The infamous 1972 report that warned of the collapse of civilization


What creates a little frustration is that there was not enough controversy in the scientific domain, because many people somehow dismissed the book. Not of all. Many dismissed it as a doomsday prophecy. And certainly, we were not successful among the economists of the time.

WIRED: Economists probably weren’t too happy about that because growth is intrinsic to capitalism. I unverified growth indeed, a kind of maniacal, ecologically destructive growth at any cost that is built into the system.

CAP: What the system has done, as a mechanism to continue growth at all costs, is actually burning the future. And the future is the least renewable resource. There’s no way we can recapture the time we had when we started this conversation. And by building a more debt-driven system—where we maintain consumption but create more and more debt—what we’re actually doing is burning or stealing people’s time in the future. Because their time will be devoted to repaying the debt.

WIRED: It seems obvious that we will eventually run out of finite resources. But there was even rejection of that idea when the report came out. Where does that insistence come from?

CAP: The paradox is that capitalism is also based on the concept of scarcity. Our system is organized around the idea that resources are scarce, then we have to pay for them, and people in the value chain will profit from this idea of ​​scarcity. Conventional capitalism says that although these resources are limited, we will find others: Don’t worry, technology will save us. So let’s continue in the same way.

WIRED: 50 years after the original report, are we on the right track as a species?

CAP: No, if you look at the reality. And no, especially, if you just look at what governments and corporations are doing, if you look at what the decision makers decide and the governance systems that we have, either nationally or globally. We are no better in terms of pollution, because we have climate warming, an existential issue. We are no better in terms of biodiversity. We are not in terms of inequality. So there are many reasons to say no.

But there are also good reasons for optimism. And those reasons are perhaps less obvious, less evident, less in the headlines in the media and elsewhere. We definitely think there is an ongoing cultural shift that is often hidden in plain sight. Many are experimenting, often at the community level, trying to find their own paths to that balance of well-being within a healthy biosphere. The change that gives me hope is the change in the status of women, the increasing role of women. And I would say that if you look at what is happening with the younger generations, there is also a big change.

So, politically, at the corporate level, at the official level, things are going pretty much in the wrong direction. Culturally, bottom line, I bet a lot of things are going in the right direction. The human revolution is already happening – we just don’t see it. And maybe it’s good that we don’t see it yet, until the moment when many things are moving.



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