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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Rio-20's Fallout: Time For Radical Changes

The Club of Rome, which sponsored the 1972 study of Limits To Growth, is diplomatically calling for radical changes in government. They try to sound like diplomats, but what they advocate are radical — and, by necessity, radical changes are essential to saving human civilization from its egregious errors.

Ian Johnson, Secretary of the Club of Rome, has over 30 years experience in economic development. He spent 26 years at the World Bank, starting as an energy economist and financial analyst and working through increasing levels of responsibility.

He writes in Flying Down to Rio: Rethinking Global Public Policy:

Rio de Janeiro hosted the ultimate "green party" last month. By some accounts, over 40,000 negotiators and experts attended the Rio+20 Earth Summit to discuss what to do about our increasingly stressed and fragile global environment. Yet their plan of action is notable only for its vagueness.

It's clear now that governments cannot and will not take the steps to defend our civilization from the coming collapse. Johnson makes the important point that:

Those operating outside of government and diplomatic circles seem more concerned, more clued in and more willing to take action. Bottom-up efforts are underway in cities and local municipalities demonstrate concern and a willingness to take action. Rural communities are beginning to stir, concerned about the erosion of natural capital in their midst.

Dramatic changes in weather patterns are causing a wake-up call for many concerned about flooding, drought and the destruction of their homes and livelihoods. Scholars from all disciplines are becoming engaged in a debate about our common future.

Likewise, students are beginning to demand new thinking and new teaching about the ways of the world. Young people are now more connected and more concerned about their own future than at any time in recent history. The unemployed and the very large number of the soon to be unemployed represent a powerful voice for major change to our economic systems.

Decent people displaced from their homes by a cruel and one-sided banking system suddenly have cause to better understand how our global financial system mis-operates. The outrageous bonus culture of the financial sector is raising hackles even among those quietly in favor of a strong capitalist financial system.

Concerned citizens are demanding more information and forming new networks and reengaging in old ones such as the Club of Rome, whose 40-year old study The Limits to Growth suddenly seems to have greater resonance today than ever before.

This suggests that new networks of concerned, interested and committed activists and intellectuals could make a difference. Jean Francois Rischard, a former colleague of mine at the World Bank, has long made the case that networks of committed and knowledgeable individuals and organizations could combine to form powerful alliances for change.

He points out the necessity of radical change:

This means rethinking our present-day values and value systems; our economic models that produce uneconomic, inequitable and wrong growth in the name of wealth creation; our financial systems that trade on greed, avarice and misery; and our global governance systems that are steeped in elitism, patronage, opaqueness and myopia.

He pinpoints where we must concentrate our efforts at change:

We also need an overhaul of our financial and banking services to make them fit for purpose as servant, not master, of our economy. New governance arrangements must be introduced that are agile, responsive, transparent, inclusive and focused on action.

We must ask whether the pious hope that color coding growth to a shade of green will magically produce real prosperity and more jobs. We need to change course and we need to change with firmness and speed.

He remains optimistic that the changes can be made that will save our civilization. We, however, do not believe in unicorns. After all, a pessimist is simply an optimist with experience. In our view, trying to change the system is an excellent plan, but one likely to fail, bringing with it the next global war, one which will be our species' last.