A couple of weeks ago I dropped in to Chatham House for the launch of the new report to the Club of Rome. It’s their 50th birthday this year, 46 years since their seminal Limits to Growth report, and after decades of saying the same thing, they’re entitled to call their latest Come on! Capitalism, short-termism, population and the destruction of the planet.
As a visit to Luton Town Football Club on a Saturday could demonstrate, ‘Come on!’ can be an encouragement, or it can be said in frustration, impatience, or even incredulity. In the book, the authors use it in two senses: first to express disbelief at the economic status quo, and secondly as an invitation to a greener and fairer alternative. It’s an unusual title, and to be honest my initial response was something along the lines of ‘Come on, you can’t call your report that!’ But I get it, and if nothing else it gets people talking.
Come On! is written by Ernst Ulrich von Weizsacker and Anders Wijkman, the co-presidents of the Club of Rome and true statesmen of the environmental movement. Between them they have vast experience in politics, NGOs, science and environmental action, and they have also drawn on a large pool of expert contributors. The result is a book that is international in scope and style, and that commands considerable authority.
We begin with the multi-faceted crisis of the 21st century, including the consequences of population growth, consumerism and financialisation. “There does seem to be a serious disconnect between what is being done and planned for and what is required” the authors note. The world managed to come together to make some plans in the Sustainable Development Goals, but the way the economy is currently structured, “a succesful implementation of the agenda’s 11 socioeconomic goals would more than likely destroy its three ecological goals.”
Chapter two digs under the surface of these problems to explore the underlying philosophy behind the crisis. The authors look at how the most convenient soundbites of Adam Smith or Charles Darwin have been appropriated and misquoted to give a scientific gloss to acquisitive individualism. Nothing will change without a moral or spiritual shift, something they describe as a ‘new enlightenment’. “It is simply not acceptable that selfishness and greed continue to enjoy positive social connotations as supposed drivers of progress,” they write. “Progress can flourish just as well in a civilization that fosters solidarity, humility and respect for Mother Earth and for future generations.”
Finally, the third chapter of the book switches gear. Here the ‘come on’ becomes an invitation to join an ‘exciting journey towards a sustainable world’. All sorts of solutions are highlighted, from regenerative agriculture to the circular economy, decentralised energy, or possibilities for global governance mechanisms. Some of my personal favourites feature, such as ocean farming, or Madagascar’s SRI rice. There are technologies, perspectives, movements, drawn from all parts of the globe. Some of them I hadn’t come across before, and I shall write about them in due course.
The list of solutions makes it more than clear that we have all the technologies we need. The problem is the “materialistic selfishness that is currently the most powerful driving force in the world,” which I’m pretty sure is a bigger challenge than the technology.
Still, the authors might just have delivered on the promise of the back cover: “Finally, we are presenting an optimistic book from the Club of Rome.”