About the Norm Cascades Project

The Cascade Institute's Norm Cascades Project investigates opportunities the pandemic might create for rapid and deep change in people’s norms—that is, in their beliefs, moral values, and emotional responses about how they should behave and how the world ought to be—that could in turn accelerate the sustainability transition, especially towards zero-carbon energy systems.

The pandemic has been a brutal shock to many people’s core beliefs about their responsibilities to others, the appropriate role of government, the fairness of extreme social and economic inequality, the value of scientific and technical expertise, ethical relations between humans and nature, and (perhaps most importantly) human beings’ interdependence and shared identity at the planetary level. Humanity will not address the Covid-19 challenge effectively if people retreat into tribal identities and wall themselves off from each other. The pandemic is a collective problem that requires global collective action—as do other critical global problems such as climate change.

Indeed, the pandemic appears to have put humanity on a cusp between two dramatically different worldview pathways into the future—one of solidarity and another of division. Along the solidarity pathway, astute social leaders could frame the problem in ways that catalyze an urgently needed tipping event in humanity’s collective moral values, priorities and sense of self and community, reminding us of our common fate on a small, crowded planet with dwindling resources and fraying natural systems. Along the division pathway, leaders could instead promote powerful ideologies of exclusion and antagonism to deepen differences between groups and turn them against each other. Some populists are already blaming outsiders and other nations for the pandemic and stoking rising anger against governments and public health officials who are advocating measures to suppress the pandemic.

The NC project uses advanced methods for mapping people’s worldviews to identify general mechanisms of rapid change in people’s norms.  Project outputs analyze how, in the context of the pandemic, these mechanisms might be harnessed by policy makers, corporate and civil society leaders, and educators to steer societies towards a solidarity pathway, particularly with regard to addressing climate change and the sustainability transition.