Limits to growth


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Slides of talk presented at various forums on occasion of the 40th anniversary of the launching of Limits to Growth, the first report to the Club of Rome published in 1972. This book was one of the earliest scholarly works to recognize that the world was fast approaching its sustainable limits. Forty years later, the planet continues to face many of the same economic, social, and environmental challenges as when the book was first published.

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Limits to growth

  1. 1. Limits to Growth lessons over 40 years Anupam Saraph, PhD Leadership, Strategy and Innovation Mentor Dedicated to Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, the Balaton Group and all those anonymous humans striving to leave the world better than they found it
  2. 2. <ul><li>Growth is an increase in some quantity over time. </li></ul><ul><li>Growth is not Development. Development is to become more mature, elaborate. </li></ul><ul><li>Growth by itself does not sustain communities, in fact it can destroy them. </li></ul><ul><li>Growth is by itself neither good nor bad. It depends on what is growing and when . Nothing grows forever. Uncontrolled growth is cancer. </li></ul><ul><li>The dynamics of uncontrolled growth eventually results in an overshoot and then a collapse. </li></ul>Growth
  3. 3. <ul><li>To overshoot means to go too far, to grow so large so quickly that limits are exceeded . When an overshoot occurs, it induces stresses that begin to slow and stop growth. </li></ul><ul><li>The cause for overshoot and collapse are always the same </li></ul><ul><li>First, there is growth, acceleration, rapid change. </li></ul><ul><li>Second, the growth drives a depletion of some resource required for the growth or an increase in some resource that harms the growth. </li></ul><ul><li>Third this dynamics causes a contraction, deceleration or decay resulting in a collapse. </li></ul>Overshoot and collapse
  4. 4. Overshoot and Collapse
  5. 5. The Club of Rome was founded in 1968, by Italian industrialist Aurelio Peccei and Scottish scientist Alexander King , as an informal association of independent leading personalities from politics, business and science, men and women who are long-term thinkers interested in contributing in a systemic interdisciplinary and holistic manner to a better world. The Club of Rome members share a common concern for the future of humanity and the planet. Club of Rome
  6. 6. Dennis Meadows Donella Meadows was a systems analyst and adjunct professor of Environmental Studies at Dartmouth College. She wrote the nationally syndicated newspaper column “The Global Citizen.” She died unexpectedly in 2001. has served on the faculties and directed research centers at MIT, Dartmouth College, and the University of New Hampshire. He is President of the Laboratory for Interactive Learning. He lives in Durham, New Hampshire.
  7. 7. <ul><li>Using system dynamics theory and a computer model called “World3,” the book presented and analyzed 12 scenarios that showed different possible patterns—and environmental outcomes—of world development over two centuries from 1900 to 2100. </li></ul><ul><li>Alerted the world to the dangers of dynamics of exponential growth of resource use and waste generation resulting in natural and social limits. </li></ul>
  8. 8. <ul><li>Population and industrial growth are inherently exponential; and that exponential growth takes one to any existing limit quickly, whatever its magnitude . </li></ul><ul><li>Global society will most likely adjust to limits by overshoot and collapse and not by S- shaped growth. However sustainable development is possible, if important changes are made. </li></ul><ul><li>Politics and the market are inherently unsuited to adopt constructive policies that can lead to sustainable development. </li></ul>The Main Ideas of Limits to Growth
  9. 9. Twenty years ago some spoke of limits to growth. But today we now know that growth is the engine of change. Growth is the friend of the environment. President George Bush, 1992 This is my long-term forecast in brief: The material conditions in life will continue to get better for most people in most countries, most of the time, indefinitely. Julian Simon, 1997 In 1972, the Club of Rome published “Limits to Growth” questioning the sustainability of economic and population growth. …None of these developments has even begun to occur.. So the Club of Rome was wrong. ExxonMobile in WSJ , 2002 If Europe ’s economies do not succeed in returning to the path of growth, these (many negative) consequences will even be exacerbated. Alpbach Forum, September 2004 Limits to Growth?
  10. 10. <ul><li>There are no effective limits. </li></ul><ul><li>Perhaps there are limits, but they are far away. </li></ul><ul><li>Perhaps the limits are near, but technology will avoid any problems. </li></ul><ul><li>Technology apparently does not avoid all problems, but markets will allocate the available goods and services satisfactorily. </li></ul><ul><li>Markets do not always work, but it is too late to avoid the overshoot. We must adapt. In any event, DON’T WORRY </li></ul>The Evolution of Denial
  11. 11. <ul><li>The scale of human activities has grown to alter the physical characteristics of the globe. </li></ul><ul><li>World population and industry have continued to grow exponentially, and scenarios for 2000, made in 1972 were accurate. </li></ul><ul><li>The global system has overshot its limits. </li></ul><ul><li>Steady decline has already shown up in the statistics of over 50 countries. </li></ul>The Scene Today
  12. 14. We Live in an Exponential Era Source: Alan Atkisson and Junko Edahiro , Life Beyond Growth , ISIS Academy 2012
  13. 15. The Resource Consumption Scenario <ul><li>Third party data shows exponential consumption of resources as claimed by the Limits to Growth. </li></ul><ul><li>Some resources like water are becoming fast inaccessible and inadequate. </li></ul><ul><li>Some resources like oil have gone past their peak production. </li></ul><ul><li>There is an energy shortfall of 17 - 20 TW. </li></ul><ul><li>Building 1 1000 MW nuclear plant/day for 50 years would give 10 TW, Wind offers 2-4 TW , Solar offers 20, Biomass has 7-10 theoretical maximum. </li></ul><ul><li>In 2002, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN estimated that 75 percent of the world’s oceanic fisheries were fished at or beyond capacity. The North Atlantic cod fishery, fished sustainably for hundreds of years, has collapsed, and the species may have been pushed to biological extinction . </li></ul>
  14. 16. Exponential consumption
  15. 20. The Pollution Scenario <ul><li>Third party data shows exponential increase in pollution as claimed by the Limits to Growth. </li></ul><ul><li>Some pollutants like carbon di-oxide have not be reduced by technology, political or market solutions over the last 20 years. </li></ul><ul><li>Sea level has risen 10–20 cm since 1900. Most non-polar glaciers are retreating, and the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice is decreasing in summer. </li></ul><ul><li>The first global assessment of soil loss, based on studies of hundreds of experts, found that 38 percent, or nearly 1.4 billion acres, of currently used agricultural land has been degraded. </li></ul>
  16. 21. CO 2 Concentration
  17. 22. “ If the present growth trends in world population, industrialization, pollution, food production and resource depletion (physical factors) continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probable result will be a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity . ” Main Conclusion in 1972 Since 1972 there have not been any significant changes in the policies that drive growth in population and industrial production . Now the use of resources and generation of pollution are above sustainable levels. In 1972 the challenge was to slow down ; now the challenge is to get back down . Decline is still the most probable future, and now it is much more likely - but not inevitable. But thirty years have been lost, and the period of declining growth - chosen by us or enforced by the planet - is thus much close r. Main Conclusion in 2004
  18. 23. <ul><li>Waiting to introduce fundamental change reduces the options for humanity’s long-term future </li></ul><ul><li>The world’s goal for industrial goods per capita, even with all the ameliorative technologies , cannot be sustained for the resulting population of more than seven billion. </li></ul><ul><li>A global transition to a sustainable society is probably possible without reductions in either population or industrial output. </li></ul><ul><li>A transition to sustainability will require an active decision to reduce the human ecological footprint. </li></ul><ul><li>There are many trade-offs between the number of people the earth can sustain and the material level at which each person can be supported. </li></ul><ul><li>The longer the world takes to reduce its ecological footprint and move toward sustainability, the lower the population and material standard that will be ultimately supportable. </li></ul><ul><li>The higher the targets for population and material standard of living are set, the greater the risk of exceeding and eroding its limits. </li></ul>General Conclusions
  19. 24. Technology is not the Solution <ul><li>Energy expansion has been no more than 2% per anum. </li></ul><ul><li>World GDP has also matched the energy growth. </li></ul><ul><li>Technology requires energy. Rapid replacement of existing capital with alternate energy or energy efficient capital drives limited energy away from other requirements of the economy, limiting the rate at which this is practicable. </li></ul><ul><li>GDP Growth rates of various countries reflect their ability to control resources (through wars, ownership or trade) and (failure to) offset the impact of pollution. </li></ul><ul><li>Fifty-four nations experienced declines in per capita GDP for more than a decade during the period 1990–2001. </li></ul>
  20. 25. Energy production refers to forms of primary energy--petroleum (crude oil, natural gas liquids, and oil from nonconventional sources), natural gas, solid fuels (coal, lignite, and other derived fuels), and combustible renewables and waste--and primary electricity, all converted into oil equivalents. International Energy Agency (IEA Statistics © OECD/IEA, Energy production (kt of oil equivalent)
  21. 26. GDP at purchaser's prices is the sum of gross value added by all resident producers in the economy plus any product taxes and minus any subsidies not included in the value of the products. It is calculated without making deductions for depreciation of fabricated assets or for depletion and degradation of natural resources. Data are in constant 2000 U.S. dollars. Dollar figures for GDP are converted from domestic currencies using 2000 official exchange rates. For a few countries where the official exchange rate does not reflect the rate effectively applied to actual foreign exchange transactions, an alternative conversion factor is used. World Bank national accounts data, and OECD National Accounts data files. GDP (constant 2000 US$)
  22. 27. GDP Growth 2000-2010 Annual percentage growth rate of GDP at market prices based on constant local currency. Aggregates are based on constant 2000 U.S. dollars. GDP is the sum of gross value added by all resident producers in the economy plus any product taxes and minus any subsidies not included in the value of the products. It is calculated without making deductions for depreciation of fabricated assets or for depletion and degradation of natural resources. World Bank national accounts data, and OECD National Accounts data files.
  23. 28. Politics and Markets are not the Solution <ul><li>Failure to build informational, social, and institutional mechanisms to keep in check the positive feedback loops that cause exponential population. </li></ul><ul><li>Mounting debt and paper “wealth” drive politics and markets. </li></ul><ul><li>The richest one- fifth of the world’s population has 85 percent of the global GNP. In 1998 more than 45 percent of the globe’s people had to live on incomes averaging $2 a day or less. And the gap between rich and poor is widening. </li></ul>
  24. 31. <ul><li>Deterioration in renewable resources - surface and ground water, forests, fisheries, agricultural land. </li></ul><ul><li>Rising levels of pollution. </li></ul><ul><li>Growing demands for capital, resources, and labor by military and industry to secure, process, and defend resources. </li></ul><ul><li>Investment in human resources (education, shelter, health care) postponed in order to provide immediate consumption and security demands. </li></ul><ul><li>Rising debt; eroding goals for health and environment. </li></ul><ul><li>Growing instability in natural ecosystems. </li></ul><ul><li>Growing gap between rich and poor - between the powerful and the weak. </li></ul><ul><li>Meadows, et. al. pp 176-177. </li></ul>Some Indicators of Overshoot
  25. 32. Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about. World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity signed by more than 1,600 scientists, including 102 Nobel laureates, from 70 countries, 1992 Some Indicators of Overshoot
  26. 33. <ul><li>Only a society that has in place informational, social, and institutional mechanisms to keep in check the positive feedback loops that cause exponential population and capital growth may become sustainable. </li></ul><ul><li>Sustainability does not mean zero growth. </li></ul><ul><li>A sustainable society must provide sufficiency and security for all. </li></ul><ul><li>Rules for sustainability would be put into place not to destroy freedoms, but to create freedoms or protect them. </li></ul>The Sustainable Society
  27. 34. <ul><li>Informational, Social, and Institutional Mechanisms </li></ul><ul><li>Improve the signals. Develop and promote non-economic indicators of success, consistent with the need to reduce physical flows. </li></ul><ul><li>Speed up response time. Look actively for signals that indicate stress in the environment or society. Decide in advance what to do if problems appear. </li></ul><ul><li>Prefer negotiation and compromise over violence and force. </li></ul><ul><li>Manage Resources </li></ul><ul><li>Minimize the use of nonrenewable resources. </li></ul><ul><li>Prevent the erosion of renewable resources. </li></ul><ul><li>Use all resources with maximum efficiency. </li></ul><ul><li>Honor natural systems because of their inherent importance and rights, not because they generate market returns. </li></ul><ul><li>Manage Growth </li></ul><ul><li>Slow and eventually stop exponential growth of population and physical capital. </li></ul><ul><li>Rely on precaution rather than correction. </li></ul>Suggested Guidelines
  28. 35. <ul><li>Extend the planning horizon. Choose from options based on their long-term costs and benefits. </li></ul><ul><li>Take responsibility for others far away in time and space; adopt collective rather than self-centered goals. </li></ul><ul><li>Realize that change comes through complex inter-connections, not simple cause and effect. Educate for systems thinking. </li></ul>Perspectives