Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wicked Problems & Solutions

Is it time for the lifeboats? Are there any lifeboats?

I'm Alex. Welcome to Radio Ecoshock.

We face "wicked problems" like climate change, peak oil, or an economy depending on ... call it "make-believe" or call it "fraud". Science cannot provide the answers. Social change is required - and that calls on all of us. It requires all of our minds and passions.

We'll start with a snapshot of the wicked problems we face, with one of my favorite synthesizers, Dr. Thomas Homer-Dixon. He's the author of "The Ingenuity Gap" and the "The Upside of Down". Homer-Dixon points out a failure of group consciousness, of our mind as a species.

In the second half hour, we'll hear from one of the leaders in "wicked science" or "post-normal science" - Dr. Jerome Ravetz. He says science must expand beyhond the university into common mind power.

Add in Australian community leader Valerie Brown. She explains "Transition Science" - the kinds of integrated knowledge and action we need, just to cope with the crisis of a complex society in trouble.

We'll end with a crazy idea. Maybe global human consciousness is already be developing.

We've got a lot to cover. You will need to work your brain. The reward is simple: ways for you, yes you, to participate and engage, to save a living world.

[Homer-Dixon interview 26 min]

Thomas Homer-Dixon brings up some tough problems. We discuss his idea that we are approaching "synchronous failure" - and that a collapse may be necessary to reshape
civilization into something sustainable (explained also in the book "The Upside of Down.")

Homer-Dixon suggests humans head for a very low common denominator when making big group decisions. That probably explains our current govenments, and most of the TV shows.

It's worse when we look at humanty as a whole. Whatever ideals we chatter about, Homer-Dixon suggests on a global scale, humans have the IQ of bacteria in a Petri dish. We reproduce forever, consuming everything there is. That may not be your plan. But that is what we do in reality.

In the end, Homer-Dixon says the future cannot really be known or modeled. It holds so many complexities, and live "actors" who change every scenario.

The science that Al Gore talked about, the Limits to Growth described in the 1970's, the oil insights of M. King Hubbert - aren't working. Science, as it is now, mainly works for the big corporations and big governments whose total growth model threatens our continued existence, and the natural world.

I survey a lot of audio and video, looking for specs of hope. Listeners wade through more, filtering out some of the best bits, sent along in email suggestions. Radio Ecoshock couldn't function without your help. Thank you.

As it happens, this week I stumbled upon two developments that might help raise our global IQ, or even give birth to global citizenship.

We begin with a web-cast by two authors, provided by Earthscan, the top environmental publishers. The title: "Tackling Wicked Problems Through 'Post-Normal' and 'Transition' Science.

I'm just going to read you the Earthscan blurb for the speakers:

"Jerome Ravetz will explain how he developed Post-Normal Science, which allows for uncertainty and imagination. This is appropriate for policy issues where facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high and decisions urgent.

Valerie Brown will present her work on Transition Science. Through her work with over 300 communities, she has identified ingredients needed to bring about social change: key individuals, members of the affected community, specialised advisors, influential organizations and a holistic focus. Valerie will propose that collective knowledge, the sum of these multiple knowledges, is emerging as the basis for a Transition Science."

Be patient. If you know nothing about any of this, you will by the end of this program.

I'll start with a clip of Dr. Jerome Ravetz of Oxford, on how the idea of a "wicked problem" began in the 1970's, as well-intentioned governments found they could not solve complex social problems, like poverty, with study and tons of money.

[Listen to/download the whole Earthscan web cast clips, as broadcast by Radio Ecoshock, with Jerome Ravetz and Valerie Brown here. (22 min)]

Now we'll hear his 7 minute webcast presentation, which I recorded February 24th, 2011.

[Ravetz talk on the need for "Post-normal" science, and more cooperation between accredited scientific institutions and the active/informed public.]

Next up is Valerie A. Brown, Emeritus Professor of Environmental Health at the University of Western Sydney. Her latest book is "Tackling Wicked Problems: Through the Transdisciplinary Imagination."

Valerie's talk is dense, loaded with the 5 principal types of knowledge that we need to work through our ecological and energy challenges. But then she gives and example from the Port Perie lead mine - Australia's largest. Children there suffered gross lead poisoning, with authorities saying nothing. Until the community found resolution, led by a grandmother.

I know Radio Ecoshock listeneres. Some of you have amazing expertise. Most of you are bright and motivated. I promise you, there are tools here that you can use to transition in your own community.

[Brown talk]

If you want to work through this, you can relisten to the program, downloading it from our web site at I listen to every probram at least twice. You can also order Valerie Brown's book "Tackling Wicked Problems" through

Both Ravetz and Brown introduced my final hope. We'll start with Valerie Brown.

[short clip of Valerie Brown on global communication]

And then Jerome Ravetz, on crowd-sourcing.

[Ravetz crowd sourcing]

And now for an over-the-top outright hope that humans can develop a better global mind through.... technology. Don't laugh! I dismissed this line for years. Until the Twitter protests in

Iran. And the combined power of Twitter, Facebook, and Al Jazeera over the Internet, shook North African dictatorships to the core.

Under the title "Paradigm Tales", an Ecoshock friend from Colorado posted an inspiring speech by Professor of Law Eben Moglen. My friend calls it a Promethean movement from within the digital world.

The digest program appears to come from two speeches. The first:

"Eben Moglen, Professor of Law and Legal History at Columbia University, and founder, Director-Counsel and Chairman of the Software Freedom Law Center, spoke about "Freedom in the Cloud: Software Freedom, Privacy and Security for Web 2.0 and Cloud Computing" on Friday, February 5, 2010."

And a very recent speech by Professor Moglen, right after the fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. He was speaking at FOSDEM, Free and Open Source software Developers European meeting, in Brussels, Belgium Feburary 5th, 2011.

Elated by the role electronic communication played in freeing millions of people, Moglen claims victory for free information travelling in free tech. I'm going to cram in as much as I can.

Please listen to the original, or the "Paradigm Tales" version (my preference) to see if it inspires you as it did me.

We are out of time, but not out of dreams. I'm Alex Smith.

Let's meet next week, on Radio Ecoshock. Find us on Twitter, @ecoshock.

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