16 November 2023 – As part of our Q&A series with authors of Limits and Beyond, we sat down with Carlos Alvarez Pereira, the Vice President of the Club of Rome and one of the co-editors of the book. We explored what is hindering humanity from learning what we already know, unveiling our blind spots, and how The Fifth Element program of The Club of Rome aims to catalyse mutual learning for regenerative change.
Together with Ugo Bardi, you co-edited Limits and Beyond. What was the motivation behind putting the book together?
The immediate motivation was the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Limits to Growth. Together with Ugo, we discussed that it would be helpful to have a panoramic perspective with a multiplicity of voices about what The Limits to Growth meant and what its main messages were given by some of the authors themselves. We also wanted to include what happened in society as a consequence of the report and where we are now. Last, but definitely not least, we considered the future and the question of where we go from here. We wanted to use different lenses to look at the challenges of today and tomorrow, exploring the process of learning and what makes it so difficult.
Your chapter focuses on learning, and within that context, you talk about the Human Gap. Can you explain what that means?
One of the scenarios in The Limits to Growth showed the possibility of balancing human wellbeing with what we now call the planetary boundaries. But it didn’t happen, which made Aurelio Peccei, the founder of The Club of Rome, and others reflect on why a book that has gotten so much attention didn’t provoke further change and learning. So, the Human Gap is an expression that Peccei used to explain the difference between our capacity to act and our capacity to understand and deal with the consequences of our actions.
So, what is stopping us from learning?
What is hindering learning is the persistence of the mental frameworks under which we interpret everything. We often stay in denial of what we know, because it is not good news according to the dominant framework of interpretation. This is a systemic issue, related to the dominant culture, our mental jails. Society has evolved in many ways and at many levels since The Limits to Growth was published in 1972, including many positive developments. But at the same time, it seems we have not questioned what we understand by human development.
What is the kind of mental framework that we need for a healthier society?
First, we have to realise that we have blind spots and that there are many things that we don’t see, and particularly, many things that we don’t want to see. Maybe we cannot ever get rid of all our blind spots, but we can acknowledge that we have them. It is then, that we can start using different lenses to look at the same reality from different perspectives, cultural trends, and traditions. It leads to questioning many of the things that we take for granted in the dominant culture of modern industrialised societies. We can give value to other perspectives, some of which have existed for millennia, still holding some kind of wisdom about what a good life is, or where our wellbeing and our health come from.
To change the current mental framework, you talk about the human revolution. How can we achieve that?
The human revolution is about creating the conditions for people to get out of their mental jails, which is the idea that we need higher and higher levels of material consumption for wellbeing. To get there, I think we first need to ask better questions on issues relevant to the future of humanity. It is then that we can invite people to take the lead in liberating themselves from those mental jails.
How is The Fifth Element initiative by The Club of Rome taking these ideas forward?
The name of The Fifth Element comes from this idea of four basic elements, air, water, fire, and earth. Those four elements are necessary, but not sufficient to create life. There is something else, it is called different things in different traditions, but essentially, it’s life itself—the fifth element. One of the messages we wanted to convey is that we need to weave all threads of knowledge, the unseen ones as well as the modern ones. We decided that we have to bet on the capacity of everybody to learn and to liberate from mental jails. Through the program, we identify people and organisations who are willing to engage in this kind of exploration and give them a space to convene. We want to create an opportunity for mutual learning across the many chasms of modernity, generations, cultures, social status, and national and continental boundaries. It is like exploring uncharted territories. We don’t have the solutions and don’t know the final destination, but I think drawing from the experience of The Club of Rome and other such organisations, we are discovering how to walk the pathways towards equitable wellbeing for all on a healthy planet.
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 do we go from here.