Limits and Beyond: A New Faith System
Chapters 7 and 8
We have reviewed the first five chapters of the book Limits and Beyond, which is itself a review of the famous 1972 report Limits to Growth (LtG). The previous reviews are:
In this post we take a look at Chapters 7 and 8.
Chapter 7, written by Wouter van Dieren is entitled How the Club of Rome influenced the world’s agenda. Chapter 8, by L. Hunter Lovins, is Growth of what?
One of the themes of the previous five reviews is that there has been a near total communications failure. The validity of the LtG model has been verified quite well. Yet, says van Dieren, “although LtG is the most powerful scientific paper of the last 50 years”, nevertheless, “decades of necessary action got lost because of the framing by vested to shuffle the work into the outskirts of scientific debate”.
This conclusion probably gives too much importance to the scientific community and the relevance of what they say to regular folk. The communication failure goes way beyond scientific debate, as I discuss in the post The Coffee Shop.
van Dieren is closer to the mark when he talks about how our society has developed a belief in Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” and the economic ideas put forward in his 1752 book The Wealth of Nations. We now see economic growth as being some type of law of nature. In other words, modern economics is a faith system. Many people even link their faith in wealth creation with formal religion. For example, in previous reviews we talked about ‘The Rapture’. Even more people ascribe to the ‘Prosperity Gospel’, which asserts that material wealth is a sign of God’s favor.
This is a theme developed by Lovins. He points out that Adam Smith was not an economist in the modern sense. In fact he was a professor of Moral Philosophy. He fully understood that riches and wealth are not the same thing. But most of us now rarely make that distinction.
This line of thought suggests that the communication failure goes beyond the manner in which scientists talk to a wider public. The failure is rooted in the fact that the LtG authors and other like-minded people are challenging basic faith systems. And these can literally be a matter of life or death. If people are to accept a world described by Limits to Growth then they will need a brand new faith system.
In some of his posts Ugo Bardi notes that Augustine of Hippo and other church fathers created a Christian faith system which ‘worked’ at a time of material decline and collapse. These men provided a credible explanation to do with the world around them and how to live within that world. Many centuries later we discovered how to exploit the buried energy contained within coal. This discovery was matched by the creation of a new ‘faith system’. Adam Smith and other ‘moral philosophers’ provided a basis for what we now call economics. This new faith system reached its apogee with ‘neo liberalism’.
If we accept the conclusions of Limits to Growth then we need a new faith system - one that matches a time of decline and transition away from fossil fuels and other natural resources that are now depleted. One possibility is that we will develop a nature-based faith, something on the lines of a belief in Gaia. Or maybe the older religions will experience a revival. We don’t know; we will have to wait and see. But we do know that trying to improve “communication” will not work - we have to find and address root causes.