Overcoming societal addictions: What can we learn from individual therapies?

Volume 131, Pages 543–550
Author name: 
Costanza, R
Atkins, P
Bolton, M
Cork, S
Grigg, N
Kasser, T
Kubiszewski, I
Journal title: 
Ecological Economics

Societies, like individuals, can get trapped in patterns of behavior called social traps or “societal addictions” that provide short-term rewards but are detrimental and unsustainable in the long run. Examples include our societal addiction to inequitable over-consumption fueled by fossil energy and a “growth at all costs” economic model. This paper explores the potential to learn from successful therapies at the individual level. In particular, Motivational Interviewing (MI) is one of the most effective therapies. It is based on engaging addicts in a positive discussion of their goals, motives, and futures. We suggest that one analogy to MI at the societal level is a modified version of scenario planning (SP) that has been extended to engage the entire community (CSP) in thinking about goals and alternative futures via public opinion surveys and forums. Both MI and CSP are about exploring alternative futures in positive, non-confrontational ways and building commitment or consensus about preferred futures. We conclude that effective therapies for societal addictions may be possible, but, as we learn from MI, they will require a rebalancing of effort away from only pointing out the dire consequences of current behavior (without denying those consequences) and toward building a shared vision of a positive future and the means to get there.

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