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Global and internal transformation are tied together. A new study provides a roadmap for advancing related research, policy and practice

Climate strike. Photo.
While sustainability challenges, such as climate change, tend to be seen as external problems, a new article by professor Christine Wamsler, helps us to see and address them as  a human relationship crisis. Photo Unsplash

In a newly published article in Global Environmental Change, LUCSUS Professor Christine Wamsler and colleagues map out existing research on internal and external transformations. Drawing upon the results, they propose a model and roadmap for advancing sustainability and climate-related research, policy, and practice.

The linkage between internal and external (systems) change for sustainability is a research area that has rapidly grown over the last decade. However, related knowledge is still scarce and fragmented across disciplines. The article addresses this gap.  It assesses how the linkages between internal and external change are portrayed and understood in current research, including the scope, perspectives and approaches used to understand why, and how, internal change relates to climate action and sustainability.

- While sustainability challenges, such as climate change, tend to be seen as external problems, this article helps us to see and address them as  a human relationship crisis . It is linked to other societal crises such as psychological health, consumerism, racism, and other expressions of separation from oneself, others, and nature, says Christine Wamsler, Professor at Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS).

The proposed model also highlights the importance of nourishing human inner qualities/ capacities to support transformation. Five clusters of so-called transformative qualities are identified: awareness, connection, insight, purpose, and agency. They affect our view of ourselves, others, and the world around us, our choices and how we act.

- With climate change being a complex human crisis that is intrinsically linked to the destructive separation or disconnection between humans and their world, the implications of our study for sustainability science  and practice are profound. They can provide a roadmap towards a new research and policy agenda in the field, says Christine Wamsler.

The article is the first systematic review of existing research linking internal and external transformation to support sustainability and climate action. Read the full article in Global Environmental Change here.

Graphic figure illustrating a simplified model of change for internal-external transformation towards sustainability.
Simplified figure illustrating the model of change for internal-external transformation towards sustainability.

Transformative qualities/capacities

Awareness: The ability to meet situations, people, others and one’s own thoughts and feelings with openness, presence and acceptance.

This encompasses concepts such as presence, attention, self-awareness and self-reflection, psychological/ cognitive flexibility and resilience. These are, in turn, related to qualities such as equanimity, discernment, the capacity to listen and communicate, and openness to change.

ConnectionThe ability and desire to see and meet oneself, others and the world with care, humility and integrity, from a place of empathy and compassion. 

This includes concepts such as compassion (to both humans and the environment), empathy, kindness and generosity. 

Insight: The ability to see, understand and bring in more perspectives for a broader, relational understanding of oneself, others and the whole.

This extends to concepts such as perspective-taking, integral, equitable thinking and the integration of different ways of knowing. There are close links to the qualities of humility, optimism and hope.

Purpose: The ability to navigate oneself through the world, based on insights into what is important (intrinsic, universal values).

This encompasses concepts such as the activation and reflectivity of one’s values, sense of purpose, intentions and responsibility, future orientation, intrinsic value orientation and associated senses of reciprocity, equity and solidarity. 

Agency: The ability to see and understand broader and deeper patterns and our own role in the world in this regard, and to have the intention, optimism and courage to act on it.

This includes a sense of empowerment and related qualities/ skills that can foster and enhance cooperation, the co-creation of meaning and action.  There are close links to qualities such as courage, creativity, passion, optimism, and hope.

Christine Wamsler, researcher at LUCSUS

Christine Wamsler is Professor at Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS).

Christine is an internationally renowned expert in sustainable urban development, climate change and associated (inner and outer) transformation processes.

Link to Christine Wamslers personal profile