In April 2010, at a symposium in Siena about sustainability and how to use ecological models to assess sustainability, the results of the Club of Rome and the general use of global economic-ecological models were discussed. The general agreement was that the Club of Rome results were very important contributions to the ongoing discussion about the unsustainable global development, which – as shown by the Limits to Growth books – inevitably will lead to a collapse due to our overex- ploitation of the Earth. However, economic priorities dominate almost all politi- cal decisions and the direction of development. The very clear messages from the Limits to Growth books have had hardly any effect on global development since the first Limits to Growth book was published and widely debated in 1972. In Siena, we discussed why the books had such little impact to change the direction of devel- opment; we concluded that it was probably because politicians and economists could not reconcile a long-term reduction of the growth of population, production, use of resources, and pollution to more straight forward, concrete initiatives with preferably visible short-term agendas. The controlling growth-oriented paradigm has the advantage of status quo and can work effectively during early periods of development but eventually, as resources become limiting, should naturally give way to more qualitative development. This turn-the-corner transition from growth to development was not agreeable with the current mindsets and approaches of the 1970s.The reality of resource shocks, such as the oil shortages and the recent financial crises, have only made the message more urgent, but an appropriate response has not come from the politicians. Nature has coped with the same problems of bal- ancing growth and development, and therefore it is sensible to ask how nature deals with this situation. By imitating nature, we could launch a workable plan to manage overexploitation. Of course, the benefits from such a plan must be recognized by politicians, economists, and the general public. We do not have political power, but we could develop a very clear, easily applied, and understood plan based on the principles that nature follows to achieve sustainable development without relying on overexploitation to fuel growth only-oriented policies. Our nature-inspired plan is tested on a global ecological-economic model similar to the models developed and applied by the Limits to Growth books. More importantly, we want to refocus the debate away from the fears that come with the concept of no growth toward the advantages of a system that focuses on qualitative development. The restrictions imposed by Limits to Growth do not entail stagnation and strife but rather give an opportunity for new priorities, greater equity, and higher well-being. Living within the limits can offer agreeable, pleasant, even thriving and wonderful living conditions. Therefore, the message of the Club of Siena, presented in this book, is the possibility and processes necessary on how to flourish within these limits.
The book consists of nine chapters. After an introduction and a presentation of the important Limits to Growth books in Chapters 1 and 2, Chapter 3 presents an overview of ecological principles describing the main drivers for nature, to the best of our understanding, to operate as a sustainable system. Nature avoids over-exploitation and uses a development strategy that considers limits to growth: trees are not growing into the sky, resources are used sustainably, and depletion is avoided by complete recirculation. Chapter 4 translates these principles into rules that we can implement in society, while Chapter 5 tests these rules on a global model to be able to answer the crucial questions: Can it work? Can the principles of nature be used to solve our sustainability problems and to avoid a major collapse with all the disastrous consequences? Chapter 6 discusses the eternal problem: is it better to introduce nature’s principles through a top-down or bottom-up approach; the chapter also gives successful examples on how nature’s principles have been applied locally and regionally to solve specific environmental problems. The results of employing nature’s principles in our society presented using a global model in Chapter 5 are very clear, but it would be beneficial to elucidate the results further to supplement the investigation with two other angles: to apply the widely used ecological footprint and to use a sustainability analysis based on work energy as an indicator, which have given workable results in a number of cases. Therefore, Chapters 7 and 8 are devoted to an interpretation of the model results in Chap- ter 5 using ecological footprints and a sustainability analysis based on work energy. The last chapter has the title “Can we overcome the obstacles?” The conclusion is that the three chapters with the global results – Chapters 5, 7, and 8 – present the action items in such a clear language that the politicians and economists ought to understand it, but, if not the case, then the population in all democratic countries will be able to understand the clear headlines and provoke a change. Ironically, the changes are not a question about sacrificing our well-being – on the contrary, it will ensure it because the society will reorganize in a structure that is fairer, offer more well-being, have more logic and realism in the sense that the limits are considered, be longer lasting, and increase equality.
The six authors have many colleagues and scientific friends and know many people who are interested in the focal theme of the book, and we have therefore invited everybody who can approve the main lines of the book (but not necessarily all the details) and its main messages to join the Club of Siena . Hopefully it could be a beginning to a movement of all that have acknowledged that a change close to what is formulated as the 12 recommendations in Chapter 9 is urgently needed. Millions have already accepted that changes are needed due to the limits to growth, but the Club of Siena idea is to make it concrete and easily applicable politically and economically to guide the development to cope with the limits. If you are interested in joining the Club of Siena, then please use the blog at www.clubofsiena.dk. We will include your name in our list of members that will be accessible on the blog, currently updated, and referred to in coming discussions. The blog is also open for exchange of opinions and ideas about the focus and the content of the book.
The publication has been supported by the Velux Foundation.
The authors are grateful for the support that will be applied to strengthen the dissemination of our message.
Sven Erik Jørgensen and Søren Nors Nielsen, Copenhagen, January 2015
Simone Bastianoni and Federico Pulselli, Siena, January 2015
Brian D. Fath, Towson , January 2015 Dan Fiscus, Frostburg, January 2015
Decades of research and discussion have shown that human population growth and our increased consumption of natural resources cannot continue – there are limits to growth. This volume demonstrates how we might modify and revise our economic systems using nature as a model to sustain and flourish within these limits.
The book describes how nature uses three growth forms: biomass; information and networks, resulting in improved overall ecosystem functioning; and co-development. As biomass growth is limited by available resources, nature uses the two other growth forms to achieve higher resource use efficiency. Through a universal application of the three Rs – reduce, reuse, and recycle – nature shows us a way forward toward better solutions. However, our current approach, dominated by short-term economic thinking, inhibits full utilization of the three Rs and other successful approaches from nature.
Building on ecological principles, the authors present a global model and future scenario analysis that shows that implementation of the proposed changes will lead to a win–win situation. In other words, we can learn from nature how to develop a society that can flourish within the limits to growth with better conditions for prosperity and well-being.
Sven Erik Jørgensen is Professor of Environmental Chemistry at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He has received several awards, including the very prestigious Stockholm Water Prize.
Brian D. Fath is Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, Towson Uni- versity, Maryland, USA, and Research Scholar in the Advanced Systems Analysis Program at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria.
Søren Nors Nielsen is Visiting Professor at the Section for Sustainable Transitions, Department of Planning, Aalborg University-Copenhagen, Denmark.
Federico M. Pulselli is Researcher in Environmental and Cultural Heritage Chemistry at the University of Siena, Italy.
Daniel A. Fiscus is Lecturer and Sustainability Liaison at Frostburg State University, Maryland, USA.
Simone Bastianoni is Professor of Environmental and Cultural Heritage Chemistry at the University of Siena, Italy.
Sven Erik Jørgensen is Professor of Environmental Chemistry at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He received several awards, including the very prestigious Stockholm Water Prize
Brian D. Fath is Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, Towson University, Maryland, USA, and Research Scholar in the Advanced Systems Analysis Program at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Laxenburg, Austria
Søren Nors Nielsen is Visiting Professor at the Section for Sustainable Transitions, Department of Planning, Aalborg University-Copenhagen, Denmark
Federico M. Pulselli is Researcher in Environmental and Cultural Heritage Chemistry at the University of Siena, Italy
Daniel A. Fiscus is Lecturer and Sustainability Liaison at Frostburg State University, Maryland, USA
Simone Bastianoni is Professor of Environmental and Cultural Heritage Chemistry at the University of Siena, Italy