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Depositphotos | Kotkoa

© Depositphotos | Kotkoa |

Societies that ignore the limits to growth will catch Corona

In 1972 ”The Limits to Growth“ hit the nerve of time. The book “The Limits to Growth: A Report for THE CLUB OF ROME’S Project on the Predicament of Mankind” was bought ten million times within one year of publication. It is said to be 30 million by now. Today the real limits to growth have mostly been reached. A society that ignores these limits will catch Corona.

We learn from history that we do not learn from history, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel stated. But we cannot afford that in this age of nuclear threat and global warming, unless we want to determine the end of our civilization. Is it what we really want? Or can we still achieve the great transformation? My own experience has been that we can learn from history, but it often happened too late. So what enables us to create a humane democracy as well as a sustainable economy?

Church representatives keep emphasizing that Corona was not “God’s punishment”, but most likely the logical consequence of our activities in the past 50 years. If too many people leave too little space to their fellow creatures, animals and plants, nature will remind us of the limits to growth. The well-meaning motto should no longer be “Man in the centre”, but “Life in the centre”. Which means a new interdependence between man and nature: more maturing rather than continual growth. Development instead of growth.

Corona as a wake-up call

I understand Corona as a wake-up call to finally respect the natural “limits to growth”. If the EU now decrees a “Green New Deal“, if the German Federal Government and the US Administration want to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, and the Chinese Government by 2060, this shows at least that limits are generally and finally recognized. At any rate the beginning of a farewell to former boundlessness. In theory, at least. Needless to say, these new “limits to growth” are far from sufficient for a sustainable economy. But nevertheless, it is a change of direction. There are always alternatives.

Politics, science und journalism have to confront people with truth and reality: that is, say what is and what is possible. Not forgetting the limits to growth.

We are still intoxicated by oil, which should have ended long ago, according to the Club of Rome’s prognosis.

This is, however, our situation even in 2021:

  • The glaciers are melting,
  • deserts are growing,
  • storm damage is increasing,  
  • world-wide forests are on fire,
  • animal and plant species are becoming extinct at a higher rate than ever before in the past 65 million years,
  • methane is released.
  • We are waging a third world war against nature and thus against ourselves. Since  we are part of nature.
  • 1.5 billion people have no access to clean drinking water.
  • Every day about 20,000 people die of starvation.

What do we learn from the Corona crisis in order to save the planet and thus preserve peace with nature?

In an attempt to overcome the Corona crisis, 20 of the 30 richest countries world-wide have adopted economic stimulus programmes. They should boost the economy, create jobs and provide climate protection as well. The assistance recently announced amounts to 15 trillion dollars, i.e. 15,000 billion. However, by 1st February 2021, the lion’s share of the money is invested in sectors that are rather harmful to the environment and the climate, just 40 per cent of the investment can be regarded as “green”. This is based on the calculation of the “Green Stimulus Index“, provided by the strategy consultancy “Vivid Economics“. The only sign of hope, according to the ”Green Stimulus Index“, are the announcements of the new US Administration and the European ”Green New Deal“.

This trend shows that the farewell to former madness of continual growth will only succeed if politics, economy and consumers adopt ecological ethics. Technology alone or the present financial system will not rescue us.

A global energy system running on 100% clean, renewable energy is not only possible in the next 10 to 15 years, it can also save money, create jobs and prosperity, save lives and help mankind to stop out-of-control climate change before it is too late. Delaying the process until 2050 is – from an economic, social, geopolitical and ecological point of view – beyond reason.

Today’s world is dominated by a few multimillionaires. This financial capitalism has degenerated to a monster-like economy. What scientists call the “Anthropocene” is in reality a “Capitalocene”. Yet the 21st century could become a century of cooperatives, peace, renewable energies and greater justice, with the common weal playing an important role. A typically German idea going back to the 19th century (Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen and Herman Schulze-Delitzsch).


World-wide as many as a billion people are organized in cooperatives. There are always alternatives.

All problems created by humans can be solved by humans. The prerequisite being a  reconciliation between technology and ethics. This is the new Enlightenment: an enlightenment of the classic Enlightenment. The Corona crisis has added completely new and fresh dynamics.

A better world is not just possible, it is emerging

So we do need eco-spirituality. Our material resources are finite, subject to the “limits to growth”, unlike the ideas of our mind. In order to realize the “limits to growth”, we need thinkers who dream and dreamers who think.

A society that has lost the orientation needs new role models and a new sense for values. In order to solve today’s crises, we need a new moral compass.


FRANZ ALT 2021 | Translation: Peter Reif 2021

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