In this podcast, Joan Diamond, the Deputy Director of the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability, talks about the importance of bringing together diverse voices to find new solutions for global crises.
Diamond is the Executive Director of the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and Biosphere, an esteemed Stanford University initiative that deals with the gap between our current knowledge of global crises and major problems, and the collective societal failure to address them. Diamond states that we are quite cognizant of the fact that many systems are not working as is, from major environmental issues such as water and drought, to soil degradation, fragile financial operations, and much more.
But many people, globally, are working to shift the course from one of near-certain collapse to sustainability. At the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability, Deputy Director Diamond works to gather public intellectuals, and concerned citizens together to meet the world’s greatest challenges and assist with the growing problems of overpopulation and overconsumption, to find solutions for them, as well as economic growth.
And as the Deputy Director states, unless societies work together, and truly engage, then we are on a troubled path, but people can be empowered and when they come together solutions can often be found.
Joan Diamond: Well, it’s very nice to be here, Richard. Thank you.
Richard Jacobs: Yeah. So what is the MAHB and what’s the premise of the organization?
Joan Diamond: The premise of the organization is essentially that there are tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people around the world who are concerned about the human predicament, who know that the world’s not working and whether we’re talking about environmental issues, such as water, such as droughts, such as degradation of our soils. There are quite a few of them that we can name or fragile financial systems and overshoot with the credit and debt issues or the dependence on growth. People know that it’s not working and want to make, first of all, sense out of why isn’t it working? And with that understanding, they want to know what they can do to lift the trajectory of realization from that of collapse to one of sustainability and equity.
Richard Jacobs: Well, when you say people sense that there’s something wrong, I mean, that can mean many things. So what do you think is the greatest sense of the problem?
Joan Diamond: That’s an important question. And particularly for the MAHB because one of our goals is to empower people more than direct them. Rather than telling them climate change is the biggest issue or peak oil and energy is the biggest issue. Or dependence on consumption is the biggest issue. They’re all big issues. And sometimes I say the good news is that there’s an issue for everyone, but it might be different for different people. So, people understand in the US that the wealthiest country in the world shouldn’t have the inequity in health care. Shouldn’t have the, I don’t know what the current number is, but tens of thousands of homeless people. Shouldn’t have the problems with education and whether it’s a debt to pay for education or a simple quality of education. The housing crisis and the toxins in our food, in our air. I’m in Northern California now and we can’t go outside today because the air is so extremely hazardous from the fires north of us. And so very few people and I seldom meet someone, republican, democrat, libertarian, socialist who doesn’t feel that the world isn’t working as it should be and to a large extent as it once did. So, those are the concerns and they try to make sense of it. And we try to help people make sense of it and the MAHB. And we do that two ways, maybe three ways. One way is I’ll start with the most traditional is we have a very rich library of articles and books on the topic. A second way is that we provide articles and insights, blogs from some of the experts in the world. But more importantly is that we have blogs from man, the woman on the street from ordinary citizens who’ve done a tremendous amount of reading and thinking about these issues. Some are young, some are actually students and many are senior citizens and everything in between, Housewives in Finland. People who’ve had great troubles in their lives in the Midwest of the United States. Individuals who are involved in some of these issues through their work in Indonesia. Interesting people from all over the world who want to write a blog, share their ideas and very reaching for conversation cause then there’s a form. And the other thing is that members and I use the word members loosely, members in our community often come to us with ideas or things that they’re doing and we try to empower them. There are three members who write novels, some of what are doing, quite decently on Amazon about the existential threats as science fiction novels. And very interesting people, a school teacher, a very sophisticated management consultant in the UK now and third novel from a journalist and some take very dystopian views with an environmental focus. One focuses more on the population. One focuses more on virtue. These are their novels, but they want to help readers thinking sometimes ideas for the work they’re doing. We have artists who engage on the website who express these ideas through their art and are seeking a community. There is no limit on the sorts of projects. A very sophisticated journalist in Australia who’s very interesting in creating indices of a project for looking at how precarious modern civilization is. So people come to us, they have this idea and to the extent that we can help them achieve their goal, it’s just reading their book. Maybe it’s helping them think through, publish it or self-publish it. There are all different needs and we do what we can through our network to help people who have a good rich understanding that can reach more people and discuss or exploring these topics
Richard Jacobs: Well, what have you found are some helpful focuses and some things that you don’t address because you can’t address everything otherwise it will be very effective, so how has that shaped the organization?
Joan Diamond: In terms of what issues there are out there?
Richard Jacobs: Yeah, what issues and how you go about them and you have to have some kind of focus I would guess.
Joan Diamond: Okay. Our focus is what many call the human predicament, some global problem at teak others that, you know, collapse of civilization. Our focus is that unless we as a society engage in many ways that are the path that we’re on. And what we try to honor is that there are many ways to shift that trajectory. Some people are very comfortable joining some of the great organizations out there that are working on specific issues. Other people are more individualistic but want to know more. So again, our goal is to empower individuals in groups, have them find other groups, communities within the MAHB as opposed to telling them we only focus on this or we focus primarily on that. We want to be inclusive. We want people to feel that you don’t have to be elite, you don’t have to be an academic too. If you’ve done your homework, express your view and concern about these issues. And I think we have, and we’ve been told very sophisticated blogs, but most of them are written by the best in our civil society, our friends and neighbors who are thoughtful, who read, who are more concerned about the future than some particular political party or angle or argument. So we want to be inclusive. So that’s a hard question to answer. That feels fuzzy. It feels like we’re without direction. But I think if you go to our website, you get a feel for all these different tentacles reaching in to the issues and the problems that threaten the quality of our life and the ability, most importantly, the ability to provide a healthy and sustainable, a real future for our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and that’s the goal. We have a concept we haven’t fully developed yet called foresight intelligence, which is just as we know we have emotional intelligence, we have analytic intelligence, there’s musical intelligence, there’s physical intelligence. These have been sort of well documented in the literature. We posit that there’s a something called foresight intelligence that some people naturally can deal with the future and the implications of actions in the future and the need to shift actions towards a desirable future. And those are the people we need to help find their voice be louder in society, feel empowered to talk with their neighbors, their friends, their colleagues about these issues.
Richard Jacobs: Do you guys have meet-ups? How do you conduct business? How do the different members of the MAHB interact?
Joan Diamond: Well there’s a forum for discussion. We’ve had some webinars. We have a webinar series planned. We’re trying to get the funding just to support the staff time for working groups because a number of our members have expressed an interest in putting together working groups and book clubs and ways for people to in a structured situation interact. So, we’re also open to tools that members suggest as a way their ideas far exceed our capacity. And that’s something that we need to deal with by increasing our capacity to support the voices, the people, the diversity in our society and in our world.
Richard Jacobs: Cool. What about live meet-ups or webinars or things like that? Are there particular experts you call in and they talk about certain topics to inform the members of it?
Joan Diamond: Well we have done webinars and we have two series sketched out. One that focuses on population and that’s because there’s a really high demand for that among some of our members. And one is more general focusing on issues specific to collapse. What does collapse mean? What does collapse look like? How do the different factors interact in a collapsed scenario? One of our partners is a group in Europe called the Geneva global initiative and it focuses on systemic collapse. What does it mean for the institutions that are the framework for a society to collapse? And we present some of their work through another partner, which is the Kranz foresight analysis nexus, which deals just specifically with collapse. So trying to flesh out those issues into a webinar series. And again, it’s something that our members very much want and have asked for.
Richard Jacobs: So there are any particular initiatives that you’re working on for the coming year? Any big events or gatherings or topics?
Joan Diamond: We are involved in three workshops. One local to the San Francisco area and one international that still is in its early stages that deal with population and the role of population and driving us towards collapse. The population for many years has been a taboo subject. It’s an extremely complex subject. It’s an extremely divisive topic. Even though it’s easy to get to talk to just about anyone and have them say there are too many people. It’s very hard for the conversation to go much further. OK, what do we do about that? And so, these, both the webinars series, the local meeting, and the international meeting, we’ll try to see if we can create a productive conversation about overpopulation and its role in overshoot. And I personally think that the people who feel it’s a taboo topic are older and that the younger generation, whether we millennials or people who didn’t live through the difficult times for the population conversation in the eighties and nineties, they want conversations about population. They want strategies, they want to be able to understand and explore these issues and what can be done. So, I’d say that our members will see a lot about the population in the coming year and where there are opportunities for gatherings, we will try to put together a gathering other than those that are organized at this point.
Richard Jacobs: Well hopefully if things go well, you have a member of a population crisis.
Joan Diamond: That’s right. That’s a nice one to have. I think even before that, I’d like to put an over funding crisis. But that’s normal for nonprofits in this world where there are so many people doing good things on specific issues and where the place that two things happen, one, we try to make space for the people who can bring multiple issues to the table. And then we try to through this empowerment, encourage them to use their voice for change. And we’re quite unusual in that respect.
Richard Jacobs: So what is the criteria for membership, if there is any?
Joan Diamond: I’m going to say there is none and there is none. However, in terms of publishing work, putting blogs, there’s a culture of civility, respect and of inclusiveness. So some people are not very happy when I pushed back and say, we’re not going to make fun or put down people who share our concern about the future, but they don’t share it your way. So we don’t call people idiots. We don’t call people fools. We don’t use strong demeaning language. These are other good guys who are fighting for the same thing. So there’s a degree of, not just a degree, it’s a solid line in terms of how we interact, how we listen to one another and how we try and how we respect the different views on the topics. Because these are people we’re talking about a group of people who share the concern, but they have different paths or different approaches. So that is a condition if you’re not interested if you feel so desperate about the issues that you need to call someone an idiot, we’re not the place for you. And that’s okay.
Richard Jacobs: Well, very good. So how do people find out about MAHB? And look in membership and get involved?
Joan Diamond: mahb.stanford.edu and I think it’s all pretty clear there. We have a fabulous group of volunteers from around the world who are updating the website, have ideas for getting involved and work on it. So I think that we’re increasing, friendly and have a fresher face that we have miles to go, but then the whole issue has miles to go.
Richard Jacobs: Well very good. Thank you for coming on the podcast. I appreciate it.
Joan Diamond: Okay, well thank you, Richard, and thank you for what you’re doing for furthering the conversation and providing opportunities for people.
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