Sunday, March 7, 2010

Aurelio Peccei's Flawed Vision and The Club or Rome

The Limits of Growth was the first report to the Club of Rome, and it appears to have established an enduring slant to beliefs about the future subsequently. The current Club of Rome internet site states:
It is clear that the present path of world development is not sustainable in the longer term, even if we recognise the enormous potentials of the market and of technological innovation. New ideas and strategies will be needed to ensure that improved living conditions and opportunities for a growing population across the world can be reconciled with the conservation of a viable climate and of the fragile ecosystems on which all life depends. A new vision and path for world development must be conceived and adopted if humanity is to surmount the challenges ahead.

At this point I I would like to point out who the Club of Rome is, and who they are not. The Club of Rome is composed of a small circler of wealthy, powerful and influential people. Its self conceived mission is
"to act as a global catalyst for change through the identification and analysis of the crucial problems facing humanity and the communication of such problems to the most important public and private decision makers as well as to the general public." Its activities should: "adopt a global perspective with awareness of the increasing interdependence of nations. They should, through holistic thinking, achieve a deeper understanding of the complexity of contemporary problems and adopt a trans-disciplinary and long-term perspective focusing on the choices and policies determining the destiny of future generations."
Leadership of the Club of Rome appears to be Eurocentric.
At present the Club has two Co-Presidents, Dr. Ashok Khosla of India and Dr. Eberhard von Koerber of Germany, and two Vice-Presidents, Professor Heitor Gurgulino de Souza of Brazil and Dr. Anders Wijkman of Sweden. The work of the International Club is supported by a small secretariat in Winterthur, Canton Zurich, Switzerland under the leadership of Martin Lees of the United Kingdom.
In case you are wondering about Ashok Khosla, his biography states,
Ashok Khosla is one of world's leading experts on the environment and sustainable development. A former director of the United Nations Environment Programme, he was awarded the 2002 Sasakawa Environment Prize - "the Nobel Prize of the environment world" - and has been named in the UNEP's Global 500 Roll of Honour.
Born in Kashmir in 1940, the son of a university professor and a college lecturer, Khosla gained a masters degree in natural sciences from Cambridge University before going on to do a PhD in experimental physics at Harvard.
After a period teaching in the United States - he was part of the team that designed and taught Harvard's inaugural undergraduate course on the environment - he returned to his native India where he became the founding director of the Indian government's Office of Environmental Planning and Co-Ordination, the first such agency in a developing country.
In 1976 he was appointed director of the UNEP, where he designed and launched Infoterra, the global environmental information exchange. He remained with the UNEP until 1982 when he left to found Development Alternatives, a Delhi-based Non-Governmental Organization devoted to promoting commercially viable, environmentally friendly technologies.
He has been a board member of numerous global environmental organizations - including the Club of Rome, the World Conservation Union and the International Institute for Sustainable Development - and served as an adviser to, among others, the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme and the Indian government.
In his presentation speech for the Sasakawa Award Klaus Toepfler, Executive Director of the UNEP, described Khosla as "a legend in the realm of sustainable development, and an individual who personifies the hopes and dreams of billions trapped in the indignity of acute deprivation."
He lives in Delhi.
Heitor Gurgulino de Souza is a former Rector of the United Nations University, a think tank in Japan., as well as a Special Advisor to the Director-General of UNESCO,.

I do not subscribe to conspiratorial interpretations of the Club of Rome, but its limitations are obvious. Women are underrepresented as are Asians and arguably scientists. The Club of Rome claims to be
"a group of world citizens, sharing a common concern for the future of humanity and acting as a catalyst to stimulate public debate, to sponsor investigations and analyses of the problematique and to bring these to the attention of decision makers".
Infact there is scant evidence that the Club of Rome even attempsts to foster debate. For example, the Club of Rome still maintaining that the findings of the Limits of Growth were valid despite the currently accept view that the Forrester/Meadows model was deeply flawed and used an unsatisfactory quality data set. The actual quality of the model was unimportant to the Club of Rome however, what was important was the argument that humanity needs to re-evaluate its exploitative attitude towards humans and the earth. The fundamental vision of the Club of Rome appears to have been Peccei's vision.

The Club of Rome's view of its mission was clearly outlined in a 1979 speech by Club founder Aurelio Peccei:
The purpose of this project is to bring to the forefront two intertwined questions which are fundamental for the survival and development of humankind.
One is whether what we call progress is perhaps so hectic and haphazard that world populations are utterly confused and out of step with the waves of change it causes for better or for worse. The idea implicit in this question is that, though highly advanced in other ways, modem men and women are as yet unable to grasp fully the meaning and consequences of what they are doing. Failing to understand the mutations they bring about in the natural environment and their own condition, they come to be increasingly at odds with the real world. This is the human gap - already large and dangerous, and yet destined almost inevitably to get much wider.
The second question, then, is whether present trends can be controlled and the gap bridged before a tragic and grotesque fate overtakes homo sapiens. To give a positive answer to this question, one must assume that the human being possesses still untapped resources of vision and creativity as well as moral energies which can be mobilized to bail humankind out of its predicament. This may indeed seem a far- fetched assumption, but many of us consider it perfectly valid. The average person, even when living in deprivation and obscurity, is endowed with an innate brain capacity, and hence a learning ability, which can be stimulated and enhanced far beyond the current relatively modest levels.
First, Peccei assumes that he understands the grand sweep of human history, and that he possess the insight required to identify mistakes in human thought and action. In other words Peccei is making grandiose assertions. Secondly, Peccei asks if human beings possess "untapped resources of vision and creativity as well as moral energies"needed to solve the problems he envisions. While there is little doubt that improving education world wide, and greatly increasing human access to educational opportunities is highly desirable, improving the the education of world's population might not produce the sort of agreement about the "human situation" which Peccei seemingly anticipates. Indeed as Peccie unfolds his vision it becomes increasingly open to question.
For quite a while, humanity thought that in this way it had discovered an optimal pattern of steady, self-propelling development. We were all proud of a civilization highlighted by unprecedented scientific achievement, wonderful technology and a flood of mass-production which brought in their stride higher standards of life, the conquest of disease, undreamed-of travel opportunities and instant audiovisual communications.
But it eventually began to dawn on us that by the indiscriminate adoption of this pattern we were all too often paying exorbitant social or ecological costs for improvements obtained, and were even induced to neglect the virtues and values which are the foundations of a healthy society and at the same time the very salt for the quality of life. Then came the creeping doubt that for all its greatness humanity lacked wisdom.
First, we must ask if Peccei over rates the human ability to foresee the consequences of its haphazard decisions and underrate the human ability to successfully adapt to those consequences as they emerge. We have to ask what Peccei envisions as the human and ecological consequence of modernity. First, premodern human economies were also capable of producing significant environmental feedback as a 2000 report by the state of Israel on the On the Implementation Of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification noted,
The arid regions of Israel suffered natural soil erosion due to climate change during early historical times, and ancient Negev populations invested commendable terracing efforts to halt this erosion and to develop run-off agriculture there. From the dawn of history nearly all parts of the country have been under intensive land use by humans, including pastoralism and cropping, though evidence for desertification or the lack of it during historical times is not conclusive. During the turn of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century exploitation of woody and herbaceous vegetation especially in the dry subhumid areas, for firewood and due to grazing, caused severe soil erosion and significant degradation of vegetation. Many lowland regions have become waterlogged and salinized. It is not known whether or not semi-arid drylands suffered desertification at that time.
The report does not elaborate on the relationship of grazing practices to desertification, but these are well documented elsewhere. "Wildlife", and Internet site states.
In the Near East, the plains between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers formed the ancient region of Mesopotamia. This area was known for its agricultural wealth, but it became an early victim of desertification brought about by humans.

Ancient farmers knew that periodically leaving land fallow or unplanted, helped to renew the soil’s fertility. But they stopped this practice so that they could grow more crops.

After 3000 B.C. irrigation be-came more widespread, proba-bly in response to a population increase. As a result, the soil be-came exhausted. Its fertility was also decreased by a buildup of salts left behind by evaporated irrigation water. Eventually the once lush plains became a des-ert, and the ancient Mesopo-tamian civilization collapsed.

At one time the lands north of Africa’s Sahara Desert supported a wide range of wildlife. Ancient rock paintings, murals in tombs, and Roman mosaics all depict deer and gazelle in grasslands, with predators such as leopards and lions hunting them.

Under Roman rule, North Africa produced vast quantities of cereal grains such as barley and wheat. However, centuries of overgrazing by cattle, as well as harm to shrubs and trees by goats, have combined with climatic shifts to erode the land and destroy wildlife. Tunisia, for example, has lost approximately half its arable land.

Some scientists believe desertification reintorce itself intensifying the changes in the climate. Whenever vegetation is destroyed on a large, long-term scale, ground temperature rise and rainfall decreases. In 1969 the Israelis built a fence across the Sinai-Negev Desert between Israel and Egypt. On one side the Egyptians continued grazing camels, sheep, and goats. On the other side the Israelis left the land uncultivated, and wild plants began to take hold. Satellite photographs re-veal dark patches of vegetation under hazy cloud cover on the Israeli side but a clear sky and a desert in the making on the Egyptian side.
Thus the ecological damage caused by modern agricultural practices must be measured against the ecological damage caused by traditional practices of agriculture. Neither is desirable, but the superior resources available to modern agriculturalists, would appear to make mitigation more likely. A recent Chinese report of the mitigation of agriculture related desertification states,
Transforming the traditional resource-consuming agriculture into modern agriculture is the only choice and fundamental way to improve agricultural and ecological conditions in the Northwest.
Modern agriculture is a resource-saving and technology-intensive industry run by intensive management with the combination of planting, breeding, processing, trading, manufacturing and farming. The traditional way of extensive cultivation and management as well as the divorce of agriculture from animal husbandry must be replaced by the concept of modern agriculture. Only in this way, can the course of industrial management and adjustment of the agricultural structure be advanced, and a technology-industry system will come out of the combination of animal husbandry, cultivation of herbage, farming of fine breeds of livestock, water conservancy, processing of agricultural products, and management of agricultural energy.

Both irrigation- and rainfall-dependent agriculture can form an expanding agro-pastoral circle centered on villages or oases, which is the outcome of harmonized relations between human and nature, and an optimized man-made ecosystem suitable for natural and cultural environments in the Northwest.

If switching from grazing to rearing sheep in folds is to tackle the problems of desertification and degeneration of the grassland at the root on a large scale, speeding up the construction of modern agriculture is to resolve the issues of ecological improvement and agricultural development in the Northwest at a higher level. As fundamental measures to combat desertification, raising sheep in pens, stopping cultivating and grazing, and promoting the course of modern agriculture are emphases for the investment of capital and technology and deserve favorable policies.
Thus not only may traditional agriculture cause far more ecological damage than modern agricultural practices, but modern agricultural practices offer routes to mitigation of the damages caused by traditional practices.

I call attention to the desertification issue because it suggests modernity itself may not be a cause of all or even most human ecological problems. Furthermore attempts to fight pollution go back to the Middle ages. in 1271 King Edward I, of England banned the burning of coal on penalty of torture and death. Yet despite repeated royal efforts, coal use was not controled in the United Kingdom until the infamous London smog of 1952 killed 3000 people in London. Similar conditions exist in contemporary China, which appears to be the pollution problems earlier experienced in Europe and North America, during their earlier periods of industrialization.

Several observations suggest that Peccei's thought was in many respects conventional. For example, Peccei claimed,
Tangles of mutually reinforcing old and new problems, too complex to be apprehended by the current analytical methods and too tough to be attacked by traditional policies and strate- gies, were clustering together, heedless of boundaries and plaguing all nations, whether developed or developing, and whatever their political regime and societal structure.
But while it is true, that Peccei have to offer? He offered a dump of bad data into a Jay Forrester's poorly conceived and untested World Dynamics model. Peccei appears totaly unaware of the 1960's critic of unsophisticated use of computer tools, >garbage in, garbage out." Peccei himself acknowledged the problem, stating that it was
well-nigh impossible to draw a map of this complicated web of problems or to perceive the most virulent knots, . . .
Peccei suggested,
even ordinary people feel just how formidable the threat is becoming. They realize that increasing world disorder and real or feared scarcities of natural resources exacerbate political tensions and trigger military build-ups of dementia1 proportions, stifling peaceful development;
Peccei's statement is flawed in multiple ways. Were people more concerned about progress than in the past? How did Peccei know this? Peccei delivered this speech in 1979 as the arms race was winding down. and the cold war was beginning to loose its edge, yet Peccei chose to focus on Cold War issues. Today some 30 years later, material scarcities are still with us, but they do not seem to be propelling an arms race. Complaints about international conflict have been replaced by complaints about "globalization," a form of peaceful international economic development.

Thus we must ask, "on what grounds did Pecceie articulate his 1979 claim that
In overall terms, while apparently still advancing, humankind is now actually losing ground, and is going through a phase of cultural, spiritual and ethical, if not also existential, ecline - thus turning the gap into a chasm.
It would appear that Peccei great intellectual gift was to boil down complex problems to to overly simple general statements, that is Peccei was given to hasty generalizations. These generations glar at us in Peccei's list of global problems,
might is right the myth of national sovereignty but aggravates the inequalities among states, while social injustice coupled with inefficient, often corrupt institutions breeds civil violence, which readily expands internationally; that polluted and impoverished environments, besides vitiating our life, also drag the economy downwards at a time when recession and inflation already conflow into stagflation, spawning unemployment, frustration and still more tension and disorder - and so on and so forth.
Peccei is clearly a "glass is half empty" sort of guy. It is clear that the first decade of the 21st century has witnessed the very sort of progress

And conspicuously absent from Peccei's list are the condition of women in traditionally societies - an issue avoided by the male dominated Club of Rome. Also absent is the issue of religious persecution and religious inspired conflict and violence. Rather than loosing ground, the economies of India and china, and the well being of their people appear to have rapidly gained rather than lost ground during the last decade.

Thus it is clearly open to question whether Peccei's vision could have been said to be true in 1979, and even more questionable today.


Robert Hargraves said...

Limits to Growth is featured in the Aim High presentation, with the suggestion that energy cheaper than from coal can solve climate and overpopulation problems. Should I send the booklet to Khosla, von Koerber, Gurgulino de Souzak, Wijkman, and Lees? Do you have a copy?

Charles Barton said...

Robert, It would not hurt to send out the copies, but I would not get my hopes up either. No I don't have a copy.


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