While I have been working in sustainable development for the last 13 years, I have often wondered why individual interest takes precedence over collective interest when we have everything to gain together. I am, however, not alone in this thought. Sébastien Bohler, a Doctor in Neuroscience has an interesting theory about this, which interestingly, also explains the causes of global warming.
Today we know that our development model coupled with population growth is incompatible with the earth’s ability to renew itself.
In 1951, the International Union for the Protection of Nature published a report entitled The Position of Nature Throughout the World in 1950. This pioneering report tried to reconcile economy and ecology. Since then, scientists, opinion leaders, politicians, and international organisations have been mobilized to find solutions to effectively combat climate change and to promote and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon society.
However, implementation stalled. No one really knows how to take up the challenge.
One of the reasons is that we lack a sense of urgency. If we were really aware of the state of emergency of global warming, we would radically change our lifestyles. We are able to invest time and creativity into developing new technologies and new mobile apps and spend time on social media. However, we are not committed to finding real solutions together, for example, to fight the causes of global warming, to preserve biodiversity (including humans) on the planet.
Why are we not able to change our focus and mindset?
Doctor Sébastien Bohler, who studied how the brain works, may have some answers. In his book, ‘The Human Bug’, he explains that our deepest desires are managed by an area of the brain called the striatum. The striatum is the result of hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. This part of our brain sends us reward signals such as pleasure (dopamine) when we do a few simple things:
– Eating: Today, more people suffer from obesity than from starvation. Also, intensive agriculture contributes to destroying biodiversity.
– Sex: 136 billion pornographic videos are watched every year. Corresponding energy consumption of IT servers is equivalent to one-third of the world’s air transport in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.
– Domination: We always want a higher social status. We are 2 billion people connected on social networks every day, craving more “likes”.
– Entertainment: We are drowned by news, an endless flow of information on screens, radios, TV, etc. anywhere and anytime.
– Laziness: The less effort, the better! Home automation, home delivery, gadgets, AI, apps, etc.
We take all this for granted, and more is never enough. However, there are no free lunches. All these services entail huge energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions; everything that becomes a cause of global warming.
If our striatum was an ally for our development, it can also become an enemy if we don’t control it.
This is an interesting theory by neurologist Sébastien Bohler. But, should we be satisfied with it?
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