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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An even less convenient truth : addressing the challenge of sustainable development through an integration of cognition and culture Levine, Jordan

Abstract

‘Sustainable development,’ or how to achieve durably desirable states in our planet’s nested social-ecological systems, has been heralded by many as the core civilizational challenge of the 21st century. Adding to this challenge is the fact that the scientific study of how to model and manage such complex systems is confounded by a number of archaic intellectual legacies from predecessor disciplines. Chief among these is a relatively crude, low-resolution ‘rational actor’ theory of human behaviour, which lies in tension with a range of more recent, empirical insights regarding how humans absorb information, make decisions, and act, in situ. I argue that, while authors widely acknowledge the former theory to be insufficient, terminological inconsistencies and conceptual opacity have prevented the latter insights from being fully integrated into much sustainable development research. This dissertation aims to help bridge that gap on the level of both theory and practice. First, I present an accessible, original synthesis of cumulative recent findings on human cognition. This synthesis suggests a key object of analysis should be the particular ways in which people reduce the deep complexity of their social-ecological context into actionable information. I then apply this theoretical lens to the study of two areas designated by the UN as sites for experimentation with the concept of sustainable development: Mt. Carmel UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Israel, and Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in British Columbia, Canada. Both Mt. Carmel and Clayoquot Sound are reeling from major ecological shifts, and discordant multistakeholder relations. In my data chapters, I show that by (a) applying my synthesized theoretical lens to an analysis of how the various stakeholders perceive their local context, and (b) adapting and combining a range of elicitation and analysis methods that heretofore have been applied in isolation, I am able to generate insights that have direct, actionable significance for the management of these sensitive, politically fraught social-ecological systems. I conclude with a discussion of implications, caveats, prospects of scalability, and suggestions for future research.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada

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