My Takeaways from Planet Under Pressure

By Nisha Pillai, Conference Moderator

Looking back on Planet under Pressure I can’t help feeling a touch dazed. What an extraordinary event to have moderated at, with the next Earth Summit, Rio +20 looming on the horizon. The sheer scale of the conference was mind-boggling, as three thousand people – scientists, NGOs, policy makers, a sprinkling of business folk and about a hundred journalists – descended on London’s ExCeL Centre from the four corners of the world. Yet somehow the level of debate was mostly high, the boiled-down, ten minute-long presentations were the most memorable I’ve encountered at many a conference, and the electronic questions, despite my initial misgivings, were a triumph…

A short digression on the use of social media and electronic questions, if I may. With time of the essence at such a vast event, the Planet under Pressure organisers decided early on to abandon conventional questions from the floor – and rely entirely on electronic questions sent in via Twitter, or text/sms, or directly through our live webstreaming page. And it worked! Reams of questions poured in: well over five hundred over the four day event. That, plus the ability to scan the questions on my ipad, gave me a far better chance to connect the audience to our plenary speakers and panellists than if I had simply called on random contributions from the floor. It also meant that a further three thousand or so people joining the conference via the live webstream could also participate by sending in their comments remotely. Best of all was: “no mic hogging from the floor”, as one tweet so memorably put it.

Other personal highlights: Sandra Diaz’s beautiful slides illustrating her presentation on biodiversity in peril; Lord Giddens of LSE’s humane wisdom; Bina Agarwal from Delhi University’s plea for small scale projects involving women; Richard Wilkinson’s persuasive evidence on how equality, not growth, is what delivers wellbeing; Oran Young and Maria Ivanona, who did the seemingly impossible and made governance interesting, even imperative. But the biggest surprise was Anne Glover, chief scientific advisor to the European Commission – was there ever such a blunt, outspoken, kick ass advisor as she?

Those are some of my personal takeaways from the crazy jamboree that was Planet Under Pressure. Please take a moment to add your own comments below – how was it for you?

PS: And I made a whole family of new friends too. From the IGBP: Wendy Broadgate, Owen Gaffney, Reed Evans, Hilarie Cutler, and my ace Twitter guru, Andrew Merrie. Also, Priya Shyamsunder, Felix Dodds and Nigel Cameron, not to mention the incomparable duo, Lidia Brito and Mark Stafford-Smith, plus always smiling, ever so helpful, John Ingram.

My Takeaways from Planet Under Pressure was published 3 April 2012 by Nisha Pillai at Nisha Pillai’s blog site with the author’s permission.

About these ads

2 responses to “My Takeaways from Planet Under Pressure

  1. Our deafening silence about what is happening and why it is happening with regard to the unbridled growth of the human population on our watch serves to give consent to preternatural pseudoscience of economists and demographers that is broadcast in the mainstream media without objection. By not speaking truth to the powerful, according to the best available science and ‘lights’ we possess, we become accomplices to their ubiquitous abuses.

    Extant scientific research regarding the population dynamics of Homo sapiens has to be openly acknowledged, objectively examined and honestly reported. Population scientists and ecologists have been shown to be as vulnerable to denial of apparently unforeseen and unfortunately unwelcome scientific evidence as well as to capitulation to the entreaties of all who choose favorable unscientific research to be spread by the mass media without meaningful objection from many too many members of the scientific community. It is a deliberate breach of responsibility to science and humanity for population scientists and ecologists not to object to the spreading of false knowledge and thereby, to fail in the performance of the fundamental duty of disclosing what could somehow be real and true about Homo sapiens and the workings of the existential world we inhabit, according to the best available scientific research.

    Let us recognize the willful denial of the ecological science of human population dynamics. Where are the population scientists and ecologists who are ready, willing and able to attest to or refute empirical evidence that human population dynamics is essentially similar to, not different from, the population dynamics of other species; that human population numbers appear as a function of food supply; that more food for human consumption equals more people, less available food to consume equals less people and no food equals no people? No exceptions! Are these scientists blind, deaf and electively mute in the face of new scientific knowledge. Most reprehensibly, their refusal to accept responsibilities and perform duties as scientists has made it possible for pseudoscientists to fill the mainstream media with false knowledge about the way the world we inhabit works as well as about the placement of the human species within the natural order of living things.

    Is it not science, and science alone, that most accurately allows us to confirm our perceptions as objective correlates of reality and truth? Without science, thought leaders and power brokers in cultures everywhere are free to widely transmit attractive ideas at will, regardless of the extent to which the ideas bear a meaningful relationship to what could be real and true. For example, a preternatural factoid like “food must be produced in order to meet the needs of a growing population” is deceitfully given credence as a scientific idea although it reflects the opposite of the actual relationship between food supply and human numbers. Findings from science indicate population numbers are the dependent variable and food the independent variable, just like the population dynamics of other species. By increasing the food supply, we are in fact growing the human population, are we not?

    The idea that human exceptionalism applies to the population dynamics of Homo sapiens, that human population dynamics is different from (not essentially similar to) the population dynamics of other species, is a pseudoscientific factoid, bereft of an adequate foundation in science. Overwhelming scientific research regarding the human population indicates that human population numbers appear as a function of food supply. For many this scientific idea is on the one hand irrefutable and on the other hand unbelievable. So completely are many too many professionals enthralled by the notion of human exceptionalism. Exploding human numbers in the past 200 years are the natural result of the dramatically increasing production and distribution capabilities of food for human consumption that occurred with the onset of the Industrial Revolution and later on during the Green Revolution.

    Please consider that demographers and economists are not scientists. They are presenting false knowledge that is appealing because it presents what all of us wish to believe about the way the world in which we live works as well as about the exceptional nature of the human species. Human beings are mistakenly believed to be outside (not within) the natural order of living things. The false knowledge regarding human species’ exceptionalism with regard to its population dynamics is determined de facto by whatsoever is politically convenient, economically expedient, socially desirable, religiously acceptable and culturally syntonic. Such de facto determinations of what is real about human nature and the existential world are based primarily upon ideology, not science.

    Refuse to be duped by clever, absurdly enriched vendors of words and highly educated sycophants. These ‘talking heads’ duplicitously claim they are scientists and then promulgate preternatural ideas and pseudoscientific theories that are passed off as well-established results of scientific research without objection from scientists.

    Let us examine the false knowledge from conventional, Neoclassical Cornucopian Economics and the Demographic Transition Theory. These theoretical perspectives are not connected to the foundation of science. The speciousness of what is presented by demographers and economists and then broadcast ubiquitously by the mainstream media is in need of correction by scientists. Ideas of endless resources availability in a finite world and an indestructible ecology that is in fact frangible are fabricated. Automatic population stabilization; a benign end to population growth soon; a glorious world by 2050 when the entire human community will reap the benefits you and I enjoy now because everyone in the human community will have entered the fourth and last stage of the demographic transition, all of these notions are fanciful and ideologically-driven. Such false knowledge as we find in the pseudoscientific disciplines of economics and demography needs to be eschewed. The best available scientific evidence must to be our guide because science stands alone as the best method by far for apprehending what could be real and true. Science needs to be categorically distinguished from all that is not science. Then, perhaps, we will be able to see more clearly how the existential world we inhabit actually works and more accurately perceive the placement of Homo sapiens within the natural order of all living things.

    The imprimatur of science has been not so surreptitiously usurped by pseudoscientific disciplines in which professional research is primarily underwritten by wealthy power brokers and corporations. Economic and demographic research is designed and the findings presented so as to comport with the transparent self interests of the rich and powerful. Where are the scientists who will speak out to correct such widespread misunderstanding and reckless wrongdoing? The conscious silence of scientists serves to give consent to ubiquitous unethical professional behavior that cannot be tolerated any longer because of the confusion it engenders among those in the human community who are rightly seeking an intellectually honest understanding of the global predicament we face and a path to a sustainable future that can only be derived from the best available scientific research. The disciplines of demography and economics are prime examples of what science is not. Perhaps the findings of demographic and economics research will soon be widely recognized and consensually validated as preternatural pseudoscience.

    “Speak out as if you were a million voices. It is silence that kills the world.” — St. Catherine of Siena, 1347-1380

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s