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Solving These Challenges

Even with these polycentric examples, a significant need remains for a larger effort to fuse knowledge about physical and social systems into blueprints for action that are acceptable. Civilization needs to be “rescaled” to stabilize the population while reducing the average individual impact on the planet (Ehrlich et al. 2012). This means focusing on behavior and the reasons for behavior to understand better why we tend to ignore the high, destructive, and known human impact on the planet (Ehrlich et al. 2012). Humanity can no longer avoid dramatic change to society or the environment at global scales, but can potentially do a much better job of managing such change. Social science and humanities skills, interests, knowledge, and wisdom need to be mobilized and integrated into solving sustainability challenges, taking into consideration human behavior and values.

That does not need to come at the expense of tackling the many remaining fascinating scientific problems across the physical and social sciences. That does mean joining physical sciences, social sciences, humanities, and other fields to embrace as much knowledge as possible in order to break down the silos.

As one contribution towards that goal, this chapter highlights the importance of understanding and influencing human behavior: actions of individual and collective actors. The focus on human behavior, its causes, and mechanisms for influencing it is examined in the context of integrating physical sciences, social sciences, and the humanities to ensure that all available scientific knowledge contributes to action for sustainability.

To contribute to identifying the current status of integration, one initiative for doing so is presented: the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB, pronounced “mob”). The next section defines and describes MAHB, including research and application. Then, a research agenda regarding resource management for and from MAHB is offered to pursue future opportunities for social science and humanities integration with physical sciences and policymaking. The key is not to await full knowledge and limited uncertainty before acting on any sustainability challenge. Instead, it is about using multiple disciplines in science to monitor and evaluate any measure implemented as an ongoing process, to ensure that actions do not exacerbate the existing problem or cause new problems.

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