The Club of Rome is best known for its 1972 report The Limits to Growth. It has not sustained the high profile that it had in the wake of that report, but it has continued to commission research and publish reports. 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the organisation, and with that landmark comes a new report.
To give it the full title, it is called Come on! Capitalism, Short-termism, Population and the Destruction of the Planet: a Report to the Club of Rome.
I went along to the launch event at Chatham House last week, where there were presentations from authors and Club of Rome conveners Ernst Ulrich von Weizsacker and Anders Wijkman. Responses to the book were then heard from Katherine Trebeck, research director of the Global Wellbeing Alliance (and co-author of my own forthcoming book); and Tim Jackson, author of Prosperity Without Growth and head of the Centre for Understanding Sustainable Prosperity.
The report has an unusual title. ‘Come on’ can be an expression of frustration or disbelief, or it can be an encouragement or an invitation. In this case the opening section of the report uses it in the first sense: “Come on, you can’t tell me that that our way of life is sustainable”. The second half of the book uses that latter definition: “there is a fairer more sustainable economy emerging, come on and join in”.
As you would expect from the Club of Rome, the report is impeccably researched, calls on the expertise of some of the world’s most respected environmental thinkers, and is well worth a read.
Will it capture the imagination the way The Limits to Growth did? That seems unlikely. The environmental movement was in its infancy at the time of that report, and the whole idea of environmental limits was new, groundbreaking, and a conversation that demanded a response. Unfortunately that response was to deliberately ignore or undermine it, and the political and economic mainstream has more or less turned a blind eye to any sense of limits ever since.
Of course, natural limits are a reality. The decades of denying them makes the Club of Rome’s message far more relevant urgent and necessary than ever before. And it is no longer a lone voice. There is now a broad movement of organisations, campaigns, businesses and yes – even politicians and economists, who recognise environmental limits and the need for a transition to a sustainable economy. It is into that context that Come On! is released, synthesizing the challenges and the solutions – and with many great case studies to share, it ultimately strikes a rather optimistic tone.