Following up on the Beyond Growth 2023 Conference held by the European Parliament in May in Brussels, some essential presentations are illustrated here. Last month, Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics was examined in “Rethinking economic growth” article. Instead, this article concentrates on "Earth for All: A Survival Guide for Humanity," presented on the 50th anniversary of the famous Limits to Growth.
To read this report, one has to forget striving, power, money, and fame—all the "I"s. This report is premised on "we." The "we" that warned back in 1972 of the limits of growth on a finite Earth. The "we" that, if we had listened, perhaps could have at least mitigated Big Oil’s creation of the climate crisis Now, biodiversity has been halved, plastic is everywhere, natural lands are destroyed, nitrogen and phosphorus pollute our waters, while four million people die prematurely from fossil fuel air pollution annually. It is time to put people and their environment above individual success.
Let's take a brief test before beginning with the report's merits. If I told you that your local town has 15 percent illiterate people, 16 percent are malnourished, 46 percent have mortality rates exceeding 25 per 1000, 39 percent have a life expectancy of less than seventy years, 17 percent of the kids (12 to 16) drop out of school, 20 percent earn less than $3.10 a day, 32 percent of the population is without access to improved sanitation, 38 percent are without clean cooking facilities, 17 percent go without electricity, 57 percent do not have access to the Internet, 24 percent live in slum housing, there is a 24 percent earnings gap between men and women, the top 10 percent holds 85% of the wealth, and the homicide rate is greater than 10 in 10,000. Would you try to help your home town? If the answer is no, then I can save you some time: stop reading here.
This report and model are built around two key observations: the first is that we are not only in a climate crisis but in a more general situation of ecological and social disaster. Our system fails to provide for the basic needs of too many people, as described for the local town that actually represents our social conditions globally1. We have multiple emergencies.
The second is that parts of this social and environmental crisis are interdependent. Economic growth (and where it occurs) impacts the environment; the environment influences our health; health is related to productivity; and again, economic growth, where we make investments, is relevant to energy policy and the use of renewable sources, which again impacts our environment and can make a circular economy easier to realize. Improvement in social conditions favors change. In contrast, continued social deterioration may result in regional conflicts and more free-riding, reducing environmental improvements and lowering economic growth. In other words, this system dynamics modeling, used in Earth4You, is an appropriate method to capture these interrelations and feedback loops.
Building the model was part of a process. A multi-disciplinary group of contributing experts and globally recognized economists, thinkers, scientists, and systems analysts spent two years working out "what is necessary to build a fairer, more resilient economic system to weather current interconnected crises and future storms"2. A commission discussed the ideas that the Earth4All computer model then tested. The role of the model was primarily to keep their thinking straight and ensure that the scenarios were internally consistent and followed the assumptions made. The group subsequently critiqued the model's findings. After two years of deliberation, we have the final report and book.
The authors hypothesize two model scenarios, entitled "Too Little, Too Late" and "The Giant Leap." The book describes the two scenarios in detail. In the first scenario, there are slow but positive trends in some areas, so this "business as usual" scenario does include some progress. It is not a prediction of doom. However, this leads to rampant inequality, which likely provokes social instability and conflict in a situation of increasing environmental breakdown. "We believe that if social tensions rise too far, societies may enter a vicious cycle where declining trust causes political destabilization, economies stagnate, and wellbeing declines.3"
The "Great Leap" scenario concentrates on five goals called turnarounds because of their effectiveness:
- Ending poverty.
- Addressing extreme inequality.
- Empowering women.
- A healthy and sustainable food system.
- Clean energy.
The best way to describe these goals is through their most important policy recommendations:
- Allow the International Monetary Fund to allocate over $1 trillion annually to low-income countries for green jobs—creating investments through so-called Special Drawing Rights.
- Cancel all debt to low-income countries (<$10,000 income per person).
- Protect fledgling industries in low-income countries and promote South-South trade between these countries.
- Improve access to renewables and health technologies by removing obstacles to technology transfer, including intellectual property constraints.
- Increase taxes on the 10% richest in societies until they take less than 40% of national incomes.
- The world needs strong progressive taxation, and closing international loopholes is essential to deal with destabilizing inequality and luxury carbon and biosphere consumption.
- Legislate to strengthen workers' rights. In a time of deep transformation, workers need economic protection.
- Introduce Citizens Funds to give all citizens their fair share of the national income, wealth, and global commons through fee and dividend schemes.
- Provide access to education for all girls and women.
- Achieve gender equity in jobs and leadership.
- Provide adequate pensions.
- Legislate to reduce food loss and waste.
- Scale up economic incentives for regenerative agriculture and sustainable intensification.
- Promote healthy diets that respect planetary boundaries.
- Immediately phase out fossil fuels and scale up energy efficiency and renewables.
- Triple investments immediately per year in new renewables.
- Electrify everything.
- Invest in energy storage at scale 4.
Addressing female inequality is essential for many economic and social reasons, but also because females constitute 51 percent of the population, a substantial pool of voters and protesters. They have been wronged and may be willing to try harder to right the wrong.
Likewise, eradicating poverty may be a smart way to "update" capitalism. The basic thesis is that there is a commons of air, water, lands, minerals, and oceans. Businesses must pay a fee for using the commons, maintaining them, and ensuring the good health and well-being of all their citizens. Yes, there are higher corporate taxes and a proposed minimum income, but there is an acknowledgment of substantial wealth accumulation. It is not socialism. It is stakeholder capitalism with full inclusion.
A significant conclusion by the authors is that the "Great Leap" is not excessively costly. They estimate that the extra annual investments required for new food and energy systems are 2 to 3 percent of world GDP. This would amount to as much as $3.0 trillion per year, compared to the present annual investments in clean energy systems, which were $1.6 trillion in 20225.
The alternative, "too little, too late," is not the best economic solution. Just as honest leaders must admit that the handling of climate warming was not optimal, they could have moved earlier. Now is the time to "wise up."
I ask smart business and political leaders to consider the "Earth for All". If you care about your hometown neighbors, and want to avoid the risks of increasing conflicts, you can be expansive; take a leap.
For the others, in particular women, workers, labor unions, scientists, journalists, sustainable consumers, environmentalists, and environmental activists—unite. We are in multiple emergencies of climate change, environmental degradation, poverty, malnutrition, health, and inequality. By acting together, we can force change, putting pressure on governments and on ourselves to consume in a circular economy. We can help change the cultural narrative.
1 Raworth, K., 2017, Doughnut Economics, Appendix: The Doughnut and its Data, RH Business Books, 2017.
2 Dixson-Decleve, S., Gaffney, O., Ghosh, J., Randers, J. , Rockstrom, J., Stoknes, P. E., 2022, Earth for All, New Society Publishers. Kindle Edition. page 2, location 395.
3 Dixson-Decleve, S., Gaffney, O., Ghosh, J., Randers, J. , Rockstrom, J., Stoknes, P. E., 2022, Earth for All, New Society Publishers. Kindle Edition. page 4.
4Dixson-Decleve, S., Gaffney, O., Ghosh, J., Randers, J. , Rockstrom, J., Stoknes, P. E., 2022, Earth for All, New Society Publishers. Kindle Edition. page 120, location 2878.
5 IEA (2023), World Energy Investment in 2023.