Forty years ago, in 1972, ‘The Limits to Growth’ appeared –and shocked the world. What has been learned since then and what is to be expected for the next forty years from now – 2052?
Forty years ago, in 1972, Jorgen Randers – under the leadership of Dennis L. Meadows and with the authorship of Donella H. Meadows – produced of what became the infamous little book called The Limits to Growth. This book shocked the prevailing belief in progress – and hence became a global bestseller. It was followed – in 1992 and 2004 – by two methodologically refined and statistically updated versions which, however, did not attract the same attention – the public already was adjusted to dramatic news and various overshoots.
Interestingly enough, these authors did not make a forecast, they did not try to tell what would actually happen over the coming 21st century. Instead they made a scenario analysis, producing 12 internally consistent scenarios with which they tried to say something about the likely results of various sets of policies. For this analysis they used a complex global computer model (World3 – World3-03) to get ideas about what might happen if certain decisions or non-decisions were taken.
The main conclusion from these studies in the early 1970s and later was that without major, structural changes in the economy and society, humanity is poised to grow dangerously beyond the physical limits of planet Earth. A conclusion, based on the empiric observation that it takes time to solve pressing issues, time to seriously identify a problem, time to accept that it is real, and time to implement adequate policies and new solutions. Overshoot thus became the main global warning signal.
The Limits to Growth defined the conceptual tools for an enlightened political debate, but that debate never really took place. When for more than 40 years the warning signal was not taken seriously, what then can be expected for the next 40 years (thus the title of the book: ”2052”). And can a new book contribute to an enlightened debate?
Jorgen Randers does not present another scenario analysis, he does something quite different. With a little (or the great?) help of new friends, he makes a forecast of what will happen over the next forty years. He calls it an educated guess, a well-informed judgment – on the basis of four elements: two dynamic global computer models (www.2052.info), the thorough analysis of globally relevant trends, the inclusion of expert opinions on the global future (i. e., 35 fascinating glimpses by global thinkers), and the serious challenge of the ‘prevailing reality principle’ (Herbert Marcuse), the dominant growth paradigm.
Four central issues that involve system change find Randers special interest: the future of capitalism, of democracy, of generational harmony, and of climate stability. His view on the year 2052 is focused on population, consumption, energy, CO2 emissions, food, ecological footprint, non-material world, and (!) on the Zeitgeist.
The results of the forecast for 2052 are diverse and quite dramatic. In contrast to the United Nations, Randers sees the peak of world population already at 8,1 billion, not 9,5 billion. So far the good news. The other main parameters look quite different. While the growth of the global economy will stagnate, the struggle on resources will escalate. The load on the natural ecosystems will get heavier and the emissions will increase, leading to dangerous climate change (plus 2° C). The Zeitgeist of 2052 looks more promising: with more focus on local solutions, less fixation on economic growth, with a stronger role for wise government, and more collective creativity – a huge global web of inspired individuals.
The analytical part of the book contains, as could well be expected, graphical presentations of the main global parameters and, in addition, five regional futures: the United States with a loss of importance but a bright solar future, China, the new global hegemon, the OECD-countries and BRISE, the new expanding nations, and the Rest of the world, all with different, but none with really calming dynamics.
Randers protects his own forecast by comparing the results of his study with other futures – and by passing over the match-ball to his readers (and possible critics): what global society ideally should have done and needs to do in the future, and 20 pieces of personal advice (‘What should you do’).
“Learn to live with the impending disaster without losing hope” – with this device Jorgen Randers view on the year 2052 ends (p. 351). His closing words carry an even more personal touch: “Please help make my forecast wrong. Together we could create a much better world” (p. 353).