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Deep thought - Oct 23

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The Club of Rome is back

Ugo Bardi, Cassandra's Legacy
Yes, the Club of Rome is back. Actually, it had never gone away, but the demonization campaign that had been unleashed against its 1972 report, "The Limits to Growth," had largely convinced the public that the Club's approach to the world's problems had been based on a "wrong" model.

Instead, it turned out that the model was not wrong. The recent turmoil, the economic recession, the worries about "peak oil", and the rapid rise in the price of all mineral commodities have brought back the interest on "The Limits to Growth". That brings the sponsor of the report, the Club of Rome, again under the spotlight.

I am just back from a meeting on energy that the Club of Rome organized in Basel. When I have some time, I'll see to report on it in detail. For the time being, I can just note that I was surprised (but not so much) in finding at the meeting the kind of atmosphere that I had always imagined the Club's reunions would have. Of course, many things have changed from the time of the foundation of the Club, almost half a century ago. It may be that, today, the Club's activity is more focalized on practical solutions to the world's problems, whereas at the beginning it was more in understanding what the future had in store for humankind. But some elements of the Club's approach remain the same: the international vision, the "system approach", the attention to the interdependency of the ecosystem and the industrial system, the focus on the social problems and on the welfare of the poor.

That the Club of Rome could maintain its vision for all those years is all the more remarkable considering that it has been always defined as a "non-organization" that explicitly chose to avoid rigid and formal rules. It may be because of the personality of the founders, Aurelio Peccei, Alexander King, and several others. Or maybe it is because there is something intrinsically good in the Club's way of facing the world's problems. In any case, the Club of Rome still has a lot to say on how to manage our future.
(21 October 2011)



Population of world 'could grow to 15bn by 2100'

Paul Harris, Guardian
Nearly 7 billion people now inhabit planet but projections that number will double this century have shocked academics
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The United Nations will warn this week that the world's population could more than double to 15 billion by the end of this century, putting a catastrophic strain on the planet's resources unless urgent action is taken to curb growth rates, the Observer can reveal.

That figure is likely to shock many experts as it is far higher than many current estimates. A previous UN estimate had expected the world to have more than 10 billion people by 2100; currently, there are nearly 7 billion.

The new figure is contained in a landmark study by the United Nations Population Fund (Unfpa) that will be released this week. The report –The State of World Population 2011 – is being compiled to mark the expected moment this month when somewhere on Earth a person will be born who will take the current world population over the 7 billion mark, and will be released simultaneously in cities across the globe.

Some experts reacted with shock to the figure.
(22 October 2011)



Western nations are now ripe for revolution

Andreas Whittam Smith, Independent (UK)
If there is going to be a revolutionary outburst, you do not get much warning. Writing of the European revolutions of 1848, for instance, one historian recently noted: "At the beginning of 1848 no one believed that revolution was imminent." Now the reason I have gone back to accounts of 1848 is because this date has kept popping into my head as protests against contemporary capitalism have spread round the world.

Not Paris 1968. Nor 1917 to 1921 when, in the chaos following the First World War, workers' rule was temporarily established in some German cities. Instead I have turned to 1848, when much of continental Europe took to the streets in what came to be called the Spring of Nations, or the Springtime of the Peoples or the Year of Revolution.

In quoting above the remarks of a historian on 1848, I omitted the second half of the sentence. What Professor Pouthas went on to say was this: "... yet the situation in many parts of Europe was such as precedes revolutions." Should we say the same thing today about the industrialised world? That is an important question for all of us who would be appalled at the prospect of anything approaching revolution coming our way. Yet there seems to me to be one good reason why we should be fearful. For during the past 25 years, the gap between the incomes of the rich and the poor has been steadily widening. The disparity which began to develop in the US and UK in the late 1970s, has been spreading. An OECD study published in May showed that countries such as Denmark, Germany and Sweden, which have traditionally had low inequality, are no longer spared.

... But go back again to 1848. In another account, Professor Stearns wrote that most of the revolutions of 1848 broke out rather haphazardly. "There was usually a brief, confused period of demands and demonstrations, during which governmental uncertainty helped prolong the tension." No change in that regard, then.

And Professor Pouthas added that when the 1848 revolutions broke out, "its leaders and instigators were intellectuals devoid of political experience, not men of action". This amateur aspect of the protesters of 1848 is repeated today.

Andreas Whittam Smith was a financial journalist until 1985 when he led the team that founded The Independent. The paper’s first editor (1986-1994), he has subsequently been the president of the British Board of Film Classification (1998-2002) and chairman of the Financial Ombudsman Service (1998-2003). He is currently First Church Estates Commissioner responsible for £5bn of the Church's investments, and chairman of the Children's Mutual.
(20 October 2011)



Revealed – the capitalist network that runs the world

Andy Coghlan and Debora MacKenzie, New Scientist
AS PROTESTS against financial power sweep the world this week, science may have confirmed the protesters' worst fears. An analysis of the relationships between 43,000 transnational corporations has identified a relatively small group of companies, mainly banks, with disproportionate power over the global economy.

The study's assumptions have attracted some criticism, but complex systems analysts contacted by New Scientist say it is a unique effort to untangle control in the global economy. Pushing the analysis further, they say, could help to identify ways of making global capitalism more stable.

The idea that a few bankers control a large chunk of the global economy might not seem like news to New York's Occupy Wall Street movement and protesters elsewhere (see photo). But the study, by a trio of complex systems theorists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, is the first to go beyond ideology to empirically identify such a network of power. It combines the mathematics long used to model natural systems with comprehensive corporate data to map ownership among the world's transnational corporations (TNCs).
(19 October 2011)

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