First of all, the group took note that an entire cycle of human history had ended, that people lived in a new era with indefinite outlines, with plenty of opportunities, as well as huge, original risks. The group also said that ideas, behaviours, and decisions were a reflection of an old and inadequate logic. The progressive accumulation and connection, at a planetary level, of various crises was leading to a global systemic crisis that could certainly be avoided, but only if we acted cooperatively, following new mental and operative patterns, and, above all, promptly.
After evaluating different options, the choice fell on the analysis and exposition methodology proposed by the American informatics engineer and systems scientist Jay Forrester, worked out specifically in the summer of by a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The choice, though difficult and disputed, turned out to be extremely happy. The book was an easy read — a little more than one hundred pages — clearly structured, well written and, most of all, with lots of clear and elegant graphs.
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Even if it was a specialized book, about an unusual subject and based on a little known methodology, any person with an average education could easily read it and understand the basic arguments, the data and the proposals. Systems analysis is based on the study of how some values related to others change in time; we should try to imagine how any of them could vary, if any other changed in a certain way.
The analysis could be done with differential equations, trying to predict, for example, how an animal population varies, if, in the same territory, there were other animals, quarries or predators; if the food or the space were insufficient; if there were toxins, etc. The solution to the differential equations was difficult, but it could be solved after the availability of electronic calculating machines.
The research investigated the changes in time of five values, between and a hypothetical year In various texts published, the values were sometimes different. But this is scarcely relevant, because the aim of the study was to identify trends, not to make quantitative predictions. Figure 1. Between and the book was translated into about fifteen languages On March , Peccei presented a list of almost four hundred articles published in the last two years in eighteen countries. What really matters is that, the MIT research report caused out a world controversy to break out, one destined to last until today.
To fully understand its importance and significance, it is not enough to trace the main stages and the Italian ramifications; we also have to describe the political and cultural context in which the initiative and the proposal of the Club of Rome emerged. In the mids, even if it seems strange, Aurelio Peccei was an accomplished executive: he was not a member of any club of intellectuals or academics, he did not publish articles or books, nor did he have a relationship with institutions and political parties, except as necessary for the accomplishment of his duty.
Nothing in his public profile made him similar to an intellectual, let alone to a radical intellectual, even if his personal back story hid a strong political vocation Peccei was a sensible, curious and creative man.
Forty Years Later. The Reception of the Limits to Growth in Italy, 1971-1974
These were the thorniest global problems deserving a solution In the following years, Peccei matured and gradually refined his global view, elaborating new issues and dimensions, making it more and more complex. An important turning point in this maturation was the conference held once again in Buenos Aires and once again developing in complete solitude.
At this stage, the gaze was entirely directed to the future, and the tone was concerned and full of sense of responsibility. But the emphasis on risks was still contained. The confrontation with researchers, politicians and businessmen from all over the world and the time spent on the global problems allowed Peccei to learn about many other points of view and approaches and make them his, to such an extent that around the Club of Rome became the point into which all the big issues of the s merged. When The Limits came out, the book revived in an innovative and effective way some of the subjects popular in previous years, giving an important contribution to some of the most heated debates of that period.
First of all, the book came in the wake of Futures studies 20 , now rather neglected, but very popular in the s. Futures studies, born in the military field in the United States after the Second World War 21 , had an international diffusion and gave rise to various public and private initiatives and to studies that caused a great stir The elements in common with these studies, which are very heterogeneous, were the observation that technological changes were rapid, the certainty that the scenarios — not only technological, but also socio-cultural — of the near future would be absolutely uncommon, and the conviction that it was necessary to have a new and more sophisticated investigation to face them adequately.
Even if the primary intention of Peccei and the Club of Rome was not to swell the ranks of Futurists, there were plenty of points of contact, convergence, and mutual recognition with them. More in general, the initiative of the Club of Rome and The Limits seemed to be an expression of a cultural climate marked by a strong collective consideration of the future, a consideration that assumed different tones enchantment, hope, concern, curiosity and different shapes studies and plans, political debate, fiction This consideration was related to the observation and perception of a world in a rapid, unpredictable, and — depending on the point of view — thrilling or worrying change due to technological progress.
At the end of the s, the main threat to world stability and to the ordered development of humanity were not the imbalances among different areas of the planet, as they maintained their terrific destabilizing potential and their burden of injustice in any case.
Instead, there were higher-level issues, much more embedded and dangerous: the nuclear threat, the demographic boom, the increasing shortage of resources and pollution. Some of these issues had been the object of heated debate for many years, while others were relatively new. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the subject of the nuclear threat never left the stage, always reawakened by the news of missile proliferation and recurring international crises, such as those in and Nuclear disarmament became one of the main themes of the movements in the s, especially in Great Britain and in the United States.
Strangelove gave voice to the fear of nuclear disaster sparked off by almost casual factors. Furthermore, in a period of great collective attention to the issues of development and underdevelopment, the huge public expenditure assigned to nuclear arsenals represented to many people an unacceptable contradiction. Two books published contemporaneously with the founding of the Club of Rome stressed and popularized all over the world the issue of overpopulation, which for some time has been a topic of discussion in politics and in academia 27 : Famine 75!
Congress and the federal authority initial interest If the issues of underdevelopment, hunger, overpopulation and nuclear war were themes present from the s, which the debate of the s only amplified, the environmental issue represented something new, and which had difficulty in finding its place and a precise identity before the They were well-represented, on one side, by the author of The Population Bomb , Paul Ehrlich 32 , and on the other, by the economist Wilfred Beckerman 33 and later Julian Simon The latter were protagonists of a long battle against any hypothesis regarding limits to growth.
In Italy, the first to deal with The Limits in a systematic way were those who chose to adopt, with some nuances, the point of view of the Club of Rome and to become, in some way, its mouthpiece. A very early and essential support came — and it could not be otherwise — from the circles related with the future studies, which in Italy had a moderate progressive hue, both in its Catholic Eleonora Barbieri Masini and Irades, Istituto di ricerche applicate documentazione e studi 37 and liberal-socialist members Pietro Ferraro.
A temporary, but significant attention was directed, also in , to the first reports of the Meadows working group by the Italian Senate Steering committee on the issues of ecology In the U. General Assembly planned for a major global conference on the human environment. On this occasion, the president of the United States, in office for one year, announced with an inspired tone his ambitious and original environmental policies, which, in the following three years, would materialize through a large number of measures, including the creation of the Environment Protection Agency A dexterous and open-minded politician, Nixon took note of the growing popularity of the environmental issue, while also betting that focusing on the environment would dull the climate of dissent caused by the ongoing war in Vietnam and growing economic instability.
It was in this context that Fanfani resolutely launched the steering committee and scheduled its timetable between the end of February and the end of May Although his personal contribution was extremely limited 42 , the politicians and, above all, the experts of the committee worked very hard. They were able to use the initial ideas of The Limits , which were illustrated in detail in the wide introductory report of the president of the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Vincenzo Caglioti In addition, the first laws against water and air pollution, on the waste disposal, and soil conservation 44 were enacted.
More organic and functional was the support to the The Limits thesis coming from that galaxy that could be defined as enlightened bourgeoisie or reformist intelligentsia , of which Peccei himself would be an authoritative exponent. Such attention could only derive from a basic agreement with these ideas, the main reasons for which are easy to guess.
Since the immediate post-war period the newspaper has been controlled by a Lombard family, of which an important member, Giulia Maria Mozzoni Crespi, was actively involved in environmental groups. The second reason has to be sought in a sequence of educated and, for that time, open-minded directors who were attentive to changes , such as Giovanni Spadolini, who held the office from to , and, in particular, Piero Ottone, who directed the newspaper until the end of the Crespi era in More in general, we can say that The Limits found the most favourable reception in the lay and socialist reformist intelligentsia.
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The conference, held at the FAO headquarters, saw the participation of more than six hundred people. It dealt with all the key elements of The Limits in about forty papers, many of which were presented by exponents of the Club of Rome, Peccei, King, Thiemann, Pestel , but many others from critics Sauvy, for example , presenting, in general, an excellent diversification of qualifications, competences and points of view.
This experience never occurred again. It gave an idea of the attention paid by the Italian reformist sectors that were involved in the economic planning and in the modernization of the country in a progressive direction. Even if the MIT report did not use the terminology of economic theory, it inevitably brought to mind two classics of the modern economic thought: An Essay on the Principle of Population by Thomas Robert Malthus and Principles of Political Economy , where John Stuart Mill expressed his favourable view of the hypothesis of the Stationary State.
Surely, for all these reasons, but also for a defence of the disciplinary fundamentals fixed by the neoclassical economy, and probably for the adhesion to the logic of business and finance, the Anglo-Saxon economic mainstream was the area from which started the first and harshest attacks on The Limits. In that situation, the voices in the economic field supporting The Limits , or inviting a more careful consideration of it, were altogether few and in general quite marginal, even if we have to add that a rather famous economist who was well-integrated in the academic world had just embarked on a theoretic challenge so radical that the analysis of the Club of Rome paled The circle of Italian economists answered quite late and with a sort of disorientation to the stimulus coming from the society and the world of politics.
The speeches outlined the framework of an open, not preconceived debate, where the efforts to defend the traditional profile of the discipline faced those that demanded that it be adapted somehow to the new challenges. The composition of guests was interesting demographers, experts in commodity economics, technologists , but it missed a thread, a unitary inspiration. In fact, a tense tone prevailed, apparently with little interest in the argument, which probably seemed like a foreign object compared to the more traditional subjects. So, the Italian economists seemed to have difficulty incorporating environmental issues into their sensibility and interests, so that the scientific meeting seemed a rather formal tribute to a trendy subject.
This attitude emerged also in the treatment given to The Limits : out of twenty-two speeches, the report was quoted only ten times, sometimes in a generic way Demarco , sometimes in a resolute way Travaglini, Montesano , sometimes polemically Gerelli, Bettini and just in a couple of cases taking it into serious consideration and entering into details Campolongo, Manfredini.
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It was a tone that, from the theoretical point of view would be neoclassical, while firmly in favour of development form the political point of view, and centered on an essentially technical vision of the duties of economy with respect to the environmental issues. Unlike the majority of his colleagues, Gerelli could found his argumentative strength on a clear position and first-hand knowledge of the international literature Outside the academic world, but still in the economic field, the business world seemed to have more clear ideas.
Between April and August , among the many articles about the environment, at least fifteen concerned directly or referred to The Limits , and none of them, apart from a short letter that received a rather polemical answer 59 , diverged from an extremely defined position: the acknowledgement of the importance of environmental issues, a statement of principle of the entrepreneurs for a solution but, at the same time, the firm rejection of the report of the Club of Rome, with regard to the methodology and the contents In the Italian debate 61 , the position of the Catholic Church differs for its rather original genesis and developments.
The Holy See also took the environmental issue into consideration quite late, but when it did, it inserted it into an extremely favourable and advanced context, such as that of the Council. Encyclicals as Pacem in Terris and Populorum progressio , the pastoral constitutions such as Gaudium et spes and organisms such as the Pontifical commission Iustitia et pax , created in , looked directly at the big planetary problems, such as wars, nuclear proliferation, world hunger and poverty, the imbalance between rich and poor countries, saying that it involved not only the responsibility of Christians, but also that of rulers, companies and scientists.
In these big conciliar and post-conciliar initiatives, the environmental issue was totally ignored, sign of the extreme difficulty in being aware of it and in putting it in a global vision that was wide and ambitious. The s seemed to mark a turning point: in a message read to the FAO assembly on 16 November 62 , Pope Paul VI finally faced, in a detailed way, the environmental issue, putting it in a wider context, but considering it the ultimate root of all the big problems of mankind.
Despite their apparent diversity, they all were reconnected to a serious root problem that has become dramatic in the past ten years: the nightmare of the biological death of humanity as consequence of the destruction of the natural environment The tone used by the pope was especially clear and showed that he was affected by the maturation of the ecological issue in the collective global consciousness:.
It is necessary a radical change in the humanity behaviour, if it wants to be sure of its own surviving; it is not just a matter of dominating the nature: today the human being has to learn to dominate its own supremacy on the nature, because the most extraordinary scientific advances, the most astonishing technical feats, the most prodigious economic growth, if do not go together with an authentic social and moral progress, ultimately turn against the human being Until there was no article, review or note dedicated to environmental issues, while in there were two articles, a review and a major story: a broad comment by Bartolomeo Sorge on the papal speech.
Sorge, who would soon become the director of the review, illustrated the contents of the speech, broadening its perspectives with an updated bibliography at a good specialized level. But things took another direction: the issue of birth control would shatter the reception of the The Limits and, more in general, of the environmental issue. The same happened to The Limits. The report was reviewed, meticulously and in a balanced way, by a young and brilliant collaborator, but very late, in the spring of 71 , mainly to give to Catholics the necessary knowledge to deal consciously with the delicate international year of population and, above all, with the U.
Conference that would be hold in Bucharest in August. In , the Catholic Church was two steps away from including with full rights the environmental issue among the big issues raised by the Second Vatican Council, but the fear of encouraging and leaving space to positions in favour of birth control kept it from delving into the matter and, on the contrary, keeping it pending. It became a topic that had to be faced with extreme caution and only when strictly necessary.
And The Limits , with one of its fundamental proposals being the reduction of demographic growth, ended up in limbo. Unlike the academic economists, who did not show any kind of embarrassment in facing the challenge put out by the environmental issue and by The Limits , there was the variegated world of Italian Marxism. This attitude emerged clearly in two works written few months earlier than the publication of The Limits , which are very important for our article, even if for different reasons. The first work, the proceedings of an ambitious conference that the Istituto Gramsci held in November of 72 , constitutes a representative range of how the different worlds of the left were approaching a partially inedited and, anyway, delicate, matter such as the environment.
The second work is an intensely militant pamphlet, supported by information and a full theoretic background. It was radically polemic and uncomfortable, but at the same time hard to pass over in silence.
And it would gain popularity and allow a large number of militants on the left to get close to environmental matters. The conference organized by the Istituto Gramsci, cultural arm of the Italian Communist Party , hosted about sixty reports and papers, and was divided into three sessions that showed a clarity of intentions.
It was here, in particular, that Marxists, unlike professional economists, showed their confidence, especially as regards the basic aspects of the environmental issue — the global spatial dimension, the projection in the long term, the systematic nature, the rich philosophical and political implications. These themes were familiar to Italian Marxists, so that they were neither embarrassed nor in difficulty in converting the new matter in the terms of their theoretical apparatus What mattered was, in any case, that environmental matters had to be assumed as imposed by the subjects who bear them, and that they had to be preemptively filtered in the light of the Marxist theory, of the materialist analysis of the scientific and technological changes second thematic session , and of the needs of struggle and political intervention of the working class movement in its different articulations third session.
During the conference, the debate was rich and in some moments also conflictual, but an authoritative synthesis came from the introductive report and the conclusions of Giovanni Berlinguer. Actually, it was necessary to go beyond, especially on a methodological level, taking full charge of the matter of scientific-technological change and the demographic crisis, trying to plan for change thanks to the alliance of ecology, cybernetics and Marxism, the only political thought able to make long-term forecasts. However, that was not enough, because the ecological crisis was deep-rooted in the capitalist mode of production, in the double and parallel distinction between exploited and exploiters and polluted and polluters.
Therefore, any project of pure and simple rationalization of the system was doomed to fail. It was necessary to distinguish the reasonable aspects from the ideological and propagandistic ones, a matter that, while involving growing sectors of world public opinion, remained largely unknown to the Italian and international working class movement. This was a serious delay, because it was puerile to think that the pure and simple instauration of a socialist regime could solve by itself environmental issues and because science offered to the working class movement fundamental weapons to show better the incurable conditions of the capital.
This encounter between science and the working class movement — opposed until then — had to be rethought and favoured at any cost. In his conclusion, Berlinguer raised his sights. We could not wait. The environmental issue is crucial, and not just today. The PCI reformist perspective, as illustrated by Giovanni Berlinguer during the Gramsci conference 79 , is necessarily disastrous because it does not postulate the abolition of private property. Paccino, on the other hand, pointed to the China of the Cultural Revolution as a model to follow and the choices made by the Maoist leadership after Liu Shaochi ousting.
It seemed clear to everyone, even if the subject was often approached in an ironic and compliant way, that the workers and their organizations were facing a challenge that concerned them both as victims of pollution and revolutionary subjects. At the same time, they struggled to make it their own, but they were also chasing the initiative of other subjects, even that of their class enemy.
In fact, trying to distinguish in the various positions the serious and common elements from those simply propagandistic and irrational, Berlinguer listed six positions: that of the Catholic world, of the catastrophists, of the Neo-Malthusians, of the anti-technology romantics, of the anti-pollution industrialists, and finally the Nixonian. In Paccino, as well as in the different papers delivered at the Gramsci conference, some basic criticisms recurred constantly: the bourgeois ecology had an undoubted profiteering side, because there was an evident will to sell new anti-pollution technologies; its institutional declination Nixon, Fanfani was basically propagandistic, pretending to define all victims and all responsible in equal measure and to divert attention from destabilizing issues, but it had also an authoritative connotation, because basically technocratic; catastrophism, in essence, was passive and did not take in account the potential related to the political centrality of the masses; finally, the stress on population control — a statement clearly derived from Malthusianism — was an evident declination of neocolonialism And the condemnation was, in general, without appeal.
The entire PCI press rejected the thesis of The Limits , without going into details or publishing a specific review. He also accused the authors of technocratic authoritarianism. It is not following the suggestions of a computer that the course of history changes. Zorzoli entered into the heart of the work, showing a good knowledge both of its social-political the work of the Club of Rome and methodological the technological forecast study, the work of Jay Forrester origins.
The Limits was important for its methodological genesis. The Limits is read by Zorzoli as a clever and articulated move of international capital to get over its own contradictions, justifying theoretically, thanks to it, the stagnation phases, giving new legitimacy to the objective of a dualistic development and strengthening the demand of technologies for environmental clean-up. The article was intelligent and subtle in its argument, careful about the specific contents of The Limits and, most of all, careful not to distort them.
It went beyond simple condemnation. Zorzoli represents a good example of a common attitude of the left, based on a theoretical construction intimately coherent but also influenced by a conspiracy theory not confirmed by facts. A separate chapter, quite difficult to classify in the standard left, is represented by the position of the Italian appendix of the European Labour Council of Lyndon Hemyle La Rouche. A nimble manager, Larouche gave an international breadth to his organizations in the early s, creating in Europe the European Labour Council, with the Partito operaio europeo as its Italian branch.
Around these political groups there was an intricate and opaque galaxy of cultural organizations New Benjamin Franklin House, Executive Intelligence Review, Schiller Institute and reviews. They founded some reviews with a remarkable number of pages, a regular periodicity and a decent diffusion. In our case, the remarkable aspect of the works and propaganda of the Larouchists is the constant attack on the Club of Rome and on The Limits to Growth , interpreted as a dark message from the oligarchs Rockefeller or Agnelli.
Some of the criticism made by the Italian Marxist left of The Limits were brought to the extreme until becoming a caricature, both for the subjective description of the promoters of the book and for the idea that it was a conspiracy against poor countries. On the other hand, a relatively original element was the criticism the idea of physical limits to growth, which was in contrast with the exaltation of Soviet nuclear technology for fusion, able to guarantee in few years unlimited energy.
But some of the protagonists of that season — in keeping with the evolution showed shortly after by La Rouche — embraced positions of right-wing environmental negationism, when in Italy this current was yet at its beginning. In they collaborated on the book La congiura ecologista. The reception of The Limits to Growth by the new Italian environmental movement basically repeated the cultural fault lines described above.
In the early s, it was still in a consolidation phase. It had only a few members but clear ideas and great ambitions 98 ; in the same period, Federnatura, which for years operated only in provincial areas, saw a re-launching phase In spite of this ferment, at the beginning of the new decade, Italian associationism and environmentalist culture were rather weak.
The WWF, which represented the great Italian novelty for its effectiveness and visibility, had only a few thousand members and a few local offices. Meanwhile, the environmentalism of the left began to find the distrust of the PCI and the extra-parliamentary groups. The nucleus of young people who gave life to the group came from the politically complex reality of Italia Nostra and was of the reformist culture typical of the first centre-left. All of its members were also members or were very close of the Partito socialista and Partito repubblicano, the two parties committed to the modernization of the country, as embodied in economic planning.
The WWF Italy had clout on the national debate. In the association enjoyed a growing popularity, beginning an organizational rise that would bring it in few years to triple its membership 30, in In he participated in founding the Emilian society Pro Montibus et Sylvis. He was made a Doctor of Zoology in , teaching at the Agricultural secondary school in Bologna and at the University of Ferrara.
In he became professor of zoology at Bologna, where he directed the Institute of Zoology. He was rector of the University of Bologna from to In he was one of the founders of the Italian Journal of Ornithology. In the first two decades of the twentieth century Ghigi, Erminio Sipari and Pietro Romualdo Pirotta championed the cause of a national park in the Abruzzo Appnenines, and they succeeded in causing the creation of the National Park of Abruzzo , established as a private initiative and inaugurated on 9 September before obtaining government recognition.
In he founded the Zoology Laboratory, then geared towards hunting, now called the National Institute for Wildlife. In Ghigi's name appeared among Italian scientists and intellectuals supporting the Fascist racial laws. In he published a volume on Biological Problems of race and miscegenation that argued "the superiority of our race" and accused mestizos of being "the cause of decline and disintegration, a wound in natural evolution.
In Ghigi promoted establishment of the Commission for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources of the National Research Council, presiding over this committee until his death. In he co-founded the journal Atura e Montagna , which he directed from to He was the author of hundreds of publications, particularly in zoology.