The OECD as the cradle of the Club of Rome | reblogged from OECD Insights Blog

By guest author Matthias Schmelzer, University of Jena, based on a newly published article on the origins of the Club of Rome within the OECD.

The Club of Rome’s first report, The limits to growth, appeared in 1972 and was ultimately published in thirty languages and sold over thirty million copies worldwide. It made many people aware for the first time that with continuing growth the world would eventually run out of resources. Today, 45 years later, its electrifying conclusions, which modelled the ‘overshoot and collapse’ of the global system by the mid twenty-first century, still provoke intense debates.

The report also brought international fame to the newly founded Club of Rome, which has since become a key reference point in the public memory of the 1970s and environmental discourses more generally. It boasts considerable authority as a private, non-state, and global group of experts concerned about the fate of humanity, and a wise warden for the ecological survival of planet Earth. However, this extraordinary public and academic attention has largely overlooked the constitutive entanglements with the OECD that characterise the Club’s foundation and early history.

This OECD–Club of Rome nexus needs explaining. The OECD, founded in 1961 as the successor of the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC) that had overseen the Marshall Plan aid, soon became, in the words of one of its Directors, “a kind of temple of growth for industrialised countries; growth for growth’s sake was what mattered”. By the late 1960s, however, faced by increasing popular anxiety about unsustainable growth in Western societies, scientists and bureaucrats within the OECD launched a debate on “the problems of modern society”. The driving forces of this growth-critical and ecologically oriented debate were two of the most powerful men within the Organisation: the head of the OECD since its foundation in 1961, Secretary-General Thorkil Kristensen, and the Organisation’s long-time science director and unofficial intellectual leader, Alexander King. The topic assumed such importance that it was central to discussions at the OECD’s ministerial meetings in 1969 and 1970.

However, Kristensen, King, and their associates around the science directorate and the Committee for Science Policy were frustrated by governments’ inability to deal with long-term and interrelated ecological problems and thus looked for allies outside the OECD. They got together with Italian industrialist and global visionary Aurelio Peccei, at that time an executive of Fiat and the managing director of both Olivetti and Italconsult, and in 1968 this elite group of engineers, scientists, and businessmen, founded the Club of Rome. They were fundamentally sceptical about the potential of existing political institutions to catalyse the controversial global debate they deemed necessary, because they regarded these institutions as the “guardians of the status quo and hence the enemies of change”. They saw themselves “faced with the extraordinary arrogance of the economist, the naivety of the natural scientist, the ignorance of the politician, and the bloody-mindedness of the bureaucrat”, all unable to tackle the ensemble of problems they had identified.

Thus, they built a transnational network to advance their view of planetary crisis both through the OECD (thus targeting key economists and ministers from member countries) and through the Club of Rome, whose reports forcefully shaped public debates. This network blurred the lines between the “official” OECD and the “private” Club, not only in terms of overlapping membership but also in terms of discourses. While the Club functioned as a “detonator”, its core members used international organisations “as transmission belts”, as Peccei explicitly put it, and thus acquired a strong leverage.

The personal overlap between the OECD and the Club of Rome in its initial phase is remarkable. Not only were three of the four persons that founded the Club working in or with the OECD (King, the Austrian systems analyst, astrophysicist, and OECD expert; Erich Jantsch; and the Swiss director of the Geneva branch of the Battelle Memorial Institute and Vice-Chairman of the OECD’s science committee Hugo Thiemann). Besides the Italian industrialist Peccei and the German industrial designer Eduard Pestel, who secured the funding from the Volkswagen Foundation for the first report, all the crucial personalities in the formative period of the Club of Rome were closely connected to the OECD. Almost the entire core group of the Club of Rome, its “executive committee” – which has been characterised as the true “motor” of the Club of Rome, and who signed Limits to growth – also had positions within the OECD.

This transnational group of experts at the interface of national governments, international organisations, and the Club of Rome formed a unique circle of elite environmentally conscious planners. Even though claiming to speak for the entire globe, they represented a very narrow fraction of the global population, in part because of their organisational base in the OECD, often dubbed the “Club of the Rich”. They were all highly-educated and largely white men and thus reproduced the tradition of upper-class gentlemen’s clubs, and all came from countries in the global North (mostly European, some US and Japan). With close ties to elite universities, transnational business, and international organisations, they acted from economic positions of privilege and power. Furthermore, the entire network had academic backgrounds in the natural sciences (in particular chemistry and physics) or engineering, with only a few trained in economics, and none in the social sciences or humanities. Finally, almost all had spent at least part of their career as national government experts or administrators.

All these factors influenced the perspective and politics of the network at the heart of the OECD–Club of Rome nexus. A more profound appreciation of the gestation, midwifery, entanglements, transfers, and tensions that characterise this nexus opens up a more complex understanding of both organisations and the actors driving them. It puts in perspective the public perception of the Club of Rome as a private, non-governmental, and global think tank by analysing its origins within an all-male elite group of engineers, scientists, and businessmen, and its intimate interrelationships and personal overlaps with the OECD, an intergovernmental organisation representing the industrialised capitalist countries. This social positioning fundamentally shaped the network’s outlook, most importantly with regard to its systemic analysis of interrelated global problems in a computer-engineering perspective, the technocratic outlook from the perspective of the global North, and top-down management approach.

How did the cradle of the Club of Rome react when its offshoot published its first report in 1972? After all, Limits to growth was consciously set up as a “detonator” to give a jolt to established governments and international organisations. At first, it did indeed impress and unsettle the OECD. But once the public debate took off, the views expressed in Limits deepened the internal fractures within the OECD and provoked hostile reactions, leading to a revitalisation of the strong pro-growth position.

The strongest force behind the backlash against the critiques of growth came with the onset of economic turmoil, soaring energy prices, and stagflation from 1973-74 onwards. While the energy shortages and their effects on industrialised countries were largely interpreted by the public as proof of the Club of Rome’s predictions, within the OECD these developments did not strengthen the faction critical of growth. On the contrary, the debate on the “problems of modern society” was choked by a combination of changing member-state interests, an attempt by the top level of the Secretariat to better position the OECD, and a shift of influence within the Organisation.

The growth critique sparked a bitter controversy between the macro-economic branch of the Organisation and the science experts and environmental scientists around King, which the latter lost when the OECD refocused on trade, energy, and growth. In particular, the publication of the Club of Rome’s first report polarised the debate to such a degree that not only the OECD but Western policy-making circles more generally returned to the promotion of quantitative growth. While the Club of Rome was born in the corridors of the OECD, its first report effectively ended these intimate relationships.

Useful links

Matthias Schmelzer (2016), The Hegemony of Growth. The OECD and the Making of the Economic Growth Paradigm, Cambridge University Press

The OECD Interfutures project (1979)

Source: The OECD as the cradle of the Club of Rome | OECD Insights Blog

Rapacious consumerism and climate change | by Graham Peebles, Scoop News

22nd December 2016 Commercialisation has poisoned all areas of contemporary life, and together with its partner in crime, consumerism, is the principal cause of man-made climate change.

Operating under the suffocating shadow of neo-liberalism, the market forces of commercialisation act blindly and indiscriminately. The presiding deity is money; the goal of endeavour quick profit and limitless growth – no matter what the human or environmental costs may be. And the consequences to both are great, long-term and far-reaching: global climate change, with its numerous effects, and the wholesale destruction of the natural environment being the most significant.

Bleak prospects

The Earth is our home, “our sister”, as Pope Francis calls it in his ground-breaking Encyclical letter, “On Care For Our Common Home”. But we are poisoning and raping her; polluting the rivers and oceans, destroying the rainforests, coral reefs and natural habitats; the treasures she has given us to care for. It is unchecked human behaviour that is lighting the various fires of destruction. Unless there is a change in the unsustainable, overindulgent way we are living, the
prospects for the planet are bleak.

The interrelated environmental catastrophes are the greatest threat to human and non-human life, and they affect the economic and social crises facing humanity. And they highlight the need for a new imagination to meet the challenges we face.

Our abuse of the Earth, together with what many believe to be a growing threat of nuclear confrontation, has, as Noam Chomsky makes clear, brought about the most serious crisis in human history. It has motivated millions of concerned people throughout the world to unite against government apathy and destructive actions, but is being met with complacency and arrogance by ideologically-driven politicians and the corrupt corporations, who, to a greater or lesser extent, determine policy.

Pope Francis expresses the view of many when he says that, “the Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth”. He goes on to point out that “we may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth”, resulting from the wide-ranging effects of climate change and global warming.

While man-made climate change resulting from the burning of fossil fuels is due to various factors, a lifestyle based on rapacious desire for all things material is the key underlying cause. This is made clear in a University College London (UCL) research paper, which states that, “although population and demographics are considerable factors in carbon emissions and consequent global warming, consumption patterns remain the most significant factor. It adds that consumers, rather than people, cause climate change,” although in the world of big business and among some governments these appear to be synonymous terms…

A world of exacerbated consumption

Consumerism is the life-blood of capitalism. It is an engineered pattern of behaviour that functions and is perpetuated through the constant agitation of desire for pleasure, a transient state that is sold as happiness.

The consumer culture has been manufactured. Human beings are not naturally rapacious but have been coerced into it. Through manipulative advertising and marketing strategies corporations have promoted the false idea that happiness and contentment will be discovered on the next shopping excursion, inside the packaging of the new gadget or video game.

The designers of the consumer game know well that no such peace will be discovered in the material world of make-believe, and so discontent is guaranteed, prompting the next desire-fuelled outing. And so the cycle of inner emptiness, perpetual longing and dependence on transient appeasement through consumption is maintained…

The consequences of this are ever-greater energy demands, oceans of landfill waste, deforestation, contaminated air that kills millions every year, and widespread environmental destruction.

Consumerism is a Western way of life, another toxic export – together with fast food, obesity and diabetes – that is now finding its way into the cities of some developing countries. It is not the billions living in poverty in the towns and villages of sub-Saharan Africa, or rural India and China, who are indulging in the voracious consumption that is crippling the planet. The poorest 50 per cent of the world’s population is, according to Oxfam, responsible for a mere 10 per cent of “total lifestyle consumption emissions”. The cult of consumerism is predominantly the pastime of the spoilt and bored – with access to easy credit – in the developed nations of the world. Europe and America, for example, with a mere 12 per cent of global population, account for over 60 per cent of worldwide consumption…

Unrestrained consumption and perpetual growth are essential to the success and profitability of the neo-liberal project, which without such consumerism would collapse. And so insatiable desire for material possessions is virtually insisted upon by governments obsessed with economic growth, and businesses that depend on sales. This itch, which is constantly excited by persuasive advertising, a culture of comparison and narrow definitions of the self, feeds an urge to continually consume…

The extreme capitalist system that is demanding such behaviour is inseparable from wealth and income inequality, climate change, displacement of people and environmental degradation. All of these are interconnected and increasingly recognised to be so…

All forms of life are mistreated in such a world because nothing has any inherent value; everything has fallen prey to the curse of commercialisation and is seen as a commodity, including human beings. Rivers, valleys, forests and mountains all are commodified. They are bought up by large companies who see such natural treasures in terms of an end product, a source of profit when sold in the shopping centres and homogenous high streets of our towns and cities.

In the rush to drain the Earth of all goodness, huge numbers of indigenous people are displaced, the land ruined and beauty lost. Where the corporate hand of mankind is found, all too often one witnesses exploitation, destruction and waste…

Impelled by a restless appetite to conquer everyone and own everything, “capitalism,” as Naomi Klein rightly states, “is at war with life on earth”. And if triumph is to be judged in terms of destruction and degradation, at the moment it is winning.

Heating up the planet

Climate change brought about by greenhouse gases and the resulting warming of the planet dates from the industrial revolution at the end of the 19th Century. According to analysis by the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), “the average global temperature on Earth has increased by about 0.8 degrees Celsius (1.4 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times”. Two thirds of this increase took place since 1975, and it’s intensifying. Nine out 10 of the hottest years on record occurred since 2000 and, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), this sharp increase is “due to the observed increase in anthropogenic [man-made] greenhouse gas concentrations”.

As Naomi Klein puts it, climate change “has less to do with carbon [and other polluting emissions] than with capitalism”. An extreme form of capitalism that only prospers when certain negative aspects of human behavior are elicited: selfish, materialistic tendencies, which the ideological disciples, who benefit from this divisive way of living and believe in its dogma are committed to encouraging. Honing in on Ms Klein’s statement further, we can say, as Pope Francis, UCL and others have concluded, that the most significant cause of man-made climate change is the food and drink of capitalism – consumerism.

The logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness

Worldwide, awareness of climate change varies from region to region. In a Gallop poll of 128 countries taken in 2008, it was found that overall 61 per cent of the global population were aware of global warming, of which only 11 per cent felt they “knew a great deal about it”. Europe was the region where awareness was highest, 88 per cent being aware, with 70 per cent knowing “something about it”. This figure drops in the Americas (North and South) to 64 per cent and plummets to 45 per cent in Asia, 37 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa and 42 per cent in North Africa and the Middle East.

Even where some acceptance of climate change exists, people are often reluctant to change their lifestyle and make the required sacrifices – for example, stick with their existing mobile phone, buy less stuff, reduce the use of electricity/gas, give up that diesel car or use public transport.

Awareness of climate change is a beginning, but understanding of the underlying causes and effects is needed to change behaviour, as well as a major shift away from selfishness and greed. Such tendencies create separation – from oneself, from others and from the natural environment – desensitize us and lead to complacency. These ingrained patterns of behaviour are strangling the purity out of the Earth and stifling the humanity in us…

Knitted firmly into the heart of this culture and the crises facing humanity is neo-liberalism – an unjust system that needs to be laid to rest and replaced by one that flows from the recognition that humanity is a family and that all human beings have the same needs and the same rights to live secure, dignified lives…

Moving away from the present unjust economic model would create the possibility of purification taking place: purification first and foremost of us, of the way we think and act…

Purification of our internal lives, in which we break the addiction to material goods, cease to look externally for happiness and reduce our levels of consumption, will lead to purification of the natural environment.

A massive education programme is needed to bring about such a shift in thinking and behaviour, one that inspires a shift in consciousness away from the idea of the individual as the centre of all activity, determinedly competing with everyone else, to recognition of one’s place within the whole and the responsibility that goes with that…

Otherwise, the model of consumerism will continue to advance, and with it the further contamination of the Earth, the destruction of ecosystems and the heightened threat to human life.

The choice is ours.

© Scoop Media

Source: Rapacious consumerism and climate change | Scoop News

Inside The Green Economy: Promises And Pitfalls In 9 Theses, by Barbara Unmäßig, Lili Fuhr, Thomas Father,originally published by The Leap | JUL 14, 2016

In their new book Inside the Green Economy–Promises and Pitfalls, Thomas Fatheuer, Lili Fuhr, and Barbara Unmüßig of the Heinrich Böll Foundation set out to explore the underlying assumptions, hypotheses, and propositions of the green economy and to spell out their consequences in the real world. The authors call for radical realism and the courage to recognize the complexity of the global crises. They assert that the great task will be to continue the project of modernity, embracing the latest knowledge about planetary boundaries as well as the old vision of broad democratic participation and an end to poverty and injustice.

1. The green economy is an optimistic vision of fossil-fuel phase-out in an economy assumed to become greener via technology and efficiency In the mainstream imagination, the green economy wants to break away from our fossil-fueled business-as-usual.

It’s a nice, optimistic message: the economy can continue to grow, and growth can be green. The green economy even hopes to become a driver of more growth. Yet reconciling climate change mitigation and resource conservation with economic growth in a finite and unjust world remains an illusion. With its positive associations, the term “green economy” suggests that the world as we know it can continue much as before thanks to a green growth paradigm of greater efficiency and lower resource consumption.

However, anyone making such a promise must deliberately downplay complexity and have powerful faith in hoped-for miracles of the market economy and technological innovation, while at the same time ignoring social inequality and not wanting to tackle existing economic and political power structures. The green economy is thus a matter of faith and selective blind spots.

It can only be a realistic option for the future if it recognizes planetary boundaries, overcomes social and political injustice and ensures the radical reduction and fair distribution of emissions and resource consumption.

2. Fixing the failure of the market by enlarging it: instead of rethinking business, the green economy wants to redefine nature

The green economy redefines the idea of the primacy of economics as the conclusive answer to current crises. It responds to the multiple crises with more economics. Economics has become the currency of politics, say its advocates. Consequently, they intend to correct the failure of the market economy by enlarging the market. The green economy thus wants the market to encompass things that have previously been beyond its scope by redefining the relationship between nature and economy.

The result is a new version of the concept of nature as natural capital and the economic services of ecosystems – and not a transformation of our way of doing business. Instead of rethinking business, the green economy wants to redefine nature by measuring and recording it, assigning it a value and putting it on the balance sheet – based on a global, abstract currency of carbon metrics.

This hides the many structural causes of the environmental and climate crisis from view and no longer fully takes them into account in the search for real solutions and viable pathways. The consequences of such an approach are also reflected in new market mechanisms for trading biodiversity credits. In many cases, they do not prevent the destruction of nature but merely organize it along market lines.

The green economy reduces the needed fundamental transformation to a question of economics and gives the impression that it can be implemented without major upheaval and conflict.

3. Ecological policy is about more than carbon emissions

The green economy states its central decarbonization strategy in its mantra: “put a price on carbon”. This reduction to prices and a single currency unit (carbon credits) is one-dimensional.

Read more here:

Source: Inside The Green Economy: Promises And Pitfalls In 9 Theses

Fissures in World Capitalism: the British Vote. Norman Pollack

The collapse of world markets is telling evidence of capitalism’s stake in maintaining a renewed Cold War, indispensable to its logic of global confrontation as a sustaining developmental force and dependence on a disproportionate, heavy-laden defense sector for America and drawing in its allies. The European Union, historically, was first and foremost the economic underpinning to solidify NATO, itself from first to last an obviously military alliance. Together, EU and NATO represented America’s stalking horse in its posture of world intervention and counterrevolution. Obama’s “pivot” to the Far East, his Pacific-first geostrategic framework, complements and extends the US geopolitical vision of global, unilateral dominance—military, ideological, economic.

With Britain’s vote, we see a magnificent—even if Britons voted on other grounds—objective determination to put a roadblock into the American Grand Design of universalizing its own brand of monopoly capitalism (and heading off a projected nuclear holocaust), in which systemic financialization erodes and supplants the US manufacturing base via outsourcing, foreign investment, and securing predictable sources of raw materials, including of course oil.

Consternation and worse reigns supreme in both the capitalist and defense communities, the architectural splendor of simultaneous containment, even isolation, of Russia and China, now on hold, yet hardly surrendered, as America, for its own self-identity, reified the idea of the Pervasive Enemy to accompany its doctrine of Permanent War. Blowback, after all, has some validity, as America’s warmongers pressed too far: Obama’s modernization of the nuclear arsenal, provocative incursion in the South China Sea, pressures on NATO to occupy the borderlands of Russia. Whether or not inadvertent, Britons have thwarted the US move toward the greater fascistization of a once-democratic polity, yet no longer recognizable as such.

How will America react to the British vote? Probably by intensifying, as is already happening, its Cold War rhetoric, and translating that into more aggressive policies of containment vis-a-vis a growing list of enemies presumed waiting in the wings. Counterterrorism, which has become a catch-all for creating a mindset for ideological conformity, will be a useful instrument for confusing radicalism and terrorism, in order to suppress the former as in Latin America and Africa. Secretly, I suspect, American policy makers hoped for the Britain-EU outcome, so as to beef up European defenses, continue the rearming (encouragement of a nuclear capability) of Abe’s Japan, and feel relief in pursuing the abominable policy of armed drone targeted assassination…. read more…

Source: Fissures in World Capitalism: the British Vote

Unless It Changes, Capitalism Will Starve Humanity By 2050 – Forbes

Capitalism has generated massive wealth for some, but it’s devastated the planet and has failed to improve human well-being at scale. • Species are going extinct at a rate 1,000 times faster than that of the natural rate over the previous 65 million years (see Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School). • Since 2000, 6 million hectares of primary forest have been lost each year. That’s 14,826,322 acres, or just less than the entire state of West Virginia (see the 2010 assessment by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN). • Even in the U.S., 15% of the population lives below the poverty line. For children under the age of 18, that number increases to 20% (see U.S. Census). • The world’s population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050 (see United Nations’ projections). Capitalism is unsustainable in its current form. (Credit: ZINIYANGE AUNTONY/AFP/Getty Images)

Source: Unless It Changes, Capitalism Will Starve Humanity By 2050 – Forbes

Limits to Growth was right. New research shows we’re nearing collapse | Cathy Alexander and Graham Turner | Opinion | The Guardian

The 1972 book Limits to Growth, which predicted our civilisation would probably collapse some time this century, has been criticised as doomsday fantasy since it was published. Back in 2002, self-styled environmental expert Bjorn Lomborg consigned it to the “dustbin of history”.It doesn’t belong there. Research from the University of Melbourne has found the book’s forecasts are accurate, 40 years on. If we continue to track in line with the book’s scenario, expect the early stages of global collapse to start appearing soon.Limits to Growth was commissioned by a think tank called the Club of Rome. Researchers working out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, including husband-and-wife team Donella and Dennis Meadows, built a computer model to track the world’s economy and environment. Called World3, this computer model was cutting edge. The task was very ambitious. The team tracked industrialisation, population, food, use of resources, and pollution. They modelled data up to 1970, then developed a range of scenarios out to 2100, depending on whether humanity took serious action on environmental and resource issues. If that didn’t happen, the model predicted “overshoot and collapse” – in the economy, environment and population – before 2070. This was called the “business-as-usual” scenario.The book’s central point, much criticised since, is that “the earth is finite” and the quest for unlimited growth in population, material goods etc would eventually lead to a crash.The stories you need to read, in one handy email Read moreSo were they right? We decided to check in with those scenarios after 40 years. Dr Graham Turner gathered data from the UN (its department of economic and social affairs, Unesco, the food and agriculture organisation, and the UN statistics yearbook). He also checked in with the US national oceanic and atmospheric administration, the BP statistical review, and elsewhere. That data was plotted alongside the Limits to Growth scenarios.The results show that the world is tracking pretty closely to the Limits to Growth “business-as-usual” scenario. The data doesn’t match up with other scenarios.

Read the rest…

Source: Limits to Growth was right. New research shows we’re nearing collapse | Cathy Alexander and Graham Turner | Opinion | The Guardian

Consume more, conserve more: sorry, but we just can’t do both | George Monbiot | The Guardian

We can have it all: that is the promise of our age. We can own every gadget we are capable of imagining – and quite a few that we are not. We can live like monarchs without compromising the Earth’s capacity to sustain us. The promise that makes all this possible is that as economies develop, they become more efficient in their use of resources. In other words, they decouple. There are two kinds of decoupling: relative and absolute. Relative decoupling means using less stuff with every unit of economic growth; absolute decoupling means a total reduction in the use of resources, even though the economy continues to grow. Almost all economists believe that decoupling – relative or absolute – is an inexorable feature of economic growth. Yes, the Paris climate change conference can save the planet Ed Miliband Read more On this notion rests the concept of sustainable development. It sits at the heart of the climate talks in Paris next month and of every other summit on environmental issues. But it appears to be unfounded. A paper published earlier this year in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences proposes that even the relative decoupling we claim to have achieved is an artefact of false accounting. It points out that governments and economists have measured our impacts in a way that seems irrational. Here’s how the false accounting works.

Source: Consume more, conserve more: sorry, but we just can’t do both | George Monbiot | Comment is free | The Guardian

BBC World Service – The Documentary, Company v Country

We investigate the booming and lucrative business of multinational companies suing governments. The strangely-named investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) system is built into thousands of treaties between… Read more..

via BBC World Service – The Documentary, Company v Country.

Russell Norman, New Zealand Green Party: “If you want to understand Investor State Disputes Settlement clauses in trade agreements, and how important they are, spend 26 minutes listening to this great BBC radio documentary. You will never regret it.”