The Global Issues Project

By Derek Paul | 2007-07-01 12:00:00

Global stability is threatened by humankind's heavy footprint on the Earth, by social unrest and war, disease and pandemics, bad government, by an unworkable economic system and by poverty in the presence of wealth. The accelerating consumption of vital resources and the increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases are huge threats. A few scientists -- David Suzuki is a leading example -- have devoted their lives to averting the worst outcomes. More are needed.

The Global Issues Project (GIP) began formally in 2005 as a project of Science for Peace. A group of Canadian modelers, members of the GIP committee, have revisited the Club of Rome's work of the 1970s and have developed a new assessment model, the "Global Systems Simulator" (GSS). The inputs to the GSS are usually data gathered from statistical records plus their future projections, from which the GSS computes other projections, such as global population, agricultural output, forest product output, etc.

The Global Issues Project is run by a committee of eight people and operates through a series of roundtables, seeking to provide a good grasp of the "big picture" of humankind within the supporting biosphere. For many, it is difficult to see the "big picture." Everyday events proceed routinely -- food arrives from nearby farms or from orchards halfway around the globe -- and life goes on. North Americans are especially oblivious to the excess use of global resources and are not yet sensitized to climate change.

The increasing use of energy-intensive technologies worsens the stresses. The automobile, in particular, needs to be modified.

Some people point to expected innovative techno-fixes as the solution to such problems, but one must be cautious. Ronald Wright in his book, A Short History of Progress, argues that all innovations since those developed by the early hunter-gatherers have assisted humankind in harvesting nature's resources. The over-harvesting of ocean fisheries has already depleted stocks of many species in ways that currently appear irreversible.

The GIP plan is to test strategies that might make global collapse avoidable. Unless the present usage pattern is changed, many global resources and environmental sinks will soon be stretched well beyond sustainability. The crucial environmental issues are: climate change; food and agriculture; forests; water; oceans and fisheries; energy.

The other factors or issues that can lead to possible collapse are: population; disease; waste and pollution; war; military consumption and waste; inappropriate technologies and inappropriate myths; and faulty social structures.


Each roundtable explores the Big Picture by examining a crucial global issue and its relationships with other crucial issues. Participants include opinion makers, particularly those within the media, the education system, the business community, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the planning communities in the public sector, and politicians at all levels. We can examine supply/demand tensions using the Global Systems Simulator in much the same way that a computerized Flight Simulator is used to teach aircraft pilots.

An international Roundtable on Forests was held in September 2006. The participants examined the ecological role of global forests, considered their preservation in the face of increasing demand for wood, and explored the relationships between forests and the other crucial issues. One focus was biodiversity. The Faculty of Forestry at the University of Toronto partnered us and participated actively.

After all roundtables comes the work of a follow-up team, to interact with governments, NGOs, the press, and any others to further the Roundtable's recommendations. The follow-up team is encouraged to consider communications with similar groups in other countries, and to identify needs for new research.

The next roundtable, on Climate Change and Energy, will take place in September with the Breuninger Foundation of Stuttgart and the David Suzuki Foundation as partners.

The GIP received approval from the Board of Directors of Science for Peace and was awarded start-up funding in November 2005. It has subsequently received similar approval and further funding from the Canadian Pugwash Group, plus funding from generous individuals and partners.

Donations to Science for Peace earmarked for the Global Issues Project receive tax receipts. Currently two documents resulting from the GIP are available: its prospectus, and a write-up of the 2006 Roundtable on Forests.

Contact Derek Paul 416-532-6440 or Ken MacKay 519-822-4174,

Peace Magazine Jul-Sep 2007

Peace Magazine Jul-Sep 2007, page 15. Some rights reserved.

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