Where to start? USA? Europe? Small-scale? Large-scale?

Where to start? USA? Europe? Small-scale? Large-scale?

Home Forums MAHB Members Forum Where to start? USA? Europe? Small-scale? Large-scale?

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    • #2501

      My current assumption is that civil society plays a key role in generating social change. But where to start? If we aim to engage with civil society, should we do this locally, regionally, nationally? If so, at which scale?

      Is the USA the best place to start? Or is it (close to) a lost cause? Are people, for example, in some European nations more likely to be receptive to a big societal debate on sustainability — what it is, and what it will involve?

      Background on why I believe civil society is important can be found here:

      Human Behavior and Sustainability

    • #2587

      Two tenets that I find useful in influencing and facilitating change are:
      “Go with the goers” and “Fight the battles you can win”

      So, with a view to continuous improvement:
      Who/where are today’s motivated people? USA/EU?
      Where can battles be won today? Are they small or large scale?

      Does that mean we will move fast enough? No, not in the short term. But we will learn with every loss and win, and be more ready for the bigger battles that follow.

      Peter Follett

    • #2589

      Thanks Peter! So I guess you’re suggesting to be pragmatic, while not losing sight of the big picture, and the long-term challenges. The latter I think can be a problem at times: I get frustrated if we all pat ourselves on the back because “we’re doing so well” — when in fact we’re not, in the big picture. But obviously, becoming frustrated won’t help either.

      One message I take from your “fight the battles you can win” is that those will probably be different ones for different people, depending on where we are active, and in which network.

      I guess I’d be interested in the likely roles of Europe versus North America. It just strikes me that the ‘readiness’ might be higher in Europe … but then again, readiness for real change (as opposed to lip-service) may be just as low.



    • #2591


      My thoughts on things . . .

      I agree that Euro readiness is ahead of USA, Canada and my home, Australia. I have always attributed that to the environmental and social effects of acid rain in the 60’s and 70’s, which I infer affected The Continent much more than other places. This, it seems to me, put (especially northern) Europe on a ‘green’ path ahead of other countries and made them more open to accepting the greenhouse science and the limits to growth. This fits with the generally more collective oriented cultures in Europe. This means that large scale social change is more likely to be effective.

      Meanwhile the ‘new world’, with a more individual-achievement/growth oriented culture, has been busy defending its beliefs about individual rights, and thus blinded to ‘inconvenient truths’. This makes large scale change more likely to draw out strong resistance, and so local or regional action will be more likely in the short term.

      Notwithstanding European progress, I agree that there is much lip-service there too – and all around the world. All developed nations have grown accustomed to high-energy lifestyles. Even Norway’s sovereign wealth fund is built on a mountain of CO2. Its a confusing predicament, reminding me of (I think) Einstein’s comment: “The problems we face cannot be solved with the same level of thinking that created them”.

      I welcome your thoughts on these observations.



      • This reply was modified 8 years, 3 months ago by Peter Follett.
    • #2595

      Hi Peter — mostly, I agree. One comment that impressed me in the past comes from Bob Brulle, co-author of our paper on human behavior and sustainability. He argued that it was futile to try to get everyone on board (aim for a “collective” solution) — instead, if we manage to mobilise a significant fraction of the population, this would be much more effective. What if, let’s say, one third of people wanted significant change, and are willing to demand it publically? In other words, we don’t need everyone on board, and it’s fine to have some who disagree. This logic made a lot of sense to me.

      Nevertheless, you are absolutely right that cultures are very different between Europe and North America — which may well mean that social change per se is a different beast in North America, where the individual good is routinely placed above the common good (even overtly).

      And as to thinking outside the box: absolutely! I think ultimately it’s our value and belief systems we need to question, not just our technologies and policies.



    • #2763

      I used to dream of taking over the World Bank and really creating change in the World! But after living in Europe, South America, the United States and South East Asia I started to realise how incredibly different the World is and how if we want our efforts to have lasting effects we need to think global but act local. Creating social change is very context specific and its about utilising the local knowledge and value system (rather than trying impose something from the outside). Of course a top-down approach is required in many cases, but its the simultaneously, iterative and adaptive nature of working with a bottom-up approach as well that I believe you will be the most effective.

    • #2765

      Well said Sarah

      I believe that Mohandas Gandhi said something like “Be the change you want to see in the world”. I infer what you’re saying is “First, be the change that you want to see in your locality” Set the right example, then influence, influence influence.

      • This reply was modified 8 years, 2 months ago by Peter Follett.
    • #2783
      Abhik Gupta

      While the EU or the USA is likely to provide the major nucleus for any thrust, it may become weak and ineffective if the developing world – and that’s a sizable chunk – remains passive like a deadweight, or worse, exerts a retro-pull. We are already the victims of this chaotic cross-pulling in our efforts to meet the challenge of climate change. Learning from ecosystems, the real controls are diffuse, and consequently any change also ought to begin from multiple centers in order to achieve a smoother and lasting transition. And this way, it could be a local in global and global in local kind of approach that may reduce possible friction and contradictions that could slow down the process of transformation. I am not sure whether I have made myself clear. Perhaps we could have more dialogue.

    • #11077

      Indeed, we are very different cultures. US and many many European cultural differences. A great suggestion for a way forward brought Ross Jackson in his Gaia presentation where he sees possibility for change at national level some countries more likely to form a Gaia coalition, e.g. those who are not part of WTO, EU etc. since those are huge inhibitors of sustainability.

      Listen to suggestions of Ross here, his solutions come close to the end of the presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6q8nL4A5b7I&feature=youtu.be

      I believe in other countries like US, France, Spain, Italy, local change makers are key! Thus while I would agree with Ross and insist on forming a national coalition of Gaia states, I would see grassroots and local/regional movements in the more resistant cultures pivotal.

    • #11145
      John Taves

      Your question is a good one. I’ve tried to get population scientists, like Ehrlich, to change but this hasn’t gone anywhere. Population scientists, like the Ehrlichs and the contributors to MAHB, consistently talk about consumption and population. They never mention how many children one can have.

      They never mention that the world wide average number of children is causing child mortality. The global average number of children, causes the horrible child mortality rates we see in third world countries.

      They never mention that because we do not know how to keep our numbers alive without consuming resources faster than they renew, we must average less than 2.

      They never teach that if you have zero or one, you are bringing the population down. If you have 2, you are attempting to keep it stable. If you have more than 2, you are attempting to grow our numbers.

      So, in answer to your question. I don’t think it matters where you start, if you are going to trot out the same useless messaging that population scientists are feeding us.

      I am trying to get some population experts to comprehend a set of facts before worrying about the general public, and I don’t think it matters where they are located.

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