Has Civilization Passed the Environmental Point of No Return?
In a recent article, Scientific American magazine asks this question, as many have asked it for years. The magazine takes a look back at the conclusions drawn about the future of human resource use and possible collapse by the infamously controversial Limits to Growth study — and looks for further guidance to 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years, a new book by Jorgen Randers, one of the authors of Limits to Growth.
From the article:
“Remember how Wile E. Coyote, in his obsessive pursuit of the Road Runner, would fall off a cliff? The hapless predator ran straight out off the edge, stopped in midair as only an animated character could, looked beneath him in an eye-popping moment of truth, and plummeted straight down into a puff of dust. Splat!…Don’t look now but we are running in midair, a new book asserts. In 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years (Chelsea Green Publishing), Jorgen Randers of the BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo, and one of the original [Limits to Growth] modelers, argues that the second half of the 21st century will bring us near apocalypse in the form of severe global warming.
“Although there is an urban legend that the world will end this year based on a misinterpretation of the Mayan calendar, some researchers think a 40-year-old computer program that predicts a collapse of socioeconomic order and massive drop in human population in this century may be on target.”
“Randers’s ideas most closely resemble a World3 scenario in which energy efficiency and renewable energy stave off the worst effects of climate change until after 2050. For the coming few decades, Randers predicts, life on Earth will carry on more or less as before. Wealthy economies will continue to grow, albeit more slowly as investment will need to be diverted to deal with resource constraints and environmental problems, which thereby will leave less capital for creating goods for consumption. Food production will improve: increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will cause plants to grow faster, and warming will open up new areas such as Siberia to cultivation. Population will increase, albeit slowly, to a maximum of about eight billion near 2040. Eventually, however, floods and desertification will start reducing farmland and therefore the availability of grain. Despite humanity’s efforts to ameliorate climate change, Randers predicts that its effects will become devastating sometime after mid-century, when global warming will reinforce itself by, for instance, igniting fires that turn forests into net emitters rather than absorbers of carbon. ‘Very likely, we will have war long before we get there,’ Randers adds grimly. He expects that mass migration from lands rendered unlivable will lead to localized armed conflicts.”
Read the entire article over at Scientific American to hear what another Limits to Growth author, Dennis Meadows, has to say about the future.