He wants to end genoide, build a better atmosphere on Mars and change the ways in which people think of time.
He is Lord Young of Dartington, more commonly Michael Young, a British peer and an advocate of egalitarian principles and seemingly outlandish or hopeless ideas. For a few weeks he came to rest in Los Angeles as a visiting professor at UCLA. And it was here that a 2 1/2-year-old idea finally germinated.
That idea is Internation Alert, a "committee for action against genocide and mass killing," which Young said he hopes will call attention to two persistent diseases of the 20th Century. His own interest evolved partly from his work on refugee education in Africa, he said.
"Very often refugees are fleeing genocide," he said. "I thought there ought to be some way of addressing the root of the problem rather than the branches."
International Alert is still in the development phase but Young sees it as a partner to Amnesty International, which seeks to aid individual political prisoners around the world. International Alert will concentrate on groups whose lives and rights are threatened rather than individuals. The new organization was announced at a press conference last week attended by Los Angeles County Supervisor Edmund D. Edelman and Los Angeles City Councilman Marvin Braude, both of whom will serve on the board of directors.
Young wryly concedes that International Alert's purpose will be difficult to implement, not least because genocide victims are often dying in remote, unpublicized corners of the world. That's the case with the group's first target, the Baganda tribe in Uganda, he said. International Alert contends that about 200,000 in the tribe have been killed by Ugandan soldiers, who are from different ethnic groups.
The organization, with offices in Los Angeles and London, will work mainly by setting up an information network on genocide, issuing "red alerts" when a racial or ethnic group is threatened with mass killings and trying to pressure those who may have influence on particular situations, Young said.
This latest endeavor is one of a long chain that Young has touted. Most of his ideas seem designed to challenge conventional wisdom. They also reflect a brashness that lurks close to the surface, a character trait that has survived from his youth when, as a teen-age guest in the White House, he had the gall to argue with president Franklin Roosevelt.
By profession a sociologist, Young also described himself as "a nonprofit entrepreneur." He has been a prime mover in the consumer movement in the United Kingdom and a reformer in education, housing and health care, to name just a few causes. This winter he was at UCLA as a visiting professor in the graduate school of architecture and urban planning. It is an oasis for a man who thinks his native country is a place where "almost anything new is by definition bad, or, alternatively, has been done before and shown to be a failure."
His latest project is the Argo Venture , a group he helped form for "a very long campaign that probably won't be successful," he said. "We hope that one day the European Space Agency, which is a very small sister of NASA, might be built into something really quite substantial. it would go into space without any military intent and try to compete quite actively in the scientific and technological realm with the two superpowers. The hope is that it will attract over the next 50 years more of their (the superpowers') energy and genius into something that wouldn't be so frightening as Star Wars."
Museum 'in a Pit'
His Argo agenda includes a space museum--much more modes than the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in Washington. "It will probably be in a pit in the southwest of England," he said, and laughed.
More ambitious, he said, are plans "to start some scientific research with a very brilliant atmospheric chemist in England named James Lovelock. He thinks he knows how the atmosphere, at least on Mars, could be changed if the right things are done.
"It can all be modeled experimentally. . . .If we can get enough money to model Mars' atmosphere in a bubble chamber, his ideas can be tested out to see if he can get vegetation to grow in a very hostile environment. In the course of time, it should, according to him, produce the right balance of oxygen in the atmosphere for life to survive there. Of course, when the time comes, it won't be easy to persuade the Sierra Club that it's the right thing to intervene."
In his chosen profession of sociology, Young, an author many times over, said he writing a book about time, "the sense of time and how people use it, and what's going wrong, I think, with the way people are using time in modern society."