Democratic crisis resolution?

Democratic crisis resolution?

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    • #2223

      Can the population-resource-environment crisis be resolved in any way that could be considered “democratic”?

      Question posed by: Professor Paul R Ehrlich, Stanford University

    • #2391

      I think yes — though perhaps not easily. The good thing about democracies is that when lots of people want change, change happens. Germany’s conservative government just decided to give up on nuclear energy — something that for years, only left wing parties wanted. Now enough people in the population wanted this change … and somehow it became politically possible. What seemed impossible just months before Fukushima (even weeks) suddenly was reality. In this case it took Fukushima (in all its tragedy) to mobilise the public. But whatever the trigger: once the public is mobilised, things can change fast in democracies, it seems.

      The conclusion: if people want change, great things are possible. So far, too few people want change. If this can change — and arguably the USA won’t be the origin of this change in a major way … — then there is a chance for democracies to show us the way.

      Different opinions anyone?

    • #2417
      James Duggan

      I will have to say no. The only way I can even imagine change on that grand of a scale if it some how became economically inviable to stop exploiting the natural world, and for people to stop thinking that technology trumps all. The American Christian doctrine is being taught in such a way that a large percentage of the U.S. believes that God put this planet together for human exploitation.

      You might think that I’m going a little over the top here, so I’ll give you a brief background of myself. I’m a 46 y/o sophomore at Kansas State University majoring in Conservation Biology with a secondary in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. I know I’m way behind on the education curve, it took me a few years to realize that without a formal education I would never be able to have my arguments taken serious by any Tom, Dick, or Harry with a degree in Business or what not. I grew up in Kansas and believe I have a pretty good handle on how conservatives think and feel. I spend time every day discussing environmental issues, or overhearing conversations on how it is all just some grand left wing conspiracy to have the govt. control our lives.That is what these students parents, preachers and even High School teachers are telling them. Luckily, in most cases the faculty here is more environmentally conscience than the student body, we do have our exceptions though.

      In conclusion I feel it will take a decade long catastrophe in the grain belt. The general public just can’t wrap there mind around any type of biodiversity argument, which is one of my main arguments.

      I would also like to thank Professor Ehrlich for the talk he gave at K-state today 3/7/12.

    • #2481

      Paul Gilding just gave a presentation at TED in Long Beach, Ca. In his book, “The Great Disruption” he writes that the only thing that will end our collective denial is a crisis of unimaginable proportion but then, once that denial barrier is breached, mankind will rise to the occasion as we did in confronting the Axis powers in WWII.

      Further, the main wake up call for the sleepwalkers that James Duggan so compassionately describes above, will be unraveling economies. That is about the only thing that those with dysfunctional awareness will notice…

      This unraveling of economies is happening right now but in Paul’s estimation, it may take 7 to 8 years for all denial by the right wing, Christian, fundamentalists crowd to end as the situation deteriorates to unprecedented damage to the planet’s habitability. Because we have acted so late, some of the damage is now irreparable and the suffering will be immense.

    • #2485


      I think your question really depends on what we mean by democratic. If we mean the libertarian ‘right’ to do whatever we like as individuals then the answer is an emphatic no.

      If we mean the right to vote every 3 or 4 years in a politics that is corrupted by powerful vested interests then I think the answer is no.

      On the other hand, I think the only way the crisis can be resolved is democratically (and I am taking a global rather than US or Australian perspective when I say this).

      I think the majority of the world’s people don’t want the kind of dog eat dog, debt enslavement, or impoverishment of the majority kind of world created by the vested interests (the 1%).

      I think governments (as the agents of the people) are the only institution that can resolve the crisis but currently the wrong kind of people occupy the vehicles of government around the world. Government has been hijacked from the people by vested interests (including political parties) who have little interest in governance or democracy (i.e. they prefer to let the market and the powerful rule).

      Unless we the people can re-engage in political life, and communities can decide on the candidates (servant leaders) they wish to stand for election to represent them, and they reclaim the vehicle of governance then I fear all is lost.

      I am currently working on an idea I call Planetary Dialogues. The idea is to invite every person on Earth to engage in a regular ongoing conversation about how the necessity of ecological survival provides humanity with the opportunity to co-create a planetary civilisation truly worthy of our humanity – a truly civilized and fulfilling world that is ecologically sustainable, socially cohesive and just. A world where material needs are met equitably as a right for all and enables the full realisation of our humanity.

      Why dialogue? Dialogue is a special form of group conversation that seeks to reveal common ground – what we agree about rather than what we disagree about. The dialogue literature describes dialogue as being a transformational process. It is a means of creating a thread of common purpose running through the human family. So it would appear an ongoing global process of Planetary Dialogues has the potential to unify humanity in our diversity and be the agency for global transformation.

      Furthermore, I believe that by utilising social media and celebrities (people to whom very large numbers of people relate to in some way) it does not take a huge organisation to make something like this go viral. Indeed it is conceivable that a single person might be able to make something like this happen.

      Paul, I would value your thoughts.

    • #2487

      Hello Richard Sanders, I love your idea of Planetary Dialogues. You might want to take a look at the blog that followed Paul Gilding’s talk at the recent TED event. The dialogue is infiltrated by the denialists and I hypothesize that some of them are paid to do this by the fossil fuel industry. By injecting confusion, doubt, false claims, ideology and negative affect, these sleepwalkers ruin the impact of the dialogue. There goal is basically the opposite of what you would intend with the Planetary Dialogues.

      I think you will need some way to filter out this kind of intrusive and destructive commentary so that Planetary Dialogues can thrive and perform its function. I have labeled this kind of aware group, Ark of Awareness…

      I planted some seeds at to indicate the qualities of an awakened being capable of effectively engaging in the dialogue but any dialogue related to the site has gone on behind the scenes since I did not want to open it up to attacks by the right wing evangelical, fundamentalists and fossil fuel crowd.

    • #2497
      Jim Kemeny

      Democracy is probably the single most important problem at the moment, with the new laissez-faire it seems to involve a turn to political control by concentrated power in the hands of political, economic and lobby interests, with limited inputs from ordinary people. It is not just the USA, it extends to other continents and federations – China, Russia, the European Union.

      The last of these is particularly interesting as I fear we are watching the creation of a new authoritarian superstate, the EU, in West and Central Europe.

      Are there enough associates who might be interested in an EU Node?

    • #2499

      Frankly — I’m not entirely sure what our chances are making any difference is we question, seriously, democracy, at this point. Germany (part of the EU) just decided to quite nuclear power, because civil society demanded such a change (admittedly triggered by the disaster in Japan – but that’s a different issue).

      With these types of debate there’s always a question regarding what we should take as given. Should we take economic growth as given? I think not. Should we take democracy as given? I think yes. Such choices are subjective.

      If we do take democracy as given, then everything points to civil society as being critically important: once civil society demands changes, change does happen. See our paper posted on the MAHB site on this:

      Human Behavior and Sustainability

    • #2801
      Abhik Gupta

      Clement Attlee had said that “Democracy means government by discussion, but it is only effective if you can stop people talking”! I think it is the many paradoxes of democracy that sometimes lead us to doubt it and lose faith in its ability to deliver. Democracy’s ideals are kept alive by the civil society of a given place or country and I agree with Joern Fischer that if the civil society really wants change, then change does take place. But a lot depends on the priority attached to a given problem by the civil society. If we look at the local or regional level in different parts of the world, which rung of the priority ladder does issues like human-biosphere relationship or natural resource conservation and sustainable management occupy? The demand has to be generated at the base to travel upwards, but for that to happen, the capacity-building exercise has to percolate from the top to ultimately make the whole process of awareness generation thrive from mutual and cyclic feedback and dialogues. And denialists or not, planetary dialogue could be an effective way to enable us to keep on moving forward.

    • #2803
      Iuval Clejan

      Dialogue can be effective in promoting better understanding between people, but it isn’t very effective in changing one’s behavior, or in solving a technical problem for which one is not knowledgeable to solve.

      The people whose consumption habits would change with dialogue have mostly changed already. Information travels fast nowadays. But consumption is only half of the equation. And dialogue will do almost nothing when it comes to changing production in a way that would make an environmental, social and psychological impact. You could ban nuclear power, but the industrial machine will keep cranking carbon into the atmosphere, promoting war, and harming people’s psychological health. Even if people wanted to change the mode of production, most of them have no idea how. What is needed are experts who can figure this out. An analogy is to try to build a car, a factory or an atom bomb with dialogue. It takes a team of experts to do it.

      Once a sustainable village is demonstrated, it would take a little bit of dialogue, but more observation for people to want to live that way. It is not something to be done at the nation-state level (for many reasons that I can elaborate on if anyone is interested).

    • #2807
      Abhik Gupta

      What kind of a model village or community are you thinking of and on what scale and where? Don’t you think that there would be substantial local variations? And how do you ensure replication on a larger scale?

    • #2809
      Iuval Clejan

      I am thinking of the kind of village where people can produce their basic needs. Please see the links in the open letter to Paul Ehrlich on this forum for more details. The scale is experimental, to be determined based on achieving the goal of self-sufficiency, but based on guesses it would be a few hundred at least. It would of course depend sensitively on local conditions, but there might also be some technologies that could be more universal and hence transferable. The main thing that would be transferable would be the meme that a solution is NOT to be legislated and global, but figured out through experimentation and local, and the meme that reestablishing the direct feedback between production and consumption leads to more responsible consumption, and a plethora of other benefits. Replication would be ensured by selection for fitness, as in other evolutionary processes.

    • #4127
      Stefan Thiesen

      This is, of course, a dangerous question. Another question: how democratic is the system we now have? When did populations ever vote on whether or not they want fractional reserve banking? Democracy suffers from a similar flaw as neoclassical economic theory: it only works properly if it can be assumed that all actors are fully informed – and aware – of all facts and implications. This is, quite simply, never the case. The difficulty begins with defining what we mean by “democratic”. Are America or the EU countries democratic nations? There are many arguments that suggests they are not – or only superficially so. Perhaps MORE democracy actually could do the trick, as currently the true power seems to be in the hands of corporate interest groups, especially the finance sector. We often here that this or that law is int the interest of the “economy”, which suggests we live in an “Econocracy” – or perhaps a Timocracy. “It’s the economy, stupid.” I am not sure if true democracy can work. We are in a situation where we basically have to unify the long term interests of an entire planet of 7 billion people.  It is safe to say that this is historically unprecedentd. And nobody ever worked out how to even make an individual country happy in the long run…  I really don’t know. But we gotta try. Perhaps the net can help. Or a new form of representative democracy. I seem to recall that Arthur C. Clarke once suggested parliaments comprised of randomly selected members from the general public. Why not?

    • #4315

           I’m a Junior at Chico Senior High School, located in Chico, Ca. Within this last year, I’ve had an epiphany.
           This epiphany I had is what you would think had come from a sci-fi novel, or some other mediated information bank. I’m sure that humanity can be cured, and cure its perspective environment. 
           This may have to be invented in case of global emergency, or before hand. 
      Let me ask you to ponder these possible realities.

      Colonial Bio mechatronic Consciousness

      Using technology that may resemble the current ECoG system of “mind controlled prosthetics”, being tested as we speak, to communicate brainwaves between subjects. To have two people with a single co-dominant conscience, of course, would be meager compared to exponential connections shared. This possibility would truly amplify and express, “Knowledge is Power”. Out of this small introduction to this future technology, you can easily see how any small group of people can instantly create an undivided collection of thoughts, experience, and emotion to complete any task. the only downside would be the training to learn how to use this technology; like introducing a computer to an infant.
      Think of how this would impact military, political parties, world leaders, the education system, the church… actually, all this would become irrelevant. If all the collective information known throughout the schooling systems are on the internet, then why are students laboring in classrooms 6-14 hours a day? After that, there is still homework. Students are kept busy with tasks that require physical input to turn in tangible evidence to be analyzed by an educator; why not just know as much as the educator in the first place? this technology would cure that pain. I hear this all the time, ”Why can’t I just download this into my brain?”. When this becomes a reality downloading would become snail mail.
      Acquiring information is but a fraction of what this technology would possess. What would be the deal breaker is how much information any little human info node could put out at any time.
      Take time to research the ECoG system. Imagine being able to connect with someone that was on their last breath of life and experience their personal perspective death; blending their visualizations into your mind. You would instantaneously have those memories readily available for other people to share. The question of, “What happens when you die?”, will be answered from this first daring discovery.
      Just start out with “What if…” fill in the blanks, and all would be answered.

    • #4383
      Jim Rough

      Yes! … the population-resource-environment crisis can be resolved in a “democratic” way. In fact, the solution is to raise the level of democracy from the current partisan, representative adversarial process to an inclusive, creative, win/win process. We have developed a suggested, partly proven strategy for how to do this. We call the strategy “How to save the world … fast and easy”.

    • #4385

      No.  It can’t be resolved democratically.    How can you expect the world’s population to get round the table and discuss in a civilised way the best solution to over population and its associated ills.?     
      Just consider the great population hubs of Asia  ,  Africa,  South America.  They all want lots of children.  And in the middle East how many times do you read in the newspapers about some poor peasant with nine children who cant afford to feed his family?      They may not consume the refrigerators and cars  and all the trappings of modern life but they sure make up for it in numbers.  Look at the land that is being swallowed whole in Africa ,  Asia ,  the Amazon.    And mass migration of huge numbers of people all over the world.
      There is a momentum to population growth that is like an express train.
      There are numerous reasons people have such huge families.  Ignorance in many cases.   How can we in the west imagine the world is going to civilised about this ?  I think most people in the world still don’t even recognise a problem.   They are too busy going about their lives and trying to survive.      
      MAHB is a good start but is largely ineffectual.     We are a small group .    It seems to me to be an academic  discussion.     I’ve tried to tell people about these things but they couldn’t care less.   
      And just because Japan or Germany want to give up on nuclear energy because of a predictable disaster shows nothing   .  They are a small percentage of the world.

    • #4421
      Richard Grossman

      In about 1820 a British labor activist, Francis Place, wrote a rebuttal to Malthus. He wrote that human population did not have to be limited by lack of food (starvation), as Malthus predicted. Place offered an alternative–voluntary family planning for poor people. He wrote handbills with the specifics; this was perhaps the first time that contraceptive knowledge had been made available to working class people.
      I am a follower of Place’s philosophy (although I just learned about Place). I think that, if given access to modern family planning methods, people will voluntarily limit their family size.
      The CHOICE project in Saint Louis shows that women in the USA will chose highly reliable contraception, if given the correct information and cost is not a factor. Already the TFR in the USA is 1.9, significantly lower than the level needed to eventually reach zero population growth.
      Internationally it is estimated that 222 million women would like to limit their fertility voluntarily, but do not have access to the methods. A study by the Futures Group suggests that we would reach zero population growth if these women had access to family planning services.
      As Melinda Gates has said, we need to expand family planning services internationally–and especially in the USA.
      Whether voluntary (democratic) family planning can act fast enough to resolve the population-resource-environment crisis remains to be seen. I am happy to be in the company of other people who are willing to try here at MAHB. Dr. Ehrlich rang the alarm decades ago; I know that he is discouraged about our progress on the subject, but he can be happy that he has a lot of allies now.
      References available by writing me at:

    • #4685

      Hello, Thank you for your interesting post and comments.
      My response to this question is that in my experience, we (hear meaning humans) can consider just about anything as just about anything. Our capacity to justify, rename, re-brand and conceptually frame and re-frame seems limited only by our socially legitimised & funded imagination.
      I think that whether a ‘population-resource-environment crisis [can] be resolved in any way that could be considered democratic’, is like asking whether lending a neighbour a cup of sugar could be considered ‘economic’.
      I think that implicit in Prof. Erlich’s question is whether can we solve the issues we face in such a manner as to maintain our current agreed realities and practices?…as variable as they may be?My answer to that question is no.
      I think that each person that has replied to this question has raised good points. Each of which combined would provide a reasonable response to the question. However, we seem to be facing issues that are global and paradigmatic in nature and in ‘nature’. Observations of corrections of imbalances in ‘natural systems’ usually involve death and quite a bit of it. 
      While ever we exclude death from our considerations and design, I don’t think we can reasonably be considered to be approaching anything wholistically (intended spelling).
      I think there was some truth in what the Joker said in the Batman movie ‘Dark Knight’ – “People are only as good as society allows them to be”.
      Insisting on rational design of a world that includes the irrational is tantamount to denial. That it prevails on a global scale is a bit of a problem. In light of this, I think that folk like Paul Gilding, Jorgan Randers & Donella Meadows are at least willing to include social and professional taboos and irrationalities.
      The human body is 60-70% water. We usually don’t change unless our lives are theatened and even then we tend to follow the path of least resistance…depending on the cycle of the moon that is.
      ‘The Denial of Death’ by Enerst Becker (1973, Simon & Schuster, NY) is an interesting read.
      Democracy will fly out the window in a crisis/emergency/war/coo. We have only one thing to rely on – Human Virtue. A big ask on a planet where even democracy is a flexible adaptation of vested interest. 
      Oh! And I forgot luck. We’ll need plenty of that. 🙂
      For an admittedly tongue-in-cheek post on Sustainable Development, including a very simplistic illustrative business case scenario comparison, I’ve popped an old blog-post (from Jan 2013) up on my Google+ site – here
      Stephen G

      • This reply was modified 11 years, 1 month ago by Stephen Glanville. Reason: Just popped in some formatting and fixed a couple of typos
    • #4805
      Ezra Niesen

      I’m curious if anyone noticed that this discussion, like most political discussions, has focused on political plans that Europeans thought of.  I notice this a lot because I have stone age hunter-gathering in my family’s oral history.  If you limit yourself to talking about political ideas that people have thought of since written history began, you’re not looking at the whole picture.  
      Every possible original center of writing had monarchies for political systems when writing began.  Every political “theory” since then has been an adaptation of monarchy.    Even democracy is still a struggle over effective decision making power.  
      A successful tribe is made up of intelligent, well educated, hard working, energetic, charismatic, strong-minded, benevolent leaders, supported by well educated, hard working tribal members.   That combination of nine items turns individuals each working for their own self-interest into a cohesive political force.  People who understand their situation well work hard for goals that benefit their group, and other people who understand their situation well see that they can join in and help those people succeed. Get rid of any one of those things and your tribal political unit breaks down, because the people’s combined efforts no longer get directed toward the overall benefit of the group.
      All of our instincts came from the stone age.  Even today if you try to organize a community group to work together toward some goal, if you don’t have hard working, well-informed group members and intelligent, well informed, hard working, energetic, charismatic, strong-minded, benevolent leaders it won’t work.  
      I think that meaning of “democratic” that this discussion began with is whether or not the environmental crisis can be solved in a way that keeps peace and social equality as high priorities.  But there’s a lot more to that than voting.  Political systems survive instead of self destructing because people trust each other enough to work well together.

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