Don’t look up!

Policy op-ed by Claire Roumet

March 1972: publication of the Meadows report “Limits to growth

March 2022: European summit of heads of State and government on the “new model for European growth”…

It’s hard not to feel the connection with #DontLookUp!

The #DontLookUp! phenomenon continues to make waves. It’s the second most viewed film on the Netflix platform and released just before Christmas, it’s title has become a popular catchphrase. Not a single daily newspaper failed to put it on the front page; not a single decision-maker has failed to take a stand on the messages it carries. “Don’t look up!” is the perfect op-ed for this start to the new year!

I could stop right there for the beginning of 2022 and not add to the tsunami the film is causing, so incisive in its description of our inability to collectively take action to ensure our own survival.  Was it after the film that the UN decided, last December, that 2022 would be the international year for basic research? Of course it wasn’t, but the timing couldn’t be better! It is indeed time to put our trust in the scientists who have been alerting us for decades, all around the world and methodically.

I do however, want to share with you my latest surprise. 2022, that’s 50 years on from the publication of the report “Limits to growth” by Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows and Jorgen Randers. And what a shock it was!

In the 1972 version, the authors posit 2022 as the end of growth, explaining that before this, the conditions would not be favourable to really slowing down the machine, more specifically so a part of the world’s population could attain a minimum standard of living. Two updates have since been published, one of them 30 years later, which observes the complete alignment of the global situation with the forecasts of their original scenario, showing the system’s inertia in changing its economic model. What is so interesting about their scenarios is that they focus not only on the climate, but in fact evaluate all planetary resources and show their multiple interactions. They strongly criticise the concept of sustainable development, which continues to convey the idea of growth, and using their model, demonstrate just how misguided it is to rely on a techno-centric approach that would allow us to maintain infinite economic growth.

But what is astonishing, truly revolutionary, are their conclusions. In their last chapter entitled “Transition to sustainability: the tools” they suggest several courses of action. After pages and pages of interconnected system modellings, the effective tools they suggest are: inspiration, networking, honesty, learning and love! The authors mention that they hadn’t dared to make these explicit in their initial version, but that they haven’t found anything better since, and that above all they are certain these ‘tools’ constitute a real response. Not necessarily the only response, but a real one.

“Many of us find it hard to count on such ‘soft’ tools when the future of civilisation is at stake”, and yet, they tell us, the essential question we must be asking in order for new systems to emerge is “what do we really want?”.

The Club of Rome, under the leadership of Sandrine Dixon Declève, launches the Earth4all campaign, for a transformation based on science and citizens and within the planet’s limits. A round of applause from Energy Cities!

I can only recommend that you start the year by reading the conclusions of the Meadows report in full. They haven’t aged a day! And more importantly, they propose an agenda for positive action that bears hope.

Inspiration, networking, honesty, learning and love:
frankly, this sounds remarkably like Energy Cities’ raison d’être and it gives us even more energy to roll it out on a daily basis!