Sustainability Science

, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 163–176 | Cite as

Traditional knowledge in a time of crisis: climate change, culture and communication

Special Feature: Original Article Weaving Indigenous and Sustainability Sciences to Diversify Our Methods (WIS2DOM)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Special Feature: Weaving Indigenous and Sustainability Sciences to Diversify Our Methods (WIS2DOM)


Science as it has come to be defined in Western thought is at the root of our current environmental problems. This article reviews the historical trajectory of specific facets in Western thought, including the disenchantment of nature, the apotheosis of reason, the technological domination of nature, and the Puritan temper. Illuminating this history points out that what is called “rational” and what popularly acceptable as “science” is in fact a by-product of specific historical, cultural, and political circumstances, and has produced a culture of “scientism” that is ideological, not value-free, and is in fact contrary to the open inquiry of science. These ideas are linked to economic rationality, colonialism, and human rights, severing modern humans from our Indigenous roots and fostering an ideology of rapacious environmental exploitation. The author proposes “indigeneity” as embracing the holistic knowledge and wisdom found in traditional cultures while also utilizing the advances in science and other areas of human endeavor. Specifically, the paper argues for bringing about a new cultural discourse that helps reshape human behavior into a more sustainable direction. The role of communication and storytelling is emphasized, with an example given in the story of Polynesian voyaging and the five values of the voyaging canoe.


Sustainability Values Scientism Indigenous Wisdom 


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Copyright information

© Springer Japan (outside the USA) 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Smithsonian National Museum of the American IndianWashingtonUSA

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