The Birth of the Club of Rome:
A quiet villa and a big bang
In April 1968, a small international group of professionals from the fields of diplomacy, industry, academia and civil society met at a quiet villa in Rome. Invited by Italian industrialist Aurelio Peccei and Scottish scientist Alexander King, they came together to discuss the dilemma of prevailing short-term thinking in international affairs and, in particular, the concerns regarding unlimited resource consumption in an increasingly interdependent world.
Each participant in the meeting agreed to spend the next year raising the awareness of world leaders and major decision-makers on the crucial global issues of the future. They would offer a new and original approach in doing this, focusing on the long-term consequences of growing global interdependence and applying systems-thinking in order to understand why and how it was happening. The Club of Rome was born.
The originality of their approach soon became clear. In 1972 the campaigning of this growing group of like-minded individuals gained a new worldwide reputation with the first report to the Club of Rome: “The Limits to Growth”, commissioned by the Club from a group of systems scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Report explored a number of scenarios and stressed the choices open to society to reconcile sustainable progress within environmental constraints.
The international effects of this publication in the fields of politics, economics and science are best described as a ‘Big Bang’: over night, the Club of Rome had demonstrated the contradiction of unlimited and unrestrained growth in material consumption in a world of clearly finite resources and had brought the issue to the top of the global agenda.
With its focus on long-term vision and provocative scenarios, the report sold more than 12 million copies in some 30 languages worldwide.
Building on this success, the Club of Rome membership grew as it continued to produce reports on the global issues it identified. Particularly, the goal of raising long-term awareness among world leaders and decision-makers regarding the delicate interaction between human economic development and the fragility of the planet was achieved, contributing to the establishment of Ministries of the Environment in numerous countries.
The Eighties and Nineties:
Grappling with Growing Complexity, Globalisation and Increasing Interdependence
During the eighties, the Club of Rome continued its high-level work on a global scale. It contributed significantly to the development of the concept of sustainability, which has played an important role in highlighting the interdependence of environment and economics.
At the same time, the Club of Rome broadened the scope of its work and advanced the global agenda in the fields of education, welfare and environment. Contemporary Club of Rome reports such as Microelectronics and Society, The Future of the Oceans or No Limits to Certainty reflected common preoccupations and the growing complexity and interrelation of major global issues.
Building on the work of the eighties, the Club of Rome continued its work in the nineties by focusing on major issues such as the Digital Divide between North and South, global governance and cultural diversity. Reports such as The Capacity to Govern and Factor Four: Doubling Wealth – Halving Resource Use and No Limits to Learning were particularly influential during this period in pointing the way towards solutions.
This period also saw the emergence of several National Associations of the Club of Rome, where interested individuals would pursue activities at a national level in line with the mission of the International Club, expanding the involvement in and output of the Club as a whole.
Despite these activities, the influence that the Club of Rome had come to enjoy in its early years had started to diminish as perceptions moved towards the view that global issues would be resolved through the “Magic of the Marketplace”. Other civil society initiatives began to compete with the activities of the Club, as it struggled to communicate its ideas to the international community and to attract the interest and participation of younger generations.
The Club of Rome in the 21st century
A new start
At the beginning of the 21st Century, international problems such as rising global inequality, the consequences of climate change and the overuse of natural resources have proved that the Club of Rome’s fundamental views are broadly correct and have revived interest in its activities: unlimited consumption and growth on a planet with limited resources cannot go on forever and is indeed dangerous.
In recent years, the Club of Rome has embarked on a whole new range of activities and has modernised its organisation and its mission. Its commitment to finding new and practical ways of understanding global problems and turning its thinking into action are as strong as ever.
The size and number of the National Associations have continued to grow: there are now over 30 worldwide with a membership of over 1,500 committed people in five continents. They have become pillars of the Club’s global work, expanding and strengthening the activities and awareness of the International Club with assistance from the Club’s European Support Centre in Vienna.
In early 2008, The Club of Rome relocated its international secretariat from Hamburg, Germany to Winterthur (Canton Zurich), Switzerland. It has established a new team and is working in close cooperation with a number of private and educational institutions, as well as finding new ways to involve the general public. Since May 2008, it has also launched a new three year programme, A New Path for World Development, which will be an important focus of the Club’s activities until 2012.