An appeal for economic transformation at President Biden’s Climate Summit

An appeal for economic transformation at President Biden’s Climate Summit, 22-23 April 2021.

President Biden and distinguished state leaders.

‘In his encyclical letter of 2015 – on care for our common home – Pope Francis exhorted: “Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change.”

‘He laid out how we can transition to a post-capitalist economy, but also reminded us that there are other ways of knowing and being that hold the secret to a better world.

‘Paradoxically, that message implies climate change is NOT what we need to address at this climate change summit.

‘Rather, we need to directly confront our global economic model – one that has failed to deliver on its old promises,  and now delivers instead  – planetary environmental degradation and pollution, massive biodiversity loss, resource depletion, extreme wealth inequity and both intergenerational and cultural injustice.

‘The model’s critical flaw is that it must grow to be stable, irrespective of need or the damage it is causing us to inflict on our common home and our fellow humans. The current rate of emissions is simply a by-product of our global economy.

‘President Biden, some 50 years ago your brilliant scientist, Donnella Meadows and her MIT colleagues, predicted with remarkable accuracy the very pollution and resource depletion issues we are now experiencing under a business-as-usual scenario. But the commercial world found the very idea of material limits to growth so confronting that their predictions were summarily dismissed. Now we are facing the consequences.  

‘To give us half a chance of maintaining a liveable climate, we know we will not only need to reduce average global emissions by 7% year-on-year from now, but actually remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere in the second half of the century. This with, as yet, unknown technologies.  We are simply living well beyond earth’s means. 

‘But it is encouraging that New Zealand’s response to the Covid19 pandemic had shown us that, with the right leadership and commitment, we can achieve that order of reduction. The challenge now is to lock in and maintain that downward trend. 

‘Our Covid experience has also shown us that a simpler, richer and more satisfying community and family-orientated life is possible. Perhaps more like Pope Francis’s other ways of living and knowing. And the sky does not fall in!

‘In essence, endlessly growing levels of consumption and the limitations of planetary resources are on a collision course.  It follows that, as long as we conform to a macroeconomic model with its inherent assumption of perpetual expansion, emissions control sufficient to meet the Paris Agreement and restabilise our climate is on track to utterly fail.  

‘We have become victims of an insatiable monster of our own making which must be replaced before it, quite literally, has us consuming ourselves.

‘Therefore, my appeal to each of you today is that we broaden the international conversation to squarely confront the real climate issue – the growth imperative in our current economic paradigm – beginning at this summit.

Thank you Mr President for making this climate summit possible.’

Wise Response is a broad coalition of scientists, engineers, lawyers, artists and others, all expert in their fields, dedicated to drawing public and government attention to the urgent need to plan for resource limits rather than exponential consumption.  Patrons are Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Sir Alan Mark.