Planetary Crisis: Lack of Concern or Inability to Act?

Leverage Point 3: Latent Values of Responsibility

Part of the Levers and Leverage Points blog series.

Image by Liso, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Prevailing Thinking:

Inaction on environmental issues and the ‘business as usual’ trajectory is often seen as evidence of a broad lack of concern. Values aligning with sustainability and environmentalism are thought of as isolated to a specific group of activists. Thus, many see a need to change existing values in order to change action.

Transformed Thinking:

While concern may be lacking in some situations, a lack of action often does not stem from a lack of concern. Environmental values are in fact widespread across many populations. The real problem is that in many contexts, people lack practical ways to express those values. Inaction is thus largely a function of infrastructure and institutions that were designed poorly or with other social goals in mind.


It is commonly thought that existing values and norms either cannot be changed or, conversely, that they must be changed to achieve sustainability. While it is possible for values and norms to change, desired outcomes can often be achieved by expanding or extending a value or norm. Thus we might facilitate widespread change by actively employing and focusing relational values of responsibility towards the transformative change needed for widely shared sustainability goals (see Clarification section).

Often a change in values accompanies change in human actions, rather than driving that change. Infrastructural and institutional changes, on the other hand, lay the foundation for the unleashing of existing values, which in some contexts may prove sufficient to generate a shift towards sustainable transformative change.

Unleashing latent values of responsibility serves as a leverage point not because the values themselves must change, but rather to highlight that a focus on these can inspire and guide reforms to the institutions and infrastructure. This, in turn, would enable widespread expression of those values.

Paths Forward:

This change may require interventions across multiple levels and jurisdictions of governmental and societal institutions, fostering the free expression of relational values instead of hindering them. Given the diversity of the obstacles restraining values, specific policies, initiatives, and investments geared towards removing or reducing sociocultural barriers present the greatest potential for triggering widespread action and releasing relational values. This also entails strengthening the rule of law within jurisdictions while combating the influencing power of vested interests (see Lever 3, Strengthening Environmental Law).

Many want to make a difference and promote fairer futures in harmony with nature. However, these values are latent in the absence of desirable outlets for expression. Recognizing this gap, CoSphere aims to unleash the power of our latent values of responsibility by cultivating a community that routinely engages in civic actions towards a sustainable future (see Unleashing Values through CoSphere). In the language of institutions and infrastructure (which hampers value-expression), CoSphere seeks to be both a community (a missing institution) and a platform (missing digital infrastructure) for social action for sustainability.


Relational values refer to values, virtues, and principles stemming from a relationship, oftentimes between humans and nature, which are reflected in how we interact with the natural world. This includes feelings of responsibility and care expressed through actions such as environmental stewardship. Latent implies that these feelings of responsibility are felt, but inactive or not employed to their potential.

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