A Crisis Of Maladaptive Human Behaviours

The paper “WORLD SCIENTISTS’ WARNING: THE BEHAVIOURAL CRISIS DRIVING ECOLOGICAL OVERSHOOT”, first published online in September 2023, made it into the more accessible press in this Guardian article

The paper [“The Warning”] supports many of the points elsewhere on this site. The major difference between my approach and that of The Warning is the audience.  I aim for the community of Environmental Organizations and Environmental Activists. The Warning is primarily a call for “increased interdisciplinary collaboration between the social and behavioural science theorists and practitioners, advised by scientists working on limits to growth and planetary boundaries.”

As a result the language is academic, rather than my simplistic attempts.  I think both approaches are necessary if we are to make the changes required.  

I will try to summarize and pick some direct quotes.  However, I do suggest you read the original paper (it is not long!) and also look at the follow-on comments from the lead authors

We are consuming resources and dumping waste at a rate far above the earth’s capacity – creating an “Ecological Overshoot”.  Using up resources at a rate almost twice that of the earth’s [i.e. 1biosphere] capacity is bad enough, but if environmental justice were to prevail and all people attained the consumption model of the developed nations that ratio would quickly climb to impossible levels.  

Ecological overshoot in number of Earths required. Data from Global Footprint Network – June 2023 [On a personal note; my children were born around the break-even point on this graph – it’s stunning to see such massive change in such a short time]

 “…the evidence indicates that anthropogenic ecological overshoot stems from a crisis of maladaptive human behaviours. While the behaviours generating overshoot were once adaptive for H. sapiens, they have been distorted and extended to the point where they now threaten the fabric of complex life on Earth. Simply, we are trapped in a system built to encourage growth and appetites that will end us”.

The Warning analyses “… three drivers of the behavioural crisis in depth: economic growth; marketing; and pronatalism. These three drivers directly impact the three ‘levers’ of overshoot: consumption, waste and population.

[I insert my Biosphere Degradation diagram to show how closely it matches the three levers above – Consumption (Depletion of Resources), Waste (Waste and Pollution) and Population.]

“… the behaviours of overshoot are now actively promoted and exacerbated by social, economic and political norms largely through the intentional, almost completely unimpeded exploitation of human psychological predispositions and biases”.

“…we use the term ‘behavioural crisis’ specifically to mean the consequences of the innate suite of human behaviours that were once adaptive in early hominid evolution, but have now been exploited to serve the global industrial economy”. 

“This exploitation has accumulated financial capital – sometimes to absurd levels – for investors and shareholders, and generated manufactured capital (‘human-made mass’) that now exceeds the biomass of all living things on Earth”.

“Significantly manipulated by the marketing industry…these behaviours have now brought humanity to the point where their sheer scale – through our numbers, appetites and technologies – is driving ecological overshoot and threatening the fabric of complex life on earth”.

“These behaviours are related to our previously highly adaptive, but now self-defeating, impulses to:

  • seek pleasure and avoid pain;
  • acquire, amass and defend resources from competitors;
  • display dominance, status or sex appeal through size, beauty, physicality, aggression and/or ornamentation
  • procrastinate rather than act whenever action does not have an immediate survival benefit particularly for ourselves, close relatives and our home territories.

“In a global economy [part of the entity I label T-Mo elsewhere] that strives to create and meet burgeoning demand, rather than fairly and judiciously apportioning supply, these behaviours are collectively highly maladaptive, even suicidal for humanity”.

We have ” …three paths ahead:

  • We can choose to continue using behavioural manipulation to deepen our dilemma,
  • We can choose to ignore it and leave it to chance, or
  • We can use an opportunity that almost no other species has had and consciously steer our collective behaviours to conform to the natural laws that bind all life on Earth”.

“This raises ethical questions, for example, who is worthy of wielding such power?” [Which is also a major consideration for the imagined counter-force to T-Mo, which I have labeled B-Hu elsewhere]

The Warning urgently calls …”for an emergency, concerted, multidisciplinary effort to…catalyse rapid global adoption of new consumption, reproduction and waste norms congruent with the survival of complex life on Earth.

[Yes, and I think the formation of a fellowship / federation of Environmental Organizations is one step in that effort]

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