Capitalism, Short-termism, Population and the Destruction of the Planet

Submitted by Arthur Dahl on 14. September 2018 - 0:28



Come On! Capitalism, Short-termism, Population
and the Destruction of the Planet
A Report to the Club of Rome

by Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker and Anders Wijkman, Co-Presidents, Club of Rome
New York: Springer. 220 p.

Book review by Arthur Dahl

For the 50th anniversary of the Club of Rome, whose first report "The Limits to Growth" in 1972 warned of global collapse in the 21st century if we continued business as usual, its current presidents have written a new book repeating that warning, but also looking optimistically at the future. They have drawn on many other distinguished contributors to reflect the best content of progressive thinking.

The first chapter describes the many ways that current trends are unsustainable, most of which will be familiar to IEF members. In particular it notes that present conceptions of the world and institutions to manage it evolved when the world was largely empty, while in the last few decades we have rapidly reached what is now a full world, as we overshot planetary boundaries and entered the Anthropocene. Climate change is already an existential threat and accelerating. The chance that nuclear weapons might actually be used has recently increased. The population is still growing rapidly among the poor in some regions while others have ageing populations that are not replacing themselves. More people are crowding into cities, but the agriculture that feeds them is unsustainable. The digital revolution contains both opportunities and threats. Governments have set optimistic goals in the 2030 Agenda, but implementation is far from certain, and there are counter-forces of disintegration. It is a picture of a world in disarray.

Chapter 2 is more philosophical, starting with the challenging message from the Pope in Laudato Sí, and then exploring the errors of the market doctrine and reductionist philosophy. It calls for a New Enlightenment based on balance between humans and nature, short term and long term, speed and stability, private and public, women and men, equity and awards for achievement, and state and religion.

The half of the book in chapter 3 is full of positive examples of many efforts to build a more sustainable world. They range from a regenerative, blue or circular economy, through energy, climate and urbanization, to the financial sector, investment, economics and alternatives to GDP. It explores collaboration and collective leadership, global governance, and examples of national action in China and Bhutan, closing with a short but excellent section on education for a sustainable civilization. It describes future education as active and collaborative, based on connectivity, value-based, focussed more on the topic of sustainability, fostering an integrated way of thinking and pluralism in content.

With reference to values, it is worth quoting the whole paragraph. "Values represent the quintessence of human wisdom acquired over centuries. And in the new system that's developing, they must embody the fundamental principles for sustainable accomplishment, whether individual or social. These must be even more than the inspiring ideals that supply the energy needed to fulfil human aspirations. Values are a form of knowledge and a powerful determinant of human evolution. They are psychological skills that have profound practical importance. Education must be founded on values that promote sustainability and general well-being for all. A move toward inculcating sustainable values would amount to a paradigm change in our current society's value system. It would consider as its aim the greater well-being of both human and the natural systems on which they depend, rather than a valuation for more production and consumption. Conscious emphasis will be placed on values that are truly universal, as well as on respect for cultural differences. At the grass-roots level, the movement towards sustainability can build on deep local values. Values can create transformational leadership, leadership in thought that leads to action." (p. 198)

The Club of Rome has built on its half-century of service to humanity with another important report to prepare us for the challenges ahead, and to inspire us to positive action.

Last updated 13 September 2018