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MAHB must be a “mega-initiative”

by on September 5, 2009

One of our correspondents call the MAHB a “mega-initiative,” which precisely describes our intention.  There are more than a million NGOs attempting to deal with environmental-social justice problems, and we’ve all been to many meeting/workshops on these issues.  It’s great to work with an enthusiastic group, and when a good article results, or a couple hundred people at a meeting cheer when they approve a public statement, it feels good.  But despite all the effort, the human predicament seems to be getting much worse, not better.  That’s why I think we’ve either got to make the MAHB take off – in a few years become a force of the magnitude of the IPCC, or  we’ll need to carefully consider whether it’s worthwhile to continue.


From → Ehrlich opinion

  1. Tol permalink

    Maybe it could be related to this praxical endeavour using the idea of systematically tracing and reconfiguring the networks of our societies in order not only to get an understanding of their functioning but also to rebuild a political project for a sustainable world:

    • prehrlich permalink

      Interesting. I downloaded your “Knowledge and Praxis” paper and will read when I come back from Europe in a couple of weeks. Hope you’ll check our website and sign up for the newsletter so we can stay in touch. Paul

  2. I am a Church of Scotland minister in Kirriemuir in Scotland and I wish you well in your venture.

    I try to lead my congregation to KNOWCARE ACT on Climate Change but it is not an easy task. We are far too comfortable!!!!!!!

    It seems to me that responding to the mitigation of the effects of Climate Change is an area where every possible avenue of action and communication must be tried.

    It is a case of hoisting as many flags as possible, up as many masts as possible, in the hope that everyone will find one that they can support and salute!

  3. Ronnie Hawkins permalink

    I remember being excited to hear about the initiation of the MAHB when it was first announced, I believe, in _Science_, and It’s great to see something up and running now.

    I think it’s very important, however, for people who have largely been trained as academics to avoid what George Lakoff calls “Policy Speak,” which I would describe as a way of discoursing very logically and linearly and quite disconnectedly from the metaphor-driven, emotional way most people have of grasping their situation.

    I got my M.D. back in the 70s, and, in significant part as a result of reading Paul and Anne’s _Extinction_ in 1981, along with discovering the enormous destructive impact our species has on other forms of life in some directly experiential ways, I went back to get a Ph.D. in philosophy. My dissertation focused on the moral wrongness of anthropogenic species extinction, a stance that I continue to hold. I figured that, rather than getting a doctorate in some branch of zoological science (which was my first impulse), where I would probably end up documenting the fast or slow demise of yet another nonhuman species, I should try to track down why we human beings were engaged in such obviously self- as well as other-destructive behavior in the first place, and figure out some way of addressing the problem at its core.

    My quest has led me to human group behavior, something that traditional western philosophy has neglected or denied
    for centuries, lost in the fantasy of atomistic individualism, which is simply not a plausible conceptual framework for a highly social species that evolved from group-living primate ancestors. Along the way, studying various approaches to philosophy as well as cognitive science, however, I also came across the understanding that there are certain reasoning processes we engage in that “push away” from looking too closely at ourselves. We need to get over that. We must start “seeing ourselves as primates” and deal with what linearly thinking intellectuals might call “irrational” behavior, since our species’ current trajectory could aptly be described as driven largely by certain sorts of “subconscious” forces, which I suspect are “superorganismic,” group-generated, in origin.

    Were we a “rational” species, there would have been a concerted effort to deal with our human population ever since Paul was laying out the simple math of exponential growth back in the 60s. It’s been pretty amazing to have watched the whole thing and realize that, here we are in 2009, and politicians in the U.S. still frame heated debates within a context of “the wrongness of abortion” rather than one of our specieswide responsibility to turn the tide of overpopulation. Astonishingly, the pronatalists call their position “pro-life,” in blatant disregard of the fact that our “usurpation of the planet” is squashing so many other forms of life right out of existence. Those of us who know better shouldn’t let them get away with that. We need to reframe the debate to direct our collective consciousness toward what we’re doing to the biosphere (and therefore, of course, to ourselves as well). Let’s draw a different picture in the “mind’s eye” of the global village–make everyone look squarely at the elephant in the living room, no more self-deception, no more “bad faith.” Besides, denial and confabulation are getting boring anyway.

  4. Sherry Thompson permalink

    Of course there is a moral hypocracy to espousing “right to life” whilst killing off species and prosecuting wars.

    Of course knowing what to do is only the beginning and that changing human behavior and politics is the tough part.

    We need new ways of thinking, new approaches. So, MAHB is hopeful. But I humbly suggest you not get too tied to the idea of patterning yourselves after “old thinking” institutions and ending up as some mega institution rather than the mega initiative you hope to start.

    Doing things the same way risks the same results: talk and compromise and more talk, maybe papers published. Have your conference, but please use some of the time to consider next steps before creating some U.N. – like structure. (there’s nothing wrong with the ideals of the UN, just the geologic rate of change its structure has demonstrated will no longer do, in my opinion)

    • Paul R. Ehrlich permalink

      Just wanted to agree with Sherry — time is too short and we need a non-violent revolution. How to get it is a huge issue, and I hope Sherry and others will remain involved as the MAHB evolves.

  5. Ron Horgan permalink

    Paul, We need to harness all of our talents to unite mankind in a voluntary culture of sacrifice that will reduce our population to a sustainable level and ensure a magnificent future.
    While this is indeed a huge issue, we have the strength of necessity to drive the cause of survival.
    Thus it must be essentially a simple unambigious political message to the masses.
    Think of Ghandi’s simple act of drying sea water and eating the salt to demonstrate that the colonial salt tax law was invalid. This message could move and unite a largely illiterate India to a peaceful revolution against a world power.
    It’s clear that detailed scientific proof will not be the front line tool for this job.
    In a sense, the extreme danger we face is a strength, in that few people would choose to die like bugs in a petrie dish or to see our culture and civilization destroyed.
    While there will always be dissenting opinion and deeply entrenched economic self interests, ultimately something like” Its the Ecology, stupid” must win majority support.
    Another unrecognized strength is the survival power of altruism. Altruism is a quality which underlies social cohesion and the religious impulse.
    I wont elaborate here but I doubt we will lose the altruists “genes” by self sacrificing behaviour.
    The sterile dispute between science and religion should not divert us from the task at hand.We need the strength of religious conviction to sustain us for the 100 years culture of one child per woman that we must achieve.
    If we accept that the creation of the universe was an act of God then in effect God permeates the universe and we are the groundsmen for his creation. A circular argument obviously but a position that might unite the scientific and religious communities in the common cause of survival.
    I have read that the Chinese one child policy reduced the potential population by 300 million. This was in a culture with a long tradition of social conformity.
    The most important message at this time is the simple slogan that Obama used,
    ” We can do It”
    If we lose heart, then the inevitable future population “adjustment” will be by disasters of truly awful size.
    Surely “we can do it”; with people like you and David Attenborough and all the other great people,how could we possibly lose?
    What a great theme to sell, a competition to save humanity! Computer games to harness the brains of the millions of the young who will both inherit the problems and must find the solutions!
    Best Wishes Ron Horgan

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