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Global Survival: The Challenge and its Implications For Thinking and Acting, edited by Ervin Laszlo and Peter Seidel

Select Books, 2006, hardcover, 290 pages

Where to Buy

Global Survival proposes a new academic discipline to be called ”Survival Research.” It was originally proposed by the eminent political scientist John H. Herz in 1988. Herz suggested: “Survival research must rise above the specific concerns, interests, and even expertise, of any particular discipline, such as political science. It must be interdisciplinary, requiring the cooperation of any and all the social sciences with other scientific disciplines, such as agronomists, climatologists, physicists, medical sciences, and so forth. … It must mobilize experts in the various fields so as to make them recognize the superdisciplinary concerns of global survival to which priority must be given over and above the more parochial concerns of this or that national, economic, religious or similar grouping.“

By combining the knowedge and work of a broad range of academic expertise, Survival Research would focus on relationships between the human mind, society, and the earth’s biosphere. We must learn how our brains, technology, governments, businesses, beliefs, ethical systems, and our evolutionary development interact. Instead of looking ever more inward, this new discipline would look outward—searching for connections, gaps, and unasked questions. By examining the big picture, Survival Research can suggest practical ways we can bridge the limits of our minds, society, organizations, and governments, to circumvent the obstacles they present and overcome properties inherent in them that are causing us harm or preventing us from taking effective action.

What Others Say

“Finally we have a book that focuses on the need for communications among disciplines in assessing the human prospect. It is one thing to see the various threats to our future, it is quite another to recognize that many of those threats are interacting in a way that makes the threat to the whole far greater than the sum of the parts. Five stars to Peter Seidel, Ervin Laszlo, and John Herz for this trail-blazing work on the need for Survival Research!”

Lester Brown, President, Earth Policy Institute and author of Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization

“The biggest challenge of the 21st century is finding ways how all people can have flourishing lives within the capacity of one planet Earth. Today, if everybody lived like western urbanites, it would take 4 planets to support us all. Therefore, we urgently need survival research, to develop the visions and possibilities, to understand the barriers, to develop economies that can support us all, using fewer resources. This book is a tremendously needed milestone. I urge anybody interested in a workable future to pick up this inspiring invitation to survival research. Read it, pass it on, and help shape this new agenda.”

Mathis Wachernagel, Executive Dir. of Global Footprint Network and co creator of term “ecological footprint”

“Those working to protect our environment or promote peace have scored many victories; however overall, our situation is growing worse. This can only end in disaster. GLOBAL SURVIVAL shows us how we can move beyond our present impasse. It unlocks a door and opens up a new way for seeing the world and dealing with it. This is an important book, a must read for scientists of all types, government officials, and concerned citizens.”

Donald Mann, President, Negative Population Growth

Contents

FOREWORD, by Ervin Laszlo, founder and President of The Club of Budapest.

INTRODUCTION: A SENSIBLE WAY TO THINK AND ACT, Peter Seidel.

1. SURVIVAL RESEARCH: A NEW DISCIPLINE NEEDED NOW , Peter Seidel.

2. ON HUMAN SURVIVAL: REFLECTIONS ON SURVIVAL RESEARCH AND SURVIVAL POLICIES , John H. Herz, Prof. Emeritus, Political Science, City College and Graduate School, The City College of New York.

3. WORLD POPULATION, FOOD, NATURAL RESOURCES, AND SURVIVAL , David Pimentel, Prof. of Ecology and Agricultural Science at Cornell University, & Marcia Pimentel, Senior Lecturer in the Division of Nutritional Sciences, College of Human Ecology, Cornell University.

4. SURVIVAL FROM THE BRAIN’S PERSPECTIVE , Walter Lowen, Prof. Emeritus Systems Science, and Applied Science, SUNY at Birmingham.

5. BIOLOGY IS DESTINY ONLY IF WE IGNORE IT , Jerome H. Barkow, Sociocultural anthropologist, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

6. BELIEF AND SURVIVAL , James E. Alcock, Professor of Psychology at York University in Toronto.

7. THE SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY OF SUSTAINABILITY , David G. Myers, Prof. of Psychology, Hope College, Holland, Michigan

8. THE NEED FOR A PLANETARY ETHIC , Ervin Laszlo, and President of The Club of Budapest.

9. RATIONAL SUSTAINABILITY , Joseph A. Tainter, Director, Cultural Heritage Research Project, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

10. SEEING THE WHOLE PICTURE , Richard B. Norgaard, Professor of Energy and Resources and Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of California, Berkeley, and Paul Baer, graduate student.

11. WHAT CAN THE SYSTEMS COMMUNITY CONTRIBUTE TO ENSURE THE SURVIVAL OF CIVILIZATION? Kenneth E. F. Watt, Professor Emeritus, Evolution and Ecology, University of California, Davis.

12. ECONOMICS WEAK AND STRONG: ECOLOGICAL ECONOMICS AND HUMAN SURVIVAL , Andy Bahn, graduate student, and John Gowdy, Prof. of Economics, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

13. HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES ON GLOBAL ECOLOGY , J. R. McNeill , Prof. of History in the Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University.

14. GOVERNANCE BARRIERS TO SUSTAINABILITY , Richard D. Lamm, Director of the Institute for Public Policy Studies, University of Denver.

15. SUSTAINABILITY AND GOVERNMENTAL FORESIGHT , Lindsey Grant, Department of State Coordinator for the Global 2000 Report to the President.

16. EDUCATING WORLD LEADERS , Christopher Williams, Centre for International Education and Research, University of Birmingham.

. 17. A PRIMER OF CIVILIZATION , James Lovelock, independent scientist, originator of Gaia Theory, with Peter Seidel.

From the INTRODUCTION to Global Survival: A SENSIBLE WAY TO THINK AND ACT

Today we are threatened in many ways—by war with weapons of mass destruction, environmental degradation, and a wide variety of social, political, and economic problems. We know the dangers, yet we allow them to worsen. Continuing on this path can only result in vast misery and possibly even the extinction of our species. Simply put, we are winning some of the battles, but losing the war. We must and can do better. We must do all we can to correct the se problems, not just lessen their symptoms. We need to continue to learn more about them, discover the best ways to deal with them, learn why we so often fail to take adequate steps to protect our future, and then find the most effective ways to resolve them.

A new way for viewing the world and dealing with it would help. While we know much about many of the problems we face, such as rampant population growth, soil depletion, the contamination of aquifers, and our growing vulnerability to various kinds of social breakdown and terrorism, we know too little about how these interact with each other and the possible cumulative consequences of those interactions. We must not only examine all of the known dangers and their possible interactions, but must look for those we are not yet aware of, and encourage investigation of them.

We need to focus on relationships between the human mind, society, and the earth’s biosphere. We must learn how our brains, technology, governments, businesses, beliefs, ethical systems, and our evolutionary development interact. Instead of looking ever more inward, we must look outward—searching for connections, gaps, and unasked questions. By examining the big picture, we can not only devise ways to deal with physical problems, but also practical ways we can bridge the limits of our minds, society, organizations, and governments, to circumvent the obstacles they present and overcome properties inherent in them that are causing us harm or preventing us from taking effective action.

We must reach out both horizontally and vertically. Horizontally we must look for connections between a broad variety of disciplines and ways of thinking. We must connect what we already know, and ask for study in areas where we know little. When considering the future prospects of world food production, we must consider not only population growth, but the future outlook for energy, agricultural chemicals, water, soils, climate change, ecology, political systems and their stability, disease, transportation, business, ethics, psychology, etc. Vertically, we must examine problems and mechanisms from the abstract right down to where things get done, and where needed, develop ways to do better.

Some years ago I read John Herz’s unpublished paper proposing Survival Research. (Survival, as used here, covers the range from survival in a partly damaged environment to the actual extinction of our species.) Survival Research would do those things. I was impressed but occupied by other things at the time. I was disturbed that a presentation he had made in 1988 was never followed up on nor that the paper I had read had never been published. I was also surprised that what seemed so logical and so much needed had not blossomed out in a formal manner elsewhere. (Since the special issue of World Futures was published, I discovered work along this line. See : http://sustsci.aaas.org/.Thinking that something should be done, I made copies of Herz’s paper and with a letter sent them to a number of individuals I thought should be interested. I received a reply from Ervin Laszlo, the founder of systems philosophy and former president of the International Society for Systems Sciences. He responded by inviting me to guest edit an issue of World Futures, of which he is editor. I could not resist. It grew to be a double issue, and now in addition, the book you are reading.

The chapters in this book suggest the breadth that must be covered. They touch only some of the areas needing investigation. What they do is demonstrate the range of factors that influence sustainability and the quality of life. There are no articles on ecology, business, communications, or public education for example. Many multinational corporations, whose only legal responsibility is to their stockholders, are larger, richer, and more powerful than many national governments. These businesses, with staffs of public relations experts and access to open global markets, interact with the environment, governments, societies, and the lives of each one of us—often to our detriment. We know a lot of things that have nothing to do with survival, and are ignorant of many things that are essential for it. This affects how we treat our environment. What children learn at school molds their view of the world and influences how they interact with it throughout their life.

The authors of the papers presented here have addressed their subjects as they see them relating to sustainability and the quality of life. Some writers may present similar thoughts from different viewpoints, and some ideas may conflict. That is unimportant. Our purpose here is to generate interest in and encourage the development of what Herz calls Survival Research, and to demonstrate the need to reach out in all directions. The mere existence of this discipline, whether it is called Survival Research or Sustainability Science, would draw attention to the extent of the problems we face and the need for investigation along these lines.

The papers that follow present a rewritten, updated version of John Herz’s original paper on Survival Research based on his work developing the idea in the 1980s, some thoughts of my own, and the thinking of scholars from a variety of disciplines. David and Marcia Pimentel examine the interactions between population, natural resources, and life-support systems. Walter Lowen explains how the structure of the brain affects how we deal with the world around us. Jerome Barkow reveals how our evolutionary past governs the way we think today. James Alcock describes our need to believe and how our beliefs influence our behavior—and our planet. David Myers shows us that when one has the basic physical and psychological necessities of life then more wealth and consumption do little to increase happiness. Ervin Laszlo discusses the need for a planetary ethic and proposes criteria for establishing one. Joseph Tainter discusses a framework for sustainability and suggests a way to achieve it. Richard B. Norgaard and Paul Baer recommend ways to integrate knowledge that is now divided between poorly communicating disciplines, much to our detriment. Kenneth Watt notes powerful forces that combine to restrict the spread of a systems approach to survival and suggests solutions. Andy Bahn and John Gowdy demonstrate how neoclassical economics harms Earth’s life-support system and call for a more inclusive view of reality. J.R. McNeill describes how a better understanding of history can provide the perspective we need to recognize our current predicament. Richard Lamm asks whether democracy can resolve the new set of survival problems we face and presents ways to do better. Christopher Williams discusses how leaders can acquire the necessary attributes to address the threats that face us. Lindsey Grant examines foresight in government. James Lovelock proposes that we produce an easily accessible civilization survival manual for future generations.

The material in this volume originally appeared as Volume 59, numbers 3-4, April-June 2003 issue of World Futures. The authors were here given the opportunity to update and revise where they felt it was necessary. Recent events show that the message presented then is even more needed today.