Published: Monday 20 February 2012
While helpful, scientific knowledge and experts are also part of the problem: by dominating the sustainability discourse, they narrow people’s visions of what’s possible.

Contrary to popular belief, humans have failed to address the earth's worsening emergencies of climate change, species' extinction and resource overconsumption not because of a lack of information, but because of a lack of imagination, social scientists and artists say.

At a conference for the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) here in Vancouver, British Columbia, experts argued that the path to a truly sustainable future is through the muddy waters of emotions, values, ethics, and most importantly, imagination.

Humans' perceptions of reality are filtered by personal experiences and values, said David Maggs, a concert pianist and PhD student at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

As a result, the education and communication paradigm of "if we only knew better, we'd do better" is not working, Maggs told attendees at the world's largest general science meeting. "We don't live in the real world, but live only in the world we imagine."

"We live in our heads. We live in storyland," agreed John Robinson of UBC's Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability.

"When we talk about sustainability we are talking about the future, how things could be. This is the landscape of imagination," Robinson told IPS. "If we can't imagine a better world we won't get it."

This imagining will be complex and difficult. Sustainability encompasses far more than just scientific facts – it also incorporates the idea of how we relate to nature and to ourselves, he said.

"We haven't yet grasped the depth of changes that are coming."

Because human decisions and behavior are the result of ethics, values and emotion, and because sustainability directly involves our ...

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