Saving the World through…myths? (Pt1)

I’m spending a lot of time these day trying to understand the links between our behaviour, our culture, our psyches, and our stories, in as much as it is connected to my main life goal – combining promotion of transcendent cultural change and the promotion of freedom (social, political, psychological, spiritual), with my writing and creative impulses.

To this end, I went back and listened to an ABC National ‘All In The Mind’ podcast that was broadcast last year called “CLIMATE CHANGE AND PSYCHE” (21/11/2009). The two guests on were Mike Hulme (Professor of climate change at the University of East Anglia) and Dr Jonathan Marshall (anthropologist and research fellow at the University of Technology in Sydney). They were both talking about the connection between the arguments surrounding climate change, the various behavioural responses to the issue, and – GASP – storytelling and myths.

Mike Hume’s argument was particular interesting, as he is a leading climate scientist, the founding director of the acclaimed Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the UK. He stated that looking at climate change solely as a technical problem that needs a technical solution is inadequate – humanity has an ancient and ongoing cultural relationship with climate – as revealed through the storytelling and myths of all cultures around the world. We therefore need to broaden our understanding of it as a cultural issue. Says he:

“myths… can be very useful vehicles for helping us to understand why we seem to adopt different positions…It is not as simple as here is the science that’s telling us what the problem is, here are the policies that could attend to the problem, and let’s get the politicians to implement the policies. That’s a very naïve and linear model which is not adequate. Myths help us to understand that things are actually much more complicated than that”.

So why is it important that we understand what is motivating the various responses to climate change? Well, if you know why people are behaving the way they are, and that it is connected to myths/stories and our psyches and emotional and intuitive responses, then you have an idea (albeit vague) of how to affect change of that behaviour, positively. He argued that “this language of myth, metaphor and symbol can allow us to use more creative engaging ways of deliberating and communicating with our publics.” And it is the public – the masses – that need to change their behaviour.

Linking to Mike’s argument, Anthropologist Jonathan Marshall argued that myths give us not only a set of meanings, but a set of templates for living and understanding what’s happening to us – whether we’re consciously aware of this or not. A good myth joins our psyche and the world, and it has the potential to reconfigure the way we look at the world and act within the world. His book, Depth, Psychology, Disorder and Climate Change, essentially calls for people to think about new ways of imagining the world.

“Science needs to be able to recapture the poetry that actually inspires scientists to get into work in the first place. They need to have a poetry of science which will actually appeal to people and motivate them. It’s no good throwing facts at people because as we’ve been saying all through this discussion, basically it’s the myths that make the facts do anything for us.”



3 Comments on “Saving the World through…myths? (Pt1)”

  1. deb chapman says:

    WOW! now you’ve got me thinking…..!!!! what a great post. thanks wise night owl!

  2. Namila says:

    Some lovely food for thought there, P! Thanks for yet another amazing post! xo

  3. P. Vetuna says:


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