As you read in the overview, themes are statistical combinations of axes that address a common big question and embody a key tension in how we approach environmental issues.
These themes have been determined via factor analysis of several thousand responses to the EcoTypes survey. Factor analysis combines similar axes based on the biggest differences among respondents. Thus each theme also has two poles to express the key tension at its heart: nonhuman vs. human Place, old vs. new Knowledge, and small vs. big Action.
You may wonder: why focus on our differences in a world already filled with conflict and debate? Shouldn't we look for themes that express our points of agreement vs. disagreement? There indeed is some agreement among EcoTypes survey respondents, as summarized in the table below; but there are differences too. There can be many ways to care about issues of environment, and to be more inclusive we can be open to these many ways, even if they imply disagreement with ours.
See below for more details on each of these three themes, in particular how their contributing axes might offer very different answers to their big question. Below the three themes is a table summarizing the statistical properties of each theme among recent survey respondents, and details on the contributing axes for each.
This pole approaches the place of nonhumans and humans in our world as one in which nonhumans were here first. Bringing together the wild pole of Aesthetics, the autonomous pole of Animals, the biophilic pole of Cities, the static pole of Ecosystems, the biocentric pole of Ethics, and the pure pole of Nature, the nonhuman pole sets aside and prioritizes the natural world, and is not particularly impressed with human accomplishments, needs, and impacts. There can be a place in this world for humans, but only if it does not interfere with nonhuman flourishing, which is the necessary foundation for nonhuman place. One possible online example: Half-Earth Project.
Human accomplishments and well-being define for this pole the relative place of nonhumans and humans in our world. Building on the crafted Aesthetics pole, the domestic Animals pole, the civic Cities pole, the dynamic pole of Ecosystems, the anthropocentric Ethics pole, and the hybrid Nature pole, the human pole sees this world as a good place for humans to flourish, a place where change happens. It prioritizes human needs, and accepts—even celebrates—human transformations of the nonhuman world. One possible online example: Seeds of a Good Anthropocene.
One approach to ways of knowing values what we have inherited from the past, what has stood the test of time. The old pole of the Knowledge theme builds on the ideal Domain, heterodox Science, sacred Spirituality, fear of Technology, and veneration of past Time to trust these old ways of knowing more than newer approaches to knowledge. The old pole moves tentatively into the future, leaning more into wisdom than innovation. One possible online example: Order of the Sacred Earth.
The new pole of the Knowledge theme prioritizes contemporary approaches, those that reflect the advancement of knowledge over time. Weaving together the material Domain, orthodox Science, secular Spirituality, love of Technology, and trust in future Time, this pole may or may not respect past traditions, but certainly places far more emphasis on the recent flourishing of scientific and related forms of knowledge. One possible online example: The Breakthrough Institute.
This pole prioritizes small-scale action by each of us to build the world we want, as the only practical alternative and one that will eventually make a big (at least bigger) difference. Joining the incremental pole of the Change axis, the low priority Diversity pole, the market pole of the Economies axis, the possibility pole of the Future axis, the individual pole of the Social Scale axis, the consensus pole of the Society axis (thus we share equal responsibility to act), and the local pole of the Spatial Scale axis, the small pole of the Action theme is bottom-up, hopeful, and attempts to be apolitical through and through. There are many possible online examples via e.g. a “Simple Things Environment” search.
Another way to think about what scale of action we need is based on the premise that big problems do indeed call for big solutions. The big pole of the Action theme weaves together the radical Change pole, the high priority Diversity pole, the planned pole of the Economies axis, the crisis pole of the Future axis, the institutional Social Scale pole, the conflict Society pole (i.e., we are unequal, even in our responsibility to act), and the global Spatial Scale poles to focus on structural, more politicized change. Focusing on the little things we each can do, according to the big pole, is not action but distraction; yet there is less possibility for change at these bigger scales. One online example is System Change not Climate Change.
Themes are scored from -1 to +1 (as are axes); negative numbers simply imply a preference for the left pole of each theme, and vice versa. The statistical properties of each theme among recent survey respondents can tell us something about their similarities and differences.
|Theme||Mean||SD*||Variance**||Properties on -1 to +1 Spectrum|
**Proportion of variance in dataset explained by each theme. Collectively, Place, Knowledge, and Action explain roughly 40% of the total variance (difference) among respondents. Note that Action has the highest variance (i.e., differences among respondents), and Place the lowest; their standard deviations are accordingly sized in the graphic above.
The theme averages above suggest that recent respondents primarily lean toward nonhuman Place, a mix of old and new Knowledge, and big Action. Yet there are differences among respondents as well, as implied in the spread of data depicted by their standard deviation.
The three EcoTypes themes above were determined by factor analysis of all eighteen axes among recent survey respondents. Our method of factor analysis rotated the three factors (themes) so that (a) they were orthogonal to each other, and (b) each contributing axis loaded primarily onto one theme.
The relative contribution of each axis, summarized below, can help you understand how theme scores are calculated, and the nature of each theme. For instance, Place is primarily influenced by the Ethics and Aesthetics axes, and their left poles inform the left pole of Place, such that nonhuman Place includes wild Aesthetics and biocentric ethics. For your convenience, the top two contributing axes for each theme are in bold.
Going Deeper With Place, Knowledge, and Action
The three EcoTypes themes you read above summarize all fifteen axes into three big questions, for which there are two very different answers! You may not personally agree with both poles, but try to take them seriously.
Choose any one theme above, and reflect on how you might answer its big question while honoring both poles.