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This book heralds the good news that we possess the economic and political tools to steer the world civilization toward genuine sustainability and that we can do so now.
What do I mean by “genuine sustainability”? I mean creating a political and economic environment in which our collective footprint on Earth is a positive one—an environment in which we put a stop to the current practices that do irremediable harm to Nature and we begin to heal and to clean our environment.
How can we do this?
That’s what this book is about.
At the moment, the footprint of human beings on the earth—our global impact—is negative. (The European footprint is smaller than that of the U.S. but is still very large.) We are polluters of our living space—our planet. And although there are movements in the world attempting to diminish the harm we are doing to the environment, they are not enough—because even if the world becomes cleaner, it is still on a path toward a collective death for the entire civilization.
The premise of this book is this—that our industrial-modern economy and our “modern” political system, which produces wars between states, are incapable of moving us toward a positive footprint on Earth despite the fact that human beings across the globe are doing their best to care for the environment at the local level. Overall, we might be lessening the damage we do to the environment, but the economic and political system of the industrial-modern paradigm does not allow progress toward a genuine positive footprint. Indeed, because the industrial economic system is based on the concepts of quantitative growth and tangible assets, it is not capable of leading us toward a genuine sustainable future. (Business leaders across the world agree tacitly with this premise already.)
Why is the current system incapable of guiding us toward sustainability? Because for industrial economists, an unavoidable trade-off exists between economic growth and sustainability because working for sustainability is considered as a cost to be subtracted from growth and profit. The common statement emanating from political boardrooms across the globe is, “Whatever we do for the environment, we subtract from economic growth.”
I have heard this statement myself many times in the European Commission. And it is not without valid arguments in the context of the industrial-modern model. We cannot ask our politicians to completely sacrifice economic growth for the sake of the environment, because doing so would undermine the whole economic and social equilibrium of our member states. Unfortunately, in this trade-off between economic growth and sustainability the industrial-modern model almost guarantees that sustainability loses. And whatever might be done to save the environment will be done in a losing cause!
In industrial-modern capitalism, we are locked in this trade-off.
Now for the good news.
We have at our disposal right now the tools we need to shift our economies and our politics (and, therefore, our world) toward genuine sustainability and toward the creation of a positive footprint of our human civilization on Earth. Such a shift is possible for two reasons—one, because the world business community has already begun to shift into a new economic logic based on the idea of a “knowledge society,” and two, because the Mind of the world is changing and ushering Humanity to a new level of consciousness1. It is possible also because we now have the political tools of non-violence between states (in the EU, especially) and are beginning to emerge into a world beyond war—that is, a world where war no longer represents the continuation of “foreign policy by other means,” to borrow Clausewitz famous phrase. With these new tools, we can redirect our global civilization toward a genuine sustainable future and a positive human footprint on Earth.
What we lack at this point is the vision and awareness at the level of the political leadership. But here I also have excellent news to report—25% of the world’s citizens may have already become aware of the new values and the new vision of life (paradigm) without saying so (or perhaps even knowing so). And in the business world, some CEOs have begun to implement a vision of the knowledge society (and knowledge economy) and are managing their companies in new ways—to great success.
There is no doubt in my mind that our global economy is headed full-speed toward becoming a knowledge economy. This means that we are “de-materializing” the value creation process itself, which is the core of any economy, thereby allowing us to pollute less. We are also changing how we measure success in our businesses—steering away from measuring according to tangible (material) assets and more toward measuring with the intangible (non-material) assets. And among those intangible assets, sustainability and social inclusion are becoming more and more important.
This means that the more a business spends on improving the environment, the more intangible assets it will acquire and the more successful it will become. One can even imagine a case in which a company spends millions in order to genuinely clean the environment and, in the process, becomes a worldwide leader in its market. In the industrial paradigm and classical capitalist economy, such an investment would be suicidal, but in the knowledge economy it is the smartest of moves! And businesses that employ such strategies change from being part of the problem to being part of the solution.
In 1989, I was contracted by the European Commission’s Science Department to write a report on the attitudes and positions of the major religions of Japan and the West concerning science and technology. That work, and also my work on the renowned European Union “Forward Studies Unit” (Cellule de Prospective) from 1990 to 1999, convinced me that Humanity is currently undergoing an unprecedented cultural mutation, and this mutation is taking place silently and “behind the scenes.” It is comparable, in fact, to the mutation and transformation that took place during the Renaissance in 1500, but it is probably much more fundamental, more rapid, and deeper. In any case, at this moment, it is difficult to see the full consequences of the mutation. The purpose of this book is to shed light on what is happening in the world as the mutation takes place.
The reason for this mutation is two-fold. First, we are now at a point in history in which humankind is confronted with the danger of extinction and death if it does not change the way it manages its relationship to the environment and to the economy in general. And second, the human race is climbing to new level of consciousness2. (I am firmly convinced of this fact based on many personal observations.) These two factors are combining to propel us to a new stage in our realisation of the threat that we ourselves pose to our world and of the necessity to change. We are, in fact, in a very positive phase of our evolution.
Unfortunately, this type of mutation (or “jump in consciousness”) is often hard and produces much anxiety. What manifests during this anxious period of transition are the crises brought about by the current system (industrial-modern-patriarchal) as it is dying. We see the human suffering caused by such crises, and it affects us. It causes us to question our basic life motivations. It causes us to question the very meaning of our global civilization. And it makes us realise that to survive as a civilization, we must change.
In the second part of this book, I write about the incredibly positive dimension of this change that is sometimes difficult to see clearly. We have already in hand the key elements of the new society of the 21st century—from the political standpoint, the non -violence between states, and from the economic standpoint, the “knowledge economy.” The subject of the knowledge economy is especially captivating to me, because it is based on a new economic logic that is currently arising in the business world and has the potential to be genuinely sustainable.
The most difficult problem today is to change how we view the world in order to perceive this image of the new Renaissance—which is occurring even now as you read this.
I do not intend this book to convince anyone to change their paradigm and world view. I simply want to be of help to citizens around the world, who are feeling this huge transformation on their own—so that they might realise that not only are they not alone, they are in the emerging majority.
Ces messieurs ont appelé dame Bess, dit-il; mais dame Bess n’est pas au cottage