Club of Rome

The Club of Rome is depicted in the film as a think tank that likes to ask questions and solve problems. It offers a “can do” framework that is not afraid to take on big issues and propose big solutions. In commissioning this work by Donella and Dennis Meadows, Jorgen Randers and William Behrens III, the Club of Rome put itself on the map as an organisation distrusted by just about everyone.

Response

‘Limits to Growth’ became an international best seller and the authors were invited to speak the world over about how human civilisation risks “overshoot” by not considering Ecology as a finite underwriter of human invention and intention. Economists everywhere depicted them as plainly wrong and saw the work as an attack on their creed. The resounding impression is that these kinds of discussion are not only unpopular but actually forbidden. To imply that there could be limits to human consumerism and that the engines of commerce cannot run on and over the horizon into the future, was to blaspheme against the doctrines of capitalism.

Political & Economical denial

Striking in the film is the footage of President Carter taking the report so seriously that he addressed the nation from the Oval Office in a brave attempt to explain that human endeavours (explicitly American in this case) did have limits and they would have to learn to live within them. He is then filmed in front of solar panels describing a future where the sun would be a major source of power for the USA. 

Obviously, the American people didn’t think much of this brand of non-profligacy and the film cuts promptly to a newly elected President Ronald Reagan. Reagan goes on to mock Jimmy Carter’s sustainable aspirations and make it very clear: There are NO limits to growth!

This same belief that we can slash and burn ecology without limits is echoed in the address to the UN given by President Bush senior. And on it goes over the decades

40 years on

Well, here we are today and Reagan is safely in the land of limitless dreams. We are currently in 0.85ºC warmer world and the ice sheets are in accelerating decline. The Arctic has turned from white to blue and we see wars such as those in Syria that are driven by extreme drought, a symptom of climate change. Syria is not the only place feeling the pressure. In North America the freezing temperatures are more evidence of severe climate disruption that will have grave consequences for Americans. Sao Paolo, the capital of Brazil, one of the world’s “super-mega city’s" with over 20 million people, is about to run out of water. As I write, inhabitants are only permitted to draw water 2 days a week. In a couple of months the water is estimated to run out completely. Will this resource pressure lead to conflict and eventually to a “failed state” of the kind that Lester Brown talks about?

These are not rare events that the global community can afford to ignore. We are not isolated from danger; we are all linked in the chain of unfolding events and how we choose to respond will define our outcome. 

Donella Meadows vision

The film does a fantastic job of capturing the humanity in each of the Limit’s to Growth “hero’s”. They have never stopped speaking out about what they saw as the early evidence of a system that must, by its very design, collapse. 

Seeing the authors speaking in a personal context takes us out of the realm of academia, towards something more intrinsic. These are the value systems that we are forced to evaluate when our way of life is challenged. Donella Meadows speaks about this very well when describing a vision of the world in which she would like to live. She defines the principals of a sustainable world passed to the next generation, who can go on enjoying nature. It is a world where prosperity is linked to our internal sense of being, love and sharing, as opposed to consuming and vague notions of “growth”.

It seems that our own vision of the world we wish to exist in is defined for us in the projection of a constructed identity via the media. But, if we do stop and try to ask ourselves: what is it that we truly value? Personally, I immediately gravitate towards thoughts of those close to me, my partner, my family and friends, the coastal landscapes of my childhood in southern England, chatting and  laughter. Is it strange that I don’t immediately think of economic growth and the acquisition of more objects as my own vision of a happy future? 

“But what can I do?”

This is the question that comes up again and again. I interviewed Professor Helga Kromp-Kolb in Vienna earlier this year and asked her about the role of the public in bringing about change:

“I think the public has the main role because, living in a democracy, it’s really the public that should push the politicians, seeing that the politicians by themselves are not acting and we cannot really expect industry and commerce to be the drivers.”

There is no doubt that over previous decades the public have been, consciously or not, a very important player in the outcomes that we see materialising around us. Politicians, corporations and other organisations that hold perceived power, in reality, fear nothing more than an informed and determined public. By informed, we must surely include the internal vision of where we personally and, as a species, philosophically want to be in the future. 

Professor Kromp-Kolb echoes the spirit of Donella Meadows in questioning the idea of what it is we really value:

“I think one of the chief issues that need to be discussed is what we call prosperity. Or rather, what we want to achieve because I don’t think it is prosperity in the normal sense of the word, its not having things, it is more like being somebody. and having a fulfilled life and that does not depend on material things and the whole issue of economic growth is about material things. So we are discussing the wrong thing. Really we should be looking at the values that are important to people and help people to find their own values.

“It’s like after having a serious illness, or somewhere being in danger of life and then people start to think: ‘What is it I really want?’”

Go see the film

For anyone interested in current affairs, modern history, our own fate in the 21st century, this documentary is a must-see! It is one more example where the writing is on the wall, the ‘Last Call’ is being sounded and this time we are in the final stages of exponential outcomes prior to collapse.

Official film site

by Nick Breeze

 

 

 

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