CACOR Member Lalith Ananda Gunaratne : Gain insights into the limits of our world system and the constraints it puts on human numbers and activity.
I am a part of the Canadian Association for the Club of Rome (CACOR) in Ottawa still following the 1970s work of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Dennis and Donella Meadows, Jørgen Randers, William W. Behrans III and team that led to the book Limits to Growth.[i]
It was serendipitous that an article I wrote in 2012 in a Greenleaf Publishing blogsite called A Mindful Growth Ideology
prompted me to contact Professor Peter Victor of York University in Toronto researching on zero growth sustainability models. He invited me to the CACOR Annual Session in 2012 where he and Dennis Meadows were presenting in Ottawa and that is how I became a member.
Values and human behaviour has been my focus within the group and creating mindful conversations around growth and sustainability is crucial as we face a complex challenge with the global ecosystem.
When there are no easy answers in an interconnected system, dialogue is essential to understand and address the needs of the diverse world, in order to balance political discourse, policies and individual action.
The Club of Rome, a group of concerned business and academic leaders in Europe wanting to create a basis for this conversation, commissioned the MIT team to undertake the project that resulted in the book.
The project had two objectives::
- Gain insights into the limits of our world system and the constraints it puts on human numbers and activity.
- Identify and study the dominant elements, and their interactions, that influence the long-term behaviour of world systems.
Two of the scenarios saw “overshoot and collapse” of the global system by the mid- to latter-part of the 21st century, while a third scenario resulted in a “stabilized world”.[ii]
After reviewing their computer simulations, the research team came to the following conclusions:[iii]
Given business as usual – i.e., no changes to historical growth trends, the limits to growth on earth would become evident by 2072, leading to “sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity”.
- Growth trends existing in 1972 could be altered so that sustainable ecological and economic stability could be achieved.
- The sooner the world’s people start striving for the second outcome above, the better the chance of achieving it.
Even though the book was translated into 30 languages and millions of copies were sold, it created a backlash for Meadows and the team, especially, from mainstream economists and the world of business who measure progress through growth and profit.
This kind of backlash was expected from people who’s narrow focus – the pathology of their professions and vested interest would not allow them to expand their minds to the more holistic range of possibilities, so they went into scarcity and fear mode.
History Repeats Itself
When emotions rule for vested interests, the truth is ignored just like the Catholic Church did when Giodarno Bruno spoke of ‘Cosmic Pluralism’ – the universe is infinite – following the Corpanican heliocentrism, which meant that the earth and man were not at the center of it all.
Bruno was tried and burned at the stake in 1600 making him a martyr for objective science and ‘truth’. Galileo took up the cause and was incarcerated after his inquisition in 1633.
This 500 year history keeps repeating itself as the Limits to Growth team were virtually ‘burned at the stake’ too for the heresy they committed to conventional economics.
Forty years after the book, many of the original predictions are ringing true, so I am curious – even in the 20th century, as human beings have achieved incredible technological progress, a low level of spiritual, emotional and rational intelligence is apparent to cause such a visceral reaction.
The separation of the mind and the body – a la – Descarte seems where the blind-spot is. Our education and indoctrination to specialize separates and creates mental blocks that may blindside us later with impacts that possibly could have been avoided.
At the individual level, if most of us do not recognize the connection between the mind and the body – that the mind can affect the body and the body the mind – this is the ultimate separation.
Can we then blame people for not recognizing the link between unabated growth and over-shoot leading to chaos in a finite system where laws of thermodynamics govern ?.
In this case, if leading thinkers – economists, politicians, policy makers and business leaders agreed to discuss the book’s hypothesis along with other research that supported this – at the same time recognized the interconnectedness of the mind, body and the universe – perhaps we could avoid the climate meltdown we are witnessing at the moment.
Scientists knew that carbon was a heat trapping gas that may impact on the environment from the time oil was found and burned in the late 1800s.
Companies like Exxon knew that burning fossil fuels would cause warming since 1977, well before it became public knowledge.[iv]
James Hansen testified to congress about the climate threat in 1988[v],which brought it out in the open.
Therefore, it is appalling that climate change – whether it is anthropocentric or not – is denied by the leader of the “free world” even today and there is a significant population in the US and other countries who agree with him.
The root cause of this opposition and inaction is our conditioning and the education system which separates. That leads to the crisis of consciousness.
According to Dr. Marshall Rosenberg – psychologist, activist and international conflict mediator;
“Most of us have been educated from birth to compete, judge, demand, diagnose, – to think and communicate in terms of what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ with people. At best this way of thinking and speaking hinders communication, creating misunderstanding and frustration, at its worst – it leads to violence”
This can attest to what happened to the Limits to Growth team, as the opponents did not leave room for conversations or dialogue, putting in perspective that this was a model that needed to be examined and not a ‘truth’ at the time. They were emphatic in saying the MIT team was ‘wrong’ and that it is pseudoscience and fear mongering.
Dennis and Donella as Caring Human Beings
If we took time to learn about the characters of the primary authors of the study and the book, Dennis and Donella Meadows – Donella who also made a name for herself as a systems thinker – they were erudite and ethical people who cared about this planet and its beings. They were certainly not charlatans.
Donella, according to the Academy of Systems Change website,analyzed the systems that produce the complex problems facing humanity, and she described with humour and humility what needed to be done to create healthy functional alternatives. Her affection and brilliance were contagious. Her guiding message was quite simple:
We humans are smart enough to have created complex systems and amazing productivity; surely we are also smart enough to make sure that everyone shares our bounty, and surely we are smart enough to sustainably steward the natural world upon which we all depend.[vi]
This makes so much sense that it is difficult to imagine how and who would oppose it. Yet there was so much opposition to their good work from people who had a narrow vested interest. They either really believed this was pseudoscience or feared change and what that would mean to their professions, business, profits and life.
For whatever reason, being closed minded and holding on to the old paradigm is the crisis of consciousness.
As Donella Meadows explained this dominant paradigm, “It is not only an assumption about how things are; it is a commitment. In social interactions, slogans, and common sayings, the reigning paradigm of the society is repeated and reinforced over and over, many times a day. There is an emotional investment in a paradigm, because it defines one’s world and oneself.”
This is the tactic of Post-Truth Politics that we witness today where facts are ignored in favour appealing to emotions of fear and anxiety to rouse people to action to populist agendas. This polarizes those who do not think critically about what is being told on both sides.
The Values Committee of the CACOR
This post-truth resistance and the contradictions are part of the inquiry on Values that the small committee that consists of Gabriela Gref-Innes, CACOR Values Committee Chair and former hi-tech promoter within the Canadian government including the space program; Futurist, Complexity and Foresight Consultant John Verdon; former Canadian Air Force Colonel, Paul Maillet, Principal of Paul Maillet Center for Ethics and Peace Services and myself, as a mindfulness practitioner/facilitator, entrepreneur and ethical business promoter have been embarking on.
We have organized activities to help this community realize the complexity of issues we face – rather than go into dualistic modes of – ‘you are wrong; we are right’ positions based on conditioning and ideology.
The most recent event was a panel discussion on 27th September 2018 in Ottawa as a part of the Ottawa Peace Festival to take a dive into topic ‘Peace and the Crisis of Consciousness’.[vii]
The panel was moderated by Gabriela Gref-Innes and included John Verdon, Paul Maillet and myself.
Our theme was based on the global crisis in conflict zones, failing leadership, governance, human rights, values, climate change; what does it take to awaken the global and leadership consciousness to the desperate need to take action?.
We each presented our thoughts in our opening remarks and John Verdon showed how seemingly powerless people retreat into extreme organizations as we see the Alt Right, Incel or even the MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, who have done great work to bring awareness to gender disparities, male domination and Police violence against non-white citizens – yet can also polarize rather than bring people together.
He also cited Canadian psychologist, academic and author Jordan Peterson’s work illustrating the current realities as to why so many people are divided about what he says.[viii]
Then we inquired whether there is a crisis or not, acknowledging that the seeming external crisis stems from a crisis within.
That focus on self then relates to a need for us as individuals to take responsibility in walking the talk – as Argyris and Schön (1974) shows us that subtle patterns of reasoning which underlay our behaviour; and how those patterns continually get us into trouble.
This is a part of our conditioning and most of us do not realize that our espoused theories – how we think we behave, may not have congruence with the theories in use – how we actually behave.[ix]
We all agreed on the need to put a mirror on self and I put forward a case for mindfulness to complement Paul Mallet’s introduction of U-Theory[x].
If we Observe, Observe, Observe – we may be able to stop and unpack our feelings mindfully – so we can ask why we are feeling that way – it could be fear, doubt, uncertainty about the link between how I show up and how I actually impact the world. This way I am able then to understand my needs better.
This helps to realize the paradox of life – I have an economic need to live well, which is in tension with my need to have a small footprint on this earth. That inner dialogue then has to happen with self-empathy and compassion rather than be critical, impatient, divided and in conflict.
When I can heal my inner-conflict and find peace, I can be at peace with the world to see it more objectively.
I can also understand better and have empathy for other people and the community’s needs to live the way they do and create conversations rather than judgments, so we can collectively learn – compromise with understanding, find common ground and grow together.
As the U-Theory shows, that process of observing our inner emotions, putting things in perspective and letting go allows us to retreat and listen, rather than advocate. Listening in a generative way connects us to the Presence of an emerging future in a holistic manner.
The Current Reality
It is even more important for us to be generative as the future seems uncertain with the extreme weather and socio-economic conflict we are seeing.
Dr. Meadows explains that it is no longer possible to completely avoid the results of global overshoot, including climate change, economic recession, and social unrest. This seems the case even if we stop our global population growth according to the new book Empty Planet by Darrel Bricker and John Ibbitson.
In the face of these new challenges, resilience will help communities adapt and bounce back when hit with a crisis, whether it is a hurricane or a bursting financial bubble.
That begins with me, as resilience manifests when we are fearless as nature around us unhinges.
I have to put a mirror on myself to seek clarity of my deep seated needs such as safety and personal security in times of crisis that give rise to emotions of anxiety and fear.
Coming Home to our Breath
How do we learn to stay calm through all this?.
The breath is the first place to go to, as it is the barometer of our emotions and if we can control the breath as it goes into crisis mode, we can gain the space and power to see the bigger picture rather than panicking with fear.
This allows us to be more skillful and fearless in our action and not react and separate ourselves, as we do have the power and that is finding that power of balance – a dynamic place between helpless inaction and forced reptilian alpha action.
Finding this power of balance helps us to be grounded, so we can take personal responsibility as the environment and climate changes around us, upsetting our socio-economic systems, as fear and aggression can manifest out of desperation for survival. That is the crisis of consciousness, which can be lead to fall of our human civilization.
That resilience mindset – the power of balance – can be only be embedded in our psyche through reflection and mindfulness, as this is the time for humanity to come together with empathy and compassion to help each other in community.
That may give humanity another chance to reinvent itself to a new reality of nature, as technology is not the problem – it is our minds – our conscious selves have to rise to the occasion, to observe, presence and let go, to let come a new emergent future fearlessly through the power of balance.
These are the kinds of rich conversations we facilitate through the Values committee of the Canadian Association for the Club of Rome (CACOR) so we realize the complexity of all this and that there are no black and white solutions to a very grey problematique.
[ii] Turner, Graham (2008). “A Comparison of ‘The Limits to Growth’ with Thirty Years of Reality”. Socio-Economics and the Environment in Discussion (SEED). CSIRO Working Paper Series. Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). 2008-09: 52. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2008.05.001. ISSN 1834-5638. Retrieved 1 July 2014.
[iii] Meadows, Donella H; Meadows, Dennis L; Randers, Jørgen; Behrens III, William W (1972). The Limits to Growth; A Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind (PDF). New York: Universe Books. ISBN 0876631650. Retrieved 26 November 2017