A feminist vision for change: Q&A with Petra Kuenkel

27 October 2023 – As part of the Q&A series with authors of Limits and Beyond, we talked to Petra Kuenkel, a member of The Club of Rome and the Founder of the Collective Leadership Institute. Kuenkel explores how patriarchal systems are connected to the crises we are facing today and discusses how adopting a feminist worldview would help us reimagine our path toward a more equitable and sustainable future.  

In your chapter, you take a feminist perspective on the legacy of The Limits to Growth. How is the patriarchy connected to our current predicament? 

We are facing multiple crises today. One of them is climate change, which is fuelled by an economic system that is totally and utterly extractive. The mindset behind this system assumes that it is okay to extract resources from the Earth and that some people have the right to dominate over others. From a feminist perspective, we can look at the history of humankind and the matriarchal societies of the past. These societies are not the opposite of patriarchy—women dominating men—but egalitarian societies with a so-called distribution economy and a societal narrative of care and reverence towards nature. It is extremely important to look at the elements of these societies and see what we can learn from them so we can shift our system into a more egalitarian, feminist-oriented society where the female principle has as much value as the male principle. 

 How would more women in influential positions help this shift? 

This is a complex question. On the one hand, we need societal justice in terms of women moving into decision-making positions, as they might help us shift the current mindset of dominance. At the same time, if we only focus on asking for more women in power positions, we might get big companies doing a lot of nonsense and women doing a lot of nonsense with these big companies. The goal is not more women participating in a patriarchal dominance culture, but a combination of having more women and more people with a future-oriented mindset to change the power structures that are currently holding the system in place. 

 What strategies would support this shift? 

The most important step is to identify and address the patriarchal features within the feminist and sustainability movements themselves. The next step is to work together in networks with roughly common goals which could help us gain influence and enter the power structures that are in place. Then, we should look at collaboration with other movements that are not necessarily feminist, but adopt feminist values, like movements towards egalitarian societies and working in line with nature. Finally, all these different movements need to come together and create an overall movement. Women need to step up and claim their space in the economic system and not leave the task of creating a new economic architecture to men. 

 In your chapter you quote Donella Meadows, one of the authors of The Limits to Growth. How does her perspective contribute to the report and its legacy? 

Donella Meadows wasn’t only a brilliant scientist, she was also a visionary. Visionaries see something in the future that is difficult for other people to perceive. She looked at the rules that kept the system in place and identified what we needed to shift to change the economic system and our societal order. Some of these visions that she put in writing said that renewable resources should be used no faster than they can regenerate, that pollution and waste shall not be put into the environment faster than the environment can recycle, that non-renewable resources should not be used at all, and that the human population and the physical capital plan should be at a level so that the first three conditions can apply. She also said that these conditions must be met through processes that are democratic and equitable enough so that people can stand behind them—not an eco-dictatorship, but a process where people can own their future because they have participated in creating it. You could say that these rules are quite simple, but if we could stick to them, we would go a long way. I think this is an enormous contribution that Donella Meadows has made. 

 What is your role at The Club of Rome? 

My work in The Club of Rome has been focused on identifying the connections that we can build into action. As a member of the executive committee, I have been looking at collective leadership within the organisation and fostering network action by engaging with people and different organisations. I think we have made enormous progress in the last couple of years, and we should not undervalue the impact we have. The message I want to get across is that we can do even more if we can overcome patriarchy and abolish dominance cultures, and if we work together and learn from different countries in what we call Most of The World.  

Limits and Beyond is a collection of essays from world-renowned thinkers, scientists, and economists from across the globe, grappling with the most acute issues of our time. Published on the 50th anniversary of The Limits to Growth, it explores what we learnt and where we go from here. 


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