Come On! A master class

It is seldom one attends an event where you sit there in total awe. This was a Thought Leadership Forum co-organised by the Club of Rome and the European Policy Centre on April 12th in Brussels.

The event was discussing the recent report to the Club of Rome – Come On! Capitalism, short-termism, population and the destruction of the planet, co-ordinated and co-authored by Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker from Germany and Anders Wijkman from Sweden, co-Presidents of the Club of Rome.

The Club of Rome, with its 1972 report, Limits to Growth, has always forced us to think about what we are doing, what sustainable pathway we are on (or are not on) and how we must move forward. As the preface to the new book states about Limits to Growth, “the book served as a shock to a world as yet largely unaware of the long-term effects of continued growth in what we now call the human ecological footprint.” It was a shock but somehow we have continued to ignore at peril the long-term signals.

Let’s quote the preface again:

“The world is again in a critical situation. We see the need for a bold new beginning. This time, however, we believe it is particularly important to look at the philosophical roots of the current state of the world. We must question the legitimacy of the ethos of materialistic selfishness that is currently the most powerful driving force in the world, and we welcome Pope Francis’s initiative in addressing a deeper lying crisis of values, a central issue which the Club of Rome identified many years ago. The time has come, we believe, for a new Enlightenment or for otherwise overturning current habits of thought and action that only consider the short term.”

The new book is essential reading for all of us. In the preface they explain about the surprising title:

“Come on” has several different meanings in the English language. In casual language, it is often spelled “C’mon” and means “don’t try to fool me.” We consider this the meaning for Chaps. 1 and 2 of the book. We don’t want to be fooled by the usual descriptions of the state of the world and the usual, corresponding answers, which can make things worse, not better. And we don’t want to be fooled by outdated philosophies. Another meaning of the title is thoroughly optimistic: “Come on, join us!” This is the meaning for Chap. 3 of the book, which we consider an exciting journey of real solutions . . .

The authors argue that the human footprint is increasing fast and, if not reversed, will eventually lead to a collapse of the global economy. In their view, profit maximisation – under the principle of shareholder value first – and saving the planet are inherently in conflict and there needs to be a vastly improved balance between humans and nature, markets and the law, private consumption and public goods, short-term and long-term thinking, and between social justice and incentives for excellence. They propose an overhaul in the way that governments, businesses, financial systems, innovators and families interact with our planet.

Herman von Rompuy, former Belgian Prime Minister and President of the European Council, introduced the event, stating that the report provides a new philosophical approach. So true. We all know something must be done but somehow we are unwilling to really move out of our comfort zone.

Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker and Anders Wijkman know how to shake us to our very roots, while being so non-confrontational and being so positive for the way forward. Yes, we need to re-think the policy framework. Yes, we need a new philosophy. Yes, we need to look at how the banking system works. And importantly, we need to base our new philosophy on balance – not the distortions we are faced with now in a myriad of inequalities.

The book offers many positive, practical examples, success stories and opportunities. Many areas of action concern policies at EU level and are of direct relevance to the current policy debate, for example, a move towards a circular economy can help overcome mineral scarcity, significantly lower carbon emissions and increase the number of jobs or regenerative agriculture can stop soil erosion, enhance yields and build carbon in the soil.

The event was a master class from two people who have devoted so much of their lives to addressing issues related to sustainability. You can search the Internet to better understand what they have done.

But you had to be in the room to understand the humanity and strength of purpose the two of them brought to us. At this stage in their experience, they bring forward a message that we must all take to heart. It was an unbelievable master class.

Now it is for all of us to take the next steps. Come on!


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