What causes a bit of frustration is that there wasn’t enough controversy in the scientific realm because the book was somehow thrown out by many. Not by everyone. It was thrown away by many as a doomsday prophecy. And sure, we weren’t successful among economists at the time.
WIRED: Presumably economists weren’t too fond of it, because growth is inherent in capitalism. And not checked growth actually, a kind of maniacal, ecologically destructive growth built into the system at all costs.
CAP: What the system has done, as a mechanism to grow at any cost, is actually burn the future. And the future is the least renewable resource. There is no way we can reuse the time we had when we started this conversation. And by building a system that is more debt-driven — where we keep consumption going, but by creating more and more debt — what we’re actually doing in the future is burning or stealing people’s time. Because their time will be spent repaying the debt.
WIRED: It seems obvious that eventually we will run out of finite resources. But there was even resistance to that idea when the report came out. Where does that urge come from?
CAP: The paradox is that capitalism is also based on the notion of scarcity. Our system is organized around the idea that resources are scarce, then we have to pay for them, and people in the value chain will benefit from this idea of scarcity. Conventional capitalism says that while these resources are finite, we will find others: Don’t worry, technology will save us† So that we continue on the same footing.
WIRED: 50 years after the original report, are we on the right track as a species?
CAP: No, if you look at reality. And no, especially not if you just look at what governments and corporations are doing, if you look at what the decision-makers decide, and the governance systems that we have, national or global. We are no better in terms of pollution because we have global warming, an existential problem. We are no better at biodiversity. We are not in terms of inequality. So there are plenty of reasons to say no.
But there are also good reasons for it optimism of the will† And those reasons may be less obvious, less obvious, less in the headlines in the media and elsewhere. We definitely think there is ongoing cultural change that is often hidden in plain sight. Many are experimenting, often at the community level, to find their own paths to that balance of well-being within a healthy biosphere. One change that gives me hope is the change in the status of women, the increasing role of women. And I’d say if you look at what’s happening with the younger generations, there’s also a big change.
So politically, at the corporate level, at the official level, things are going pretty wrong. Culturally, below the line, I’m guessing a lot of things are happening in the right direction. The human revolution is already underway – we just don’t see it. And maybe it’s a good thing we don’t see it yet, until a lot changes.