Chinese Version Preface by Zhou Jinfeng: The Cry of the Awakening – From “The Limits to Growth” to “Come On!”, Trying to Wake Up More People

On October 25, 2018, three members of the Club of Rome gathered at Peking University to jointly hold a new book launch for the Chinese translation version of the international think tank the Club of Rome’s latest report “Come On!”. The following is the preface penned by Dr. Zhou Jinfeng, the Secretary-General of China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF) for the Chinese version of “Come On!”.

People who wake up early are sometimes more painful. Just as the Club of Rome published the book “The Limits to Growth” in the 1970s, its main author, Professor J?rgen Randers, a member of the Club of Rome, realized the potential problems in the economic development and growth model of that era, and these problems will bring a major crisis to the earth’s ecological environment and the future survival of mankind, so he wrote his vision of the future into the book in an attempt to awaken more people.

The book “The Limits to Growth” has not only become the cornerstone of the promotion of global sustainability awareness, but its ideas eventually led to the advent of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In September 2015, the 193 members of the United Nations unanimously adopted the “2030 Agenda”, committing all people and institutions to work together to promote sustainable and inclusive economic growth, social development and environmental protection.

Wise man thinks, with plans and plans beforehand; broad-minded man plans, all with foresight. I feel very fortunate that when I was still studying at Peking University, I was fortunate enough to read “The Limits to Growth”, the first report from the Club of Rome. At that time, China was in a period of comprehensive economic development, and Western developed countries were also intoxicated by the “golden age” of high growth and high consumption. In the eyes of people at the time, would there be a limit to growth? No, of course not. Yes, we were all indulged in the tremendous changes brought about by rapid economic development. But what will happen in the future?

Since the 1980s, the earth has entered an “overdraft mode.” Every year, the date when humans consume the earth’s resources that can be regenerated naturally throughout the year becomes earlier and earlier. Taking 2018 as an example, the “Earth Overshoot Day” of this year has been advanced to August 1, which is the earliest record of reaching this node in history. In other words, as of this day, people have used up the earth’s renewable natural resources in this year and will begin an ecological “overshoot” life from now on.

Time flies. Looking back now, nearly 50 years have passed since the first publication of The Limits to Growth. Many of the statements mentioned in the book that were considered shocking and unbelievable at the time are evolving into reality one by one. For example, population issues, food issues, resource issues, and environmental pollution issues…These have also become major issues that scholars and experts from all over the world have enthusiastically discussed and studied in depth. They have become the most important challenges that governments and people around the world cannot ignore and need to solve.

The opinions in the book deeply influenced me and made me fortunate to be a member of the awakened. Many years later, I left school, started my own business, and later served as a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). On the recommendation of my friend Maurice F. Strong (former UN Deputy Secretary-General) and the invitation of Martin Lees, (former Secretary-General of the Club of Rome), participated in a seminar organized by the Club of Rome in Vienna. I remember that the President of Austria also attended this meeting. Although 15 years have passed, the free, enthusiastic, forward-looking and future-oriented atmosphere of the seminar still permeates me. The open and pragmatic attitude of the members of the Club of Rome towards China’s population policy and afforestation strategy also shocked me at the time. It can be said that the charm of the word “knowledge” was vividly displayed in them.

Later, after I ended my ten-year term in the National Association of Vocational Education of China, at the invitation of Mr. Hu Deping, Chairman of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF), I formally served as the Secretary-General of the Foundation and began to practice a brand new commitment to biodiversity conservation, eco-environmental protection, sustainable development this lofty career. Since then, my connection with the Club of Rome has become closer, and many of the concepts and practices of the Club of Rome, including “The Limit to Growth”, have entered my field of thinking more deeply. I was also honored to be admitted as a full member of the Club of Rome.

At present, with China’s continuous efforts in the field of ecological and environmental protection and its deep participation in global ecological governance, the Club of Rome has continuously strengthened and promoted its attention and research on China’s ecological civilization construction, the green “Belt and Road”, and the community with a shared future for mankind. What impact will China’s environmental protection concept and development path have on the future? This is also the concern of the Club of Rome. Professor J?rgen Randers was invited by the Development Research Center of the State Council of China to give speeches at the China Council for International Cooperation on Environment and Development (CCICED) annual meeting in 2017 and China Development Forum in 2018. The China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation (CBCGDF) where I work has also invited two members of the Club of Rome Professor J?rgen Randers and Mr. Gunter Pauli to give lectures at Peking University. During this period, Professor Randers and I were also honored to be employed as guest researchers at Peking University. It is also very worth mentioning that in July 2018, the Club of Rome China Chapter was approved to be established, with Professor J?rgen Randers as the director, and I was also honored as the Secretary-General. This series of experiences also reflects the historical transformation of China’s approach to the world and the world’s closer approach to China and understanding of China from the side.

If “The Limits to Growth” awakened me for the first time, then Mr. Maurice Strong who witnessed and participated in the whole process of China’s first entry into the international environment field awakened me for the second time and brought me to a deeper level of thinking. After that, every time I was “awakened”, it became more and more profound.

Along with being “awakened” again and again, and my work, study, and thinking in the field of ecological and environmental protection continue to deepen, many times, I cannot avoid the story of Easter Island.

The huge stone statues standing on Easter Island shocked the whole world when they were discovered. It was considered to be the result of the highly developed civilization. Now it should be said that heritage is more appropriate. The glorious civilization on this island has been dying out following the overexploitation and unrestrained use of resources on the island by humans at that time. It’s a pity, and sigh. Now let’s think about it again. Before the civilization on the island dies, there should be no shortage of wise men who wake up early and have issued warnings, persuasion and crying to the residents of the island. It is a pity that their shouts were not taken seriously, and the people on the island indulged in the temporary prosperity of unsustainable development. Perhaps, in the moment before their demise, they had awakened, but it was too late and it was irretrievable.

So now, are we on the road that Easter Island once walked? I want to answer yes. If mankind continues to go like this, the footprints left to the world to prove its existence will not be statues, but a large number of animal fossils, plastic garbage and reinforced concrete.

We can make a vivid metaphor. If we condense the 4.5 billion years of the earth’s history into an ordinary day, then life started very early. The first simplest single-celled organisms appeared at about 4 o’clock in the morning, but in the next 16 hours not much progress has been made. Just after 11 o’clock in the evening, the dinosaur stepped on the stage slowly, dominating the world for about three quarters of an hour. Twenty minutes before midnight, they disappeared, and the era of mammals began. Humans appeared 1 minute and 17 seconds before midnight. According to this ratio, all our recorded history is only a few seconds long, and a person’s life is only an instant. Can humans survive “10 minutes”? Today, when the sixth mass extinction has come, I don’t think I can nor dare to answer this question.

But what I can answer for sure is that many lives will disappear in our lifetime. Take pangolins, for example, my organization has been working on pangolin protection. In a short period of 30 years, eight pangolin species in the world have become endangered species, especially the Chinese pangolin population is more critical. This timid, nocturnal, and termite-feeding animal will not interfere with or threaten human life. However, under the appetite of human beings and the recognition of the medicinal value of pangolin scales, they have been hunted in large numbers. We set 2018 as a counting year for pangolins to count how many pangolins are still in China, and how many pangolins are smuggled, illegally trafficked, eaten and consumed for medicinal purposes… The road is long, we are insisting.

Similar to pangolins is the yellow-breasted bunting, commonly known as the rice bird, a species that once existed as ubiquitously as sparrows. In just 13 years, it rose from Least Concern to Critically Endangered. This is what we found in the animal kingdom. Animal friends living on the earth with human beings are disappearing at an accelerating rate, and the stability of the entire ecosystem is facing great challenges. We hope to slow down the rate of species disappearance through various efforts to maintain the balance and stability of the ecological chain. In July 2018, we celebrated that the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) species data record exceeded the one billion mark, that is, at the press conference of the results of the most Chinese representative endangered species information entry on GBIF, we announced that we have successfully submitted field data of endangered species such as Chinese pangolin, Baiji dolphin, and great bustard to the GBIF platform. In particular, the field data information of Baiji dolphin, which was re-photographed in April 2018 and was previously declared functionally extinct for nearly 13 years, has been shared. This allows us to see more hope in the persistence of biodiversity conservation. Through a series of work such as inventory of pangolin and data sharing, we can better understand the current situation of wildlife, and we can also work better.

Of course, the human threat to the earth’s ecology does not only exist in the animal kingdom. With the increasing rise of the express delivery industry and the takeaway catering industry, more and more plastic packaging, disposable plastic tableware and other garbage are flooding around us. According to statistics, 500 billion plastic bags are used worldwide every year. At least 8 million tons of plastic enter the ocean every year, which is equivalent to dumping a whole truck of garbage into the ocean every minute. We have produced more plastics in the past 10 years than in the entire 20th century. About 1 million plastic bottles are sold every minute in the world. Of all the waste we generate, plastic accounts for 10%.

This set of data is huge and frightening. The characteristics of plastics that are difficult to degrade make the dilemma of plastic waste even more difficult to solve. The fish swallowed plastic bags, making them unable to digest them. Turtles entangled in plastic nets may not be able to swim to the surface to breathe. Plastic particles have flooded our food through the ecosystem, and even in edible salt. Some people rank plastic as the worst invention. In my opinion, instead of blaming invention, it is better to change our way of life and consumption. This is also the original intention of my organization to launch the “Plastic Reduction and Picking” and the “Green Bottle Action”. By reducing the use of plastic products, we can rationally recycle and sort plastic products, and make disposable beverage bottles recycled… More importantly, let everyone participate personally and bring changes to our planet through what they can. Public participation is an amazing thing, and it is also a very important way for us to awaken more people.

The Chinese translation of the book Come On! by the Club of Rome, I first saw it, was in the late spring of 2018, when it was ready for publication, it was midsummer. I believe that the summer of 2018 will impress many people. Because in this year, rare high temperatures have appeared in many parts of the world, and the highest temperature in the Arctic Circle even exceeded 32 Degrees Celsius, and the entire planet seems to be “fever.” Just this summer, a research report published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed that under the baseline scenario of greenhouse gas emissions, the earth’s temperature in North China will reach the “threshold value” of 35 Degrees Celsius several times from 2070 to 2100. This will cause North China to become uninhabitable due to extreme heat waves, and agricultural irrigation will further increase the humidity of the air, which will further aggravate the fatal heat wave in the North China Plain. When I was interviewed by the media, I told reporters that in addition to high temperatures, in recent years, satellite and ground observations have also found that lakes and swamps in North China are disappearing quickly, and the rate of species change is also accelerating. Just like after species are extinct, the current technology cannot bring them back to life, so is our ecological environment. For example, the drought in Inner Mongolia in the early summer of 2018 is related to the natural conditions in Inner Mongolia on the one hand, but the continuous overexploitation of groundwater and insufficient underground humidity resulted in limited rainfall that could not alleviate excessive drought, which may further promote land desertification and desertification.

In many cases, what we think of as accidental happens, in fact, often cause irreversible phenomena. This is the reason why I have been running around advocating the concept of “Good Food” recently. Our organization has established a Good Food Fund to advocate a reasonable, scientific and environmentally friendly diet, increase vegetarian food, reduce meat, eat more local food, avoid food waste, and reduce the environmental and ecological costs of all aspects of food. Now we have linked up with the dining-rooms of many universities at home and abroad, starting from the university campus to promote and guide the reform of good food.

We are already heavily in debt in claiming the earth. Ever since I was awakened, I often dare not think deeply about the environment in which future generations live. Every time I think about it, I am awakened. This is also the pain of being an awakened person. However, I need to be grateful for this pain. It spurs me to go on with more responsibility and determination, just like my friend Maurice Strong and others.

Fortunately for me, we may still have time to make changes to avoid repeating the tragedy of Easter Island. The book “The Limits to Growth” by the Club of Rome half a century ago awakened early awakeners like me, and now, “Come On!” comes, we will welcome more awakened people and cry together, strive for change.

What makes me particularly gratified is that in the process of advancing the ecological “Belt and Road” and in the process of “going out” of our organization and other social organizations, I feel more and more deeply that more and more governments and people’s attention to ecological and environmental issues, the construction of ecological civilization is being increasingly accepted and practiced. I think this is the power of awakening.

Whether awakened or spontaneously awakened, it will give us the spiritual power to face challenges and meet the future. People who wake up will have clear and firm goals and the courage to pay for the goals. Just like the Renaissance, this will form a “green wave” of the times, surpassing the past and leading the sustainable development of the earth in the future!

Those who wake up early may feel more pressure, trials and even pains facing the future environment, but they will not have the regret and powerlessness before the final demise. Wake up and light up a lamp to the future for more people. Such a life course is worthwhile. I am also glad that I was awakened as soon as possible. This is the power of books, the power of wisdom, and it will be further condensed into the power of all mankind.

Come on! You will be the next awakened person, if you will.

Dr. Zhou Jinfeng

Secretary-General of China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation

Member of the Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh CPPCC National Committee

Member of the Executive Committee of the Club of Rome

Vice-Chairman of the Ninth and Tenth National Association of Vocational Education of China

(Photo credit: CBCGDF)

Reference articles:

By / Maggie



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