intervening summer. In the first term, they study the underpinnings of sustainability from the sciences and social sciences. In the second they study economic sustainability and the methods most useful to the field. Summer is spent interning, researching, engaging in targeted travel and defining their thesis project. In the second year they study policy aspects of sustainability and participate in a studio project working on real sustainability issues in the field. They also undertake their master’s project, which is refined and completed during the final term, concurrent to a community seminar series bringing key practitioners to campus.

As generalists, our students will have the flexibility to work comprehensively in any and all aspects of sustainability, including community, institutional, corporate and governmental levels. Our intent is not only to graduate fine practitioners but to help build the study of sustainability as a vital and generative social process.

Conclusion. There are ample records of world civilizations that have come and gone. We know that our time is up unless we can change our society in real time, while we are living in it and so that we are ourselves affected by the outcomes. Our students know they themselves are on the front lines; changes wrought by the unsustainability of current practices will occur during their lifetimes and they will bear the brunt. Sustainability is thus the logical organizing principle for student action. The ultimate definition of student success will be their preparation as innovative learners for sustainability and not blind replicators and maintainers of a failed Modern paradigm. Our role is to facilitate and guide them, but they will be the ones who generate the next paradigm.


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Информация об авторах

Edelstein Michael R., кандидат психологических наук, Professor, Professor of Environmental Studies Program and Masters of Sustainability Studies, Director of Institute for Environmental Studies of Ramapo College of New Jersey



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