Perspectives from some Thought Leaders
Decades ago scientists began sounding the alarm bells of environmental degradation but politicians, driven by shorted-sighted profit motives decided to ignore them. Motivated by what can only be described as greed and a reckless and stubborn belief in a story based on fiction rather than science, political and business leaders have spun tales which have flooded the media, discrediting and casting doubt upon the finding of scientists. Now nature is coming back with a vengeance. As distinguished professor Dr. Guy McPherson says, you can’t beat nature – it always bats last.
The magnitude of destruction which modern industrialized civilization has caused in a relatively short time (measured on a geological time scale) is truly beyond imagination. It is really an unintended geo-engineering project of epic proportions. Our 9,000 year experiment that began with the dawn of agriculture has brought us to this unique point of ecosystem degradation. We are now at point where incremental lifestyle changes will be completely ineffective – nothing short of fundamental and painful change of our entire civilization will give us a fighting chance to survive. Many environmentalists and scientists are coming to the conclusion that the time frame for change is so short that renewable energy is too little and too late – we must entertain severely curtailing our use of modern technology – electrical energy supplied by dirty coal, transportation by automobile & airplane and radical transformation of our food system and diet. Are we prepared to make such sacrifices? We can continue to listen to stories that mislead us further and further down the path of no return or we can bite the bullet and make the change.
One Example of the Challenges: Climate Change
Taking just one example, climate change, we can glimpse the enormity of the challenge we face.
As outspoken climate scientist Dr. Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall research center notes, we are between a rock and an extremely hard place. Even the 2 Deg C target is already very dangerous but we have two options before us: one terrible and the other, unthinkable:
- Option 1: completely unprecedented 10% per annum decarbonization
- Option 2: Shoot above 2 Deg C and aim towards a more feasible 4 Deg C
- When Russia suffered total economic collapse, it only achieved 5% decarbonization.
- For 4 Deg C peaking by 2020, an unprecedented 3.5% decarbonization rate is very painful but achievable
- But should we set 4 Deg C as a new target?
- A 4 Deg C world is one in which:A 4 Deg C future is incompatible with organized global community, is likely to be beyond adaption, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems and has a high degree of not being stable
- Land mean temperature is 5 to 6 Deg C
- Hottest days will increase by:
- 6-8 Deg C in China
- 8-10 Deg C in Central Europe
- 10-12 Deg C in New York
- In low latitudes, this means a 40% reduction in maize and rice yields
- 4 Deg C would be an interim temperature on the way to a much higher equilibrium level
- From 2001 to 2007 global emissions grew 3.5% per annum from the previous year
- From 2009 to 2010, global emissions grew 5.6% per annum from previous year
- The dramatic recession in 2008 had virtually no impact of carbon emission growth rate
- After all the international talks and public awareness, carbon emissions are actually growing!
The follow is an exerpt from the 2012 PWC report:Too late for two degree C? We estimate that the world economy now needs to reduce its carbon intensity by 5.1% every year to 2050 to have a fair chance of limiting warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Even to have a reasonable prospect of getting to a 4°C scenario would imply nearly quadrupling the current rate of decarbonisation. The decarbonisation rate required for a 2°C world has not been achieved in a single year since World War 2. The closest the world came to that rate of decarbonisation was during the severe recessions of the late 1970s/early 1980s (4.9% in 1981) and the late 1990s (4.2% in 1999). The expected reduction in emissions resulting from the current economic slowdown has not materialised, partly because of sustained growth in emerging markets. The observed relationship between economic growth and CO2 emissions is also asymmetric – emissions tend to grow proportionally with economic growth, but fall by less than the rate of economic decline. Governments and businesses can no longer assume that a 2°C warming world is the default scenario. The only way to avoid the pessimistic scenarios will be radical transformations in the ways the global economy currently functions: rapid uptake of renewable energy, sharp falls in fossil fuel use or massive deployment of CCS, removal of industrial emissions and halting deforestation. This suggests a need for much more ambition and urgency on climate policy, at both the national and international level. Either way, business-as-usual is not an option.
Conservative Price Waterhouse Cooper’s Analysis: 5.1% Decarbonization from now until 2050 to limit temp rise below 2 Deg C
The follow is an exerpt from the 2012 PWC report:Too late for two degree C?
We estimate that the world economy now needs to reduce its carbon intensity by 5.1% every year to 2050 to have a fair chance of limiting warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Even to have a reasonable prospect of getting to a 4°C scenario would imply nearly quadrupling the current rate of decarbonisation.
The decarbonisation rate required for a 2°C world has not been achieved in a single year since World War 2. The closest the world came to that rate of decarbonisation was during the severe recessions of the late 1970s/early 1980s (4.9% in 1981) and the late 1990s (4.2% in 1999). The expected reduction in emissions resulting from the current economic slowdown has not materialised, partly because of sustained growth in emerging markets. The observed relationship between economic growth and CO2 emissions is also asymmetric – emissions tend to grow proportionally with economic growth, but fall by less than the rate of economic decline.
Governments and businesses can no longer assume that a 2°C warming world is the default scenario.
The only way to avoid the pessimistic scenarios will be radical transformations in the ways the global economy currently functions: rapid uptake of renewable energy, sharp falls in fossil fuel use or massive deployment of CCS, removal of industrial emissions and halting deforestation. This suggests a need for much more ambition and urgency on climate policy, at both the national and international level. Either way, business-as-usual is not an option.
The choice may seem painful but if we want to ensure the survival of human civilization, we may not have much choice at all.
It’s far worse than you could possibly imagine – Dr. Guy McPherson
Climate Deniers will meet there match in the form of Dr. Guy McPherson. Dr. McPherson was a distinguished Professor Emeritus of Natural Resources and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona, but the university preferred that he remain silent about what he knew for fear of spreading panic amongst the general population.
Guy McPherson prefers to see it another way. He feels it that he has a moral obligation to share his lifetime of work and shed full light on the precarious position human civilization currently finds itself in. Dr. McPherson challenges us to ask ourselves this question: do we want to act from the position of the truth, no matter how harsh it is or from a nicely painted version of reality? Aside from Dr. McPherson’s own gloomy belief about the demise of human civilization, the reader and listener may decide that there is still a chance for humanity. However, it is only by knowing the full reality that will determine whether we act with the urgency of a wartime mobilization or at a snails pace, which will certainly hammer the final nail into the coffin for human civilization. Guy famously says “resistance is fertile” and his blog, entitled Nature Bats Last reveals that no matter how strongly climate deniers, politicians and trans-national companies tell their fanciful stories, nature will always have the last say.
His lifetime of research, broad overview of environmental science, uncompromising position about telling the truth and his sardonic humor places Dr. McPherson in a unique position to comment on our dire present human predicament. It is said that “the truth sets you free”. If you are ready to face up to the sobering reality delivered by Dr. Guy McPherson, he promises to be a combination of court jester and psychologist in these most uncertain times. After all, he spent many years coming to terms with the gloomy news himself.
- Resistance is fertile, no matter what happens, we have a moral obligation to resist
- It seems no matter how dire the situation becomes, it only gets worse when I check the latest reports
- Assessments fail to account for significant self-reinforcing feedback loops
- Major (climate) assessments fail to account for economic collapse. However, due to the feedback loops presented below, I strongly suspect it’s too late for economic collapse to extend the run of our species
- Climate scientist Kevin Anderson tells us what I’ve known for years: politicians and the scientists writing official reports on climate change are lying, and we have less time than most people can imagine
– Dr. Guy McPherson
Large Scale Assessments
Beyond 1 degree C may elicit rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses that could lead to extensive ecosystem damage.
- United Nations Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases in 1990
- 1 C by 2100 -Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (late 2007)
- 2 C by 2100 – Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research (late 2008)
- 3.5 C by 2100 – United Nations Environment Programme (mid 2009)
- 4 C by 2060 – Hadley Centre for Meteorological Research (October 2009)
- 6 C, 7 C by 2100 – Global Carbon Project, Copenhagen Diagnosis (November 2009)
- 3.5 C by 2100 – International Energy Agency (November 2010)
- up to 5 C by 2050 – United Nations Environment Programme (December 2010)
- 6 C by 2050 – International Energy Agency concludes that, “coal will nearly overtake oil as the dominant energy source by 2017 … without a major shift away from coal, average global temperatures could rise by 6 degrees Celsius by 2050, leading to devastating climate change.”
- 4 C by 2100 – PriceWaterHouse Cooper’s 2012 report Too late for 2 Deg. C?
- 6 C by 2023 – Climate scientist Paul Beckwith indicates Earth could warm by 6 C within a decade
Planetary instruments indicate Earth has warmed about 1 C since the beginning of the industrial revolution. However, plants in the vicinity of Concord, Massachusetts — where the instrumental record indicates warming of about 1 C — indicate warming of 2.4 C since the 1840s. Human beings could not survive on a planet with a 6 C rise above pre-industrial times. Weather would become so extreme that air-conditioning would not be a luxury, but rather become a matter of life and death. By the time we hit 4 C, this is just a temporary stopover for runaway climate change that may not stop until the surface of the planet becomes uninhabitable for much of life on earth as we know it.
Dr. McPherson notes that these assessments fail to account for significant self-reinforcing positive feedback loops. The IPCC’s vaunted Fifth Assessment will continue the trend as it, too, ignores important feedbacks. On a positive note, Dr. McPherson notes that every one of these major assessments fail to account for economic collapse. However, due to the feedback loops presented below, he strongly suspect it’s too late for economic collapse to extend the run of our species.
Positive Feedbacks are in full swing…
- Methane hydrates are bubbling out the Arctic Ocean (Science, March 2010)
- Warm Atlantic water is defrosting the Arctic as it shoots through the Fram Strait (Science, January 2011)
- Siberian methane vents have increased in size from less than a meter across in the summer of 2010 to about a kilometer across in 2011 (Tellus, February 2011)
- Drought in the Amazon triggered the release of more carbon than the United States in 2010 (Science, February 2011)
- Peat in the world’s boreal forests is decomposing at an astonishing rate (Nature Communications, November 2011)
- Methane is being released from the Antarctic, too (Nature, August 2012)
- Russian forest and bog fires are growing (NASA, August 2012)
- Cracking of glaciers accelerates in the presence of increased carbon dioxide (Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics, October 2012)
- Arctic drilling was fast-tracked by the Obama administration during the summer of 2012
- Greenland ice is melting rapidly
- The Oceans are growing acidic and may soon reach their capacity to absorb CO2
- If the world’s plankton dies off due to extreme ocean acidification, the planet will lose 50% of it’s oxygen production
- The forests of the world produce the other 50% of the oxygen on the planet, global warming and elevated temperatures are reducing their oxygen production
- Atmospheric oxygen levels are dropping to levels considered dangerous for humans, especially over major cities around the planet
- Earth is taking up twice as much CO2 today as it was 50 years ago
- Mainstream global consultancy group Price Waterhouse Cooper issued the 2012 report Too late for two degrees? which suggests it is unlikely we will keep below 2 degree or even 4 degree – we are on a path to a 6 degree world
- Once we hit 4 degree, it’s game over for humanity and there is no stopping runaway climate change. It will go onto 6 degree and further
- The planet may warm up 6 deg. C in a decade. No large body mammals, including humans can survive climate with this global temperature increase
- The world is in the beginnings of a mass extinction event, losing 200 species a day
- When temperatures get too hot, tries may become net producers of CO2 rather than carbon sinks
- Due to drought, forest fires may convert forests from carbon sinks to carbon sources
- Carbon sinking forests in once cooler climates are being wiped out by pests as global warming causes northern regions to warm up
- Taking into account Nitrogen limitations in northern hemisphere soils and phosphorus limitations in the tropics means trees will absorb 23% less carbon than is projected by normal models.
Plan B – Lester Brown and Earth Policy Institute
An Interview with Lester Brown, author of World on the Edge
Lester Brown speaking at Limits to Growth conference March 2012
Time is the scarcest resource of all
Lester Brown’s Plan B Parts 1 to 6
A Global Collapse of Civilization may have to occur before there is a Possibility of Reunion – Charles Eisenstein
Modern man… talks of a battle with nature, forgetting that, if he won the battle, he would find himself on the losing side.
- E.F. Schumacher
We are witnessing in our time the intensification of separation to its breaking point—the convergence of crises mentioned above that is birthing a new era.
- Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics and The Ascent of Humanity
Charles Eisenstein takes a critical look at this 9,000 year journey of human civilization
Eisenstein masterfully weaves two completely separate stories into one. On the one hand, we have the the personal story of each human being’s life, the personal story of separation, of the ego while on the other hand, we have the story of the development of human civilization. The two are inseparable as the lives of individual human beings is a microcosm of the life of a civilization. In this connected storytelling, we can see how our personal responsibility (or irresponsibility) is intimately connected to the very course of civilization.
The Ascent of Humanity – The Book
This book exposes the futility, the fraudulence, and ultimately the baselessness of the program to control the world, to label it and number it, to categorize it and own it, to transcend nature and human nature. Thus exposed, that program will loosen its grip on us, so that we may let go of it before it consumes every last vestige of life and beauty on earth. The extensive scientific chapters are there to persuade you that the mechanistic, objective world of the discrete and separate self is not reality but a projection, merely the image of our own confusion.
- Charles Eisenstein
Author and thought leader Charles Eisenstein’s book The Ascent of Humanity is a rare book. Charles walks his talk. He talks about the coming gift economy and he practices this by offering his book for free on his website. Charles Eisenstein has been trying to make sense of this world for a long time and this book distills his journey to come to terms with these turbulent times. He writes to spread the word of the coming revolution, an inescapable transition, whether brought on voluntarily or, most likely involuntarily through painful crisis, it is going to cause a shift in human civilization more profound than anything in history.
Read the insightful and illuminating introduction below:
Charles Eisenstein’s Gift to you: The Ascent of Humanity
- Chapter I: The Triumph of Technology
- Chapter II: The Origins of Separation
- Chapter III: The Way of the World
- Chapter IV: Money and Property
- Chapter V: The World under Control
- Chapter VI: The Crumbling of Certainty
- Chapter VII: The Age of Reunion
- Chapter VIII: Self and Cosmos
for Charle’s other book Sacred Economics, go here
The Limits to Growth Projections are on Track for Global Collapse before 2100
Last call: The untold reasons of the global crisis
The study that started it off was the 1972 classic The Limits to Growth, written over 30 years ago by a group of MIT scientists: Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jørgen Randers, and William W. Behrens III. This pioneering work employed the, then new tool of computer modeling of unchecked economic and population growth with finite resource supplies. It was funded by the Volkswagen Foundation and commissioned by the Club of Rome and used the World3 model to simulate the consequence of interactions between the Earth’s and human systems. The book echoed some of the concerns and predictions of Thomas Malthus’s An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) and was quickly and unfairly criticized as a doomsday prophecy.
Five variables were examined in the original model:
- world population
- food production
- resource depletion
The model assumed that these five variables underwent exponential growth while the ability of technology to increase the availability of resources only displayed linear rates of growth. The work explored the possibility of a sustainable feedback pattern that would be achieved by altering growth trends among the five variables under three scenarios. Two of the scenarios projected “and collapse” of the global system by the mid to latter part of the 21st century, while a third scenario projected a “stabilized world.”
They noted that their projections for the values of the variables in each scenario were predictions “only in the most limited sense of the word,” and were only indications of the system’s behavioral tendencies.
The most recent updated version was published on June 1, 2004 by Chelsea Green Publishing Company and Earthscan under the name Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update. Donella Meadows, Jørgen Randers, and Dennis Meadows have updated and expanded the original version. They had previously published Beyond the Limits in 1993 as a 20 year update on the original material.
In spite of its importance, critics fearing enormous repurcussions on economic growth mounted a smear campaign to discredit its findings – a campaign that was so effective in it’s scope of misinformation that it resulted in no policy changes to address the problems raised by the study. This non-action can be directly tied to the perilous position the planet and human civilization faces today. In 2010, Peet, Nørgård, and Ragnarsdóttir called the book a “pioneering report” and that “its approach remains useful and that its conclusions are still surprisingly valid… unfortunately the report has been largely dismissed by critics as a doomsday prophecy that has not held up to scrutiny.”
In 2008 Graham Turner at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia published a paper called “A Comparison of `The Limits to Growth` with Thirty Years of Reality” with provided strong vindication of the original work. It examined data collected from the past thirty years, from 1970 to 2000 with the predictions made in 1972 and found that changes in industrial production, food production and pollution all increased exponentially and most closely follow the standard run model (otherwise known as the business-as-usual model) of the original study which predicts economic and societal collapse sometime in the 21st century.
Limits of Growth Table of Contents
- A Slow Motion Trainwreck
- A Countdown to the Trainwreck
- Main Conclusions of the Revisited Limits of Growth Study
- 2012 Symposium: Perspectives on The Limits to Growth
- Limits to Growth, the 30 Year Update
- 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next 40 Years
- Economic Quigmire
- The Interplay between the 3 E’s: Economics, Energy and the Environment
- The Clock is ticking….
- Our Challenge, the world’s challenge and your challenge
A Slow Motion Trainwreck
Top Business Leader, Scientist and Environmentalist warn of Impending Crisis
Jeremy Grantham, Director, GMO and founder of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment
James Hansen, Director, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
Paul Gilding, International Sustainability Advisor
There’s a slow moving trainwreck headed our way. It’s a perfect storm of many different interrelated problems. If you aren’t scared of what’s come, it’s because you don’t know. If you know, you will be afraid. But fear isn’t bad when used in the right context. It is an evolutionary adaptation that increases our survival by sending emotional signals to get our adrenaline going and mobilize us into a rapid, life-saving response. In this sense, fear will serve its purpose because human civilization is at a point where only a rapid and coordinated response will prevent an epic, catastrophic, singularity event.
Jeremy Grantham is one of the world’s most astute investment advisors and when he speaks, the business community listens. After years of climate denial, maybe this is the beginning of a much needed dose of reality. Grantham is most noted for his ability to predict and warn society of the bursting of recent economic bubbles when nobody else did:
I found myself asking “Why is it that several dozen people saw this crisis coming for years?” I described it as being like watching a train wreck in very slow motion. It seemed so inevitable and so merciless, and yet the bosses of Merrill Lynch and Citi and even [U.S. Treasury Secretary] Hank Paulson and [Fed Chairman Ben] Bernanke — none of them seemed to see it coming.
Grantham sees another bubble coming, only this time, this is no ordinary bubble. Unlike the 34 bubbles which he has counted in human history, this next bubble he predicts to be the mother of all bubbles. This next bubble is the confluence of peak oil, overconsumption, resource depletion, overpopulation, global-warming-run-amok and most seriously, soil erosion (from decades of destructive farming practices that directly affects our ability to feed ourselves). Grantham himself did not believe in any Limits to Growth until he began studying the data and the mathematics. Today, he is a converted Malthusian and he warns of what he sees are clear signs of human civilization about to walk off a cliff.
Figure 1: Average Global (Source: Dennis Meadows from data from Jorgen Randers: 2012 Limits to Growth Symposium, Smithsonian Institute)
Grantham sees the weakness of capitalism as the source of this problem:
We have a capitalist system that reflects our weaknesses; one that is fine-tuned only for the present and immediate future. Because of these factors, we will probably wait to deal with the obvious problems of living well beyond our means until the signs are powerful and clear that we must change; until, that is, it is basically too late….too late in the sense of failing to protect much of what we enjoy and value today.Too late to have avoided plundering our grandchildren’s resources.
Granthams remarks come from the investment world but agrees closely with the warnings of scientists like James Hansen, who have been sounding the alarm bell for decades. Both Grantham and Hanson frame the current problem as shortselling our grandchildren; witness Hansen’s latest book: Storms of my Grandchildren. The message is the same: our reckless overconsumption today is leaving a decimated planet for future generations.
A Countdown to 2030
Turner says: 30 years of historical data compares favorably with key features of one of the original 12 scenarios, a Business-As-Usual scenario called the “Standard Run” scenario which predicts a freefall of the current socio-economic system half way through the 21st century. The 30 years of collected data does not compare well with any of the other scenarios. In particular the results stress the importance of understanding and controlling global pollution. If the standard run model continues, it projects a collapse event sometime around 2030.
Figure 1: A Comparison of the Limits to Growth with Thirty Years of Reality, June 2008, ISSN: 1834-5638, Graham Turner, senior scientist, CSIRO (Source: Smithsonian.com)
Figure 2: Another view of Turners data (Source: Netherlands Environmental Assessment, Growing Within Limits, 2009)
2012 Limits of Growth Symposium on the Future of Humanity
Main Conclusions of the Revisited Limits of Growth Study
- The revisited and orginal study do not predict the complete extinction of humanity but a drastic reduction in population
- The 30 years of publicly available data between 1970 and 2000 was compared against the 3 scenarios of the original study: 1. The Standard Run (Business-as-Usual), 2. Comprehensive Technology, 3. Stabilized World, with each one embedding embedding progressively more interventions
- The modelling used in the Limits to Growth (LtG) study has not been revisited for many years, perhaps due to the effectiveness of the many false criticisms attempting to discredit LtG
- If there were fundamental flaws with the model, then scenario outputs from the model would be unlikely to match the long time-series data as well as they do
- The 30 year data best matches the worst scenario, the Standard Run scenario
- In the Standard Run model, attempts to alleviate pressures in one area cause increasing stress in another through feedback mechanisms (ie. 1. Increasing supplies of alternative fuels to counter fossil fuels – biofuels requires land to grow biofuel crops, 2. Increased economic wealth via more industrial activity is increasing CO2 emissions and causing unstable weather and 3. Increase in meat base diet. All 3 factors are feeding back to reduce crop production)
- Efficiency gains have not resulted in reducing pressures, but rather increasing them due to the rebound effect or Jevon’s Paradox where technological efficiency in processing a natural resource increases the rate of consumption of that natural resource….and this is a desirable effect in an economic system that is dependent on growth (but not in a sustainable economic system)
- An example of the Jevon’s Paradox is the decrease in carbon INTENSITY of the economy for over a century and yet the rate of carbon emissions has not decreased, but rather increased exponentially
- The STABILIZED WORLD scenario presents a stable global average per capita level approximately equal to contemporary levels. Currently this level is enjoyed by 1/4 of the global population. If this total level of material wealth were distributed evenly across the entire population of the future projected global population of 9 to 10 billion, then we must reduce our per capita material wealth to 1/6 of current levels in developed countries
- Unless the LtG model is invalidated by other scientific research, the data comparisons of this recent study lend support to the conclusion from the LtG that the global system is on an unsustainable trajectory unless there is substantial and rapid reduction in consumptive behavior, in combination with technological progress
Think of a medical analogy. Our problem started out simple enough as a small innocuous-appearing cut. But because we did not heed the advice of our caretakers to treat it, sterilize it and apply a bandage during the early stages, we allowed this small cut to fester and grow. Now, an entire limb is infected and we are in excruciating pain. We have to take antibiotics but even that is not enough! Our doctor tells us we have to amputate in order to save our life! This analogy applies to the current situation our human society finds itself in.
How ironic! Our industry leaders thought they were building utopia when what they were really building was the instrument of our collective demise!
Humanity is entering a critical stage… a perfect storm of economic, environmental and energy crisis looms on the horizon, brought on by our collective karma. We stand at a crossroads at which major shifts in our current industrial, technological, economic and most importantly our value systems will be necessary for our survival. The only way to solve this problem is a massive education campaign that can unite the world into action. The big question is: “Will we unite as one or will we splinter into different paths that will lead to paralysis and inaction? ” There has never been a more important time in human history than now to stand up for what you believe.
Limits to Growth, The 30 Year Update
The researchers created a computing model which took into account the relations between various global developments and produced computer simulations for alternative scenarios. Part of the modelling were different amounts of possibly available resources, different levels of agricultural productivity, birth control or environmental protection. Most scenarios resulted in an ongoing growth of population and of the economy until to a turning point around 2030.
Only drastic measures for environmental protection proved to be suitable to change this systems behaviour, and only under these circumstances, scenarios could be calculated in which both world population and wealth could remain at a constant level. However, so far the necessary political measures were not taken.
The book was re-released in 2004, updated with the latest research findings. In 2008, Dr. Graman Turner of CSIRO in Australia revisited the study with 30 years of data from 1970 to 2000 and found that human civilization has remained on the Business-As-Usual course, the worst case of all the models with deeply disturbing outcomes for human civilization.
Chapter Summaries of Limits to Growth: the 30 Year Update
Media Misreporting and Eventual Vindication
When the Limits to Growth was released, the media misreported that the study falsely predicted the end of many resources by 1990’s or early 2000 – which never happened. LTG never made such a claim and the unsubstantiated media reports even made its way into peer reviewed science journals, further politicizing the issue. Due to the backlash, LTG lost credibility in the public eye.
In 1997, the Italian economist Giorgio Nebbia, noted that the reaction against the LTG study had been promoted from four areas who were threatened by its findings:
- Businesses who saw the book as a threat to the growth of their businesses and industries
- Professional economists, who saw LTG as a threat to their dominance in advising on economic matters
- The Catholic world was piqued at the suggestion that overpopulation was one of the major causes of the problems
- The political left in the Western World saw the LTG study as a scam of the ruling class, designed to trick workers into believing that the proletarian paradise was not a practical goal
Nebbia’s list is incomplete. Other interest groups who felt threatened were:
- religious fundamentalists
- the political right
- believers in infinite growth
- politicians seeking for easy solutions to all problems
Ugo Bardi wrote an article for The Oil Drum entitled “Cassandra’s curse: how “The Limits to Growth” was demonized” summarizing the intense media storm against LTG from interest groups who had much to lose. The article is aptly titled. In Greek mythology, Cassandra of Troy was a figure of great beauty who received a curse from Apollo after she rejected him. Apollo placed a curse on her so that she and all her descendants’ predictions would not be believed. While Cassandra foresaw the destruction of Troy (she warned the Trojans about the Trojan Horse, the death of Agamemnon, and her own demise), she was unable to do anything to forestall these tragedies since no one believed her.She is a figure both of the epic tradition and of tragedy.
Bardi saw the authors of LTG as the quintessential Cassandras of our age. With its scenarios of civilization collapse, the book shocked the world perhaps more than Cassandra had shocked her fellow Trojan citizens when she had predicted the fall of their city to the Achaeans. Just as Cassandra was not believed, so it was for the “Limits to Growth” which, today, is still widely seen as a thoroughly flawed study, wrong all along. This opinion is based only on lies and distortions but, apparently, Cassandra’s curse is still alive and well in our times.
Scholars studying LTG often cite 1989 as a milestone in the misinformation campaign. That’s when Ronald Bailey, science editor of the Forbes magazine, wrote a scathing attack against Jay Forrester, the father of system dynamics. The attack also included the LTG book which Bailey said was, “as wrong-headed as it is possible to be”. To prove his point Bailey re-iterated an observation that had already been made in 1972 by a group of economists on the “New York Times” (Passel 1972). Bailey said that: “Limits to Growth” predicted that at 1972 rates of growth the world would run out of gold by 1981, mercury by 1985, tin by 1987, zinc by 1990, petroleum by 1992, copper, lead and natural gas by 1993. In 1993 Bailey reiterated his accusations in the book titled “Ecoscam.” He took the opportunity to say that none of the predictions of the 1972 LTG study had turned out to be correct.
Today, we know that Bailey’s accusations are just plain wrong. Bailey quoted a very small piece of LTG text, table 4 of chapter 2 and criticizing it out of context. That table had a row of data (column 2) for the duration, expressed in years, of some mineral resources. He had presented these data as the only “predictions” that the study had made and he had based his criticism on that, totally ignoring the rest of the book. In effect, Bailey constructed a lie. Nowhere in the book was it claimed that these numbers he had selected was a prediction. The only purpose of the data Bailey misrepresented was to illustrate the effect of a hypothetical continued exponential growth on the exploitation of mineral resources. Even without bothering to read the whole book, the text of chapter 2 clearly stated that continued exponential growth was not to be expected. The rest of the book, then, showed various scenarios of economic collapse that in no case took place before the first decades of 21st century. In claiming these numbers as facts and that they applied to their time, Bailey was creating a blatant distortion of the truth which, in hindsight, may be seen as one of the greatest disservices to humanity.
It would have taken little effort to debunk Bailey’s claims, however, for whatever reasons, the authors did not defend themselves effectively. Bailey’s criticism had succeeded in a massive propaganda campaign that effectively caused people to dismiss LTG. Thanks to Peak Oil and now global warming, the public and scientists began to relook at LTG and today, 40 years after the groundbreaking LTG research, exhaustive collected datasets have vindicated the soundness of the science. Indeed, the data supports that human civilization is most closely tracking the “standard run” trajectory – the worst possible pathway – one in which society essential does nothing and keeps to a business-as-usual course. Unfortunately, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Business interest, then as now is repeating its behavior of misinformation. Fossil-fuel interest especially are more afraid than ever of a carbon bubble, which would reduce their valuation dramatically. Such interests sadly, are far more interested in meeting the short term goals of its shareholders than the long term health of the planet.
2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years
Professor Randers’ analysis of where the world could be in 40 years has demonstrated that ‘Business as usual’ is not an option if we want our grand-children to live in a sustainable and equitable planet. It took 40 years before the full message of The Limits to Growth was properly understood. We cannot afford any more lost decades.
- Ian Johnson, Club of Rome Secretary General
The Report says the main cause of future problems is the excessively short-term predominant political and economic model. “We need a system of governance that takes a more long-term view”, said Professor Randers, speaking in Rotterdam. “It is unlikely that governments will pass necessary regulation to force the markets to allocate more money into climate friendly solutions, and must not assume that markets will work for the benefit of humankind”.
“We already live in a manner that cannot be continued for generations without major change. Humanity has overshot the earth’s resources, and in some cases we will see local collapse before 2052 – we are emitting twice as much greenhouse gas every year as can be absorbed by the world’s forests and oceans.”
The study establishes the following conclusions:
- While the process of adapting humanity to the planet’s limitations has started, the human response could be too slow.
- The current dominant global economies, particularly the United States, will stagnate. Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa and ten leading emerging economies (referred to as ‘BRISE’ in the Report) will progress.
- But there will still be 3 billion poor in 2052.
- China will be a success story, because of its ability to act.
- Global population will peak in 2042, because of falling fertility in urban areas
- Global GDP will grow much slower than expected, because of slower productivity growth in mature economies.
- CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere will continue to grow and cause +2°C in 2052; temperatures will reach +2.8°C in 2080, which may well trigger self-reinforcing climate change.
Jorgen Rander’s conclusions are:
- In his opinion, unless government and business go through a radical paradigm shift that replaces Short Term Thinking with Long Term Planning in a very short span of time, human civilization will and collapse by 2050. He is not hopeful that government and business can reform in time so human civilization will need to endure a hard landing, not a soft one. This collapse will cause a large population reduction and greatly reduced industrial output.
- Global population will peak at 8 billion by 2040. This is much lower and much later than most projects. This is due to very rapid decline in fertility in both urban poor and rich countries
- Global GDP will continue to grow but at a much slower rate because much of the world’s developed economy is very mature (service and care sectors). There will be no economic takeoff in the poor world. Only emerging countries will grow. Then it will peak at 2060
- Society will throw money at the many problems when emergency occurs. Amount of GDP available for consumption won’t grow as fast because it will be diverted to take care of emergency
- GDP disposable income will stagnate, in rich worlds will decline in the next 40 years
- Energy use will peak at 2040
- CO2 will peak at 2030
- At 2050 it will be back down at current levels
- Climate collapse happens after 2050
- Current systems are incapable of handling the climate challenge
- The pollution crisis from the 1970’s is going to be the likely scenario
- Root cause is human short-termism in their decision making, both in capitalist and democratic system. They are short term in their decision making. Capitalism loans at a discount rate that is so high that it cannot go beyond a horizon of 5 years.
- Short termism means strong governance. There is a intense dislike of controlling government or centralist bodies
- Humanity will try to grow as much it’s economy as much as it can but it will be limited due to lower productivity rates. The unexpected benefit of a much smaller population and GDP will be a much smaller which postpones to second half of 2050.
- Rich world will stagnate. Income will be even lower in USA in 2052 than today due to huge foreign debt and too much inequity leading to decision inability. It will basically end.
- 3 billion people will remain poor…3% growth in these economies
- Water, food and fossil fuels will be around in sufficient amounts…basically for those who can pay
- The poor cannot easily buy the food the rest of the world can produce
- Reduce growth of population, especially in rich world. where rich world footprint is 10x higher
- Reduce footprint, especially of the rich countries. Simple as stop using fossil fuel
- Construct low carbon energy system in poor world paid by rich world
- Strengthen world’s ability to act fast…find solution to short-termism
- Empower women
- Religious respect for fossil fuels: should not be using it
- Need governance systems to counter short-termism
- Redistribute the proceeds of society to be equitable for all