In 1972, the Club of Rome published The Limits to Growth, a report about the future of the world. They described the limits of the world’s resources and what it is capable of enduring, and how humanity – specifically western civilization – seems to expect the resources to last forever. 50 years later, they have written a new report. This time it focuses on what happened in the past 50 years and looks forward to the remainder of the 21st century.
If we continue business as usual, hanging on to our 'we can keep growing forever' attitude, the world as we know it will either collapse from resource scarcity or a pollution crisis before 2100.
The new report has asked 21 scientists, economists, analysts, and two of the authors of the original report to highlight their ideas on the past and the future of the earth. It provides new insights and makes the reader think differently about life on our planet. In a way, the report softens the idea of the apparent end of the world as we know it because a lot of the stories are connected to similar events that have already happened in the past. An example is the fall of the Roman Empire connected to the fall of Western Civilization. Empires simply cannot exist for longer than a few centuries before collapsing, the report argues. Always, a new empire will take its place. This suggests the world will survive whatever is to happen, as it already has been through so many horrific events. There is still life.
Sirkka Heinonen (professor of Finland Future Research Centre) discusses the need for a bio-society. A society with a creativity-driven new consciousness, crisis awareness, and learning from crises which are all needed in order to build up such future resilience. She states "it all starts by realizing that humans are part of nature, not above, and technology should support nature’s health alongside human wellbeing. These two are categorical imperatives. New consciousness will give hope to the planet." The next paradigm in social development could be digital and meaning bio-society.
The sustainability revolution will be organic. It will arise from the visions, insights, experiments, and actions of billions of people. The burden of making it happen is not on the shoulders of any one person or group. No one will get the credit, but everyone can contribute.
According to Jeremy Rifkin (economic and social theorist) we are living a historic transition into the age of biotechnology. He calls the process where information and life sciences are fusing, into a single powerful technological and economic force. The foundation for the ‘biotech century’. Where genetically engineered plants and animals feed a hungry world and genetically derived energy help build a renewable world. A bio-society would mean restructuring all core systems of our societies - food, energy, cities, economy, and infrastructures. Imagine food production without the soil, protein-rich food even without the need for land or raising cattle, forests may even emerge as services for the tourism and health sector, rather than raw materials for paper and pulp.
The report is built on seemingly logical answers to the question of what will happen if we don’t change our behavior, yet it also gives possible solutions to our problems. It provides hope for the future, even though the world will most certainly look a lot different than today. And that is okay. The main message remains: we have to stay within the limits of our planet, we cannot keep this economy growing forever.