Governance of the Commons:
the Role of the Club of Rome
Roberto Peccei
Ottawa, March 2013
Governance of the Commons: the Role
of the Club of Rome
• The Commons, as understood by the Club of Rome
• Conclusions from the MIT Study
• The Club of Rome response after Limits to Growth
• Governance of the Commons: What can we do?
i. The Anthropocene Network
ii. The Energy Landscape
• Concluding Remarks
The Commons, as understood by the
Club of Rome
• The common in medieval England was an
integral part of the manor, but also a piece of
land where manoral tenants and others had
certain access rights
• More generally, the commons now refers to
environmental elements (like forests, rivers,
oceans, and the atmosphere) that are used,
enjoyed and shared by all
• The Club of Rome from the beginning took a
broader view of the commons, extending it beyond
the planet’s biosphere and its elements to include
also its man-made institutions
• It is this broader commons which needs attention.
That is, one needs not only be concerned about the
biophysical sources and sinks of materials and
energy which keep the biosphere in equilibrium,
but one must also be concerned with the plethora
of human activities which impinge on the biosphere
and have the potential of disturbing this
• This broader commons and how it would evolve in
the future was the subject of the 1st report to the
Club of Rome Limits to Growth
• Indeed, the five dynamical variables used to
describe the world:
Industrial output
Food availability
are a mixture of biophysical and human parameters
Conclusions from the MIT Study
• The 1972 report to the Club of Rome of Meadows
et al drew three broad conclusions, but most
people focused only on the first of these:
i. If the present growth trends in world population,
industrialization, pollution, food production, and
resource depletion continue unchanged, the
limits to growth on this planet will be reached
sometime within the next one hundred years.
The most probable result will be a rather sudden
uncontrollable decline in both population and
industrial capacity
Poster of the standard run in Limits to Growth
created for the 1972 Smithsonian presentation
shows this overshoot and collapse behavior
1st message is clear: unlimited growth in a finite
world leads to overshoot and collapse
Limits to Growth - 30 year update
Industrial Output
Meadows Meadows and Randers 2004
• The other two overlooked recommendations,
however, make equally important points:
ii. It is possible to alter these growth trends and to
establish a condition of ecological and economic
stability that is sustainable far into the future. The
state of global equilibrium could be designed so
that the material needs of each person on earth
are satisfied and each person has an equal
opportunity to realize his individual human
iii. If the world’s people decide to strive for this
second outcome rather than the first, the sooner
they begin working to attain it, the greatest will
be their chances of success
• Thus, for me the real message of Limits to Growth
is not that mankind will go through an overshoot
and collapse phase, but whether mankind can find
an alternative evolutionary path?
• Is it really possible for mankind to change course
and pursue a less destructive path of development,
which might be called Managing of the Commons?
• Two questions come immediately to mind:
i. Are we too late to change course now?
ii. If we are not, what do we need to do to find a
different path for human development than the
one we are now on?
• The 1st question, probably, is the one that it is most
difficult to answer
• Dennis Meadows is pessimistic on this point. He
stresses that since we are too late to aim for
sustainability, what we should do is to aim at
building resiliency
• I am more optimistic. Thus, I think it is still
important to understand better the principal things
that need to be done to alter the present course,
and then try to get them implemented
• Can gain some understanding on how to proceed
by following the path which the Club of Rome took
after the publication of Limits to Growth
The Club of Rome response after Limits
• The MIT report Limits to Growth validated and confirmed
the Club of Rome’s concerns about what they called the
predicament of mankind
not addressing ↔
cause humanity’s
the problematique
“The Meadows’ report confirmed and expanded…
what I expected”
[A. Peccei The Human Quality 1976]
“ For most of those already engaged in the zero
growth debate, Limits had few surprises”
[A. King Let the Cat Turn Around 2006]
• However Limits to Growth also caused the Club of
Rome to evolve its own thinking, and the Club’s
activities after the book was published followed two
main paths:
i. The COR tried to engender change through high level
discussions with leading world political figures
e. g. February 1974 Salzburg meeting of the COR
with Kreisky, Trudeau, Palme, Senghor,
Echeverria, den Uyl and Celio
ii. The COR attempted to reinforce the conclusions
obtained by Meadows et al by further studies, along
three different lines
• What were these lines of study, aimed to help support
and amplify the message of Limits to Growth and that
of the Club of Rome?
- Methodological and systemic studies on limits
- Studies on the governance required for the world
- Studies on the values needed for the future
• I will make some brief comments on each, focusing on
the reports to the Club of Rome which followed soon
after the publication of Limits to Growth
• However, essentially all subsequent reports to the Club
of Rome follow the same pattern. So these lines of
study, traceable to Limits, are the intellectual legacy
which the book left to the Club of Rome
Methodological and systemic studies on limits
- M. Mesarovic and E. Pestel : Mankind at the Turning
Point; 2nd Report to the Club of Rome (1974)
Global system was disaggregated into ten regional
subsystems. Concept of organic growth introduced,
allowing different parts of the global system to follow
different growth paths
- D. Gabor and U. Colombo : Beyond the Age Of
Waste; 4th Report to the Club of Rome (1978)
T. de Montbrial : Energy: The Countdown; 6th Report
to the Club of Rome (1979)
These were among the first systemic studies of the
sources and sinks of materials in nature which help
determine human limits
Governance Studies
- J. Timbergen: Reshaping the International Order; 3rd
Report to the Club of Rome (1976)
Proposes to reduce gross global inequities in
economic opportunities, to ensure more
harmonious growth. Provides the beginning
of a global planning system
- B. Hawrylyshyn: Road Maps to the Future; 10th
Report to the Club of Rome (1980)
Analyses the efficiency of various societies and their
ways of approaching the future
Studies Around Values Needed for the Future
- E. Laszlo: Goals for Mankind; 5th Report to the
Club of Rome (1978)
Addresses the goals mankind will need for the future.
These include peace, food security, a rational use of
resources and the satisfaction of both the material and
spiritual needs of man
- J. W. Botkin, M. Elmandjra and M. Malitza: No
Limits to Learning; 7th Report to the Club of Rome
Introduces the concept that to bridge the human gap, so
as to be prepared for the future, learning must be both
participatory and anticipatory
- M. Guernier: Tiers-Monde: Trois Quarts du Monde; 8th
Report to the Club of Rome (1980)
Discusses the widening gap between developed and
underdeveloped regions in the world and the resulting
inequities caused by poverty, hunger and disease. The
future of the world is predicated on closing this gap
- O. Giarini: Dialogue on Wealth and Welfare; 9th Report
to the Club of Rome (1980)
Couples economy and ecology and points out that
wealth and welfare cannot exist in an ecologically
unhealthy world. Real value is not represented by the
cost of production, but is dependent on its utilization
over time. Natural capital itself must be valued
Governance of the Commons: What can we do?
• I tried to give you some sense of how Limits to Growth
helped mold the activities of the Club of Rome in its
first decade of existence
• In its fourth decade, the Club continues to try to effect
change by following what is by now a well-trodden
- Try to privately influence world leaders
- Engage in systemic studies of the problematique
- Suggest new approaches to governance
- Offer reflections on values
• These perspectives are the source of some ideas
which may help insure a better governance of the
• In this respect, the following quote from my father
is extremely helpful
“ Our current ways of thinking reflect ideologies and
experiences of a past very different from the present.
A wide gap has thus opened between the beliefs,
values, principles, norms, frames of reference, and
mental attitudes that we normally employ as guides,
and those that are now necessary in view of the
nature and extent of the challenges of our age”
A. Peccei: One Hundred Pages for the Future (1981
• How do we close this gap?
• To try to answer this question, I will look at two
specific examples, which I hope will be illustrative
of the kind of steps which are needed to face the
challenges ahead.
• In addition, I hope it will be clear through these
examples how practically one needs to proceed to
better manage the commons
• The examples I want to discuss involve:
i. The anthropocene network
ii. The energy landscape
The Anthropocene Network
• It has been said by many, starting with Paul
Crutzen, that we are now living in a new era: the
• In this era, human actions and not geology or
biology are the dominant influences on the
evolution of the planet
• In the anthropocene the planet’s sustainability
depends on the health of both its natural and manmade habitats and associated infrastructure
• Just as ecosystems have inter-related sub-systems, it
is useful to think of the interconnected subnetworks that make up the planet’s anthropocene
• Broadly speaking, five such sub-networks can be
identified- much like the five variables in Limits to
Growth :
i. natural and material resources (planetary
ii. human-built infrastructure (human infrastructure)
iii. agriculture and land resources (agriculture)
iv. demography (population)
v. waste and pollution (anthropogenic pollution)
• Here I want to concentrate on only two of these
sub-networks (planetary resources and human
infrastructure) and examine their interdependence
• In the planetary resources sub-network we need to
quantify the stocks of mineral resources, like copper
and iron, as well as the rate at which these
resources are being consumed.
• However, the myriad of natural services that the
environment provides are of equal importance to
the planetary resources sub-network. These
services, like water quality or flood control by
forests, are often not given an economic value but
are critical to humankind survival.
• The anthropocene network depends also on a
vast array of human-built infrastructure – cities,
roads, canals, bridges, etc
• In addition to semi-permanent infrastructure,
like buildings, mankind uses and consumes a
myriad of goods, like cars and clothes, with a
shorter lifetime.
• This vast human infrastructure is the fruit of the
utilization of natural resources both in the
present (consumer goods and new
infrastructure) and in the past (built-up
• Obviously there are clear linkages between the
planetary resources and the human-built
infrastructure sub-networks
• Here I will focus on only one aspect of this linkage,
how planetary resources limit the extent of humanbuilt infrastructure
• It is clear that the availability of natural services, like
those provided by arable land, forests and aquifers,
as well as material resources, like iron or rare
earths, ultimately is the limiting constraint for the
renewal and growth of human infrastructure.
• So one needs to ask what are the planet’s
infrastructure needs?
• The planetary needs for infrastructure are of two
distinct kinds:
i. As the population grows and further urbanizes,
more man-made infrastructure will need to be
built [A good estimate is that by 2050, the
required infrastructure will grow by 30-40 %]
ii. Although beyond 2050 one can imagine tapering
off the building of new infrastructure, it still will
be necessary to provide for the continuous
renewal of the built-up infrastructure, because of
wear and decay [By 2050, a good estimate is that
we need to replace 40% of infrastructure]
• Enormous challenge to build so much
infrastructure in the next 40 years!
• To minimize resource depletion and pollution,
must significantly increase recycling and efficiency
• Further, given this challenge, using natural or
material resources for pure consumption makes
little sense
• We see from this discussion that understanding
the needs of the anthropocene network provides
useful lessons, and a blueprint, for how to manage
the commons!
The Energy Landscape
• As a second example, let me discuss the energy
• Energy use is probably the most fundamental
characteristic of the anthropocene
• In fact, the level of energy consumption is an
important metric.
• For instance, stocks of material resources are
difficult to quantify, because what is extractable
depends on the amount of energy one is
prepared to use (Bardi).
• Energy is pervasive in modern society. Indeed, in
many ways the society we live in is the result of
the enormous increase in energy usage in the
last 200 years [ 30-fold increase]
• Actually, about a factor of 7 of this increase is
due to population on Earth going from 1 billion
in 1800 to 7 billion now, so per capita energy
growth has increased by a factor of 4
One should note, however, that the US and Canada
per capita consumption is about 4 times the world’s
per capita consumption, of order 10 kW/ person
The energy landscape is complex as figure for US shows
• Even though the energy landscape is complex, two
facts dominate:
i. The preponderance of the energy used comes
from the combustion of fossil fuels (80-85%)
ii. This combustion is accompanied by the emission
each year of billions of tons of CO2 ( the 2011
number is 33 billion) with China and the US
accounting for almost 50% of the total
• The burning of fossil fuels in the last 150-years,
which allowed for a factor of 30 increase in energy
use in the world, is the main contributor to the
significant and continuing increase of CO2 in the
atmosphere [Figure]
February 2013 396.8 ppm CO2
• It is widely believed that the anthropogenic
increase of CO2 in the atmosphere is responsible for
the global warming of the planet and, more
generally, for climate change
NASA Goddard
ΔT = 0.8 ⁰C
• Effects of climate change may already be moving
our planet beyond various tipping points
Artic sea ice
may well
disappear in
a few years
• Furthermore, there are significant delayed effects
• The planet is slow to react to increases in CO2 in
the atmosphere, so the earth’s temperature will
rise further
• It has been estimated by Jim Hansen that, if the
CO2 level remained at its present level, then the
temperature of the earth will eventually rise by
another 1.2⁰ C, so ΔTtotal = 2 ⁰ C.
• If emissions from fossil fuel burning keep
increasing CO2 in the atmosphere, then the earth’s
temperature could reach ΔT = 4 ⁰ C by the end of
this century
• However, ΔT = 2 ⁰ C is already a big problem, if
one looks at paleoclimate data
• Look at geologic record:
• Figures from Hansen and
Sato paper have a
temperature scale where
T peak hol ≈ 2 ⁰ C , so an
additional ΔT= 2 ⁰ C
corresponds to T≈ 4 ⁰ C
• The earth’s temperature
was this hot last about
40 million years ago!
• Lesson to be drawn from this discussion is that strong
steps need to be taken to maintain, or preferably bring
down, the CO2 levels in the atmosphere
• Trends are not encouraging:
i. The level of CO2 keeps increasing
Δ [CO2 2012]= + 3.3 ppm
ii. Transition away from fossil fuels into renewable
energies not moving very rapidly, because of renewed
focus on unconventional fossil fuel reserves [water
fracking; shale oil; etc] with great potential to
increase CO2 emissions [Figure]
If unconventional fossil fuels are tapped, the
concomitant rise in the concentration of CO2 in the
atmosphere will alter the earth climate in a major (and
vastly unknown) way
• If we want to preserve the commons, we need to
take steps to act prudently in connection with the
energy landscape.
• Given the looming climate threat, it is important
to move as rapidly as feasible to de-carbonize the
energy we consume
• This does require some technological
breakthroughs in renewable energies ( advanced
photovoltaic materials, 3rd generation biofuels,
• However, it also requires a real will to move away
from the present dependence on fossil fuels, by
stopping subsidizing the fossil fuel industry
• For a country like Canada, rich in fossil resources,
decarbonizing its energy use will prove to be really
a challenge, but it is important to begin planning
this transition and put it into place
• Secondly, it is important to reduce the energy
intensity of the economy by improving the
efficiency of energy use
• Here a minimum goal would be to totally absorb
the 30% extra energy demand in 2050 due to
demography, through efficiency gains. This would
require roughly a 1%/year gain in energy
efficiency- an achievable goal
Concluding Remarks
• I tried to give you some idea of how the Club of
Rome has approached the governance of the
• I did this here by examining past reports to the
Club of Rome and through two specific examples,
dealing with aspects of the anthropocene network
and the energy landscape
• The guiding philosophy is that life is a cooperative
activity, where individual choices determine our
collective fate and where living in harmony with
nature is essential for humanity’s survival
• I do not know if our, and other’s, attempt to better
govern the commons will help change our planet’s
present course enough, so as to avoid the
overshoot and collapse scenarios of Limits to
• Nevertheless, I believe we must continue to
provide reasoned and impassioned arguments for
moving mankind away from the “business as
usual” path, something the Club of Rome has done
for the past 40 years- not as prophets of doom but
as messengers of hope