The Club of Rome and Prince Edward Island

Through this WWF panel discussion at COP26 I was introduced to Sandrine Dixson-Declève, Co-President of The Club of Rome, and seeking further context I found my way to her presentation on the 1.5-Degree Lifestyles Report. From her talk:

I would like to first start by reminding everyone that actually a lot of this discussion already started in 1972 with The Limits to Growth, and I just want to read something that I think is absolutely fundamental when we talk about systems change and lifestyle change, which was already said and pronounced in 1972 by Donella Meadows:

People don’t need enormous cars, they need admiration and respect; they don’t need a constant stream of new clothes, they need to feel that others consider them to be attractive, and they need excitement and variety and beauty; they don’t need electronic entertainment they need something interesting to occupy their minds and emotion…”

While there’s a back-to-the-land quality to Meadows’ words, the larger notion that when we’re looking at systems change we should be looking at the fundamentals, not one-for-one replacement, remains vital.

This is, for example, a place where the shift to electric vehicles needs a closer look: we tend to look at this issue as “we need to replace our bad cars with good cars,” when we would be better served by framing the issue as “we need a way of getting from place to place” (or, even better, by asking “do we really need to get from place to place so much?”).

The Club of Rome played a larger-than-life role in the environmental history of Prince Edward Island; as the late Andy Wells told me when I interviewed him in 2009:

The first thing I came across was a videotape of the Club of Rome, and I persuaded [Premier] Alex [Campbell] to bring his whole cabinet together and to come down and sit in the viewing room and we played this video, and Alex converted immediately; he understood the problem. 

From Wade MacLauchlan’s biography of Premier Campbell, Alex B. Campbell: The Prince Edward Island Premier who Rocked the Cradle:

The economic positions that Campbell articulated as early as 1967 can be seen as a quest for local specificity, viability, esteem and quality of life. He promoted a vision for Canada’s national economy based on competitive and complementary regional inputs. His practical quest was for self-reliance for Prince Edward Island and the Atlantic region. In philosophical terms, Campbell’s arguments were a forerunner of debates about globalization that dominated the 1980s, or ongoing debates about the environment and limits to growth.

Campbell’s quest for “local specificity, viability, esteem and quality of life” finds echoes in The 1.5-Degree Lifestyles Report:

The focus of this report is on lifestyles and climate change. Lifestyles embrace much more than just consumption patterns and behaviours. Lifestyles include non-economic aspects of our lives, such as caring for children or elderly parents, spending time with our friends, play, engaging in voluntary work, activism, or supporting a local campaign or political party. All of these potentially affect, directly or indirectly, our well- being and our carbon footprint. Lifestyles are how we consume, and also how we relate to one another, what kind of neighbours, friends, citizens, and parents we are, what kinds of values we nurture, and how we let those values drive our choices.

These issues are largely missing from recent local political discussion of climate change mitigation and adaptation, which has primarily focused on the technical aspects of lowering GHGs, and has not taken a larger view of the lifestyle changes that will necessarily underpin the societal transformation we should be in the midst of right now if we’re going to meet our climate commitments. The depth of the political discussion rarely strays beyond “things can stay much the same, just with heat pumps and solar panels and bike paths,” and almost completely absent is a drive to seek consensus on how we will spend the much, much smaller carbon budget we’ll have in a just fashion.