WHAT HAVE WE LEARNT?
WHAT TRANSFORMATIVE CHANGE IS NEEDED NOW?
Our founder, Aurelio Peccei, after selling millions of copies of The Limits to Growth, learnt that the biggest challenge humanity faces is to learn anew how to close the gap between what we know and how we act on that knowledge. Peccei dedicated the latter part of his life to promoting what he referred to as a Human Revolution – a process of travelling into ourselves to learn anew what it means to be human and to learn to act in ways that reflect the best versions of who we are as human beings.
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He drew heavily on East Asian culture and spirituality by partnering with Daisaku Ikeda, a Buddhist monk, to engage the Human Gap he identified as the heart of the planetary emergencies we are facing today. In their 1984 book: Before it is Too Late he said: “I am convinced that our current crisis is not in our nature, and hence ineluctable. However serious, it is finally an amenable cultural crisis caused by the civilization that evolved from the Judeo-Christian tradition and later spread everywhere”(1984:23).
Indigenous communities across the world have retained, and continue to live, by the wisdom of our common ancestors that: to be human is to be relational – human beings are inextricably interconnected, interdependent, and nested within the web of life. In my part of the world, Africa, we call this essence of being human - Ubuntu - being part of a human family rich in its diversity.
What we have unfortunately learnt over the years of promoting a Human Revolution is that:
The existing political economics systems at the local, national and international levels are highly resistant to transformative action;
International forums including the UN system and the Breton Woods Institutions, are not fit for purpose, because they remain rooted in protecting and promoting post-WWII global political and economic interests;
Citizens, especially young people in Most of the World, where they are majorities yet remain under-represented in leadership positions at local, national, national and international levels, are the most important transformative change agents. They have vested interests in liberating the future so they can shape it into alignment with their values and yearning for social justice and sustainable ecosystems.
What has all this got to do with growth, de-growth, or post-growth? Everything! Why are some of the best people amongst us continuing to be hooked on a concept that has more than proven its devastating impact on nature and its ecosystems? To the extent that growth remains a standard by which we measure progress, development and well-being, to that extent will we struggle to dare to contemplate the transformation of our current inequitable world towards greater equity for a healthy planet.
The above lessons have the following implications:
1. The global political economy system urgently needs fundamental transformation. Incentive systems operating at many levels today reward more extractive behaviours and impunity. Western economic systems were built on extractive models that have morphed from their crass imperial and colonial origins into the financialised economic system today, which trades on mythical assets with no real value attached to them. For example in mid-2023 various sources estimated that various forms of fictitious financial assets totalled over $1 quadrillion, a substantial majority of the world’s total financial assets. This is more than 10 times the total world GDP - the estimated value of global financial exchange relating to the purchase and sale of real goods and services. So why are we so exercised by “growth” given these grotesque monopoly practices in its name?
2. David Korten in his book: Agenda for a New Economy first published in 2010, proposes that living economies can only come up from self-organising bottom-up local processes of learning and emergence. Overcoming barriers erected by Wall Street is an epic challenge. Fortunately, the cultural transformation required to align our cultural stories with the higher human nature and our shared vision of the world is underway. The institutional transformation is also underway building on the foundations of what remains of Main Street economies. Countries as far apart as China and Rwanda, are finding their own ways of building systems that are more culturally appropriate than the failing Western-dominated global system.
3. The UN System despite its structural failures has good citizens of the world who are learning and practising guerrilla tactics, to use the strengths of the institutions to enable transformation inside-out/outside-in processes, that jump barriers and obstructive loops. The archaic UN Security Council is imploding into itself amid multiple crises that require a human family approach for which it is wholly unsuitable! The Declaration of the Decade of Sciences for Sustainability in August 2023, is an example of how those inside the UN system were able to mobilise inside-out to set up a transformative process to promote collaborative trans-disciplinary sciences for society, to move the world toward global equity for a healthy planet.
4. We, the citizens and people of the world, have the opportunity to forge ahead with cultural transformations that would accelerate the current global political-economic system's self-destruction. Young people have the numbers to put pressure on the system by opting out of it, into local self-organising processes of teaching/learning; food production and distribution; arts and cultures; that draw on ancient wisdom and beauty; health and wellbeing from indigenous wisdom; etc. The consumption driven economic model is vulnerable to implosion if people take the Human Revolution seriously to emerge as Ubuntu people focussed on Being More not Having More. The Preamble of the Earth Charter adopted by the UN in March 2000, calls for each of us to contribute to the collective leadership to secure our Mother Earth. "Towards this end, it is imperative that We, the peoples of the Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations."
I urge you to renew your vows to the Earth. Wherever I go I meet the future. It is young, it is gifted and it is full of the joy of living. It is liberated and bent on shaping tomorrow into a place for global equity for a healthy planet.
Co-President Club of Rome