Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A depressed man with a smiling face: Jorgen Randers speaks at the Summer School of the Club of Rome in Florence

This is not a picture taken at the summer school, but it is Jorgen Randers, the real one!

Jorgen Randers' speech at the Summer School at the Club of Rome has been dramatically different from the standard speech dealing with sustainability. Randers defined himself as a "depressed man with a smiling face" and he summarized his 47 years of work to promote sustainability as an utter failure. "We are worse off now," he said, "than we were 50 years ago. 

What went wrong? Randers asked to the audience to propose reasons. He got more than a dozen, from the financial system to greed. But he said that none of these is the real reason. It is not a fault of the government, it is not a fault of corporations, it is not a fault of banks. It is, simply, the fault of people. According to Randers, people are simply unable to postpone their immediate satisfaction for a better future. And that's the problem today as it was 50 years ago.

Randers supported his opinion with the example of Norway, the country where he comes from. He said that he and other scientists had prepared a plan that would have zeroed the country's emission by 2050 at a cost of some Eur 200 per person per year for 50 years. It was refused at all levels. The rich and well-educated people of Norway prefer to have an extra 200 Eurs to spend shopping in London rather than give an example of good management of the ecosystem to the world.

Randers's talk arose some strong reactions in the audience, some quite unfavorable. But, really, it made a sorely needed point: we are still reasoning as we were reasoning 50 years ago. We are creating environmental activists who are supposed to push people and governments to do something good for the environment. It doesn't seem to work. Not well enough for what we need to do, at least. And the batch of young activists being prepared at the summer school may face a task that will turn out to be even more difficult than it was for the previous generation.

So, what to do? Difficult to say, but at least asking the right questions is a good starting point


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)