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2022: the year of non-return. 50 years from The Limits to Growth.

*By Gonzalo del Castillo.

A year marked by records of maximum temperatures and recurrence of extreme events ends. Devastating heat waves, droughts, fires and floods affected hundreds of millions of people. The current decade is presented as the warmest on record, without stopping to meditate on the "temperature" that adds a context under permanent threat of nuclear war. The end of 2022 and the beginning of the new year thus symbolizes -or should symbolize! - a threshold for our civilization. The way we choose to go through it will define the future of humanity and all life we ​​know.

Points of no return are used, in the field of climatology, to represent biophysical thresholds that, if crossed, have the potential to generate significant and often irreversible changes in the Earth's climate system. It is easy to identify these points in the physical world, governed by insurmountable laws that can be replicated on a laboratory scale. In fact, the main of these points of no-return have already been identified with great clarity and alarm (if you want to know a little more about this subject and its implications, we recommend this article from National Geographic.

But what is not so simple is to identify those points in the socioeconomic and cultural world of human societies. One would tend to think that they are related, but the irrational course of the last 200 years seems to prove otherwise. The crude and unquestionable events that happen in the physical world -fires, droughts, heat waves, wars, etc.- are not enough of an engine to change the destructive patterns generated in the world of human ideas.

And if not, let's think about our country and the year it leaves us: 2022 began with the occurrence, between January 6 and 26, of 3 unprecedented heat waves, which affected a large part of the national territory. Due to its extension and duration - which covered more than 70% of the national territory for 14 days - it was one of the most extreme heat waves on record. And just as hot as the year began, it ended: we lived through a December that broke all records, with heat waves between December 4 and 12 (even though it was spring!), where we suffered maximum temperatures that exceeded, for several days, 35°C and even 40°C. In the town of Rivadavia, Salta (where we are currently implementing this biosystems project, the highest temperature in the world was recorded for that day, with 46º, and in several other locations, maximum values never before recorded for a month of December were reached.

Fires and droughts were other of the protagonists of the year. With half of the country under a water or fire emergency, there was hardly a month in which we did not have sources of fire destroying what little remains to be destroyed of our ecosystems. 800,000 hectares in Corrientes (8% of its territory), more than 300,000 in the Paraná Delta, another hundreds of thousands in Córdoba and different Patagonian provinces and, at the end of the year, we mourn the more than 10,000 hectares consumed in what is already the worst fire in the history of the province of Tierra del Fuego, that devastated the Heart of the Island: a large reserve of guanacos, where the Fuegian red fox lives (at risk of extinction), in an environment of ancient forests of lengas, ñires and cherries.

But these facts are no longer vernacular peculiarities, associated with our well-known and shameful lack of territorial environmental planning; to the petty economic interests of those who reify and destroy life and Nature for profit; or to the constitutive shortcomings of the governments in power. This enhances all evils, but unfortunately they are no longer the only cause of them (if they were, the problem would be less serious). Today, this reality is reproduced in all corners of the Planet: “rich” and “poor” countries alike see the effects of ruthlessly destroying the Nature that sustains them. Of course the responsibilities are differentiated, and the consequences do vary depending on the response capacity of each country, but as the challenges continue to increase, there will be no response capacity at all. Regardless of how many GDP growth points, nuclear warheads, or billionaires per 100,000 inhabitants differentiate one country from another. When these points of no-return are crossed, there will be no return, worth the redundancy... when this happens, the rupture of the system will become self-sustaining, generating a positive feedback effect that will continue to increase global warming, the desertification of soils, the extinction of species, droughts, fires, and so on... in a spiral of destruction that will continue until it finds a new equilibrium point that not even science can glimpse with certainty what it could be.

“the rupture of the system will become self-sustaining, generating a positive feedback effect that will continue to increase global warming, the desertification of soils, the extinction of species, droughts, fires, and others... in a spiral of destruction that will continue until finding a new equilibrium point that not even science can glimpse with certainty what it could be.”

It goes without saying that in this scenario the application of the precautionary principle should prevail, because what is certain -obvious- is that without fertile land, there will be no food. Without biological diversity, there will be no functioning ecosystems. Without water, there will be no life. And just in case, it is good to remember, without any of the above, there will hardly be any economic gain. But we already know: ironic destiny had this beginning that never managed to reach its end.

But what then? We do not know for sure. And we would risk saying that whoever claims to know this is either lying or making the same mistake that led us to this present: not understanding that the problems we face are not technical but cultural. That is, eminently human. And that, by definition, these problems do not have logical-procedural solutions, but rather, according to Schumacher, "compel man to strive to a level above himself, they demand forces that come from a higher level and, at the same time, they make their existence possible by bringing love, beauty, goodness and truth into our lives.” It is only with the help of these higher forces that we can return to a path that values ​​life above all things, and that it does so in collective and global terms. Which represents, in itself, the great difficulty: promoting these "high forces" collectively and globally, is the task of everyone in general and no one in particular.

But here is the hope on which we base our daily task and our reason for celebration to receive the new year: we perceive, like many, that something is happening in society. Something is sprouting and unfolding. And just like the evolutionary leaps in the biological field, in human societies there are also leaps generated by alterations in the basic structures of our cognition. Of our ways of understanding life and our evolution in it. At first these changes are minuscule and marginal, but for some reason they manage to gain ground until they dominate the collective imagination. And in doing so, they have the potential to bring about change on a cosmological level. But, it must also be said, unlike biological processes, in the human field there is no certainty that this leap is evolutionary and not degenerative. It depends, as always, on the greatest gift and the greatest difficulty that characterizes us: our freedom.

And we return, then, to the points of no-return. We can, for example, choose to have 2022 immortalized as our civilizational point of no-return. And that, unlike the spiral of destruction that the climate crisis looms, it stands as the beginning of a positive feedback process that allows us to reverse our culture of ostentation, objectification, death and destruction, in a new culture. of regeneration, courage, life and love.

“Within the infinite field of action and choice that our freedom offers us, we can choose and define, collectively, our destiny.”

Fifty years ago, in 1972, the Club of Rome published Limits to Growth. The Report allowed us to glimpse possible future scenarios for Humanity, according to the options derived from the exercise of our own freedom. He warned us that if we chose to continue with the disvalues ​​of hyper consumption and the destruction of Nature, we would encounter planetary limits somewhere near the decade we are going through. Today we are experiencing the confirmation of that scenario. (If you want to know more about what the report raised, we invite you to reread the note 50 years from the limits of growth:

But among the variables analyzed, the report never contemplated the potential of human freedom as a variable in itself, simply because the human future cannot be predicted. If it were, there would be no freedom. That variable was always, and still it is, the key variable. But also the unpredictable.

We toast, then, to a 2023 in which the unpredictable coincides with the reasonable.

By Gonzalo del Castillo, Executive Director of the Club of Rome Foundation.



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