Skip to Main Content
Table 2.

Productive and unproductive examples of cultural models. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/elementa.2020.00051.t2

Cultural Models by TopicExplanation
Climate change 
Something needs to be done (+) This model takes advantage of a shared belief that problems that receive a lot of public attention deserve to be addressed. Most Americans believe that climate change is real, is happening now, and is caused by human activity. People are concerned about its impacts, and because of the shared belief that acknowledged problems need solutions, they feel a sense of urgency about addressing the issue. 
Oceans 
Oceans support humans (+) People innately understand that the ocean supports human life through food, transportation, and work. In addition, this model includes the idea that the ocean is a unique and valuable natural resource. This line of thinking helps people to understand that the ocean is intricately connected to human life, and people can easily understand why the ocean needs to be protected. 
Nature 
Nature works in cycles (–) This model portrays nature as a set of dependable cycles. If the cycles are disrupted, nature will reestablish the cycles on its own. Because the cycles are viewed as outside human control, this cultural model redirects attention away from more productive ideas that climate change is caused by humans, earth systems cannot continue to absorb the effects of human activities, and that people and nature are highly interconnected. 
Consumerism 
Eat it while you can! (–) This model instigates the line of thinking that “supplies are limited.” The logical response to scarcity is to consume more quickly and to accept the inevitability of species loss and the occasional unavailability of certain products. 
Ecosystems are valuable resources (+) This model recognizes the practical and economic utility of ecosystems. When applied to ocean systems, this line of thinking recognizes that seafood is a major source of protein for people around the world and that the oceans are critical for moving resources around the planet. Using this model, people realize that a functioning and healthy ocean ecosystem is key for maintaining access to important resources. This type of thinking results in agreement that important ecosystems need to be protected and conserved. 
Pollution 
Ocean problems = material pollution (–) This mode of thinking results in the false conclusion that material pollution, like plastic bags or runoff from dirty industrial practices, is the cause of all the ocean’s problems. Once this line of thinking is initiated, it is difficult to communicate about the ways in which “invisible” heat-trapping gases are affecting ocean temperature or how chemical processes are leading to ocean acidification. 
Public affairs 
Individualism (–) Individualism is a pervasive cultural model in America. This model highlights the individual as the agent of change and leads to individual-level solutions, making it a major obstacle to communicating about solutions that need to match the scale of ocean and climate change. With this model, people are skeptical of how public policies can lead to effective solutions. People also assume that any government action would limit individual actions and freedoms. 
Civic responsibility (+) This model taps into the idea that every community member has a duty to contribute to their community and to engage in social action. For Americans, communication is a key component of civic responsibility. People recognize that they are responsible for “being informed” and for sharing their perspectives with their communities and their public representatives. This model encourages the idea that responsible community members need to think about the public interest, taking measures to align civic institutions with their values. 
Americans are problem solvers (+) This model involves the idea that Americans can tackle and overcome any challenges that arise through determination, courage, intelligence, practicality, cooperative spirit, and inventiveness. When thinking through this model, people can easily imagine that big problems are solved by working together and that American ingenuity and technology will result in a solution. This model offers highly productive entry points for considering ways to address environmental challenges. 
Cultural Models by TopicExplanation
Climate change 
Something needs to be done (+) This model takes advantage of a shared belief that problems that receive a lot of public attention deserve to be addressed. Most Americans believe that climate change is real, is happening now, and is caused by human activity. People are concerned about its impacts, and because of the shared belief that acknowledged problems need solutions, they feel a sense of urgency about addressing the issue. 
Oceans 
Oceans support humans (+) People innately understand that the ocean supports human life through food, transportation, and work. In addition, this model includes the idea that the ocean is a unique and valuable natural resource. This line of thinking helps people to understand that the ocean is intricately connected to human life, and people can easily understand why the ocean needs to be protected. 
Nature 
Nature works in cycles (–) This model portrays nature as a set of dependable cycles. If the cycles are disrupted, nature will reestablish the cycles on its own. Because the cycles are viewed as outside human control, this cultural model redirects attention away from more productive ideas that climate change is caused by humans, earth systems cannot continue to absorb the effects of human activities, and that people and nature are highly interconnected. 
Consumerism 
Eat it while you can! (–) This model instigates the line of thinking that “supplies are limited.” The logical response to scarcity is to consume more quickly and to accept the inevitability of species loss and the occasional unavailability of certain products. 
Ecosystems are valuable resources (+) This model recognizes the practical and economic utility of ecosystems. When applied to ocean systems, this line of thinking recognizes that seafood is a major source of protein for people around the world and that the oceans are critical for moving resources around the planet. Using this model, people realize that a functioning and healthy ocean ecosystem is key for maintaining access to important resources. This type of thinking results in agreement that important ecosystems need to be protected and conserved. 
Pollution 
Ocean problems = material pollution (–) This mode of thinking results in the false conclusion that material pollution, like plastic bags or runoff from dirty industrial practices, is the cause of all the ocean’s problems. Once this line of thinking is initiated, it is difficult to communicate about the ways in which “invisible” heat-trapping gases are affecting ocean temperature or how chemical processes are leading to ocean acidification. 
Public affairs 
Individualism (–) Individualism is a pervasive cultural model in America. This model highlights the individual as the agent of change and leads to individual-level solutions, making it a major obstacle to communicating about solutions that need to match the scale of ocean and climate change. With this model, people are skeptical of how public policies can lead to effective solutions. People also assume that any government action would limit individual actions and freedoms. 
Civic responsibility (+) This model taps into the idea that every community member has a duty to contribute to their community and to engage in social action. For Americans, communication is a key component of civic responsibility. People recognize that they are responsible for “being informed” and for sharing their perspectives with their communities and their public representatives. This model encourages the idea that responsible community members need to think about the public interest, taking measures to align civic institutions with their values. 
Americans are problem solvers (+) This model involves the idea that Americans can tackle and overcome any challenges that arise through determination, courage, intelligence, practicality, cooperative spirit, and inventiveness. When thinking through this model, people can easily imagine that big problems are solved by working together and that American ingenuity and technology will result in a solution. This model offers highly productive entry points for considering ways to address environmental challenges. 

Cultural models (i.e., patterns of thinking) that lead to unproductive (italic text, –) climate and ocean change outcomes and some existing productive cultural models (bold text, +; Volmert et al., 2013; Simon et al., 2014; Bales et al., 2015).

Close Modal

or Create an Account

Close Modal
Close Modal