SYMP 6-8 - Interdisciplinary research platforms to support evidence-based policy making in coupled human-natural systems: Lessons from the MAHB

Tuesday, August 7, 2012: 10:35 AM
Portland Blrm 253, Oregon Convention Center
Paul R. Ehrlich, Department of Biology, Stanford University

It has become increasingly clear that simply giving the public accurate scientific information will not change the public’s behavior with respect to the current environmental emergency.  This is clearly illustrated by the efficacy of the well-funded campaign of climate denial, supported by the fossil-fuel industry and anti-regulation ideologues.  We are now more than five years into an attempt to help organize a near-total revision of human behavior, starting by bringing social scientists and scholars in the humanities full scale into an interdisciplinary effort to avoid a collapse of civilization.  The original Millennium Assessment of Human Behavior has changed its name to the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB --, and has expanded its goals.  While there is great unease in the academic community about the environmental and cultural aspects of the human predicament, it has proven difficult to decide corporately what action should be taken, and to get individuals to take action.


Despite this, progress has been slow but hopeful.  That social and natural scientists can work well together was already attested by the great strides made in ecological economics in the last couple of decades. In psychology, sociology, political science, history, ethics, the arts and other disciplines small groups of scholars had already been trying to deal with the overriding issues facing civilization, and many of them have been eager to join the MAHB.  So far the MAHB has accomplished a variety of things pulling diverse groups together.  These range from bringing social scientists to an ESA meeting to explain how ecologists can best influence human behavior to setting up a network of nodes to tackle a wide variety of multidisciplinary tasks such as creating a vision of a future at 2050 on the course to sustainability. MAHB seems to be on its way to its goal of creating a platform to help global civil society deal with the degradation of our life-support systems, going beyond research to change behavior. Its main focus has been on the behavioral interconnections among the greatest threats to human well-being: population growth, overconsumption by the rich, economic inequity, and social injustice, leading to failure of ecosystem services, hunger, epidemics, the spread of toxic chemicals, and loss of security to crime, terrorism and wars, especially resource wars (veiled or not), to name a few.