30 SES 16 A, Intrapersonal Sustainability Competencies - An Emerging Field for Environmental and Sustainability Scholarship and Practice
On an individual scale, a humans´ autonomic nervous system (ANS) always strives for homeostasis, to ensure sustainable functioning and survival. On a collective scale, sustainability as a homeostatic goal is put forward by the global community (SDGs). But for now, the active and constant striving for this goal is not visible. The proposed presentation will explore pitfalls as well as solutions to sustainability challenges from the perspective of polyvagal theory. Polyvagal theory „proposes a biological basis for social behavior“ (Porges, 2001, p. 123) and assumes that the human ANS has three distinct functional states which are causally connected to three distinct behavioral strategies: Social engagement, fight/flight, and freeze. The activation of those behavioral strategies is dependent on constant unconscious monitoring of safety/danger in the environment, called “neuroception”(ibid). The ANS is in the mode of social engagement when safety is perceived. The behavioral strategy is then to cooperate, communicate, be prosocial, and explore the world with an open and creative mindset (ibid). It is quite clear how this mode would be very promotive of sustainability. Fight/flight mode gets activated when conquerable danger is perceived by the organism. The view on the world constrains and ones´ survival becomes the priority, which is consecutive from an evolutionary perspective (ibid). This behavioral strategy made individuals survive, but in modern times, stands in the way of a big transformation towards sustainability. When the perception of danger is so high, that it does not seem to be conquerable, the behavioral strategy of immobilization gets activated, which leads to dissociation, suppression, or depression (ibid). Climate change denial might be an expression of that phenomenon. Combining polyvagal theory and sustainability challenges points to a vicious circle: The more complicated and dangerous sustainability challenges become, the more endangered the individual will feel (e.g. Lund et al., 2018), which in turn leads to more egocentric thinking and doing, which in turn intensifies unsustainability. Besides also pointing out weaknesses of polyvagal theory from a biological point of view, the presentation will be giving and discussing implications for sustainability in general, as well as sketching how a polyvagal informed Education for Sustainable Development might look.
• Lund, C., Brooke-Sumnar, C., Baingana, F., Barin, E. C., Breuer, E. et. al. (2018). Social determinants of mental disorders and the Sustainable Development Goals: a systematic review of reviews. Lancet Psychiatry, 5, 357-369 • Porges, S. (2001). The polyvagal theory: phylogenetic substrates of a social nervous system. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 42, 123-146.
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