Decision-Making for a Sustainable Environment: A Systemic Approach, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Decision-Making for a Sustainable Environment

A Systemic Approach, 1st Edition

By Chris Maser

CRC Press

304 pages | 1 B/W Illus.

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pub: 2012-07-26
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Increasingly, environmental decision making is like playing a multidimensional game of chess. With interactions between the atmosphere, the litho-hydrosphere, and the biosphere, the game is at once a measure of complexity, uncertainty, interdisciplinary acuity, social-environmental sustainability, and social justice for all generations. As such, it demands a systemic point of view. Decision Making for a Sustainable Environment: A Systemic Approach gives readers the tools to replace the dysfunctional, symptomatic decision making that has plunged the world into environmental crises with a systemic approach that fosters social-environmental sustainability.

A New Paradigm for Environmental Decision Making

Based on the author’s more than 45 years of research and broad, international experience, this book guides policy makers and managers to work with—rather than within—theoretical and methodological frameworks to achieve multidimensional and multilayered policy decisions. It discusses systemic thinking as a rational, viable alternative to competitive, materialistic, and symptomatic decision making.

Insights, Approaches, and Examples for Leadership

Organized into three parts, the book begins by describing the inviolable biophysical principles that define the limitations of human choices. The second part examines in depth why the conventional command-and-control form of decision making tends to become dysfunctional and fails. It also explains how to break the cycle of such behavior. A case study by Jessica K. La Porte explores the challenges of creating a program of environmentally sustainable decision making. The third part of the book explores what it takes to be a psychologically mature decision maker.

A Peaceful Path toward Social-Environmental Sustainability for All Generations

Proposing new ways of thinking and problem solving, this book provides readers with the ideas, language, approaches, and examples to move toward genuine social-environmental sustainability. It offers counsel on how to be a psychologically mature trustee of planet Earth and leave a more viable legacy for future generations.


"Decision Making for a Sustainable Environment is a challenging read on a whole range of levels. Deeply personal, deeply reflective, courageous, and atypically altruistic. If you find yourself in self-analysis while reading this book, then you have got the point. … Not for the faint-hearted, [it] reminds us that humans have a power and responsibility to make wise decisions when it comes to sustaining the natural world that we are part of. The Earth is a complex place made more so by humans. Decision Making for a Sustainable Environment places the role of humans on the Earth in the right context: be humble, be respectful, and be aware."

—Dr. Andrew W. Claridge, Senior Research Scientist, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Australia

"[This book] provides ideas, language, approaches, and examples to move a place of employment, a government, or a community toward what Chris Maser calls ‘psychological maturity for the social-environmental sake of all generations.’ … I am more ready to effect change in decision makers because of the lessons and wisdom and approach that Chris offers in this book."

—From the foreword by D. Alexander Wait, Missouri State University, USA

Table of Contents


The Principles of Biophysical Sustainability

The Waterbed Principle

The Law of Cosmic Unification

Nature’s Inviolable Biophysical Principles

Decision Making and Nature’s Rules of Engagement

Every Decision Has Its Antithesis

The Inviolable Rules of Decision Making


The Stages of an Environmental Agency


An Introduction to Command-and-Control Decision Making

The Inception of an Agency

We Are the Agency

Stages in the Cycle of an Agency

When Dysfunctional Decision Making Creeps In

The Homeostatic Command-and-Control of Decision Making

The Mythology of Abnegating Personal Responsibility

The Unpredictability of Environmental Laws

Setting the Stage for the Engagement of Coping Mechanisms

How Coping Mechanisms Influence the Effectiveness of Decision Making

Dissonance within Duplicity: Sustainability Programs at the Southern Nevada Water Authority, a Case Study

Jessica K. La Porte, PhD

Breaking the Dysfunctional Cycle of Environmental Agency Decision Making

How Job Descriptions Limit Professional Decision Making

Leaders and Managers Make Fundamentally Different Kinds of Decisions

Categories of Value

Why a Vision Is Important

Understanding a Vision


The Essence of a Responsible Decision Maker

Personal Values and Philosophy of Life

Characteristics of an Effective Decision Maker

Coping with the Responsibilities and Pressures of Social-Environmental Decision Making


Circumstances Faced by Decision Makers

Being and Disclosing Yourself

Perfectionism and the Fear of Making Decisions

Coping with Someone You Dislike

Imagine Yourself as Different People

Inspiring Performance

Nurturing Creativity

Making Do with What You Have

Establishing Realistic Objectives

The Need for Urgency

Give Counsel, Not Advice

The Questions We Ask

Maintaining Viability as a Leader

Social-Environmental Decision Making within Organizations

Giving Children a Voice in Their Future through Shared Decision Making

The Great American Irony: Children Have No Voice in Their Future

Changing Our Adult Thinking

The Ultimate Democratic Revolution in Decision Making: Giving Children a Voice in Their Future


Appendix: Common and Scientific Names of Plants and Animals


All chapters include a summary and notes.

About the Author


Chris Maser was trained in zoology and ecology and worked for 25 years as a research scientist in agricultural, coastal, desert, forest, valley grassland, shrub steppe, and subarctic settings in various parts of the world before realizing that science is not designed to answer the vast majority of questions society is asking it to address. Maser gave up active scientific research in 1987 and has since worked to unify scientific knowledge with social values in helping to create sustainable communities and landscapes, part of which entails his facilitating the resolution of social-environmental conflicts. He has contributed to more than 286 publications, including 34 books, mostly dealing with some aspect of social-environmental sustainability. Although he has worked and lectured in Canada, Egypt, France, Germany, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Nepal, Slovakia, and Switzerland, he calls Corvallis, Oregon home.

About the Series

Social Environmental Sustainability

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LAW / Environmental
NATURE / Environmental Conservation & Protection
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Public Affairs & Administration