Anders Wijkman recently introduced the book Earth for All – A Survival Guide for Humanity during an open lecture at Linköping University. The book was launched in September last year, five decades after The Limits to Growth, as a report to the Club of Rome.
Surrounded by crises
Humanity is surrounded by several crises, such as the climate crisis, the war in Ukraine, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the ecological crisis. On top of that, there is mass poverty, deepening inequality, and a set of exponential technology, particularly AI, offering opportunities but serious risks as well.
“Can we improve the standard of living for everybody without destroying the planet? That is what the book is trying to answer”, says Anders.
Limits to Growth was a wake-up call; it stated already in 1972 that humanity cannot continue to grow in terms of economic growth. However, the world didn’t listen, and it was dismissed by most policymakers and conventional economists.
“Over the last 50 years, the demand for all kinds of materials, water, and energy and the expansion of urban populations have all increased, and the use of fossil fuels is almost the same as in the 1970s. We have concluded in this book that the economic system is failing to adequately address what matters”, states Anders.
Turnarounds for an economy of well-being
But there is a turnaround to all this. The authors suggest five extraordinary turnarounds within empowerment, equality, energy, food, and poverty to reverse the trend in declining well-being and to remain within planetary boundaries.
The poverty turnaround is crucially important because if we don’t deal with poverty and inequalities, there is no way we are going to solve the other problems, according to Anders. Expanding policy space, rethinking trade, and developing new growth models are measures needed. More concrete recommendations are, for example, granting debt relief to low-income countries and cooperating on a Global New Green Deal.
“Solar power has enormous opportunities in many parts of the world, but there is very little investment going into the low-income countries. From 2000-2021, less than 2% of investments in solar and wind were in low-income countries”, Anders asserts.
One of the suggestions for the inequality turnaround is a concept called “universal basic dividend”. It means that commons that belong to all citizens, like natural resources, should not be monopolized by a few companies. The idea is to take some of the revenues and channel them into a fund that would be evenly distributed among the population.
“In fact, this is happening already. In Alaska, a scheme was introduced fifteen years ago, making companies earning revenues from oil and mineral extraction pay a fee into a fund, and last year every citizen in Alaska benefited from this. Imagine if this would include the high-tech industry and the internet with all the revenues there. This would generate money for all citizens in the world every year”, says Anders.
He continues talking about the other turnarounds, such as the importance of strengthening women to achieve the empowerment turnaround, how we must change the way we farm to achieve the food turnaround, and how everything must be electrified to achieve the energy turnaround.
Circularity as a supporting act
In the end, all turnarounds need a lot of supporting acts: for instance, a better system of cooperation, altering conventional economics, and moving from linear to circular production. Most of the time, we only use material once before we throw it away, which is very inefficient. Circularity is not only about recycling; it’s about extending product life and reusing and renovating. Additionally, it’s about going from buying and owning a product to benefitting from services. Also the more we reuse, recycle, and extend product life, the less energy we need.
“Circular economy doesn’t happen by itself; for example, a used brick costs two euros, while a new brick only costs one euro – we have to do something here”, Anders ends.
About Anders Wijkman
Anders Wijkman is a Swedish politician, economist, and writer. He has had a long and varied career, serving as a member of the Swedish Parliament, as a Member of the European Parliament, and as the co-president of the Club of Rome, a global think tank focusing on sustainability issues. Since 2011 Anders is an honorary doctor at Linköping University.
Throughout his career, Anders Wijkman has been a strong advocate for environmental and social sustainability. He has written extensively on these topics, including several books and numerous articles. He has also worked with a variety of international organizations, including the United Nations, on issues related to sustainability and development.