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Changing our mind

The biggest obstacle to sustainability is our mindset. See my Guardian article on why we need a new one.

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commentary

Is there a place for pessimism?

Is pessimism an appropriate response to the failure to achieve sustainability? And might it actually be helpful?

In a recent article Jonathon Porritt expressed the view that there was little hope for consumer leadership, in terms of expecting consumers to demand (and maybe even pay more for) sustainable goods. He also lamented the failure of government leadership. Finally he questions how much can be asked of companies. Within the paradigm of satisfying uncaring investors, consumers and governments, has the limit been reached of what companies can do?

For some, the next step would be the announcement that ‘we are all doomed’. And this is regarded as a no-no. It will only turn people and so be counter-productive. So people dare not say so.

But psychological health, although it may be difficult to define, is not the same as the manic optimism of the irrationally exuberant market. As we should all know by now, the bubble mentality leads to instability and disaster. And in some psychoanalytic theories, health is predicated on ‘the depressive position’ – that is to say that accepting reality, which will never be all that we would wish, is the prerequisite for effective living. And effective action.

So we need to face the facts if we are to change. Perhaps a degree of pessimism is part of the necessary diversity of attitude we need. Instead of the monoculture of optimism, in which we live in the best of all possible markets, we need to temper our assessments with some realism.