Limits to growth, audacity of hope and moral imagination reign at CUSP Reinventing Prosperity event in London


NOTE: Text, photographs and graphics by Asitha Jayawardena ( as part of his Sustainable University One-stop Shop Experiment ( recognised in UNEP Greening Universities Toolkit ( page 61).


A commitment to moral imagination is vital for sustainable prosperity, said Baron Rowan Williams (former Archbishop of Canterbury) at an event titled Reinventing Prosperity held at Church House, Westminster on 28 November 2016.


This event is the second of the series of dialogues on the Nature of Prosperity, which is organised by the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP), a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).


In his keynote on The Audacity of Hope, Baron Williams (chair of the CUSP dialogues) set out his own vision for a lasting and inclusive prosperity, particularly reflecting on the role of hope in a changing and uncertain world.


Co-delivering the second keynote titled ‘Reinventing Prosperity,’ Dr Graeme Maxton (Secretary General of the Club of Rome) emphasised that the free market system driven by growth was part of the problem and not the solution. The other keynote speaker Professor Jørgen Randers (co-author of the 1972 Limits to Growth study) presented the book’s 13 proposals to manage economic growth in order to reduce unemployment, inequality and climate change, and to enhance wellbeing in the long run.


Dr Camilla Toulmin (Chair CUSP Advisory Board; Professor in Practice, Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University; and Senior Fellow, Climate Change, International Institute for Environment and Development IIED) facilitated the discussion sessions that followed the keynotes.


In his welcome and introduction Professor Tim Jackson (CUSP Director and Professor of Sustainable Development, University of Surrey) said that there was no better time than now for engaging in the task of exploring the nature of prosperity.


Keynote 1 | The Audacity of Hope
















Baron Rowan Williams (former Archbishop of Canterbury and chair of the CUSP dialogues) delivered the first keynote, The Audacity of Hope.


Hope and optimism are different. Optimism tells us to ignore world’s problems. Hope gives us strength to face today’s problems and encourages us to look through and beyond them. Hope refuses to ignore what the world is but insists on prosperous alternatives.


What is prosperity? Prosperity is not just feeling comfortable but a sense of tomorrow that is neither empty nor threatening.


We don’t know the future, but we can know the possibilities that future might bring. Instead of optimism, what we need is the audacity of hope in order to see simultaneously the possibility of the worst and the possibility of prosperous alternatives. So hope is central to prosperity.


We need to learn to inhabit our world with boundless curiosity and fearless honesty. Inhabiting the world with a clear sense of what we are up against is where we have the audacity of hope.


Imagination has a key role in prosperity. If we close down our imagination in the times of crisis, we cannot expect to be well or prosperous. We should imagine a future of adaptable, just and eco-environment, which is limited but life-giving.


Mere imagination is not enough. What we need is moral imagination – imagining the future of others, not just our own future. We need to cultivate the habit of thinking about others’ future as part of our own wellbeing.


Here, we need to turn to the institutions of imagination in society. We need these social and cultural institutions of imagination – particularly education. However, ethical imagination (‘what is like for others?’) is sadly lost from current education at some point after primary. For instance, the popular MCQ (multiple choice questions) approach to testing restrains our imaginative response.


Sustainable prosperity depends on a commitment to moral imagination. So, for sustainable prosperity, we need a model that accommodates the thinking of the others’ future as well as our own. We also need to engage with institutions of imagination in order to learn how to embrace and inhabit our limited and life-giving world. What we need is not world governance but habits of cooperation.


Sustainable Prosperity is therefore a large cultural question, which is not reducible to conventional academic disciplines. Sustainable Prosperity requires a reworking of our culture – through systemic change, not by tinkering.


Exhibition | A dream of a low carbon future















An exhibition titled ‘A dream of a low carbon future’ took place during the refreshments. It was based on an inspiring graphic novel by James McKay and Benjamin Dickson.


Keynote 2 | Reinventing Prosperity















Dr Graeme Maxton (Secretary General of the Club of Rome) and Professor Jørgen Randers (co-author of the 1972 Limits to Growth study), co-authors of the book Reinventing Prosperity, delivered the second keynote.


Dr Graeme Maxton:


There are limits to growth and excessive growth brings about environmental and social consequences. Environmental consequences include climate change; species loss; pollution of air, waterways, soils and oceans; and anthropogenic destruction. Among social consequences are: greater conflict due to inequality, drought, resources and climate change; widening gap between the rich and the poor everywhere; and high unemployment in much of the world.


When it comes to growth, we harbour wrong beliefs:

  • We believe that growth brings jobs but despite growth in the developed world, unemployment has risen.
  • We believe that growth reduces inequality but despite growth inequality has risen within countries and particularly between countries over the period 1820-2000.
  • We believe that growth reduces poverty but with accounting for inflation, the percentage of the global population living on $2.65 a day was 53% in 2010.


Despite all these, we don’t take action because of a variety of reasons, such as politics, vested interests, short termism and natural inertia, timing and cost.


We do not need new technology or innovation; we already have enough of them. The free market cannot solve the problem; rather is the cause of the problems. Scaling up grassroots initiatives is not enough. And we do not need instant answers, which are non-existent anyway.


What we need is implementation of change over a period of 20 years or more, particularly moving 1% of GDP every year from dirty to clean energy production. We need a TRANSITION like that.


Professor Jørgen Randers:


Professor Jørgen Randers focused on their book’s 13 proposals to manage economic growth in order to reduce unemployment, inequality and climate change, and to enhance wellbeing in the long run.


How to reduce unemployment:

  • Implement green stimulus packages financed with freshly printed money
  • Pay workers while they are moving from dirty jobs to clean ones
  • Pay people who take care of others at home
  • Restrict trade when needed, to protect jobs


How to reduce inequality:

  • Tax coal, oil and gas at source and redistribute the tax money in equal amounts among all citizens
  • Increase the taxation of corporations and the rich
  • Increase the inheritance tax
  • Increase the pension age
  • Encourage unionisation


How to reduce climate gas emissions:

  • Implement green stimulus packages financed with freshly printed money
  • Pay workers while they are moving from dirty jobs to clean ones
  • Tax coal, oil and gas at source and redistribute the tax money in equal amounts among all citizens
  • Shift taxes from income to resource use


How to increase wellbeing in the long term:

  • Legislate more compulsory vacation
  • Introduce a guaranteed livable income for everyone who needs it (i.e. anyone who falls below a minimum income level due to unemployment, sickness or age)
  • Pay families to have one child or none


These measures will reduce the population size, number of hours worked a year and insecurity, contributing to sustainable wellbeing.


Closing remarks


After a successful full-house proceedings, Professor Tim Jackson delivered the closing remarks with a poetic touch, citing Leonard Cohen:


Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in


The Nature of Prosperity series of public dialogues


The Nature of Prosperity series of public dialogues, hosted by CUSP, engages young and old alike across business, policy and civil society in perhaps the biggest question of our time: What does prosperity mean in a world of environmental and social limits?


The inaugural event was held in London on 23 May 2016. It featured Baron Rowan Williams, long-time peace and environmental activist Satish Kumar, Professor Jane Elliott (Chief Executive of the ESRC), Karen Hamilton (Global Vice President Sustainable Business, Unilever), Professor Tim Jackson (Director of CUSP) and Caroline Lucas (MP and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Limits to Growth).



Note: This news post is based on my notes at the event, some slides of the keynote speakers and some tweets with the hashtag #ReinventingProsperity.




Prosperity and Growth | Church House and Parliament to host two events in London on 28 November


Event page (for photographs and video and audio recordings of the event)


A dream of a low carbon future | Inspiring graphic novel by James McKay & Benjamin Dickson


Book | Reinventing Prosperity (Read first chapter here for FREE)


CUSP Working Paper Series No 2 | Beyond Consumer Capitalism – Foundations for a Sustainable Prosperity, by Prof Tim Jackson


All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Limits to Growth



New websites of the Sustainable University Experiment


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Sustainability Education and Engagement through STORYTELLING

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From The Sustainable University News website


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Sustainable Lifestyles conference | Good life of the good person is only possible in a good society, says Prof Jackson


UCL Grand Challenges celebration | How does Civilisation get to 22nd century without collapse? asks Professor Price



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The Sustainable University (SU) One-stop Shop |

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LinkedIn Group | SUSTAINABILITY | Education, Research & Engagement

Twitter | | #SustySTORY #SustyCOMM #SUSmodel #SUnews #AlienLETTER #GreenSTARS

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