Monday, October 19, 2015

The Club of Rome, almost half a century later



The Club of Rome held its general assembly in Winterthur, Switzerland, on Oct 16-17 2015. In the image, you can see Ugo Bardi (center) together with the co-presidents of the Club, Anders Wijkman (right in the photo) and Ernst Von Weizsacker (left in the photo).



Almost half a century ago, in 1968, Aurelio Peccei convened for the first time the group that was later to be known as the "Club of Rome". The aim of the group was not what the Club was to become known for, "The Limits to Growth". At that time, the concept of limits was vague and scarcely understood and the interest of the members was, rather, in an equitable distribution of the resources of the Earth. What moved Aurelio Peccei was the attempt to fight hunger, poverty, and injustice.

That approach led the Club to commission a report on the world's resources and their limits to a group of researchers of the MIT. The result was the study for which the Club of Rome became known ever since: "The Limits to Growth," published in 1972.  From then on, the debate mostly moved on whether the scenarios of "The Limits to Growth" were correct and whether the study would really describe the possible trajectory of the world's economy and its collapse as the result of the combination of persistent pollution and resource depletion. It soon degenerated into insults directed against "Cassandras" and "catastrophists." Still today, it is widely believed that the study was "wrong", even though it was not.

But world models were not so much what Peccei and the other founders had in mind. Their aim had remained the initial one: justice, social equality, freedom from want. The discovery of the world's limits had made these objectives more difficult than they had seemed to be at the beginning, but not an impossible target. The "Limits" report, indeed, had sketched out how the world's economy could be steered in such a way to avoid collapse and to maintain for a long time a reasonable level of production of goods and services per person.

From what Peccei wrote, it is clear that he (and most members of the Club) thought that creating a better world was to be the result of a public debate and of democracy. In the debate, the world's leaders and the general public would have become convinced of the need to slow down economic growth, avoid overpopulation, conserve resources, and invest in actions against pollution. Then, the majority would democratically enforce these actions. Unfortunately, Peccei had badly estimated the power of propaganda to sway the discussion and to demonize all attempts to work for a better world. Peccei himself was the victim of propaganda, and, if you search the Web today, you still find plenty of pages describing him (and the Club of Rome) as working for the enslavement or the extermination of humankind or, sometimes, of the "darker races".

Almost half a century has passed from the first reunion of the Club of Rome, and its members are still struggling with the same question: how to create a more equitable, free, and prosperous world? Whereas understanding our future turned out to be feasible, acting on it turned out to be devilishly difficult. Today, we are still stuck at the most basic level of trying to have people understand the dangers ahead. Think of how easily the efforts to act against climate change are thwarted by the simplest propaganda tricks (do you remember "climategate"?).

So, the Club didn't stray away from Peccei's legacy and it has remained close to its initial approach and structure. It is a forum where people meet to discuss on how a better world could be created and show how we can work in that direction. That was clear at the general assembly of this year, in Winterthur (SW), where the discussion ranged from mineral limits to social structures; including politics and new business avenues. The members reported about long term modeling, but also on their practical, day to day results on how to improve the life of the poor and to reduce pollution at the local level. The magic bullet that will cure the world's ills may not exist, but we all can do something for a better world.





Thanks to Graeme Maxton, Alexander Stefes, and Thomas Schauer for having been the main organizers of this meeting in Winterthur!









20 comments:

  1. Too bad the Club Of Rome doesn't hire some propaganda tricksters of their own to get their message out...

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    1. PR is very expensive, and how do you get the message out anyway when the worlds media is owned by corporations and oligarchs. They are experts at ignoring and marginalizing 'non profit making information' and can always out PR science. Even the UK's Gardian newspaper, which has a very pro climate science /environmentalist stance, does not really like talk of limits to growth. Criticizing growth and progress is a great taboo in the modern world. It has replaced criticizing religion as the biggest taboo of all. The science of potential collapse of civilization due to resource limits should be interesting enough to capture the worlds interest, but the public are only interested in beer and circuses (cars, holidays and shopping) and politicians are very happy with a population disengaged with reality as it makes screwing them over much more easy.

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  2. Only one question: does the "limits to growth" report was published in a peer review magazine?

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    1. No; but related papers were published in scientific journals

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  3. Why has the Club "remained close to its initial approach and structure" if that hasn't achieved its own stated objectives in fifty years? Maybe a bit of "out of the box" thinking done together with some "out of the box" people could be appropriate by now ? Or maybe the problem is that everybody to the last man and woman is "in the box"? In that case perhaps not much real hope for H. "Sapiens". We just forge forward on the same basic tracks and all double down on much the same stuff until something else happens. Any black swans in sight yet? Or is that an oxymoron?

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    1. Inside the box, or outside the box, it seems that some problems are impossible to solve for anyone. Only the Universe solves them, in the long run, although not in a way that human beings may like

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    2. To expand on what Ugo said -- based on what we know about evolution and behavior, it seems inevitable that any form of intelligent life is doomed to the kind of self-destruction we are about to inflict on ourselves, and it is extremely unlikely that this can be avoided.

      The tendency to enter ecological overshoot is a direct consequence of the most fundamental biological drive -- the maximization of evolutionary fitness.

      That can be overcome but it requires good scientific understanding of the world around you and your place in it. Which is extremely costly to achieve because the world is so complex and we are not wired to quickly and easily absorb a lot of complex information, meaning that first, very few ever get to that point, and second, maintaining such a level of awareness and education in each and every member of society is pretty much impossible.

      Thus, there is no equilibrium state of sapient intelligent beings living in harmony with their environment. It's just not stable if it is ever achievable to begin with.

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    3. Georgi
      There is some overlap but I do not think we should confuse our present civilisation with homo sapiens. My guess is that the species is much more likely than not to survive the disappearance of our civilisation, for a long while yet. I would go further and suggest that there will be future civilisations, plural, but without them being much like ours in several defining characteristics.

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    4. I wasn't talking about extinction now

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  4. In that case why all the fuss? Why not just relax and wait for the Universe to do its thing? ...(but basically I agree )

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  5. "Fatti non foste a viver come bruti, ma per seguir virtute e conoscenza"

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    1. Last Saturday my wife and I were at the wedding of a grandniece. An overwhelmingly conservative crowd: pleasant folks other than the predictable few who, in the reception, drank too much. What amazed me was once, when the conversation turned to Global Warming and Resource Depletion: without exception, everybody at my section of the table was well-informed about the issues, concerned and wanting politicians to take action. I was flabbergasted.

      In 1972 I first learned of “Limits to Growth” during a lunch conversation at work (at the GM Tech Center, Warren, Michigan). Shortly, it was Conversation Topic A everywhere… at least among nonsupervisory engineers, almost all of whom took it quite seriously. Very shortly, word got around that Big Management did not like the idea at all. Immediately all the ambitious young engineers-on-the-rise became hostile to the idea, too. The shift was far more rapid than that from narrow suitcoat lapels to the wide ones. It’s hard to convince somebody of something that does not advance his chances for promotions. Indeed, in short order many took to saying that the premise had been disproven; after saying that, they would have to go and “see a man about a horse”(19th Century slang.)

      From the 1980’s onward, I would often hear that “scientists will invent a substitute for XXX.” Few gave me as much as a quizzical look when I said, “Yes, they’re almost done inventing the Safe Cigarette.”

      Ugo Bardi: “Fatti non foste a viver come bruti, ma per seguir virtute e conoscenza” — is a fitting quote for a reply to Max12345. I kinda like “Ship of Fools” (the official name being “Allegory of Gluttony”), together with its companion painting “Death and the Miser”, as another appropriate pre-Renaissance allegory to overconsumption of resources (and to the collapse that follows). Wisdom from Hell, and precursors.

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    2. Aren't there many better ways to pursue virtue and knowledge than pursuing " false gods " or at least things one really believes cannot happen? Some easily could consider that pretty brutish not to mention misleading if one dissembles over it by stating the obvious in Latin or Ancient Greek?

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  6. Has the Club of Rome made recommendations for how we should address our earthly limits. For example, most would agree that overpopulation is a vast problem, and that even in a potential clean energy future that population growth needs to stop. And that the places where we have growth lack economic development (they aren't producing a lot of carbon) or decent government and institutions. Some experts think that the best way to think about the population bomb is through education for young women.

    Did the group respond to claims that they were colonial or anti-developing work? Did you put out a strategy or a plan?

    It's such a tough issue to think about.

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    1. The Club of Rome is a group of concerned people who don't necessarily share the same views. Even at the time of "The Limits to Growth" not all members agreed on its methods and conclusions. So, as I said, it is more than all a thematic forum. Certainly, all members would agree that educating women is a good idea; some are actually engaged exactly in the task of educating poor peasants (mainly women) to help them. But, then, you open a newspaper and you see that it is hopeless.....

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  7. More fundamentally Inconsistent and unresponsive and evasive comments and answers. Next could come an observation or a deflection about quantum reality or the nature of history and historiography or parallel universes or the true nature of complexity or successive big bangs, stated succinctly in Latin. How about instead responding in plain and clear English to the legitimate questions some are posing about the Club of Rome? Maybe if they were answered truthfully the Club's approaches and methods could eventually improve and its credibility along with them. Or maybe the Club is fulfilling its purposes just fine as it is and people who don't like various aspects of it can say why and then just forget all about it . Or they too can dissemble about their own reasons to help further exalt the notion of truthful and honest dialogue .

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  8. There is no "we".

    That is both a problem and a solution. You make changes to your life and household as you see fit. Others will do likewise, or not; and evolution will proceed (it cannot be stopped) until such time as only the Amish remain OR the energy problem is solved. If the energy problem is solved it merely moves the peak of population to a higher number, and a new peak will be reached.

    So long as you imagine you can control other people the projects are doomed. Every argument you offer against others they can turn around. You say climategate is propaganda; what exactly is saying that it is propaganda? Merely more propaganda; but that labeling makes it neither true nor false. Propaganda is merely what you call your opponents claims; making thereby your opponents claims more interesting by focusing attention on those claims.

    If you change your lives for the better and write about it, people will follow. Not all, but maybe enough to make a difference. Just because the Roman empire collapsed did not mean the end of human beings and what eventually replaced the Roman Empire was, and is, a better thing.

    Michael 2

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  9. Another "take" on the CoR...by now o.k since nobody will read it...
    http://green-agenda.com/globalrevolution.html

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    1. Obviously a product of the Club's perception management division...

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Who

Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome and the author of "Extracted: how the quest for mineral resources is plundering the Planet" (Chelsea Green 2014)