Finally some good news about global change: globalization is making us cooperate!  This is no minor discovery.  Poverty, global warming, environmental degradation and biodiversity loss - all of these will only be solved when all of the people of all nations collaborate sustainably in doing so - though all these solutions must ultimately be local as well, because all global problems are ultimately local!  As Alfred North Whitehead put it: successful organisms modify their environment so as to assist each other (1925 – paraphrased, see quote below).  And as Bertrand Russell put forth in the 1950s, we humans now create our biggest problems (1962– paraphrased, see quote below).  So the key to solving global problems is cooperation – both globally and locally.

Recent research by Buchan et al. (2009) therefore gives us something to be very positive about-  globalization is making us cooperate more at local levels - as indicated by an investigation of cooperative behaviors across a sample of nations with differing levels of globalization.  And work just published by Somanathan et al (2009) adds even more hope for future conservation efforts - when local communities are engaged in conserving their local environments (in this case, forests in Nepal), they do the job at least as well as national agencies but at 1/10th the cost! 

So globalization is increasing the cooperative behaviors needed to conserve the biosphere through the efforts of local communities? 

Only humans could ever come up with such a complex solution!  But maybe it will work? 

Full quote: Alfred North Whitehead (1925; Science and the Modern World, p 206):

"Successful organisms modify their environment. Those organisms are successful which modify their environment so as to assist each other."  

Full quote: Bertrand Russell (1962. Essays in Skepticism. Philosophical Library, New York: Chapter: Principal Causes are Human. page 1):

"The misfortunes of human beings may be divided into two classes: those inflicted by the non-human environment, and second, those inflicted by other people.  As mankind have progressed in knowledge and technique, the second class has become a continually increasing percentage of the total.  In old times, famine, for example, was due to natural causes, and although people did their best to combat it, large numbers of them died of starvation.  At the present moment large parts of the world are faced with the threat of famine, but although natural factors have contributed to the situation, the principle causes are human."

The complete essay online: "Ideas That Have Harmed Mankind"


Buchan, N. R., G. Grimalda, R. Wilson, M. Brewer, E. Fatas, and M. Foddy. 2009. Globalization and human cooperation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106:4138-4142. http://www. pnas. org/content/106/11/4138

Somanathan, E., R. Prabhakar, and B. S. Mehta. 2009. Decentralization for cost-effective conservation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106:4143-4147. http://www. pnas. org/content/106/11/4143

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