I am sitting in a train on the Räthische Railway riding back from Pontresina, high in the beautiful Swiss Alps. Surrounded by the presence of melting glaciers I reflect on two gatherings that happened here earlier in the week: the WorldEthicForum (WEFo) with about 250 participants, and the annual meeting of the World Future Council (WFC), a gathering of 50 global change-makers from civil society, government, academia, and business. Both gatherings were convened with the intention to reimagine our path to a future that is regenerative, peaceful, and just.
As I reflect on these and other similar gatherings in recent months, I am noticing three themes. These same themes are also echoed in the upcoming UN Human Development Report 2021–2022 (to be published later this week) and in the forthcoming Club of Rome study 50 years after its groundbreaking book Limits to Growth. The new study is called Earth for All: A Survival Guide for Humanity (to be published later this month). It is a collaborative effort guided by the Transformational Economics Commission, a group of pioneering economic thinkers, scientists, and activists convened by the Club of Rome.
The first theme is that we are living in a time of accelerated breakdown and collapse. We see the symptoms of this in the degradation of our ecosystem, often described as «the worst in 1,000 years» in the case of floods and drought. We see it in climate destabilization, in falling water tables, in the loss of topsoil, and in the alarming loss of biodiversity. We see the symptoms of social system breakdown in heightened levels of polarization, inequality, racism, violence, and war, as well as in the beginnings of climate-related mass migration.
The second theme is the sinking feeling that arises when taking all of this in. It’s a feeling that says: There seems to be nothing that I or we can do about it now — maybe it’s already too late. In other words, there exists a pervasive collective depression that shapes everyone’s outlook, in particular that of our youth, who will carry the burdens of our societal failures into the future.
The third theme has to do with the paradox that we know almost everything that is necessary to prevent civilizational collapse — we have most of the knowledge, most of the technologies, and all the financial means necessary to turn things around — and yet we are not doing it. In short: The third theme is about the massive knowing-doing gap that has been embodied in our collective behavior over the past 50+ years.