Culture change

By Robert Hickson 15/05/2012

Bryan Walker recently wrote on his Hot Topic blog about the Club of Rome’s outlook to 2052. Its a bleak assessment (for western countries at least) if political and economic governance doesn’t shift to a longer term perspective. An analysis in 2008 of the earlier Club of Rome report Limits to Growth (1972) indicated that the steady state scenario it described has largely turned out as predicted [PDF]. Another report also concluded that the 1972 report was admirably prescient.   However, the original report was derided or widely ignored, except for environmentalists who agreed with the premise.

Will the latest report be as accurate and, more importantly, fare any better? Given that a broader range of people, including well respected economists and business leaders, who agree current economic trajectories aren’t sustainable then it probably has a better chance. But it is one thing to agree about projections and another to agree about solutions.

Some think that more scare mongering will help drive change. I don’t think so. For most people if its too scary and too hard to make meaningful change, then fatalism can set in. Doomsday scenarios attract plenty of media attention, but don’t do much to stimulate political action if there isn’t a quick fix. The French writer and philosopher Pascal Bruckner has written a piece (translated in the conservative City Journal) that considers the recent rise in apocalyptic tendencies in western thought, and how (from a right of centre perspective at least) such doom laden scenarios can be ignored.

The prescriptions to move away from a constant growth driven lifestyle are seen as fundamental threats to the cultural values of some, and so they will not agree with the diagnosis or the proposed treatment. Beating such opponents figuratively over the head with more facts and science doesn’t work very well. There are already piles of similar reports that haven’t had much effect.  Naomi Klein also discussed this in a long article. She argued that it is pointless to try and appease some of the more rabid free marketeers by attempting to meet them half way. In her opinion only a cultural revolution, that up-ends the current capitalist system will succeed.

That, in my opinion, doesn’t look likely to succeed either – the Occupy movements have withered, and slanging matches between two extremes doesn’t garner widespread support from those in the middle. As Robert Horn has noted, we should spend less time arguing over differences in business and economic philosophies and devote more thought to finding where the points of agreement are as a means to creating realistic and enduring changes. Easier said than done – there is a lot of mistrust from all sides – but is there a better alternative?

Since the modelling of the 1972 Limits to Growth has proven to be sound, the 2052 report could most usefully be employed (along with several other reports) as a basis to less heatedly discuss assumptions and find solutions for longer term planning and prosperity for all.

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