Culture, values and awareness

The form and culture of democracies depends on the mix of attitudes, knowledge and values in society. It also depends on how we individually think and act.

Awareness of the possibilities and implications of sustainable development enables people to better engage in decision-making and democratic action.

There are examples around the world of increasing knowledge education, initiatives with young people, or vocational or leadership training.

In recent years, academic work around values and behaviour change has begun to inform how governments and NGOs can support longer-term, particularly, pro-environmental or pro-social behaviours. There is also research exploring our tendencies to be short-termist in how we think and behave, and the implications for the appropriate design of policies or practical initiatives.

Links and resources

From Convergence to Contention: United States Mass Media Representations of Anthropogenic Climate Science Maxwell T. Boykoff 2007

Signals and Noise: Mass-media coverage of climate change in the USA and the UK Maxwell T. Boykoff & S. Ravi Rajan 2007

Representing the Politics of the Greenhouse Effect: Discursive Strategies in the British media Anabela Carvalho 2006

Ideological cultures and media discourses on scientific knowledge: re-reading news on climate change Anabela Carvalho 2007

Climategate FDSD Provocation by Ian Christie talks about how scientists can better recognise their own values but also communicate uncertainty and risk.


Natural Connections Demonstration Project with mostly deprived schoolchildren to learn in natural environments – interactive web-based tool which enables exploration of the impacts of European consumption on the environment.

InVEST  (Integrated Valuation of Environmental Services and Tradeoffs) 17 models that raise awareness on complex trade-offs between human development planning and ecological impacts.


Thomas Dietz, Amy Fitzgerald,2 and Rachael Shwom (2005) ‘Environmental Values’ Annual Review of Environment and Resources, Vol. 30: 335-372. Comprehensively reviews the value literature and finds that “values, especially altruism, are related to environmentalism, seems well established, but little can be said about the causes of value change and of the overall effects of value change on changes in behavior.”

Public Interest Research Centre (PIRC) (in collaboration with others) looking at approaches to value change and framing for pro-environmental behaviour – promoting intrinsic not extrinsic values.

Common Cause: a network of people working to help rebalance cultural values to create a more equitable, sustainable and democratic society.

Sustainable Lifestyles Research Group focuses on lifestyles and practices, behaviour structured by systems, habits, and norms.

Environmental citizenship and pro-environmental behaviour, international evidence review, SDRN Results suggest, for example, that a focus on fairness, participation, co-creation and active citizenship are better for change and social learning.

Hobson (2002) “Competing discourses of sustainable consumption: does the ‘rationalisation of lifestyles’ make sense?”, Environmental Politics. argues that sustainable consumption language alienates; ‘Environment as nature’ means little relative to social changes in society and the need for social justice such that people want less focus on individual lifestyles and more on ‘right ways of living’, less on ‘doing more with less’ and more about making the most of what we can all share.


Why we disagree about Climate Change: Understanding controversy, inaction and opportunity – Mike Hulme – Cambridge 2009.

George Marshall’s article “Don’t even think about it: Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change” explores how developments in behavioural science both explain why we fail to act or hear when presented with relevant information and that a “more sophisticated analysis of human cognition and the role of socially shared values in building conviction” is necessary.

Underpinnings of democratic models, FDSD Provocation by Robert Seddon. Problem that we have a moral vocabulary of democratic citizenship and one of environmental sustainability but can our ethics encompass both?


Long Now Foundation, established in 01996 to creatively foster long-term thinking and responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years.

Museum of the Future, where Jasper Visser writes about museums and culture in times of technological and social change.