The Infamous 1972 Report That Warned of Civilization’s Collapse


What generates a bit of frustration is that in the scientific realm there was not enough controversy, because somehow the book was discarded by many. Not for everyone. For many, it was dismissed as a prophecy of the day of final judgment. And we certainly did not succeed among the economists of the time.

WIRED: Presumably economists didn’t like it too much because growth is inherent in capitalism. I unmarked growth really, a kind of manic, ecologically destructive growth at all costs that is integrated into the system.

CAP: What the system has done, as a mechanism to continue growth at all costs, is actually to burn the future. And the future is the least renewable resource. There is no way to reuse the time we had when we started this conversation. And by building a more debt-driven system — where we keep consumption, but creating more and more debt — what we’re really doing is burning or stealing people’s time in the future. Because your time will be spent paying off debt.

WIRED: It seems obvious that we will eventually run out of finite resources. But there was even a rejection of this idea when the report came out. Where does this insistence come from?

CAP: The paradox is that capitalism is also based on the notion of scarcity. Our system is organized around the idea that resources are scarce, then we have to pay for them and people in the value chain will benefit from this idea of ​​scarcity. Conventional capitalism says that while these resources may be finite, we will find others: Don’t worry, technology will save us. Because we continue in the same way.

WIRED: 50 years after the original report, are we on the right track as a species?

CAP: No, if you look at reality. And not, in particular, if we look only at what governments and corporations do, if we look at what those who make the decisions and systems of government we have decide, whether national or global. We are no better when it comes to pollution, because we have global warming, an existential issue. We are not better at biodiversity. We are not in terms of inequality. So there are many reasons to say no.

But there are also good reasons for the optimism of the will. And those reasons are possibly less obvious, less obvious, less to the headlines in the media and elsewhere. We definitely think there is an ongoing cultural change often hidden from view. Many are experimenting, often at the community level, trying to find their own paths to this balance of well-being within a healthy biosphere. One change that brings me hope is the change in the status of women, the growing roles of women. And I would say that if we look at what is happening with the younger generations, there is also a big change.

So politically, at the corporate level, at the official level, things are practically going in the wrong direction. Culturally, below the line, my bet is that a lot of things are going in the right direction. The human revolution is already happening, it’s just that we don’t see it. And maybe it’s good that we don’t see it yet, until the very moment it changes a lot of things.



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