Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Can We Save The World?

What: An interdisciplinary seminar/workshop/discussion on this question, to result in an edited book with the same title. Where interdisciplinary science and advocacy meets politics and global governance. “Saving the world” is of course just a shorthand for the implementation of real world solutions to large, complicated, "world threatening" challenges with tipping points (e.g. climate, biodiversity, fisheries, ocean acidification, land degradation) and international aspects. What are the problems we need to overcome to enable humanity to act? Is it possible to get humanity to take necessary and sufficient action in time? Where the deadline is perhaps uncertain? If not, what institutions are needed? If the conclusion is that we cannot move humanity to necessary and sufficient action in time (with existing institutions), that too is a powerful and important message. What institutions, with what powers and mandates, would be needed to get the required steps implemented? What processes need to be embarked upon? What can we say about our ability to solve such problems?

Why: In our busy and fragmented lives, no one, and no group, has the time and resources to take this broad view, or to take a deep look for real solutions—and by “solution” we mean a set of necessary and sufficient steps that are actually implemented; not only the changes needed, but how we can get them implemented. Nobody has brought adequate time, focus and resources to bear on this overarching question. How do we get humanity to actually take the necessary and adequate steps? Our political system is not used to tackling problems with potentially irreversible damage, the kinds of problems where it may (suddenly) be too late. A seminar-series/book may serve as a precursor to the creation of a Think Tank, “The Solutions Center”, to work on real-world, implemented solutions to major challenges of our times. We can work on finding the actual solutions to concrete problems later, but first, like mathematicians exploring a difficult proof, let’s explore whether a solution is possible or not, and perhaps what the requisite preconditions may be. We may be able to identify classes of problems that are solvable, and problems that are not. The actual problem at hand may not be that important (as long as it is a system with tipping points, and international dimensions, as these are the interesting and important problems). One might even work on hypothetical, unspecified, problems—to imagine issues without scientific uncertainty, for instance. Can we solve a problem when we know we have to?

Format: Key participants would lead the discussion on each topic, for a chapter that they would take the responsibility for getting completed. Not long presentations, but cross-disciplinary discussions/work shops. People would start out prepared before each session by having read a paper or a draft/presentation. To get important people together from far and wide, at least some of the “seminar series” would have to be more intensive, like over a long weekend at a retreat, where several “chapters” are addressed. What can we get professionals with disparate backgrounds to agree on? Some public lectures/debates might be included to engage a wider audience and stakeholders, but the actual work/discussion would be in closed sessions.

Who: Participants would represent complimentary disciplines and experiences; people picked for their expertise, skills and experiences. People with experience of governance issues, international negotiations, lobbying politicians and agencies; scientists with experience of communicating with decision makers and stakeholders and pitching solutions, working for advocacy groups, etc. Key disciplines include political science, governance and politics, economics, natural sciences where tipping points are prevalent, game theory, psychology/sociology, practical skills like adaptive management, institution building, advocacy and mobilization, etc.—generally in combination with applied, real-world engagement in problem-solving, public policy and engaging popular opinion.

Topics might include: ・“why are we not acting to save the world?” what makes a good international agreement?  the challenges of our current democratic system in dealing with questions of this nature  the description of an improved democratic model and institutions that would be up to challenges of this nature  can we know what steps are necessary and sufficient?  can we get governance institutions to act in the face of the kinds of uncertainty and dissent that will always be present?  are real solutions compatible with our current economic and monetary systems?  interacting problems: e.g. can we fix the biodiversity crisis without fixing the climate crisis or the population crisis?  can a weak democracy fix itself?  what can we learn by asking such questions? 

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