© Seikyo Shimbun

Avoiding Catastrophe and Creating Well-being for All | Interview with Sandrine Dixson-Declève

In 1972, the Club of Rome think tank published its now famous report The Limits to Growth, which predicted environmental and economic collapse within a century if rates of growth and consumption were not curtailed. In September 2022, 50 years after the original report, it released a new book, Earth for All: A Survival Guide for Humanity. In December 2022, Sandrine Dixson-Declève, Co-President of the Club of Rome, spoke with the Seikyo Shimbun, the daily newspaper of the Soka Gakkai in Japan, about Earth for All and what we must begin to do now to avoid global catastrophe.

  • Sustainability & climate change
  • Peace

This year marks 50 years since the publication of the Club of Rome’s groundbreaking report The Limits to Growth. Five decades later, its message is still very relevant.

The Limits to Growth was written not to predict doom but to challenge people to find ways of living that are consistent with the laws of our planet. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of its publication, we are, in a way, trying to take stock of what has happened, and we are very much cognizant of the fact that we have lost 50 years. We are now in the midst of the multitude of crises that we already predicted 50 years ago. Pandemics, climate change, conflict—this is now “the new normal.”

We have gone from the “empty world” into a full world scenario where we are now 8 billion, which is creating such stress on the planetary boundaries. We absolutely need to shift very quickly into what we call a well-being economic model. In light of this, we published a new report, Earth for All: A Survival Guide for Humanity.

The Earth for All model was built on the legacy of The Limits to Growth and the planetary boundary framework. Earth for All has identified five extraordinary turnarounds needed to create well-being for all on a (relatively) stable planet.

In 2021, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the world is heading for breakdown or breakthrough. The Earth for All analysis focused on these two possible scenarios for the world this century.

“Too-Little-Too-Late” is the scenario in which governments and international institutions talk a lot about sustainability and climate change but produce little transformative action. This scenario points to growing inequalities and declining social trust as people and countries turn against one another in competing for resources. Without sufficient collective action to limit the immense pressure on nature, Earth’s life-supporting systems will keep deteriorating. This is today's scenario.

In the “Giant Leap” scenario, on the other hand, policymakers seek to implement five major shifts—eliminate poverty, reduce inequality, empower women, transform the food system, the energy turnaround—and do a much better job of increasing well-being. Debt cancellation for low economy countries and taxing the wealthiest 10 percent globally are some of the examples we have proposed in Earth for All.

Why do you think humanity has failed to make the necessary shifts in the last 50 years? What are the lessons we should learn?

I think it's because the 70s, 80s and 90s were growth years. When you are growing as an economy, you continue to foster that growth because you want more growth. The human spirit is such that when things are good, you continue doing the same thing, and in the 70s, 80s and 90s, we did see for some parts of the population that continued growth was bringing wealth.

However, through COVID, we have learned that we actually can all die from a pandemic that starts in a country that's very far away from our own. We see the climate shocks that are now hitting the West as well as those countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh that have been living—Bangladesh in particular—with constant floods for most of the last 20 or 30 years.

I am hopeful that we can tap into the subconscious of all leaders and all people and make them realize that during the COVID pandemic we understood what was most essential: access to healthcare, ensuring that we were safe, that our family was safe, ensuring we had access to food and the basics. That means stop just using more things, more materials, and change your life in order to ensure that we all have access to what is most essential.

In addition, we need governments to show the way. All of us are starting to get hit by the effects of the world reaching various social and environmental tipping points. So, I hope that this will also make leaders, and this is the conversation we are having, realize the importance of moving beyond GDP, of moving beyond just the growth scenario, and of putting in place the plans that we need in order to build resilience across our economies.

One of the main focuses of COP27 in Egypt was “loss and damage.”

In one of the events I facilitated there, I asked Heads of State for a minute of silence for people who have lost their lives in the last year trying to protect the forests.

I think what's very interesting about COP27—Implementation COP, as it has been called—is that we are realizing that it's no longer just about technology. There is, on the one hand, a real push for technology solutions to the climate crisis. But this, for me, seemed to be also a COP that was focusing on the important role of people in preserving the forests, in bringing forward community solutions, whether it be in energy or food, or deforestation, and that is really what was coming out in all the conversations. Everyone is really talking very clearly now about the role of people on the ground.

Despite important progress on loss and damage, COP27 also clearly exposed the limitations of the COP process. We urgently need to deliver on global goals and commitments. The only way to emerge from the planetary emergency we face is to plan for future crises and put in place clear targets and timetables that are ambitious and followed. COP is currently failing at this and that is why we—a group of dedicated scientists and leaders—are calling for reform of the process.

The Limits to Growth concluded with the statement that “man must explore himself—his goals and values—as much as the world he seeks to change.” This was also the main topic of the dialogue Before It Is Too Late by Club of Rome cofounder Aurelio Peccei and SGI President Daisaku Ikeda.

Aurelio Peccei was an enlightened businessman who believed that we needed to address the world with heart, mind and soul in a very different way. He had so many spiritual conversations across the globe, and he believed that we could be enlightened leaders.

Earth for All is not just a system dynamic model. It's now very much about the question of how you build a movement. And making this a people's movement is about making sure that we touch people’s hearts and souls, that we tap into what they understand to be their world, but also that we give them a vision of what a better world could be—and the tools to construct it, if they don't have them.

It is a difficult challenge, and I think that this is where we need to straddle that very difficult line where you stay and keep hope and make sure that we do everything we possibly can to make this a success. This is our shared challenge; and let us accomplish it together.

This interview was published in Japanese in the Seikyo Shimbun, the daily newspaper of the Soka Gakkai in Japan, on 22 December 2022.