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The Fourth Great Humiliation of Humanity is Upon Us.

The Fourth Great Humiliation of Humanity is Upon Us.

If we don’t pull our heads in, we’re doomed. If we do, the future is bright.

“Galileo Sees the Earth” by sjrankin is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0._c

WHEN I WAS TEACHING in Japan 20 years ago, one of my students introduced me to The Three Great Humiliations of Man [sic] in an essay I’d assigned. I was so impressed by her powerful choice of plagiarism, that I passed it with flying colours.

Incidentally, I stopped using the term ‘man’ (and ‘mankind’) 35 years ago. I’m amazed to find people still using it today – alongside some who claim we’re not a biologically sexual species. So much for social cohesion. Forgive the rant.

Just now I searched online for The Three Great Humiliations of Humanity. There were many references to the Century of Humiliation in China, but it turns out Sigmund Freud coined the term. They are: 1/ The discovery by Copernicus and Galileo that we are not the centre of the universe. 2/ Darwin’s discovery that we are descended from apes. 3/ Freud’s discovery that we are not in control of our minds. I don’t think we can accuse Freud of humility!

The Fourth Great Humiliation – or Humbling – of our species is upon us. We’re stuck on this beautiful blue gem in space and we’d better learn to live within it’s limits. If we do, we have a chance at peace, harmony and happiness. We also have a chance to reach a similarly livable planet in the galaxy in the distant future. If we don’t, our prospects are very grim indeed.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

By wis.dom project: Regress in Progress: Who is responsible?

By wis.dom project: Regress in Progress: Who is responsible?

Dire Evolutionary Timeline by Blu

This is an essay from reader wis.dom project who describes his painful personal journey of connecting dots to achieve awareness of our overshoot predicament.

I was born in 1969, at a time when everything still seemed possible. On July 20, two people walked on the moon, which is probably the greatest technological achievement of man to this day. In my youth, I devoured novels by Asimov, Clarke, Lem, Dick and Herbert. The galaxy’s colonization seemed within reach.

45 years later, I realized that I was a victim of mass hypnosis, what I refer to today as techno-utopia – a belief in the limitless human development, genius and almost divine uniqueness of Homo Sapiens. I realized that industrial civilization, like any other dissipative structure, is doomed to inevitable collapse.

In 1972 – 3 years after my birth, a book titled The Limits to Growth was released by the Club of Rome. It was the first scientifically compiled report analyzing future scenarios for humanity. It indicated that unlimited development is not possible on a finite planet. The book was published in 30 million copies and was one of the most popular at the time. Surprisingly, despite the wide range of my readings, the book did not appear on my horizon for a long time. As if it was covered by another intellectual  “Säuberung”. In fact, it was the subject of an intellectual blitzkrieg and relatively quickly evaporated from the media circulation. I experienced this myself by talking to several university professors. Every one of them dismissed the LtG concept with a shrug and an unequivocal, non-debatable conclusion that the theory had long been discredited.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Limits and Beyond: The Yawning Gap

Limits and Beyond: The Yawning Gap

Chapter 1: The Story of an Idea

Limits and Beyond

The book Limits and Beyond, edited by Ugo Bardi and Jorgen Randers, provides a 50th anniversary review of the seminal report Limits to Growth (LtG). The following is from the back cover of the book.

50 years ago the Club of Rome commissioned a report: Limits to Growth. They told us that, on our current path, we are heading for collapse in the first half of the 21st century. This book, published in the year 2022, reviews what has happened in the intervening time period. It asks three basic questions:

  • Were their models right?
  • Why was there such a backlash?
  • What did the world do about it?

The book consists of 19 chapters, each written by a different author, two of whom — Dennis Meadows and Jorgen Randers — were part of the team that wrote the report.

In this post, we review the first chapter, written by Ugo Bardi. He says of the chapter,

The present section . . . tells the story of how the idea of civilization growth and collapse fared in history and how it was interpreted by the LtG study.

 

Ugo Bardi
Ugo Bardi

Historical Overview

This first chapter provides an excellent overview of the work of various scientists and authors that has led to our current understanding of physical limits and constraints. It shows how societies rise and fall, and how our current level of stable prosperity is so unusual. Starting with the 18th century authors Edward Gibbon and Thomas Malthus, Bardi describes the work of many analysts, including William Stanley Jevons, Rachel Carson, Aurelio Peccei, Jay Wright Forrester, M. King Hubbert and Joseph Tainter.

He describes how the LtG report was received, and discusses possible reasons for the largely negative response at the time of publication. However, the report’s insights seem to be increasingly relevant to today’s world..

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Failure of Global Elites

In the 1970s, global political and corporate elites had all the information they needed to put the world on a path toward long-term stability. Systems science was sufficiently advanced that a team of its practitioners organized a scenario study to see how trends in industrial production, population, food, pollution, and resource usage might interact over the next few decades; the study showed that continued growth in population and industrial production would prove unsustainable. Political scientists were beginning to sort demographic, economic, and historical social data for clues to understanding why societies sometimes descend into internal violence; data seemed to show that there was a rough correlation between rising economic inequality and declining social stability. Also, the science of ecology was revealing that forest, ocean, desert, freshwater, and soil ecosystems are inherently complex and resilient, but that they are subject to catastrophic tipping points when subjected to high enough levels of pollution or loss of habitable space. It was clear what should be done in order to put society on a sound footing: discourage population growth, cap the scale of industrial production, reduce economic inequality, clean up past pollution, reduce current and future pollution, and leave plenty of space for nature to regenerate.

Elites didn’t do those things. Initially, during the Nixon and Carter years, US politicians enacted some thoughtful, far-reaching policies. Then, increasingly, and regardless of the party in power, they simply found excuses to stop pressing ahead or to backtrack. They set their pet economists to work writing books and reports insisting that growth is always good; that economic inequality is excusable because eventually the wealth of the few will surely “trickle down” as benefits to the many; and that, in President Ronald Reagan’s feel-good but tragically misleading words, “There are no such things as limits to growth, because there are no limits to the human capacity for intelligence, imagination, and wonder.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Life in a ‘degrowth’ economy, and why you might actually enjoy it

Time to get off the economic growth train? Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock

What does genuine economic progress look like? The orthodox answer is that a bigger economy is always better, but this idea is increasingly strained by the knowledge that, on a finite planet, the economy can’t grow for ever.

This week’s Addicted to Growth conference in Sydney is exploring how to move beyond growth economics and towards a “steady-state” economy.

But what is a steady-state economy? Why it is it desirable or necessary? And what would it be like to live in?

The global predicament

We used to live on a planet that was relatively empty of humans; today it is full to overflowing, with more people consuming more resources. We would need one and a half Earths to sustain the existing economy into the future. Every year this ecological overshoot continues, the foundations of our existence, and that of other species, are undermined.

At the same time, there are great multitudes around the world who are, by any humane standard, under-consuming, and the humanitarian challenge of eliminating global poverty is likely to increase the burden on ecosystems still further.

Meanwhile the population is set to hit 11 billion this century. Despite this, the richest nations still seek to grow their economies without apparent limit.

Like a snake eating its own tail, our growth-orientated civilisation suffers from the delusion that there are no environmental limits to growth. But rethinking growth in an age of limits cannot be avoided. The only question is whether it will be by design or disaster.

Degrowth to a steady-state economy

The idea of the steady-state economy presents us with an alternative. This term is somewhat misleading, however, because it suggests that we simply need to maintain the size of the existing economy and stop seeking further growth.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Limits to Growth: Natural gas fertilizer that feeds 4 billion of us

Limits to Growth: Natural gas fertilizer that feeds 4 billion of us

Preface.  In chapter 4 of my book “Life After Fossil Fuels: A Reality Check on Alternative Energy“, I explain how it came to be that fertilizer is made out of natural gas, using the energy of natural gas, and why it allows at least 4 billion of us to be alive. Yet natural gas is finite. And now there are shortages due to high prices.  In the U.S. Congress voted to allow natural gas to be exported several years ago, partly to help Europeans not become dependent on Russian gas and fall into their sphere of influence.  But now it’s costing farmers all over the world so much many will go out of business. In the U.S., especially small farmers who don’t get subsidies like the huge farms do.

High Natural gas prices in the news:

2022 Rising price of fertilizer is forcing NC farmers out of the business. North Carolina farmers say the cost of fertilizer has tripled over the past two years and is threatening to drive smaller farms out of the business entirely. The spike in cost has left family farms looking for ways to stay afloat while still producing enough food. As one of the most essential tools in agriculture, fertilizer makes up 15% of all farming costs in the U.S., according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. But since September 2020, the cost of fertilizer nationwide has spiked up to 300% as demand for its primary ingredients like ammonia and liquid nitrogen has soared. One farmer said that “Now everybody’s going to chicken litter, and we can’t even find the chicken litter now to do for our farm.”

***

2021 This Chemical Is in Short Supply, and the Whole World Feels It. New York Times.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

#225. Gravitational pull

#225. Gravitational pull

MANAGING THE REALITY OF ‘LIFE AFTER ORTHODOXY’

A new ‘heavenly body’ has entered the cosmology of political and corporate decision. This new influence is the emerging reality that the economy is turning out, after all, to be an energy system, and that long-accepted ideas to the contrary are fallacious.

The concept of limits is replacing the paradigm of ‘infinite growth’.

Where decision-making is concerned, this emerging reality isn’t likely to have an immediately transformational effect. Established nostrums can have a tenacity that long out-lasts the demonstration of their falsity.

We’re not, then, about to see sudden, open and actioned acceptance of the fact that the economy is an energy rather than a monetary system.

Rather, we can expect to see energy reality exert an increasing gravitational pull on the tide of decisions and planning, most obviously in government and business. Policy statements may not change, but the thinking that informs planning and strategy undoubtedly will.

This gravitational effect is starting, as of now, to re-shape perceptions of the present, change ensuing “narratives” of the future, and trigger a process of realignment towards the implications of a world with meaningful constraints.

The aim here is to examine the practical consequences of a contest of interpretations which, whilst it has already been decided at the theoretical level, leaves ‘everything to play for’ in political and commercial practice.

And then there was one

There are, essentially, two ways in which we can seek to explain the working of the economy.

One of these is the conventional or orthodox school of thought, which presents economics as a process determined by the behaviour of money, and acknowledges no limits to the potential for growth.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Dennis Meadows on the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Limits to Growth

Only rarely does a book truly change the world. In the nineteenth century, such a book was Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. For the twentieth century, it was The Limits to Growth. Not only did this best-selling 1972 publication help spur the environmental movement, but it showed that the underlying dynamics of the modern industrial world are unsustainable on the timescale of a couple of human lifetimes. This was profoundly important information, and it was delivered credibly and clearly, so that every policy maker could understand it. Sadly, the book was rejected by powerful people with vested interests in the Western growth-based economic model that was overtaking the rest of the world. Today we starting to see the results of that rejection.

Of the book’s four authors, only Dennis Meadows and Jørgen Randers are active (Donella Meadows died in 2001). I recently reached out to Dr. Meadows, whom I’ve gotten to know during the past few years, to see if he would be willing to engage in a short discussion, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of The Limits to Growth. He graciously agreed.

Richard Heinberg: Dennis, it is an honor to have this opportunity to interview you. Congratulations on having co-authored the most important book of the past century. I’m delighted that you’re willing to reply to a few questions.

First, how is reality tracking with the scenarios you and your colleagues generated 50 years ago?

Dennis L. Meadows: There have been several attempts, recently, to compare some of our scenarios with the way the global system has evolved over the past 50 years. That’s difficult. It’s, in a way, trying to confirm by looking through a microscope whether or not the data that you gathered through a telescope are accurate…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

2022: Energy limits are likely to push the world economy into recessionIn my view, there are three ways a growing economy can be sustained:

2022: Energy limits are likely to push the world economy into recessionIn my view, there are three ways a growing economy can be sustained:

  1. With a growing supply of cheap-to-produce energy products, matched to the economy’s energy needs.
  2. With growing debt and other indirect promises of future goods and services, such as rising asset prices.
  3. With growing complexity, such as greater mechanization of processes and supply lines that extend around the world.

All three of these approaches are reaching limits. The empty shelves some of us have been seeing recently are testimony to the fact that complexity is reaching a limit. And the growth in debt looks increasingly like a bubble that can easily be popped, perhaps by rising interest rates.

In my view, the first item listed is critical at this time: Is the supply of cheap-to-produce energy products growing fast enough to keep the world economy operating and the debt bubble inflated? My analysis suggests that it is not. There are two parts to this problem:

[a] The cost of producing fossil fuels and delivering them to where they are needed is rising rapidly because of the effects of depletion. This higher cost cannot be passed on to customers, without causing recession. Politicians will act to keep prices low for the benefit of consumers. Ultimately, these low prices will lead to falling production because of inadequate reinvestment to offset depletion.

[b] Non-fossil fuel energy products are not living up to the expectations of their developers. They are not available when they are needed, where they are needed, at a low enough cost for customers. Electricity prices don’t rise high enough to cover their true cost of production. Subsidies for wind and solar tend to drive nuclear electricity out of business, leaving an electricity situation that is worse, rather than better. Rolling blackouts can be expected to become an increasing problem.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Lessons from the USSR Crisis – What brought down the second largest empire of modern times?

Lessons from the USSR Crisis – What brought down the second largest empire of modern times?

The collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1991, was seen in the West as a demonstration of the superiority of the Western economical and political system. In reality, the story was much more complex and the Soviet Union fell because of the same reasons which may cause the impending collapse of the West. This point was made forcefully by Dmitry Orlov, but he is not the only one who noted the similarities of the two systems. Here, a guest post by the Russian Scientist Svatoslav Zabelin. It is a revised and updated version of a piece that appeared in 1998. Zabelin is also a contributor of the book on the 50th anniversary of the publication of the 1972 book “The Limits to Growth,” expected to appear on the market in March 2022.

Lessons from the USSR Crisis
From “A time to seek, and a time to lose.” 1998.
by Sviatoslav Zabelin

…there are no limits to development, but there are limits to growth.

Meadows DH, Meadows DL, Randers Y. (Beyond limits to growth. Moscow, 1994)

From the book by Donella H. Meadows et al. The Limits to Growth. New York. Universe Books. 1972.

“The world community is developing without any major political changes for as long as possible. The number of people and industrial production increases as long as the state of the environment and natural resources does not limit the ability of the industrial capital sector to provide investment. Industrial capital begins to depreciate faster than new investment flows. As its reserves decrease, food production and health care also fall, leading to a reduction in life expectancy and an increase in mortality.”

  1. The collapse of the USSR

The ecological and socio-economic macro-crises we are seeing are in one way or another a kind of crisis of the limits of growth…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Limits to Growth at 50 Years

Limits to Growth at 50 Years

The End of Growth: ten years after

Fifty years ago the authors of the groundbreaking book The Limits to Growth showed that, in any of a series of computer-generated scenarios, world economic growth would end sometime during the 21st century. Using simple math and logic, they pointed out that growth in any material input or output cannot continue indefinitely within a finite system. Since the Earth is a finite system, the effort to perpetually grow human economies (which, by their very nature, extract resources and produce wastes) is doomed to eventual failure, leading to significant declines in resources, industrial output, food production, and population. Despite the fact that the book was a bestseller and its conclusions were well supported, world political and business leaders ignored it and persevered in their efforts to expand resource extraction, agriculture, and manufacturing.

Around the year 2010, it appeared to me that signs of growth’s slowing and approaching reversal were accumulating to the point that a new book on the subject might be timely and helpful. The End of Growth was published in 2011and attracted healthy sales but few reviews.

Today, indications of impending economic stagnation and retrenchment are arguably stronger still. There will be many articles this semicentennial anniversary year discussing the 1972 Limits to Growth study; I thought it might also be informative to look back at my book, reflecting on whether its message is useful today.

In the book, I argued that modern economic growth is largely attributable to fossil fuels. Energy is essential to all activity, and the availability of vast amounts of energy from tens of millions of years’ worth of ancient sunlight, captured and transformed by natural processes into portable and storable fuels, has made it possible to speed up and expand nearly every human enterprise…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Modernity is incompatible with planetary limits: Developing a PLAN for the future

Modernity is incompatible with planetary limits: Developing a PLAN for the future

Abstract

This age of modernity is characterized by consistent growth in energy use, economic activity, and resource consumption, and a generally increasing standard of living—albeit inequitably distributed. All currently living humans, and most academic disciplines, have developed in this age, which appears normal and indefinite to us. But modernity has been enabled by the rapid and accelerating expenditure of our one-time inheritance of fossil fuels, and by drawing down the resources and ecosystems of our finite Earth—none of which can be sustained as we transition from a resource-rich frontier to a human-dominated planet. Climate change is often singled out as modernity’s existential crisis, but it is only one of a series of interlocking challenges constituting an unprecedented predicament that must be understood and mitigated in order to live within planetary limits. While energetic and technological challenges attract significant attention, arguably the greatest challenges are conceptual or even cultural. In particular, as we review in this Perspective, today’s political economy has been designed to value short-term financial wealth over the real treasure of Earth’s functioning ecosystems, to discount the future at the expense of the present, and to demand infinite exponential growth…which is simply impossible on a finite planet. Given all this, humanity should view its present overshoot-prone trajectory with tremendous suspicion, humility, and concern. We call for the establishment of a transdisciplinary network of scholars from across the entire academic landscape to develop a global understanding of planetary limits and how humanity can adapt to the associated realities. We present a set of foundational principles to serve as a starting point to anchor this network and drive a new area of focused inquiry to develop a shared vision of viable future paths.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Climate Change and the Limits of Economic Growth

Since the nineteenth century, human society has experienced extraordinary but uneven economic growth thanks to the energy unleashed from fossil fuels. That growth, and the greenhouse gasses released from fossil-fuel use, has also created the current climate crisis. The conventional solution put forward to this crisis, a putative compromise between economic and environmental imperatives, has been to maintain economic growth but on the basis of sustainable energy sources.

Not all ecologists or economists are enthusiastic about this “green growth” alternative. According to these critical views, which have now begun to move into the mainstream, the planet simply can’t sustain the current pace of growth and even renewable energy sources like solar hit up against significant resource limits. The only effective way to control carbon emissions, as well as related problems of pollution and biodiversity loss, is to address “overshoot,” the unconstrained use of energy and material resources well beyond planetary limits, particularly in the richer parts of the world. These arguments pick up from some of the earliest computer modeling of resource limits highlighted in the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth report in 1972, but now with a climate crisis twist.

With the fiftieth anniversary of the Club of Rome report approaching, a number of scientists and economists gathered in early October to assess the current state of play of the zero-growth argument, its traction in the mainstream, and how best to call attention to the data supporting these positions. They looked at this question from various angles—physics, geology, biology, economy, ecology—and discussed the major obstacles to greater acceptance of more critical approaches to economic growth as well as ways of overcoming these obstacles.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Small Farm Future: Why some anticipated problems will not arise

In his book Small Farm Future Chris Smaje worries about some problems that might arise in a society in which these kinds of farms meet most food demand.  This area is also targeted by Alex Heffron and Kai Heron in their critique of the book, which their Marxist position leads them to see as only advocating a “petite-bourgeoise” vision and thus no satisfactory solution to the problems capitalism is causing. It seems to me that both are overlooking the fact that in the future conditions will be radically different to what they are now and will determine that the problems under discussion will be minimal if they arise at all.

The concerns are firstly to do with whether or not small farms mostly run by families will generate the kinds of conflicts that have been common in peasant societies in the past, especially to do with patriarchal domination and marginalisation of women and children, and secondly to do with whether it is satisfactory to leave the farming sector in the hands of private enterprise.  Heffron and Heron do not make clear what they would want but it would seem that the core Marxist principle of eliminating private ownership of the means of production would lead them to advocate state ownership of the farming sector.

Both parties are analysing these issues in terms of how things worked in peasant societies and how things are organised and thought about in present society. My argument is that this is not the right approach, because things will be very different in the near future. So I must first take some space to explain my reasons for thinking this.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

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