In conversation with Till Kellerhoff and Earth4All

We spoke with Till Kellerhoff, Program Director of Reframing Economics at Club of Rome, who are one of the partners for Earth4All, an international initiative to accelerate the systems-change we need for an equitable future on a finite planet.

What’s the story behind Earth4All?

In 1972, the Club of Rome commissioned a report – The Limits to Growth – to look at the interconnected issues and complex problems faced by humanity. The model behind the study – World3 has been shown to be remarkably accurate and has undergone a number of developments. Fifty years on, the Earth4All model behind our work can be used to explore different future scenarios on Earth. It can be used to answer questions like: what happens if societies adopt policies to redistribute wealth more fairly, or if they don’t? Or, what happens if countries adopt policies to empower women? Or, what happens to Earth if more people eat healthy diets?

The Earth4All model explores 5 extraordinary turnarounds needed for humanity this century: on poverty, inequality, empowerment, food and energy. It’s guided by a Transformational Economics Commission to explore new economic thinking, and supported by a campaign to promote the adoption by governments of long-term policies.

What kind of progress do you see your work making? And towards what?

Earth4All is developing a platform to connect and amplify the chorus of voices that want to upgrade our economies. That is key to our approach – to bring together the multiple facets of new economic thinking – normative, descriptive, methodological, alongside connecting the social and environmental with economic thinking, and combining quantitative economic models with qualitative data from local and global thinkers.

We really do need a chorus of voices, to move beyond silos, make things more concrete whilst retaining that pluralism.

We’ve been working on a model and narrative – identifying 5 key turnarounds towards a well-being economic system, and trying to identify the key leverage points. Models are only as good as the assumptions you put in but we’ve been able to combine this with the perspectives of the commissioners and other local and global leaders.

We only have 2 scenarios now – Giant Leap or Too Little Too Late

This is all shared in the book that we are publishing in September, Earth for All: A Survival Guide for Humanity. The original book, Limits to Growth, published 50 years ago, presented 12 scenarios. We only have 2 scenarios now – Giant Leap or Too Little Too Late.

The book has been written for a general audience. We’ve also used hard economic facts and stories. It’s intentionally not an academic book and the hope is to spark a public debate and inspire people who might take action in different ways within the system.

There will be launch events in Germany, India and NYC and a wider effort to socialise the book to policymakers and beyond. The book itself is the first milestone and what Earth4All want to see are the ideas being implemented. This is where the book differs from Limits To Growth because it offers concrete policy recommendations.

What about the ‘new economy’ field as a whole? Where do you think the opportunities are for greater progress?

Over the last few years in particular it has become more obvious to more people that the current system is not working and certain promises of neoliberalism have not proven right. People are realising that the drive for ever-increasing efficiency was missing a buffer to make things resilient and an economic system should be looking at resilience not just efficiency. This means there are more people than ever that have an abstract feeling or sense that we need a new economic system but they are not clear on what that looks like or how to get there.

The opportunity for the new economy field is to bring to life what the alternatives are, and to help steward things in that direction. The success of Doughnut Economics in alighting people’s imagination is a great example of what we need more – especially how work like that can be translated into policies and practices at every level.

However there is still lots of resistance, path dependencies and ideological barriers and the field is very fragmented compared to some of the opposition movements e.g the free market front. Over the last few years we’ve had debates on ‘post growth’, ‘degrowth’, a ‘steady state’ – these are just some examples, but as you can see, there are a lot of different terms. Earth4All is trying to bring it all together alongside others in the field.

Beyond trying to bring more coherence across the field, there are policy levers being implemented – some initial examples are in New Zealand around a wellbeing economy, and long-termism in Wales with the Future Generations Act.

The other opportunity is in how to communicate what these new economies would mean in communities, showing the potential of different ways of living and for that to be appealing. Citizen Assemblies will play a key role in this, alongside arts and culture. The recent Netflix documentary with David Attenbourough for the climate agenda for example, we need something similar for the new economy field.

If you look at the numbers we’ve been too optimistic. And we know the transformations are not happening fast enough.

What could people do to support your work?

We want to spark a global conversation, so initially we’ve created a page on our website of ways to get involved. We are really keen to reach a diversity of voices. Following the launch of the book we will be creating all kinds of forums for exchange. We’ll be sharing lots of different ways to participate through our newsletter and website.

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