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May 2013
MAHB’s Evolving Mission

     As the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere grows, we must continually ask ourselves key questions about our purpose.  The risk is over-extending our resources and failing to make significant impact.  Uniting characteristics of MAHBians are our impatience, our understanding that there is no time to waste, that the speed of environmental degradation is much greater than our response to it, our frustration with the media’s neglect to mention the drivers of degradation—population, overconsumption by the wealthy, and inequality. 
     This spring we invited John Christensen, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur with extensive expertise in organizational development and organizational success factors, to talk with us. With his guidance we began focusing on our core competencies.  The MAHB is an outstanding community of scholars; we are a powerful community of scholar activists.  We are also a global community of NGO activists, and our associates continue to grow from that vast community of enlightened, intelligent concerned citizens.
     Increasingly clear is that a core strength of the MAHB is our ability to provide a public forum at the intersection of the escalating environmental crisis and human well-being.  What is unclear is the best way to insure that this forum is the first step towards action and not an end in itself.  The MAHB will be defined by its impact and not activities.  Your help in thinking through this ‘action/impact’ step is needed.

Contemplating Collapse

by Paul Ehrlich
     It’s been three months since Anne and I summarized our views on this topic for the Royal Society, and we’ve been pleased that it has generated a fair amount of discussion and particularly, invitations to share our take on the future in various forum in the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand.  So far the paper has not elicited any significant attacks, save one “rebuttal” based on climate denial that was rejected by a journal.  But it has also not yet generated some of the discussion we might have hoped for, especially on key issues such as how to buffer the global agricultural system against global change so as to retain a real possibility of at least maintaining today’s nutritional situation and steps that need to be taken to increase human security against vast epidemics (such as that which now may be threatened by the H7N9 “bird flu” virus). 
     Even more important, people are not yet paying any real attention to the severe governance problems that impede working toward solutions of global problems.  One can argue that none of these will be solved without leadership by the United States, and yet it is clear that the U.S. government is “broken.”  Remember, the Senate could not even pass a gun-control bill favored by 90 percent of Americans.  Indeed it appears that the question of whether any form of “democracy” can generate the steps that may be required to ward off collapse, let alone what is increasingly a corporate-owned plutocracy combined with a theocracy.  Americans would be well-advised in this context to revisit the Federalist and anti-Federalist papers describing the debate among those wishing a strong federal government and those more concerned with state’s and individual rights.  Many of the problems facing the 13 colonies under the Articles of Confederation are similar to those now facing a world with nation states tied loosely together by a complex of treaties and with some small UN participation.
     Our hope was that the paper would help bring into public discourse the issues totally ignored in the last Presidential election.  Note that in all the many debates, not one question was asked about climate disruption.  In the U.S. and the rest of the world,   determined groups of citizens should insist that this lack of consideration of really important issues must be changed.  We need to generate a lot of “NRAs for Survival” – citizen’s groups that will fight with great determination for what they want, not like the other NRA for profits for “Murder Incorporated” (the firearms industry), but a secure, sustainable, and enjoyable future for our grandchildren.

Understanding natural hazards with MAHB member Ilan Kelman

by Tara Massad
     One of the major factors that attracts people to the MAHB is the people who already are the MAHB.  Ilan Kelman, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo, is one such person.  Ilan joined the MAHB in 2008 and since then has been active in volunteering his time and expertise; in June he will be representing the MAHB at the 19th International Symposium on Society and Resource Management in Colorado where he will present a coauthored talk describing the MAHB’s dedication to motivating a behavioral change toward sustainability that is founded in scientific understanding.  In his own research, Ilan seeks to “improve the understanding of and contribute to creating and maintaining safer and healthier communities, focused on the field of disaster risk reduction within the context of sustainability”—a field of investigation very much fitting with the MAHB’s own mission. 
     To understand Dr. Kelman’s work it is first important to understand that he defines disasters perhaps a little differently than one might guess.  A volcanic eruption, a flood, or a hurricane is not a natural disaster in Kelman’s lexicon but rather a ‘hazard.’  The disaster comes in when a hazard interacts with a ‘vulnerability,’ which is the human-made aspect of the equation.  Vulnerabilities are societal characteristics and processes that could lead to a hazard becoming a disaster.  As Kelman explains, a hurricane without a city in its path is an ‘ecological phenomenon;’ it only becomes a natural disaster once human well-being, homes, or infrastructure are compromised.  As a global society, we are contributing to the incidences of ‘hazards’ through consumption-based influences on global climate change, and we are also contributing to ‘vulnerabilities’ by the nature of our own growth.
     With this understanding, we can appreciate Dr. Kelman’s concern for the disaster-ready conditions that exist where there is “inadequate water and energy, gender and ethnic discrimination, overexploitation of ecosystems and natural resources, and poverty.”   He says, “The principles of community safety and health, as per standard vulnerability reduction and dealing with disasters, link to everyday challenges which we need to resolve over the long-term, often expressed with phrases such as sustainability and social justice.”  So, addressing natural disasters is about far more than ‘disaster response;’ it’s about disaster prevention through the reduction of social vulnerabilities. 
     History and recent headlines all suggest that reducing the vulnerabilities Kelman sees is not a simple matter.  It’s an issue which requires a substantial change in behavior.  Despite what Kelman describes as “an amazing number of impressive, long-term efforts towards dealing with disasters,” his primary concern for the long-term is that “we are not setting up the mechanisms to deal with the fundamental human and societal vulnerability which causes disasters. At the basic level, root causes of poverty, discrimination, inequality, and environmental destruction continue apace—basically we are not doing too well with sustainability overall. We have the resources, but we are not using them. For example, the world spends over $1.5 trillion dollars a year on the military. That is more than ten times what is spent on development aid.”  He says aid dollars are not the remedy to the problem, however.  What that implies is that while donating is an attractive, simple way to feel like one is ‘part of the solution,’ more substantial, enduring  change is needed.  Kelman’s concern is that “we do not look to ourselves, wherever we live, to identify, tackle, and reduce vulnerability to disasters.  That means that disasters will continue to affect our own homes as well as places far away which are poorer—inhibiting sustainability.”
     This inability to look to ourselves and change our unsustainable habits is a common problem stymieing the development/aid world as well as the environmental movement.  Catch-phrases abound encouraging us to ‘think global, act local,’ but in large part they fail to inspire adequate change.  This issue strikes at the heart of what Kelman wants to understand, and he appreciates the MAHB for trying to confront these issues.  He sees the main hypotheses addressing human behavior as either that humans are biologically hardwired to be over-consumptive or that consumptive behavior is related to cultural social structures.  “One could say we have a biological imperative to breed,” notes Kelman, “but it’s not just about numbers; it’s about consumption, and I don’t see a particular biological imperative for all this consumption.”
     Cross-cultural analyses suggest, for example, that some indigenous groups were even more destructive than we are today, whereas many other peoples lived in harmony with nature.  Contemporarily, Kelman also notes the contrast between consumption in North America and Europe demonstrates cultural specificities in consumptive behavior.  He adds to this data demonstrating the negative correlation between birth rates and women’s education and concludes on what he sees as the optimistic side, “If it’s only biology we’re doomed, but if our behavioral patterns are shaped by  society and culture, it is within our power to change.”
     To learn more about Dr. Kelman’s work on disaster risk reduction on islands, explore his websites, http://www.islandvulnerability.org/ and http://www.manystrongvoices.org/.  He has also contributed to his field through studies on post-disaster shelter and has authored a book exploring disaster diplomacy (http://www.disasterdiplomacy.org) through case studies of disaster prevention, mitigation, emergency response, humanitarian relief, and reconstruction.  Kelman advises that citizens should take responsibility at an individual and a collective level to encourage sustainability, reminding us that our consumption patterns, who we vote for, and how our taxes are spent all combine to impact how a hazard becomes a disaster.

MAHB Foresight Intelligence Workshop

     In January 2013, the MAHB hosted a two day workshop at its Institute of Foresight Intelligence at the Center for the Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford.
     The workshop was structured to be a two day conversation among leaders in the fields of sociology, psychology, economics, political science, history, ecology, business, and environmental health with the goal of making progress towards answering the question, ‘Is Foresight the key to preventing the collapse of civilization?’
     The result of the meeting is a paper, still in progress whose ‘… purpose … is to sharpen an understanding of the challenges humanity faces and of the barriers that must be overcome in meeting them. We also describe some historical and contemporary examples of overcoming barriers, specifically at the individual level. This analysis draws on many disciplines within the social sciences including economics, game theory, social psychology, political science, sociology, and anthropology, as well as human biology and business. Avoiding unacceptable future scenarios is, in our view, possible, but it will require major changes both in human norms and behaviors and in governance and international cooperation.’
     Attending the workshop were Paul Ehrlich, Lee Ross, Marc Feldman, Larry Goulder, Robert Cialdini, Anne Ehrlich, Don Kennedy, Kirk Smith, Ken Arrow, Eugene Rosa, Jennifer Dunne, Richard York, Ian Morris, Craig Murphy, Robert Brulle, Dennis Pirages, Nadia Diamond –Smith, Bob Horn, and Joan Diamond.

Updates from the Nodes

   MAHB member Tom Burns has been very active recently, publishing frequently on social systems and sustainability.  Dr. Burns and fellow MAHB member, Peter Hall, just released a new book entitled, The Meta-power Paradigm: Structuring Social Systems, Institutional Powers, and Global Contexts – Capitalism, State, and Democracy in a Global Context.  Dr. Burns is professor emeritus at Uppsala University in Sweden, and works on theoretical topics including social rule systems, public policy, and sociological game theory.
   MAHB member Dr. Robert Horn is a visiting political science at Stanford University’s Center for the Study of Language and Information.  He crosses boundaries with his work, studying topics including education, policy communication, and information management.  His efforts in the last topic in particular earned him Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM).  Dr. Horn recently reviewed a book that should be of interest to MAHB members, 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years, by Jorgen Randers (Horn RE. 2013. Science 339: 1151).

Institute of Foresight Intelligence

   In late August 2012, the MAHB opened the Institute of Foresight Intelligence at the Center for the Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS), Stanford University
http://www.casbs.org/.
    The purpose of the institute is to facilitate communication between the annual class of international scholars who come to CASBS with the MAHB as we tackle the major inter-connected problems threatening humanity. The MAHB’s goal in its cooperation with CASBS is to work with CASBS’ scholars to develop a theory of why our significant knowledge of the connections between environmental degradation and social problems does not translate to positive action.  It is hoped that once we understand the divide between knowledge and action, the MAHB can lead the way to closing this gap. We call this bridge between understanding and action “foresight intelligence” or being “future smart.”
    As part of the CASBS community, the MAHB has hosted a series of “conversations” between leaders of the schools of thought that address environmental and societal sustainability and the CASBS Fellows. You can read summaries of these monthly conversations below.

Remembering Eugene Rosa, Environmental Sociologist, MAHB leader, and artist

   Eugene A. Rosa, a pioneer in the environmental social sciences died February 21, 2013 at the age of 71. Gene was committed to linking the leading edge of the social sciences to the ecological and earth system sciences. His work was truly interdisciplinary and was influential among scholars spanning the social, ecological and physical sciences. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the MAHB and served on its Coordinating Committee.
 http://mahb.stanford.edu/whats-happening/in-loving-memory-of-eugene-a-rosa/



Introducing new MAHB volunteers

   Erika Gavenus is pursuing her MS through the Global Health and Environment Program at UC Berkeley. She grew up in a fishing town in Alaska and then went on to study International Health as an undergraduate at Georgetown University.  Combining these backgrounds, her work focuses on how shifts in local environments affect fishing communities. 
   Tara Massad is the new volunteer newsletter editor.  She is currently finishing a lectureship in the Program on the Global Environment at the University of Chicago, and she earned her PhD in tropical chemical ecology in 2009.  Her fieldwork focuses on plant-insect interactions in tropical reforestation and forest recovery after fire.  She is excited to contribute to the MAHB’s mission to bring natural and social scientists together to affect positive change.


February Conversation with Kirk R. Smith
  Professor of Global Environmental Health and founder and director of the campus-wide Masters Program in 
Global Health and Environment in the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley
Synopsis 
Climate Change in the Afterlife
A premise behind today's growing concern about climate change is that the future matters. From quite different angles, this premise is also subject to exploration in moral philosophy including by John Rawls, the most prominent philosopher of the 20th century through extension of his concept of the Veil of Ignorance. Currently, Sam Scheffler, one of the most prominent living moral philosophers, is indirectly addressing this question in a series of lectures entitled the Afterlife. In these, he argues that, in spite of evidence that people disregard the future beyond themselves, there is even more powerful evidence that we act in ways showing we regard a continuing human future as more important than even our own personal survival or anything else in the present. Taking inspiration from these philosophers as well from literature (e.g., PD James, Kafka), Dr. Smith explored the critical but largely hidden importance of the population "Afterlife" in current debates about future extreme climate change scenarios. 


March Conversation with Theda Skocpol
  Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology at Harvard University
Synopsis
The politics of the fight against global warming
Dr. Skocpol discussed her recent paper, ‘
Naming the Problem: What It Will Take to Counter Extremism and Engage Americans in the Fight against Global Warming.’ 
Dr. Skocpol originally presented her work at the Harvard symposium, The Politics of America’s Fight Against Global Warming, in February. Her thoughtful work concludes by implicating all US citizens as participants on the road to a green economy. ‘Americans who want a new, sustainable economy cannot leave any part of the effort, including the drive for new emissions legislation, entirely in the hands of honchos striking bargains in back rooms. Citizens must mobilize and many organizations must work together in a sustained democratic movement to build a green economy,’ she writes. The paper and the symposium have created a great deal of discussion on
the web and in the press. You can read a summary of this material here.
 

April Conversation with Jane Lubchenco
   Mimi and Peter Haas Distinguished Visitor in Public Service, Stanford University
Synopsis
Reflections from 4 years communicating science at NOAA
Dr. Jane Lubchenco was the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from 2009-2013.  Nominated by President Obama in December 2008 as part of his ‘Science Dream Team,’ she is a marine ecologist and environmental scientist by training, with expertise in oceans, climate change, and interactions between the environment and human well-being. Under her leadership, NOAA focused on restoring fisheries to sustainability and profitability, restoring oceans and coasts to a healthy state, protecting marine mammals and endangered species, ensuring continuity of the Nation’s weather and other environmental data gathering satellites, developing a Weather-Ready Nation, and promoting climate science and delivering climate information and services to inform understanding and adaptation.  She also strengthened scientific research and integrity at NOAA and delivered the highest quality science, services, and stewardship possible.

May Conversation with Clive Hamilton
   Australian public intellectual and Professor of Public Ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CAPPE) and the Vice-Chancellor's Chair in Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University
Synopsis
An introduction to Earthmasters: The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering
Dr. Hamilton discussed his new book, Earthmasters: The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering.  The book goes to the heart of the unfolding reality of the twenty-first century:  international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have all failed, and before the end of the century Earth is projected to be warmer than it has been for 15 million years. The question, ‘can the crisis be avoided?’ has been superseded by a more frightening one, ‘what can be done to prevent the devastation of the living world?’ The disturbing answer, writes Dr. Hamilton, is to seize control of the very climate of the Earth itself.


Stay current with the MAHB

The MAHB website provides an excellent resource for following what is happening at the intersection of social and natural sciences.  Through the website, MAHB members enjoy access to the MAHB forum, library, and a broadening network of members. 
 
The MAHB forum provides a space for members to post ideas and stimulate conversation about pertinent topics.  The forum is being used to discuss a range of topics from How to inspire young people to respond to climate change to Protecting the Global Fresh Water Cycle.  To follow these topics or post your own, register as a member and access the MAHB forum through the homepage.
 
From satirical videos to accredited journal articles, the MAHB library provides a consolidated database for resources linked to the MAHB mission.  With a constantly growing body of resources available, the MAHB library is an excellent way to stay up to date on recent news and publications.  Members are encouraged to post comments to the resources, providing another space to share ideas and prompt conversation. The MAHB library can also be accessed through the homepage. 
 
In addition to these existing resources we are excited to be launching two new features to provide a more dynamic interaction between the MAHB and its members.  A new blog space is being added, which will be propagated by Dr. Paul Ehrlich and rotating guest authors.  We hope you all have the chance to follow the postings and add your comments.
 
We are also adding a community pinboard to work in conjunction with our new campaign to gather ideas for action from the MAHB members.  You can view what others are posting and add your own ideas through a pinboard format on the MAHB webpage.  Please stay tuned for the announcement of the blog and action campaign launches.  We look forward to your contributions to these new features!
Coordinating Committee
 
Tom Burns, Liaison European Nodes; Professor Emeritus, Uppsala University, Sweden; Woods Institute, Stanford University
 
Thomas Dietz, Professor Sociology,  Environmental Science and Policy and Animal Studies; Assistant VP for Environmental Research at Michigan State University
 
Paul R. Ehrlich, Bing Professor of Population Studies and President, Center for Conservation Biology, Stanford University
 
Larry Goulder, Professor Shuzo Nishihara Professor of Environmental and Resource Economics, Stanford University
   
Donald Kennedy, Bing Professor of Environmental Sciences; President, emeritus, Stanford University; Senior Fellow, Woods Institute
  
Harold “Hal” Mooney, Paul S. Achilles Professor of Environmental Biology and FSI Senior Fellow Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University
 
Richard York, Professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies, Director of Graduate Studies for Sociology, Department of Sociology, University of Oregon
 
Ilan Kelman, Center for International -Climate and Environmental Research—CICERO: Oslo, Norway
 
Joan M. Diamond, ex-officio, Secretariat; Chief Operating Officer, The Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability
 
Secretariat
 
Joan Diamond, Executive Director
 
Erika Gavenus, Web-Master
MsPH Candidate, UC Berkeley
 
Tara Massad, Newsletter editor
Henry Chandler Cowles Lecturer, Program on the Global Environment, University of Chicago

Acknowledgements:
 
Peter and Helen Bing
Larry Condon
Wren Wirth
Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment
The Mertz Gilmore Foundation
The Winslow Foundation