Fifty years ago, the Club of Rome pointed out “The Limits to Growth.” In the meantime, the overloading of the Earth predicted at that time has become a reality. In its new report, the research group looks for ways to still achieve a livable future for humanity.
Fifty years ago, the Club of Rome thinks tank shook up the world with its report “The Limits to Growth.” It is the most influential publication on the threat of overburdening our planet. If the global economy did not change, the economy, the environment, and the quality of life would collapse, warned the group of researchers – and triggered debates that continue to this day. Now there is a new report, which has also been published in German. “Earth for All” is about nothing less than the most important measures with which a future worth living for humanity would still be possible.
It’s not too late – that’s what the report conveys forcefully, the result of two years of collaborative research by many experts. Its descriptions are vivid, and the proposed solutions are easy to follow and often very concrete. The experts consider these primary goals indispensable, but they are not impossible to achieve, as the group illustrates with examples of rapid change. We can still get our act together – conveyed compellingly and optimistically.
Data on the state of the Earth also plays a role in “Earth for All,” but above all, it is about what must be done in concrete terms to turn the tide of human development for the better. “This is a book about our future – the collective future of humanity in this century, to be precise,” explain the more than 30 authors. This, they say, depends above all on “five extraordinary turnarounds” that must be accomplished in the coming decades: ending poverty, eliminating glaring inequality, empowering women, building a food system that is healthy for people and ecosystems, and transitioning to the use of clean energy.
A boulder to save the world
The report’s lead authors – among numerous others involved – are Sandrine Dixson-Declève, co-president of the Club of Rome; development economist Jayati Ghosh of the University of Massachusetts; Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research director and Earth system scientist Johan Rockström; environmental psychologist Per Espen Stoknes of BI Norwegian Business School; sustainability analyst and author Owen Gaffney; and Jørgen Randers, former professor of climate strategy at BI Norwegian Business School.
For the report, they used a computer simulation, the “Earth4All” model. Among various possible scenarios, two were chosen for the book, “Too Little Too Late” and “Giant Leap.” “Too Little Too Late” shows what could happen if the current dominant economic system continues more or less as it has for the past 50 years, he said. “In contrast, “Giant Leap,” asks what would happen if the economic system were transformed through bold, extraordinary efforts to build a more resilient civilization.”
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The experts warn that if the current political and economic course is maintained, humanity is heading for further growing inequality. Social tensions would be one consequence. In addition, inequality undermines trust and makes it difficult for democratic societies to make long-term collective decisions that benefit everyone and can be anyone. In this case, the average global temperature would rise by well over two degrees, far above the limit negotiated in the Paris climate agreement and set by science as a red line that must not be exceeded under any circumstances. Large parts of the Earth system threatened to cross climatic and ecological tipping points – with inevitable consequences over centuries or even millennia.
Again and again, the experts emphasize that they see more equality and justice as the royal road to a future worth living. “We know that the richest billion people consume 72 percent of global resources, while the poorest 1.2 billion consume only 1 percent,” the book says. “So most natural resources go to consumption by the richest societies, but they bear only a fraction of the consequences – a profoundly unjust situation.” An extreme level of inequality is highly destructive, “even for the rich,” it warns. “It fosters conditions that are dangerous for everyone.”
“Limits to Growth” scenario even surpassed
Many of the proposals presented in the book are very specific. For example, in terms of income, one minimum goal for turning the tide for greater equality is that the wealthiest 10 percent of a country should have less than 40 percent of the national income. “That means that four poor people collectively have the same annual income as one person in the richest 10 percent group.”
The potential developments in the coming decades are also illustrated by the fictional fate of four girls born in 2020 from China, the United States, Bangladesh, and Nigeria. In the chapter, one factor plays a significant role that the experts consider very important: Education that teaches critical thinking and complex systems thinking for girls and boys. “Because the most significant challenge of our day is not climate change, biodiversity loss, or pandemics,” the group said. “The most significant problem is our collective inability to distinguish between fact and fiction.”
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In democratic societies, misinformation and falsehoods have been contained, at least to some degree, by the mass media, he said. “Social media, however, have shattered that model. They’ve given rise to an entire industry of misinformation and disinformation, which fosters the polarization of societies and a loss of trust, contributing to our inability to collaborate or even agree on basic facts in the face of collective challenges.”
The chapter on the necessary transformation of the food and agricultural system states that more than 821 million people are currently undernourished – and “an astonishing two billion people” are overweight or obese. According to the mass, 96 percent of mammals on Earth are now either human (36 percent) or livestock (60 percent) – and only 4 percent are still wild mammals. In terms of birds, breeding poultry accounts for about 70 percent by mass. “We live on a planet of chickens.”
On the challenges of transforming the global energy system, the report says that this must go hand in hand with lower consumption – for example, fewer and smaller cars are also needed. Another challenge, it says, is the “genuine risk” of social destabilization as the energy system is transformed. “When the poorest majority is hit hardest by rising energy costs, those people will protest energy policies.”
One of the myths cited in the energy transition field is that people’s behavior is difficult to change. Just recently, the Corona pandemic showed that it could instead change very quickly – and with many benefits. For example, working from home reduces emissions and congestion and helps people balance work and family life.
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“We know what you’re going to say now,” it says at the end of the remarks. “The tasks are huge. The obstacles are huge. The dangers are enormous. The time we have left is short.” He said the most challenging tasks of the fastest economic transformation in history must be tackled in the first decade. When you slam this book shut.”
The scale of that transformation may seem daunting – but perhaps there is good news: Maybe the boulder doesn’t need to be rolled up a mountain at ybe it’s already close to a slope and just to be set in motion, they write, for example, with an eye to increasingly affordable renewable energies. As ambitious as the guide presented with “Earth for All” is, it is also “persistently optimistic.” How likely are we to get there, they say? “That, dear readers, depends on what you do next.”
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