News & Media Opinion Pieces Climate Change and the Millennium Assessment of Human Behaviour – Paul Ehrlich

Climate Change and the Millennium Assessment of Human Behaviour – Paul Ehrlich

Climate Change and the Millennium Assessment of Human Behaviour – Paul Ehrlich

Many recent articles by scientists involved in climate change research display increasing anxiety. Climate change and its impacts are happening faster than the models predicted and government action remains lost in interminable debate. As Paul Ehrlich explains in the article below there is more than enough scientific evidence for us to act; the inherent problem relates to human behaviour. Many of us have embraced these thoughts and indeed put them on paper but Paul Ehrlich has decided to do something about it with the MAHB initiative. An optimistic view would be that behaviour could be influenced successfully by the same methods as used detrimentally by the smart advertisers of food and goods. By contrast many scientists are now pessimistic that we must wait for increasing calamity before political machines will act.

Now read about Paul Ehlich’s initiative

Dear Friends,

There is growing consensus among environmental scientists that the scholarly community has adequately detailed how to deal with the major issues of the human predicament caused by our success as a species – climate disruption, loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, toxification of the planet, the deterioration of the epidemiological environment, the potential impacts of nuclear war, racism, sexism, economic inequity, and on and on. I and my colleagues believe humanity must take rapid steps to ameliorate them. But, in essence, nothing serious is being done – as exemplified by the “much talk and no action” on climate change. The central problem is clearly not a need for more natural science (although in many areas it would be very helpful) but rather a need for better understanding of human behaviors and how they can be altered to direct humanity toward a sustainable society before it is to late.

That’s why a group of natural scientists, social scientists, and scholars from the humanities decided to inaugurate a Millennium Assessment of Human Behavior (MAHB — pronounced “mob”). It was so named to emphasize that it is human behavior, toward one another and toward the planet that sustains all of us, that requires rapid modification. The idea is that the MAHB might become a basic mechanism to expose society to the full range of population-environment-resource-ethics-equity-power issues, and to sponsor broad global discussion involving the greatest possible diversity of people. It would, I hope, serve as a major tool for promoting conscious cultural evolution.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) serves as a partial model for the MAHB. The IPCC involves hundreds of scientists from nearly every nation representing diverse disciplines, from atmospheric physics, chemistry, and ecology to economics and other social sciences. A major role of the IPCC is to sort out the scientific validity of claims and counterclaims of competing interests. It also puts a strong emphasis on finding equitable solutions. The sessions are open and transparent, and representatives of various governments, interested industries, and environmental organizations also participate as observers. An endeavor that might serve as another partial model for the MAHB is the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which was developed by environmental and social scientists to assess the condition of Earth’s life-support systems. Hundreds of ecologists and earth scientists all over the world gathered information to feed into a major report that was released in 2005. It included not only an assessment of the state of the world’s ecosystems but also projections of alternative future trends and consideration of related policy choices. What both lacked however, were broad open forums where people from different societies and with different viewpoints could discuss what humanity is and should be all about.

Plans are for the MAHB to be kicked off with a world megaconference, more of less like the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The purpose of the first MAHB conference, which we hope to hold in 2011, would be to initiate a continuing process; the MAHB will be created as a semi-permanent institution. The MAHB is now at a very preliminary stage – although interest seems to be building rapidly. Our nascent web site has just been opened to the public. If you are interested in learning more or being involved go to:
As you will see it is a work in progress, but there you will find our preliminary mission statement, sign up to get the newsletter when it is produced (click on “for more information”), read some of MAHB-pertinent articles (they will change over time), and/or leave a comment on a blog. And that means you can help us shape the entire program from the foundation up. Join us in trying to get humanity to do what is obviously required but thought to be impractical. Become a MAHB Pollyanna, tilt at windmills, spread the word, help develop a view of a decent future, and give humanity a little push toward a sustainable society. We’re not even asking you to help us get money (yet!).

A global consensus on the most crucial behavioral issues is unlikely to emerge promptly from the MAHB–or any other international forum. But, since the MAHB is envisioned as an ongoing,large-scale global effort, not all the goals would need to be reached immediately. And if the scientific diagnosis of humanity’s collision with the natural world is accurate (and Anne and I believe it is), what alternative is there to trying?

Best regards,