Citizen Action Monitor

47 years of work on sustainability and “We’re worse off now,” says Jorgen Randers

“What went wrong?” asks this Norwegian professor of climate strategy.

No 2051 Posted by fw, September 14, 2017

Jorgen Randers

“Jorgen Randers’ speech at the Summer School at the Club of Rome has been dramatically different from the standard speech dealing with sustainability. Randers defined himself as a “depressed man with a smiling face” and he summarized his 47 years of work to promote sustainability as an utter failure. ‘We are worse off now,’ he said, ‘than we were 50 years ago.’ What went wrong? Randers asked to the audience to propose reasons. … According to Randers, people are simply unable to postpone their immediate satisfaction for a better future. And that’s the problem today as it was 50 years ago.”Ugo Bardi, Casandra’s Legacy

Jørgen Randers is a Norwegian academic, professor of climate strategy at the BI Norwegian Business School, and practitioner in the field of future studies.

Joe, a visitor to Bardi’s website, posted this interesting comment

It’s not just people. Every living organism strives to maximize resource acquisition, reproductive success and lifespan. Non-human populations are kept in check by environmental constraints. Why should people be any different? Just because we know what those constraints are? So far, the answer is that we are not different, so therefore our population will be kept in check by environmental constraints. And those constraints are looming over our near future. Get ready to be constrained.

I replied with this observation

Re Joe’s comment: “It’s not just people. Every living organism strives to maximize resource acquisition, reproductive success and lifespan.”

But no other living organism — as far as I know — has the human capability for self-awareness, a capability that allows us to use our brain’s executive function to counter our selfish tendencies and, as well, to assess and avoid risks to our wellbeing. I suspect there’s a complex mix of factors that might help to explain what went wrong, making this one of those difficult-to-solve “wicked problems.”

Below is my repost of Ugo’s piece. Alternatively, click on the following linked title to read the article and readers’ comments on Ugo’s website.

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A depressed man with a smiling face: Jorgen Randers speaks at the Summer School of the Club of Rome in Florence by Ugo Bardi, Casandra’s Legacy, September 12, 2017

Jorgen Randers’ speech at the Summer School at the Club of Rome has been dramatically different from the standard speech dealing with sustainability. Randers defined himself as a “depressed man with a smiling face” and he summarized his 47 years of work to promote sustainability as an utter failure. “We are worse off now,” he said, “than we were 50 years ago.

What went wrong? Randers asked to the audience to propose reasons. He got more than a dozen, from the financial system to greed. But he said that none of these is the real reason. It is not a fault of the government, it is not a fault of corporations, it is not a fault of banks. It is, simply, the fault of people. According to Randers, people are simply unable to postpone their immediate satisfaction for a better future. And that’s the problem today as it was 50 years ago.

Randers supported his opinion with the example of Norway, the country where he comes from. He said that he and other scientists had prepared a plan that would have zeroed the country’s emission by 2050 at a cost of some Euros 200 per person per year for 50 years. It was refused at all levels. The rich and well-educated people of Norway prefer to have an extra 200 Euros to spend shopping in London rather than give an example of good management of the ecosystem to the world.

Randers’ talk arose some strong reactions in the audience, some quite unfavorable. But, really, it made a sorely needed point: we are still reasoning as we were reasoning 50 years ago. We are creating environmental activists who are supposed to push people and governments to do something good for the environment. It doesn’t seem to work. Not well enough for what we need to do, at least. And the batch of young activists being prepared at the summer school may face a task that will turn out to be even more difficult than it was for the previous generation.

So, what to do? Difficult to say, but at least asking the right questions is a good starting point

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