The Club of Rome Revisited
"2052" - Jørgen Randers' forty year Global Forecast
And Swan Song for Forty Years of Vain Efforts to Save the World by Working Within the Prevailing Paradigm
that Created the Problems in the First Place.
The Club of Rome is great fun! In 1972 they promoted an inconvenient book that became one of the most hated: "Limits to Growth". It was co-authored by Dennis and Donella Meadows and Jørgen Randers. Even today there are still "leaders" in society that claim the LtG was wrong.
Whilst Dennis Meadows is not a member of the CoR, Jørgen Randers is deemed worthy to represent today's Club of Rome, the 2012 elitist society that is a far cry from the 1972s.
At the presentation of "2052" at the WWF annual conference in Rotterdam on 7 May 2012, the CoR General Secratary Ian Johnson said "the book was "wonderful".
After listening to Jørgen Randers' presentation [Transcript, audio, and Video link; new window] and reading the first chapter of "2052", we see Randers' work as his testament:
Saying We're lost;
Correctly pointing at some developments, such as biodiversity;
Grossly incorrect regarding the time frame (urgency), population growth and women, resource depletion, climate change, fossil fuels, renewables, economic growth, overshoot, urbanisation, and others.
[To be completed and detailed....]
Interesting are Jørgen Randers' thoughts on dealing with grief, especially in view of his pretty false assessment of overshoot, the timeframe and his illusionary ideas that our grandchildren would still enjoy further growth on a depleted planet.
In essence he places the downturn [we would say collapse] into a period that is safely after his death, deluding himself by thinking he won't see the collapse.
Classic escapism! We messed it up completely - but I'll still be fine as long as I live.
[I wouldn't be surprised if he's got a place booked in Heaven, like me.]
Now read Jørgen Randers' apology and Crash Scenario and see how we could still shape our future. Have fun!
"2052 - A Global Forecast for the Nex Forty Years"
Jørgen Randers top
Chapter 1: Worrying about the future
I have lived my whole adult life worrying about the future. Not about my personal future but the global future—the future of humanity—on its small planet Earth.
Now, at sixty-six, I see that I have been worrying in vain. Not because the global future looks problem free and rosy. My worrying has been in vain because it hasn’t had much impact on global evolution over the long generation since I started worrying.
It all began when I arrived as a PhD student in physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in January 1970. I had lived my prior life in little, safe, and egalitarian Norway, well shielded from global developments, focused on the mysteries of solid-state physics. Through a complicated sequence of events, by the summer of 1970 I was deeply involved in what was to become the first report to the Club of Rome on “The Predicament of Mankind.” working as a researcher in the A. P. Sloan School of Management at MIT. The report—called The Limits to Growth—described various scenarios for world development to 2100. The scenarios were based on simulation runs from a computer model, my new field of expertise.
Within a few months, my worrying was in full bloom. Our research task was to consider what would happen if the global population and economy continued their recent developments for a hundred cars or so. It did not take much quantitative skill to discover that our planet was much too small, and that humanity was facing serious trouble some fifty years down the line—that is unless humanity made a conscious and unconventional decision to change its ways.
We published The Limits to Growth in 1972, with our recommendations about what should be done in order to promote sustainable well-being on our finite planet. I spent the 1970s and 1980s worrying about whether humanity would in fact be wise enough to heed our advice and change its global policies and behavior—in time. I used a lot of time and energy in various roles, trying to convince people that changing would be much better than following traditional patterns. After 1993 I left academia and upped the intensity of my effort by working through WWF—the big influential nature-conservation organization that is called the World Wildlife Fund in the United States. Since 2005 I have focused more narrowly on stopping climate change.
But I never stopped worrying about the future of humanity on small planet Earth. My worrying can be traced through some of my writings over the last twenty years.
Is there reason to worry? Are we facing a global future that makes it sensible to be concerned? Will the future be better than the present? Or will it be worse? Or is this simply a hang-up of an old man?
You are holding the book that is my answer to these questions. After four decades of worrying about a blurred future that I really did not know well I decided it would help my pain to describe the next four decades as precisely as possible. I did not want a picture of an ideal world—one of the various dream societies pursued by idealists. I wanted a picture of the future that humanity is going to create for itself during the four decades ahead, the future that will result from the many human decisions of mixed quality and wisdom, the future that is most likely to happen the future that will be written in the history books.
In short, I wanted a forecast of the most likely global roadmap to 2052 so that I would know what I am in for. So that I would know whether there actually is reason to worry on behalf of my children. Or the poor in Africa. So that I could possibly do what all other upper-middle-class people in the industrial world seem to do namely, relax and contribute to societal development with an unworried mind.
Luckily my forecast of the most likely global future to 2052 will have other uses.
First. the forecast will enable you to give yow own answer to whether there is reason to worry. Your answer may be different from mine. Different people draw different conclusions from the same picture.
Second, it will satisfy curiosity. Having worried about the future for so long, I am genuinely interested in knowing what it will be. On my fiftieth birthday, my fondest wish was to awake from the dead for a week in the year 2100, to learn what had transpired during the twenty-first century. I believe many share this curiosity about what lies ahead.
Third, some will use the forecast to help them invest profitably.
Fourth, the more socially inclined will use the forecast to clarify what new policies, legislation, and societal institutions will have the greatest effect in creating a best future, so they know where to put in their effort.
Others will want to know what the future holds in order to improve their chances for a better life during the next several decades, for example by moving to another city, country, or region before it becomes impossible, or by changing a profession before it becomes outdated.
Finally, some will want to adapt up front to the world of the future, to coming hot spells, sea-level rise. migration flows, more centralist government, and destruction of attractive tourist spots.
There are many motivations, and they are all valid. Our common interest is a desire to know how the world will develop over the next forty years.
In the middle of my worrying, a decade ago or so, my conviction grew that humanity, faced with great but mostly solvable challenges, is not going to rise to the occasion I began to believe that the necessary change would not happen—at least not in time. Which does not mean, of course, that the world will come to an end. But it does mean that the global future will be less rosy than it could have been. In a way, this realization helped my pain. I started to accept my loss.
But this mental shift did not stop my worrying. It simply shifted its focus. Now I was worrying about how bad the situation would get before humanity resolved to change its ways. That probably would have been a better state of mind if I had been able to air the matter in the public arena. But I did not dare to make the shift public. Along with my small group of co-worriers—-the avant-garde of the global sustainability movement—I worried that admitting that the human response was inadequate would be demotivating. I worried about reducing to zero the small ongoing effort to mend our human ways.
Presenting my worries, hover carefully, could trigger shouts of “Game over!” and “Game lost!” which in turn could become self-fulfilling. It could tempt the few who were hard at work on sustainable development to throw in their towels.
So I kept worrying behind closed doors, while observing continually rising emissions of greenhouse gases, increasingly dysfunctional global environmental governance, growing destruction of coral reefs, and the continuing loss of the remaining old-growth forests. I love old-growth forests—those quiet. timeless inventories of species, displaying the result of hundreds of millions of years of biological evolution.
Surprisingly the forests proved to be my salvation One day I mentioned to a psychologist friend that I the physical pain when I saw logging machines destroy, in one day, what nature would take centuries to repair—if that repair even occurred. She advised me in her quiet. professional tone that I had to learn to live with the loss. To express and accept that such-and- such particular forest was gone—permanently, with no resurrection possible. Actively handle the grief as one should after the loss of a mother or good friend Accept the fact that this old growth was gone. and that more would be going. Look the future straight in the eye and accept it. Get used to how things are. Stop worrying.
It took a long time to accept this wise advice. But over the years it did help. Now I am genuinely happy whenever I see some remaining patch of undisturbed old-growth forest, in the middle of an ocean of clear-cut land. Regardless how small. It is much better than nothing. Before, I would have focused my attention on its messy clear-cut surroundings and been sad because it would remind me about how recently much of the Northern Hemisphere was covered by peaceful deep and undisturbed temperate and boreal forests. In Michigan this is less than one hundred years ago; in Russia less than fifty! And I would have grown even sadder when thinking about how fast the rest would go.
By analogy, I believe it will be calming to get to know the world that is likely to be our home in the future, rather than dreaming about the world that could have been. The first step down the road to mental peace is to obtain a precise description of what the future is likely to look like. Then to accept it. And finally to stop grieving.
Is a Forecast Possible?
But can this be done? Is it possible to make a forecast of global developments over a forty-year period? Clearly it is possible to make a guess—just like it is possible to guess who will win the soccer championship in 2016. And guessing is simple; it can be done without any knowledge whatsoever about the topic. There is a chance that our guess is right. And a much larger chance that it is wrong, as in ail gambling.
In the normal use of the term, “forecasting” is a more ambitious exercise. A forecast is expected to have a higher chance of being right than wrong—ideally much higher. People understand that it is an advantage to know a lot about the system before one tries to forecast its future path. If rational players plan to rely on a prediction they usually prefer an educated forecast over unintjmied guesswork. Guessing is for the less informed.
My learned—and other—friends never stop pointing out that predicting the world future to 2052 is impossible. Not only in practice but also in theory.
Of course they are right. I am the first to accept this, having spent a lifetime making nonlinear dynamic simulation models of socioeconomic systems. But my critics need to be more precise. They are right in the sense that it is impossible to predict individual events in the future, even with deep knowledge about the system. The weakness of weather forecasts beyond five days proves this to most outdoorsmen But they are not right when it comes to forecasting broad developments. Technically speaking, it is possible to say something about trends and tendencies that are rooted in stable causal feedback structures in the world system.
The forecast in this book is of that broad nature. It is an informed guess tracing the big unes in what I sec as the probable global evolution toward 2052. I will use numbers to make my case, but always in the most indicative sense. The most reliable aspects of my forecast are its general trends or tendencies.
But isn’t this process disregarding human free will? Couldn’t people suddenly make a decision in 2033 that completely derails the system from its expected path? Yes, of course we could. But my view—which is shared by many professional colleagues in the social sciences—is that such out-of-the- blue decisions are very unlikely. All decisions are made in a context, and the context strongly influences the decision. One might be tempted to say that decisions, at least the major ones, are formed by the context—as Marx did. Yes. I agree that decisions may come a year earlier or three years later if the right leader emerges at the right time. And yes, they may arise as an Internet campaign rather than as a resolution in parliament. Details are hard to predict, but forecasting the big picture is simpler. It is simpler to tell whether it will be colder next winter than this summer than it is to tell whether next week will be warmer or colder than today.
Let us take a simple but highly relevant example of human decision making. Namely the decision to have another child. One perspective is that this is a prime example of the operation of the unpredictable and free will, that the decision to have another baby is done on the spew of the moment and that success is determined by a number of local conditions at the time of the conception. Another perspective is to observe that women on average have fewer children if they are urban, educated, and lower middle class than if they are rural, illiterate, and poor. Thus I agree that it is impossible to predict that my daughter will have exactly one child. But it is still possible to say that the number of children per mother will decline as a country industrializes. This is the difference between event prediction and forecasting.
In the pages ahead we will explore the broad tends that will influence our lives and those of our children. Here and there you will find an imaginary future event described, but that is only to bring the possibilities to life. It is simpler to prepare for the future if you start by imagining it.
My forecast does not eliminate free will, but rather is based on the belief that human decision making is influenced by the conditions under which the decision is being made. Smaller families result when the education level is higher. More social unrest occurs when income distribution is uneven. If there is reason to believe that conditions will develop in a certain manner, it is reasonable to forecast the decisions that will follow suit.
Why Forty Years?
Why not ten or one hundred? The reason is boringly simple and personal. In 2012 it is forty years since The Limits to Growth was published, discussing how humanity could handle life on a limited planet over the next hundred years or so. Today we know what was done during the first forty years—and what was not done. We know a great deal about the rationale for the decisions made during these decades. And we have a fair understanding of the pressures that have locked us into nonaction on a number of froms. We experienced how fast technology can solve certain solvable problems, and how slowly humanity progresses on less tractable issues. Since we know so much about the first forty years it seemed reasonable to extract lessons from those forty years and try to look at the next forty. When studying a dynamic phenomenon one should start by looking as far back as one is planning to look ahead. If you want to say something about population growth from 2012 to 2052, it is helpful to know the population numbers from 1972 to 2012.
So my forecast for the next forty years is an educated guess at what I believe will happen, not a scenario analysis, and certainly not a description of what ought to happen. The latter has been done too many times. Global society knows very well should be done to create a better world for our children. We need to remove poverty and address the climate challenge. We know that this can be done technologically and at a relatively low cost But, sadly, as you will sec, I don’t believe this will be done. Humanity, as I had feared, will not rise to the occasion, at least not rapidly enough to avoid unnecessary damage. The complex and time-consuming decision making of democratic nation-states will ensure that.
Different societal groups will fare differently. The poor peasant in rural China in 2012 will have a much better ride toward 2052 than the upper-middle-classer of the postindustrial world, who will lose many of his privileges.
Bases for an Educated Guess
So does one go about painting a picture of the mo likely global future to 2052? Not only is the topic big, but it is broad, deep, and multifaceted. There is not one reality, there are many parallel realities. No picture can be complete; every picture will be a selection from the wonderfully rich reality that is the human condition. And then there are the dynamics. Evolution is not a straight line from a current equilibrium to de next. As the system evolves toward its next equilibrium, that equilibrium moves as a consequence of new conditions. Thus the path of development from here to there can take any form: a curve, a sine wave, a spiral, and much more It is the classic “thesis. antithesis, and synthesis” evolving in parallel in multiple dimensions at the same time.
Here is what I did. I tried to handle de richness by calling on the expertise of a number of colleagues. I tried to handle the dynamics using my old friend, the dynamic simulation model. And I tried to maintain perspective by exploring new paradigm—by deliberately; avoiding being stuck in the current post—World War II paradigm., which imprecisely could be termed “happiness via continued economic growth based on fossil fuels” Let us take them one by one
The Richness of the Global Future
To help me avoid tunnel vision, myopia. and the obvious limitations in my knowledge about most aspects of the world. I asked a number of my friends and colleagues— independent thinkers and writers—to tell me hat they were absolutely certain would happen before 2052.
Most accepted the challenge with enthusiasm, even when they were told to constrain their “glimpse of the future” to 1,500 words and to keep within a field they knew well. You will find nearly thirty-five of these glimpses—in full or excerpted— in this volume.
In those glimpses you will see what educated people from all over the world say when they are forced to do something they do not really like, namely to make a prediction— without all the hedges and caveats that are normal in scientific, commercial, and governmental affairs. In sum, the glimpses give a multi-dimensionial sketch of the future world. The collection is very broad in scope, but many common themes emerged and are included in my forecast.
Furthermore, the glimpses were surprisingly free from contradictions. That is indeed surprising, and might mean that "independent thinkers and writers” often do end up with the same general picture when forced to look ahead and honestly describe their view— and do not have to consider the consequences of what they are telling.
Many global forecasts are inconsistent. This means that one part of the forecast contradicts another part of the forecast. Let me use a simple example to explain. Often a conventional forecast describes—in glowing terms—how total production (GDP) will grow at high rates over the next several decades. One central assumption behind such a forecast is normally a certain development in population, gleaned from the national statistical office or the UN. If that assumption is maintained it is likely that the forecast is wrong, simply because it has not taken into account the strong impact of higher income on the birth rate. People have fewer children when they get richer. Population growth will slow as GDP becomes higher. So a forecast that does not adjust the future population downward will be ‘.Tong. Such a forecast will tend to exaggerate the future birth rate, overestimate future population, and underestimate GDP per person. The future income per person will prove to be higher than in the initial forecast. The mistake does not only pertain to the end state. It leads to misleading dynamics—the description of the development path will also be Tong. Another example would be prior assumptions made about the speed of technological development over the next several decades. These assumptions may be contradicted if the forecast indicates rapid growth in the economy. A larger economy will aftixd more research and experience higher rates of technological development.
To help avoid this type of inconsistency, and help ensure that my forecast actually does follow logically from the assumptions made. I use a set of dynamic spreadsheets to check my results. The spreadsheets are (at least approximations to) state-determined equation systems that desibe the world as a set of differential equations. In these models, the situation evolves over time from its starting state. in a logically consistent manner. through the operation of the causal relationships that are reflected in the equations that drive the models. the quantitative backbone of my forecast is most readily available to you in the spreadsheet on the 2052 website (www.2052.info). The spreadsheets are not fully dynamic, so I have used (although to a limited extent) two computer models of the world to make sure that major feedback effects are not omitted from my forecast.
If you did not understand the last four sentences, don’t worry. They are there for dose computer mathematics aficionados who understand what they mean. What is important is that I am fully aware of the risk of internal inconsistency in a verbal forecast, and that I have used spreadsheets and computer models of the global system to try to reduce such inconsistency
I also have relied on an impressive collection of statistical time series to ensure that I do not accidentally deviate from well-established tradition and behavior—which are of course reflected iii historical data. The data is also available in the spreadsheets on de book’s website
All this leads to my third helper—a conscious attitude to ones choice of paradigm. A paradigm is a worldview There are many different worldviews. Marxism is one,
religious conservatism another. None is right. Different paradigms simply highlight different aspects of reality. A paradigm is also a simplification that helps you distinguish the noise from significant trends (as defined by your own paradigm. that is). But it is most important to understand that your chosen paradigm—which is normally tacit7 rarely described—has surprisingly strong impact on what you sec. Let us take an example. The conventional macroeconomics paradigm assumes that the world’s markets are in
equilibrium. Hence most economists do see a world in equilibrium when they read their newspaper or walk down the street. The opponents to this paradigm, for example, the system dynamics school to which I belong, assume that de world is not in equilibrium.
To us the world is careening from one turn to the next in a never-ding search for the next equilibrium, which always is on the move, the important point is that you should be aware that you have your own paradigm that is your tacit set of beliefs and interpretations that help you live your life. Ideally you should be able to shift from one paradigm to another depending on the problem at hand. Most people are unable to do so.
The current Western world has a dominant paradigm. It includes basic beliefs like “the efficiency of market-based economies,” “the self-correcting ability of democratic government,” “benefits from continued economic growth based on fossil fuels,” and “increased welfare through free trade and globalization.” When trying to clarify the next forty years, it is important to include the possibility of a change in the dominant paradigm. At least one should avoid limiting oneself to analyses through one set of glasses, namely the current dominant paradigm.
Yes, simplification is important to live a happy life in the current world. But when looking forty years ahead it becomes important to choose the right simplification. And it may be safer to try many, in the hope of losing fewer babies with the bathwater.
Full Steam Ahead with a Peaceful Mind
It is important for me to end by emphasizing that this book is also written to encourage action. As mentioned, books like this one are normally not written, because socially conscious authors rightfully worry that their work might kill motivation and hinder ongoing and future action to improve the situation. I agree with this general view, but still have chosen to risk describing what is ahead of us.
Hopefully my global forecast will act as an external enemy and kick humanity—or at least a few dedicated individuals—into action. In this way my forecast could play the role of the global environmental disaster that never seems to come suddenly enough to trigger wide support for coordinated political action.
Remember my endless worrying? And the advice from the psychologist to openly grieve and then finally accept the loss of my beloved old-growth forests. Instead of worrying diffusely about what might be in store for humanity over the next forty years, I now have (in this book) a description of what I see as the most likely future to 2052. I have got to know this future, grieved over the unnecessary suffering involved, and finally come to peace with the lost global opportunity. My mind is less tortured. The future is as it is. Whenever I now see a small sign of increased sustainability—or more precisely, a small sign of reduced unsustainability—I react with genuine happiness rather than with general sadness about the world that could have been.
ppendix I: Summary
2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years
The Limits to Growth study in 1972 addressed the grand question of how humanity would adapt to the physical limitations of planet Earth. Its authors, of whom I was one, offered these projections about the time period we have now entered:
During de first half of the twenty-first century the ongoing growth in de human ecological footprint will stop.
Humanity’s resource use and environmental impact will be brought down to levels that can be sustained in the long run.
We wrote that these milestones would come w pass in one of many ways—for example through catastrophic “overshoot and collapse” or through well-managed ‘peak and decline.”
In 2052, I offer my status report after forty years—driven by curiosity, and a desire to understand whether, knowing what we know in 2012, humanity will rise to the occasion and effectively address de global unsustainabilities we still face. 2052 presents my forecast for the next forty years, based on de projections of other scientists, futurists, and thinkers. And here in a nutshell is what I expect will happen.
The process of adapting humanity to the limitations of the planet has indeed staned Over the next forty years. cItons to limit the ecological footprint will continue. Future growth in global population and GDP will be constrained not only by this effort, but also, by rapid fertility decline as a result of urbanization, productivity decline as a result of social unrest, and continuing poverty among de poorest two billion world citizens. At the same time there will be impressive advances in resource efficiency and climate-friendly solutions. There will also be a shift in focus toward human well-being rather than per capita income growth. Still based on the extensive database that underpins 205Z it appears that the human response will be too slow. The most critical factor will be greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. These emissions will remain so high that our grandchildren most likely will have to live with self reinforcing, and hence runaway, global warming in the second half of the twenty-first century.
Main Messages of 2052
The global population will stagnate earlier than expected because fertility will fall dramatically in the increasingly urbanized population. Population will peak at 8.1 billion people just after 2040 and then decline.
The global GDP will grow more slowly than expected because of the lower population growth and declining growth rates in (gross labor) productivity. Global GDP will reach 2.2 times current levels around 2050.
Productivity growth will be slower than in the past, because economies are maturing, because of increased social strife, and because of negative interference from extreme weather.
The growth rate in global consumption will slow because a greater share of GDP will have to be allocated to investment - in order to solve the problems created by resource depletion, pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, and inequity. Global consumption of goods and services will peak in 2045.
As a consequence of increased social investment in the decades ahead (albeit often involuntary and in reaction to crisis), resource and climate problems will not become catastrophic before 2052. But there will be much unnecessary suffering from unabated climate damage around the middle of the century.
The lack of a dedicated and forceful human response in the first half of the twenty-first century will put the world on a dangerous track toward self - reinventing global warming in the second half of the twenty-first century.
Slow growth in per capita consumption in much of the world (and stagnation in the rich world) will lead to increased social tension and conflict, which will further reduce orderly productivity growth.
The short-term focus of capitalism and democracy will ensure that the wise decisions needed for long-term well-being will not be made in time.
The global population will be increasingly urban and unwilling to protect nature for its own sake. Biodiversity will suffer.
The impact will differ among the five regions analyzed in the book: de United States; the other OECD nations (including the European Union Japan, and Canada and most other industrialized nations); China; BRISE (Brazil, Russia, South Africa, and ten other big remerging economies); and de rest of the world (de 2.1 billion people at de bottom of the income ladder).
The most surprising loser will be the current global economic elite, particularly the United States (which will experience stagnant per capita consumption for the next generation). China will be the winner. BRISE will make progress. The rest of the world will remain poor. All—and particularly the poor—will live in an increasingly disorderly and climate-damaged world.
The world in 2052 will certainly not be uniform or flat—the sentiment and conditions in the five regions will differ dramatically.
Reproduced for scientific not-for-profit reasons only.