A World of Denial
Creating the future we want requires taking a hard look at what ails us—and supporting those committed to telling the truth, no matter the consequences
Fifty years ago, in 1972, a global group of intellectuals called the Club of Rome published a book entitled The Limits to Growth. Using early computer modeling, the book argues that the planet’s resources are finite and that continuing over-consumption, rampant pollution and massive population growth could cause the collapse of civilization within a century. Its authors argue that there is a need for more sustainable and more equitable development to create positive futures and ensure the survival and well-being of humanity.
The message was bold—and seen as a threat by business and political leaders committed to unlimited profits, no matter the consequences for a finite planet. While President Jimmy Carter got the message and called on Americans to conserve resources, especially after the 1979 oil crisis, his successor put a stop to that thinking. “There are no limits to growth and human progress when men and women are free to follow their dreams,” Ronald Reagan said in 1985 in his second inaugural address. He was backed up by critics of The Limits to Growth, some of whom argued that there was no reason to put on the brakes because new technologies would surely save us.
Well, here we are. The controversial 1972 book sold millions, but the bestseller’s alarm bell was largely dismissed once the public voted in leaders who offered the fairytale of infinite economic growth.
“Are we on the right course as a species?” Wired journalist Matt Simon asked Carlos Alvarez Pereira, co-editor of a new retrospective book, Limits and Beyond: 50 Years on From The Limits to Growth. His answer is simple: “No, if you look at the reality.” Look at what governments and corporations are doing, he suggests, what decision-makers are deciding, look at the climate crisis, at rapidly declining biodiversity, at rising inequality.
Pereira’s view is that the public heard and rejected the doomsday scenario and missed the book’s promise: “We didn't succeed in bringing the message that it…was really about: We have the capacity to choose. We have, as humanity, the capacity to decide what kind of future we want.”
It’s hard to overstate the human capacity for denial. Look at the mass shootings and the refusal to address the epidemic of gun violence and the proliferation of assault rifles. Look at the millions who choose to ignore the opportunity to get a life-saving COVID-19 vaccine. Look at the support for banning books and rejecting the discussion of slavery in school classrooms. Look at the millions who continue to minimize what happened on January 6, 2021, and still believe the republic would be better off if Donald Trump returns to the White House.
But despite such reasons to wonder if we can escape the downward spiral, along comes NBC News correspondent Blayne Alexander’s interview on Wednesday with Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. This was after we learned that the grand jury—empaneled to investigate 2020 election interference—had subpoenaed Rudy Giuliani, Sen. Lindsey Graham and others.
Usually, DAs don’t have much to say, but Willis offered genuine reason for optimism that she’s not about to give anyone a pass. That includes a possible subpoena for Trump and her refusal to be intimidated by him or Graham, the latter of whom attempted to deny her efforts as “all politics” and a “fishing expedition.”
“What do I have to gain from these politics?” replied Willis. “It’s someone who doesn’t understand the seriousness of what we’re doing. I hope he’ll come and testify truthfully before the grand jury.” She also said this: "I think that people thought that we came into this as some kind of game. This is not a game at all. What I am doing is very serious. It’s very important work.”
Yes, it is. And it doesn’t take much effort to grasp the criminal behavior if you have eyes to see and ears that hear. Remember: ”I just want to find 11,780 votes,” Trump told Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. It doesn’t take much effort, that is, if you are unwilling to deny reality.
Here’s how Willis summed it up: “People also seem to think in society there are certain people that are immune from prosecution. If you are a celebrity, if you are a high-ranking public official—I guess there is something strange with me. Lady Justice is actually blind. This is the reality.”
On another criminal front, let’s hope former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, scheduled to testify privately today before the January 6 committee, provides the reality of what he saw and heard and what he reportedly said and knew—including telling White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson that if Trump went to the Capitol, “we’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable.”
It’s going to take the effort from all of us to make sure that those set on denying reality—and degrading our capacity to know what is true—don’t rule our future.
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