SOU professor: Change in thinking needed to combat change in climate

Most environmental programs, books and messages focus on what’s broken and what the awful consequences will be, but ignore the fact that it’s the human mindset that must change and, in fact, is already changing — in the high corridors of the corporate, academic and even the more plodding governmental world. That's the message sent by Southern Oregon University business Professor Steve Schein, Ph.D., in his new book, “A New Psychology for Sustainability Leadership: The Hidden Power of Ecological Worldviews.”

Schein shapes his 75 interviews with senior corporate executives to show the existence of an emerging network of people who see through the lens of “integral ecology.” What’s that?

It’s what Pope Francis in his recent climate encyclical termed the relationship of human beings to the Earth’s ecosystem, says Schein, adding, “It’s core message is that leaders from around the world need to rapidly decarbonize the economy."

The old dominant paradigm for business, said Schein in an interview, is that “we look at multi-national corporations as being about the bottom line. It’s still the dominant paradigm, but there’s a growing subset of executives, many with advanced environmental degrees and experience in nonprofits who are motivated to solve environmental problems.”

These mover-shakers, he notes, are forming networks and strategies for change, on the way to “deep sustainability” and de-coupling economic growth from their ecological footprint. In concrete terms, they’re driving the conversion to clean, renewable energy in the next decade, leaving two-thirds of the present carbon footprint in the ground — “or else we’ll see the worst of the predictions around all the impacts to the ecosystem,” Schein writes.

Doing that would enable true sustainability, he says.

Schein doesn’t dwell on the negative impacts, which are known from countless books, articles and videos, which, he says, have led to “change that’s not deep enough and fast enough.”

However, Schein notes he’s “in the middle of a tremendous community of environmental activists in Ashland, in Oregon and in the Pacific Northwest,” and they form much of the cutting edge of changing thought.

In his interviews with sustainability-minded senior executives of multinational corporations, Schein found a commonality of the experience of oneness with nature, something he knew from his childhood in the north woods of New Jersey. They also share a spiritual understanding of nature, which Schein hopes to be expanded into society because of the Pope’s pronouncements.

The journey of these “change agents” is away from the anthropocentric mindset, where man is viewed as the best and most important species, with nature at his disposal, he says. The new mindset is for humanity not to change nature, but to change our own minds, accepting the age-old fact that we are “embedded” in nature as much as any animal.

Key to this transformation of mindset is breaking down the walls between psychology, sociology and environmentalism, which now exist in separate buildings on all campuses and aren’t speaking much to each other. Business departments, still teaching the old profit-above-all paradigm, Schein said, must join this merger of minds.

Schein’s book, which was his Ph.D. thesis, got 30 blurbs in its opening pages from many of the main players in the field and has taken off as a major book on the topic. Just retired from SOU and newly empty-nesting, Schein finds himself free to answer many invitations to conferences and speaking engagements around the world, including a speaking tour of most European capitals this fall.

His book is published 2015 by Greenleaf Publishing Ltd., Sheffield, UK. It’s available at Bloomsbury Books and on Amazon (, and an audio version will be available on Audible (

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at


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