luni, 4 martie 2013

SKILLED LEADERS FOR CRUCIAL DECISIONS - foreword to Romanian edition of "Bankrupting Nature, Denying our Planetary Boundaries" by Anders Wijkman and Johan Rockström (2013)

AuthorDr. Călin GeorgescuPresident of the European Research Centre – Club of Rome

It is no overstatement to say that the book authored by Anders Wijkman and Swedish scientist Johan Rockström might well trigger the shockwave needed to gain a more profound awareness for the need to reassess our ideas about the means and ends of development. We need to know and understand the bolts and joints, but also the meaning of our continued life on Earth.

This book is a Club of Rome report which follows in the line Aurelio Peccei, founder of this prestigious international scientific body, had set from the beginning: fight ignorance and stand for truth attained through knowledge as sole foundation for advancement and for a responsible improvement of the human condition on this unique and hospitable planet of ours.

The authors give a clear signal regarding the natural boundaries and the real danger of exceeding the maximum support capacity of our planet. Their central argument concerns the need to break with the ruinous paradigm of reckless consumerism which disregards what is indeed the core objective of development: humanity in harmony with nature. What is needed is a renewed vision with global scope, strategic thinking and action at national and local levels and, more than anything, competent leaders capable of momentous decisions.

This book is however not merely a compendium of, as it happens, perfectly warranted, critical reflexions on the foolishness of past and present decision-makers responsible for today’s hazardous state of affairs in politics, economy and finance. All along, and especially in the final chapters, the authors put forward a project based on coherent ideas and practical measures aimed at preparing and engaging into radical changes for the better.

We assume that this book will indeed trigger the broad debate its authors wish it to, as do most Club of Rome publications – and, indeed, as does any key strategic report. However, to be honest, we have seen so many debates of barely any practical consequence! We hold debate after debate only to go about business as usual and resume our old habits as soon as we are back home. Therefore we sincerely hope things do turn out otherwise this time. The arguments and facts this book reveals are so compelling that they must impress upon even the most skeptical. One can discuss these solutions or their timing, but the conceptual backbone remains: the need for fundamental changes toward a new model of sound development and a new way of doing politics, anchored in strong moral guidelines.

The authors consider the disastrous consequences of climate change, provide many compelling examples which illustrate a clearly detectable trend towards increasing frequency and record-breaking intensity of extreme weather events (droughts, catastrophic floods, violent storms, tornadoes, etc.). Today we have ample scientific evidence that such phenomena are not attributable to natural cycles alone, but are largely the effect of mindless human intervention in more than two centuries of industrial and post-industrial civilisation. Denying what modern science corroborates has become patently absurd.

A special contribution of this book is the comprehensive way the authors approach the global transformations the relationship between man and nature presently goes through. Climate change is regarded in this wider context as just one of several negative outcomes of the present economical development model – an outdated one, deeply flawed both in concept and as a system, and which proves to be unsustainable.

Incidentally, at the annual conference of the Club of Rome (held in Bucharest in early October 2012), several distinguished scientists (including Dennis Meadows, co-author of “Limits of Growth”, the famous 1972 Club of Rome report, and Professor Jorgen Randers, from Norway, author of “2052: Global Forecast for the next 40 years”) pointed out that the planet’s capacity to provide for such obsolete development patterns has already been exhausted in a few critical areas, such as that of biodiversity and the planetary gene pool, of the quality of water resources and the depletion of soils, which has become irreversible in some places. Therefore, even the notions of sustainability or durability as such need adjusting to fit present day conditions, and are in need of a shift in focus toward the concept of long term global resilience.

The authors take one further step forward as they question the ability of political systems, including those of mature democracies, to face today’s formidable challenges, let alone the uncertainties of future ones. “Politics is in trouble,” says Anders Wijkman, reminding of comments the late Vaclav Havel once made and evoking decades of his own experience as a former Swedish MP and a member of the EU Parliament. A wind of change is felt across society, not least at decision-making levels, with vast and lasting repercussions upon people's lives. Hence the case for updating the relationship between politics and science, still marked by a counterproductive divisiveness and by relics of an obsolete paternalism.

The authors also point out the crucial role education and research must be required to play in the training and backing of a new breed of experts and decision-makers, with broader views and outstanding multidisciplinary skills, capable of grasping the broad interdependence and pursue the number one priority: the survival of civilisation.

It is telling that, under the pressure of the complex burden which ongoing economic and financial crises lay on our shoulders, so-called short term corrective measures seem take precedence, a choice which appears outrageously misguided from a long-term perspective. Few decision-makers are aware that tackling the crisis without understanding its origins does nothing more than postpone an inevitable outcome and risks not only compromising future welfare, but possibly the very existence of a human future.

The analysis in this book reveals a striking similarity between the narrow-mindedness which lead to bankrupting nature’s capital and the thinking which lead to the jamming of the financial system and the accumulation of sovereign debt in the last few years.

These problems are caused by our lack of insight into the operation of complex systems, be they nature or society, which can tolerate just so much mismanagement before grinding to a halt and falling apart. The immediate effects of the current financial crisis may be dissipating for now, but further, and presumably more serious ones will follow, so long as the fundamental, systemic deficiencies remain unaddressed: those that poison the ties between man and natural environment. Likewise, negative phenomena will worsen over time as terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems further degrade, climate change progresses and natural resources become increasingly scarce.

According to the U.S. National Intelligence Agency report “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds,” published on December 7, 2012, demand for food will grow by a minimum of 35%, demand for water by 40% over the next two decades. Almost half the world population will live in areas affected by severe water shortage. “Many countries will be unable to handle the situation without massive outside help. Addressing problems of access to primary resources will necessarily affect supply and demand for the other resources.” This is no journalistic speculation, this is the official estimate of a US governmental agency.

The publication of “Bankrupting nature” is therefore a timely event. This report is one of a growing number of valuable contributions and initiatives coming from authors, or groups of authors belonging to governmental or non-governmental institutions which deal with the complex issues of sustainable development and climate change, with economic models, political science, sociology, anthropology and the impact of new technologies on natural sciences. The result is a wealth of knowledge which facilitates the quest for an alternative to the current development paradigm and a host of useful experiments on a smaller or a larger scale, aimed at validating the feasibility of solutions put forward by the working hypotheses.

One important innovative achievement of this book is that it bundles all these angles into a balanced synthesis which leaves behind the traditional perspective, in which the environmental and societal development were perceived as separate from, or even opposing each. The complementarity and interdependence of systems can thus be seen as the source of rational solutions, which in turn need to be complementary and interdependent themselves.

Noting that the conventional model of economic growth no longer suits the current stage in social development, the authors advocate the urgency of a paradigm shift toward a new development model, which they call “circular economy,” a move to be achieved by uncoupling human welfare from consumption. This does not amount to the theory of “de-growth” which recently enjoyed a short vogue, but refers to an adoption and adaption of Nature’s metabolic model: in its wisdom, Nature produces no waste.

The authors’ stated main goal is to clarify the functional relationships between economic and natural systems, and, based on this knowledge, to find rational management solutions for the transition to a sustainable model of development. Considering the lessons of the unfolding global crisis, the authors convincingly argue that the modern economy cannot be managed according to theories dating back to the eighteenth century, at a time when global population was seven times less than today and planetary resources were to be regarded as unlimited for all practical purposes. The notion of “planetary thresholds” is thus introduced and applied to vital resources: going beyond “planetary thresholds” will trigger rapidly propagating and possibly irreversible chain reactions.

The philosophy of this report, however, conveys a robustly constructive attitude: we have a problem, here's a fix! The solutions are derived from properly formulating the questions and from an honest analysis of the challenges – therefore the answers shall not only be logical and ethical, but also realistic. The study also presents many examples of companies who applied imaginative and innovative solutions, which are both sustainable and profitable. Some microeconomic examples also back wider systemic considerations and prove the point that the theory and practice of macroeconomic policies need rethinking, in line with the requirements of our time.

I do not wish to spoil the reader’s pleasure of running through the book and taking notes of the many concrete recommendations for action at local, national, regional or global level. For now I’ll just highlight the idea of a “circular economy,” the priorities and practical implementation solutions of which are presented in such detail as to provide a true blueprint, ready for immediate action.

Publication of the Romanian version of Bankrupting Nature is more than just an outstanding editorial event – and incidentally one of its earliest published translations. The report has immediate practical purposes: it is our hope that it will both serve as a source of information for a wide readership, moreover that it may appeal to policy-makers and help raise their awareness of the huge potential Romania has for taking the winning path of modern progress, which shall result in a well-deserved welfare for its present and future citizens.

Romania still enjoys an extremely valuable natural capital, which is not properly accounted for in the national balance-sheet, but which nonetheless represents a formidable asset for the sustainable development of this country even at a time of ongoing global crisis. The existence of functioning quasi-natural ecosystems and its wide biodiversity recommend Romania as an excellent genetic multiplier reserve, at least for Europe. The country’s virgin forests cover 220,000 ha in contiguous areas, which is unique in Europe and is just one of the country’s many natural assets. The outstanding quality and natural fertility of the largely unpolluted soil, the existence of valuable native varieties of plants and animals and a vigorous wildlife, not only provide huge development opportunities for modern farming and for tourism, but also represent an ecosystemic treasure chest for the regeneration of endangered? European areas and species.

Yet, this country failed to move forward for decades as it lacked a clear vision of where we want to go and of long term objectives. In addition, we are paying the price for major missteps, the consequence of incompetence perpetuated by indolence, which have often seriously hindered a sustainable use of resources and have affected the viability of ecosystems of great consequence for the country’s future. Partly flawed regulations and a crooked or random implementation lead to a spoliation trend which even affected some protected areas. The low waste-recycling rates, low energy efficiency, a serious eutrophy risk in the Danube Delta and the Black Sea, soil erosion and depletion, as well as widespread poaching of game and fish, uncontrolled deforestation, air and water pollution, disruption of the land connection between important ecosystems which are vital for the conservation of wildlife – these are just some of the environmental issues that must be urgently addressed. The fact that Romania is among the European countries which begin to feel the consequences of climate change also requires taking substantial preventive and adaptive steps.

For Romania, embracing and applying the idea and practice of sustainable development is not just one possible option, but the only reasonable way forward. As a member state of the European Union and a signatory to major international conventions, Romania also needs to carry its binding engagements out. Beyond that, the transition towards sustainable development, in line with current recommendations of modern science, fully meets both the national interest and people’s hopes for a better future. This is the strategic target Romania must commit to, and which needs to subsume all other political, economical and social reforms.

In this respect, the book of Anders Wijkman and Johan Rockström represents both a warning and a roadmap. It addresses a general readership, but also targets the academic research community and not least the policy makers. This book will help us realise that, in the complex world we live in today, no solid politics can do without a fundamental contribution from science and without the awareness and support of an informed population. The interface of politics and science has become an imperative that cannot be ignored.

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