TO FIND OUR HUMAN PLACE IN A LIVING UNIVERSE
An essay written by Club of Rome Member David Korten.
Economists debate whether the economy is recovering from the financial crash of 2008. Scientists debate whether Earth will recover from an economy that is destroying Earth’s capacity to support life. An unconscionable gap between rich and poor—between the profligate and the desperate— grows at an alarming rate. Economists assure us that faster economic growth will provide the technology and financial resources to heal the environment and create jobs to end poverty.
Most politicians agree with the economists.
Meanwhile corporations in the business of supplying fossil fuels to grow energy intensive economies resort to technologies increasingly destructive of Earth’s soils and waters. Competition for food and fresh water intensifies in the face of extreme drought and flooding.
Why Empires fall
Power is nothing without control: how to lose an empire
written by Ugo Bardi
Empires seem to be a typical human structure that reappears over and over in history. The problem is that empires are often so efficient that they tend to overexploit and destroy even theoretically renewable resources. The final result is a destructive cascade of feedbacks: not only the empire gradually runs out of resources, but it also runs out of the capability of controlling them; with the two effects reinforcing each other. Power is nothing without control. And, usually, control seems to run out before power.
In practice, empires in trouble tend to fragment into independent blocks or statelets before actually disappearing as economic systems. It is the result of the increasing costs of control, which are not matched any more by the diminishing flux of natural resources. We have seen this phenomenon in recent times with the fragmentation and the disappearance of the Soviet Union. We may be seeing it today with the modern worldwide empire we call “Globalization.” The recent events in Ukraine seem to show that the system, indeed, has troubles in controlling its periphery and may soon fragment into independent blocks.
Of course, it is still too early to say whether what we are seeing today in Ukraine is just a bump in the road or a symptom of impending systemic collapse. As usual, however, history may be a guide to understand what lies ahead. In the following post, I examine the collapse of the Roman empire in light of considerations based on control and resources. It turns out that, even for the ancient Romans, power was nothing without control.
Limits to Nature
We cannot overcome the limits of nature, nor should we try*
*written Graeme Maxton and Dr. Octavian Ksenzhek for the Club of Rome blog
We like to think that we live in a world without limits. Like long distance runners and formula one racing drivers, humankind is always trying to overcome limits, to achieve ever more. As we make new technological breakthroughs, it is easy to think that we already live in such a world.
This is an illusion, however, certainly when it comes to nature. There really is a maximum speed that we can run, even drug enhanced. There is also a top speed that cars can drive, before they begin to fly. We don’t understand where these limits lie, simply because we haven’t reached them yet. One day we will though, and we will understand then that they cannot be overcome. [Read more]
The plundering of the planet continues
written by Ugo Bardi*
Reports on the consistence of mineral resources came out almost at the same time during the past few weeks. One was issued by the Club of Rome with the title “Plundering the Planet” (Der Geplunderte Planet) (1), others were issued by the Energy Information Agency (EIA) (2) and by the International Energy Agency (IEA) (3).
These reports are apparently very different in terms of approach and content: Those from the energy agencies emphasize the fact that there remain considerable resources to extract; the one from the Club of Rome tells us that these remaining resources are expensive and polluting. In the end, however, these reports all agree on one point: the planet has been abundantly plundered, although not completely. [Read more]
Hurrah for the free market! (Move aside now, please.)
The free market has served the world well. But its best time is over.
written by Graeme Maxton*
Free marketeers, please take a bow. It is time for those with other ideas to take centre stage.
Let’s hear it for the free marketeers!
The free market has been a wonder of our age. Its ideas have been like some remarkable scientific breakthrough that transformed the world. The free market propelled America and the West to global economic dominance, and allowed hundreds of millions of people in China and elsewhere to prosper. It won the 20th century. [Read more]
Occupy is not dead, just resting
written by Graeme Maxton, Fellow of the International Centre of the Club of Rome and author of “The End of Progress“, following the Change Course Conference of the Club of Rome from 8th-12th December 2012
The desire for collective action remains strong
What happens when you bring a group of young political activists together?
You might be surprised.
Over five days in December, in a sleepy part of Switzerland, we brought together members of the Occupy Movement, the Pirate Party and some of the biggest political NGOs for the first time, ever. We also invited some edgy film makers, alternative-thinking academics, popular online journalists and controversial bloggers to sit in. The odd banker was asked to take part too. And also a radical feminist from Ukraine, famous for grabbing the headlines topless. [Read more]
It seems that we have lost a cultural battle, without noticing that there was a battle: The language of ‘economy’ has crept into our daily lives and with it an understanding that life is primarily about money and about having more and more of it. Objects and activities that constitute human life have become commodities and language reflects this change in meaning. Human life with all its wonders, intricacies and complexity has been reduced to its lowest level: Matter, expressed in money, price, ownership, profit and, latterly, debt. [Read more]
Resilience – A new buzzword or a new understanding?written by Karl Wagner, Director of External Relations at the International Centre of the Club of Rome
The term resilience has popped up increasingly over the last year or so. Its modern use originates from the climate debate, where it characterises the ability of a system to adapt to the changes brought about by global warming.
In a more general sense resilience is the ability of a system to remain within certain boundaries, despite fluctuations caused by external forces. It is a synonym for the capacity to buffer against outside attack, and a necessary characteristic of any kind of system. Carbonate-buffered lakes, for example, could in the 80s withstand the acidification caused by acid rain, while the soft-water lakes of Southern Sweden turned acidic and devoid of higher life forms. [Read more]
Look behind you!
It couldn’t have come at a better time.
While the losses are both immense and shocking, Hurricane Sandy’s arrival just ahead of the US election is just what the world needed. The country that uses the most oil, that has produced the greatest amount of CO2 emissions for decades and that has consistently denied the evidence of climate change, has finally been told to pay attention. Climate change, long pushed to the bottom of the campaign trail agenda is now where it should be – at the top. [Read more]
written by Graeme Maxton, Fellow of the International Centre of the Club of Rome and author of “The End of Progress“
Over the last 20 years, nearly everyone seems to have become an economics expert. Discussions about complex economic theories, once reserved for dusty lecture halls, are now overheard on buses and trains. Bars echo to arguments about growth rates, deflationary spirals and cures for unemployment. We all appear to have a view about the causes of the financial crisis, the value of quantitative easing and the fate of the euro.
In many ways this is good. Debates about the role economics plays in our society should not be restricted to academic journals.
To be useful though, these discussions should be well-informed. We all need to understand what economics is for and what it can achieve. We should understand where it went wrong and why. And we need to know where the discipline’s limits lie. [Read more]
The latest evidence on climate change demands a radical reappraisal of our approach.
written by Ian Dunlop, Member of the Club of Rome
The Arctic has been warming 2-3 times faster than the rest of the world. In the last few weeks melting of the Arctic sea ice has accelerated dramatically, reducing the area and volume to levels never previously experienced.
Some 80% of the summer sea-ice has been lost since 1979; on current trends the Arctic will be ice-free in summer by 2015, and ice-free all year by 2030, events which were not expected to occur for another 100 years.
More concerning, the Greenland ice sheet this year has seen unprecedented melting and glacial ice calving, adding to a trend which will substantially increase sea level rise. [Read more]
America’s Deficit Attention Disorder
Money is the least of our problems. It’s time to pay attention to the real deficits that are killing us.
written by David Korten, Member of the Club of Rome
The political debate in the United States and Europe has focused attention on public financial deficits and how best to resolve them. Tragically, the debate largely ignores the deficits that most endanger our future.
In the United States, as Republican deficit hawks tell the story, “America is broke. We must cut government spending on social programs we cannot afford. And we must lower taxes on Wall Street job creators so they can invest to get the economy growing, create new jobs, increase total tax revenues, and eliminate the deficit.” [Read more]
We may be at the start up of a new energy transition. A revolution so dramatic that it promises to take us 360 degree back to where we were only a few decades ago! The age of new oil is upon us. The oil companies have come out of their closets and allowed us a glimpse of a new future. A world with low (”manageable”) risk oil exploration, decreasing prices, and ramped up adaptation to climate change: we should be so fortunate! [Read more]
No, Diamond(s) Are Not Forever
Watching the UK’s Parliamentary Committee question the Barclays Bank executive team on TV recently created a sense of “déjà vu” all over again. It left me with a vivid reminder of the old U.S. gangster movies set in the 1930s. In the movies as in real life back then, the mobsters from Chicago were called to provide evidence before U.S. Senate and government investigative committees. [Read more]
The Future we want or the Future that we will get?
Twenty years ago I had the great privilege of attending the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Debate hung heavy in the air. A sense of occasion, a hope for our common future, the future of humanity and its relationship to mother earth were on offer. [Read more]
Are we all mad, or economists?
Weak economic thinking is undermining human progress
A contribution to the Club of Rome BLOG by Graeme Maxton
There are many wise people, some even award-winning economists, who think that the West’s economic problems can be easily repaired. The engine is just faltering. A bit more fuel and a tug on the right levers and it will be back to normal in no time.
Their solutions are certainly appealing, but they are also wrong.
Modern-day economists tell us that we can reflate struggling Western economies with financial aid, by printing money and encouraging consumers to spend again. [Read more]
Change the Story — Change the System
Forty years ago the Club of Rome’s report Limits to Growth drew world attention to the imperative to bring the human species into “system equilibrium” with nature. That report sparked a heated global debate about economic growth on a finite planet.
The Club of Rome projected dire consequences if we failed to act. We have indeed failed to act and environmental collapse is playing out much as the Club of Rome predicted. The collapse, however, is not the center of public debate, which centers instead on financial deficits, gas prices, and how best to stimulate even more economic growth. [Read more]
Searching for a new narrativeARC
In 1972 the Club of Rome report “Limits to Growth” launched a new movement almost without realising it. The modern environmental and sustainable movement traces its roots back to this ground breaking report and the discussions and anxieties, which it explored.
It challenged a central myth – and I use that word carefully – that GDP was the only factor for quantifying success and that data was therefore the only way to measure significance. [Read more]
by Dr.Ricardo Díez Hochleitner, Honorary President of The Club of Rome
Europe´s North and South as well as East and West of Europe are called to perform historic priority endeavours. The more so in our most critical times of profound and long-term economic and financial crisis, unless we take soon advantage of it for a sort of global Human Revolution in response to our prime responsibility towards future generations. Such a long term vision of full cooperation and mutual respect among all human beings, needs moreover a simultaneous full respect towards Nature, the global environment, of which our survival and wellbeing fully depends. [Read more]
In Partnership with the Biosphere: Reframing the Debate on Limitsby David Korten
In 1972, the Club of Rome (CoR) published a report spelling out the obvious, but neglected, truth that perpetual growth of consumption on a finite planet leads to system collapse. The report called for a global effort to achieve “system equilibrium”—a condition of balance between humans and nature.
The report attracted widespread public attention and helped launch the global environment movement. Unfortunately, the subsequent public discussion focused on limits rather than balance and was never taken seriously by economists, politicians, and other architects of the global economy. [Read more]
written by Ian Johnson, Secretary General of the Club of Rome
As the Rio +20 negotiators gather in June they will face a broad agenda. High on that agenda will be the green economy: the need to redirect our economies and economic growth towards sustainability. The wording of the negotiating texts will be vague enough to find political support almost anywhere and this will sit well with ministries of finance, most of which will not attend the meeting and will feel little or no real commitment to its outcome. Efforts to mitigate the legitimate concern of developing countries, that the green growth agenda represents a new form of conditionality, will broaden the definitions and scope even further. A text will, no doubt, be drawn up with sufficient flexibility to allow for anything to pass for green growth. Everyone will leave happy and satisfied with the result: another tick in the box of environmental diplomacy. [Read more]
Implications of Arctic Permafrost Thaw
Polar Bear Photograph courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey
written by Ian Dunlop
Of the many “Elephants in the Room” in the climate change debate, none are larger than the potential release to atmosphere of carbon dioxide and methane contained in the Arctic permafrost. Preliminary findings from the latest research, discussed at the American Geophysical Union’s annual conference in San Francisco in December 2011, highlighted the extreme risks that humanity is now exposed to from global warming. [Read more]
A Club of Rome Blog contribution written by Ian Johnson, Secretary General of the Club of Rome
Oil and economic growth have been the inseparable twins of economic and social development for well over a century. An almost perfect relationship exists between the two: as growth goes so oil production follows. The more we grow the more oil thirsty we become. Even in an age when climate change worries abound, our determination to go the ends of the earth to find oil seems unstoppable. Our addiction continues unabated and unabashed. [Read more]
We are entering into uncharted territory where non-linearity, shocks and surprises will become the norm. But it is also a world where creative and enlightened public policy and corporate actions can move us towards a future of which we can be proud, writes Ian Johnson, Secretary General of the Club of Rome.
Values lie at the heart of who we are and what we do. Values shape cultures, organizations, politics and policies. Values are more often described at the individual, religious, tribal or national level. [Read more]
To fuel our economic growth, we scrape the planet of its resources, laying waste to more than we build. We do this to satisfy our desire for consumption, to spend ever more. To finance this, many people have borrowed more than they should. So millions have become burdened by debts, income inequalities have widened and many governments owe more than they can ever repay.
All this is the fault of modern economic thinking. [Read more]