Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Meadows at the Smithsonian

Well its all right
we're going to the end of the line
       -Travelling Willburys

Everybody talks about how badly they were shocked
Me. I expected it to happen,
I knew he'd lost control
       -Bob Dylan 


      In 2012, there was a  colloquium celebrating the 40th anniversary of the release of Limits to a Growth.  The videos were apparently released in 2014, but I just stumbled upon them.   It includes speeches by a Meadows, and Randers, two of the authors as well as a few others.   It  is worth watching, even at this late date.. Meadows speech is here   Slides here
      At one point Meadows distinguishes between technological solutions and social ones.  He points out that we are willing to make changes in our technology by making machines more efficient, or less carbon producing.  But we are unwilling to make the social changes - i.e. population, and lifestyle.  he suggests that the technological changes will be swamped by the continued population and wealth growth.  (see also. Heinberg Only Less Will Do)

    ( See also Ugo Bardi's recent post comparing the climate problem with the problem of world hunger - the hunger problem has been addressed by technological means - turning fossil files into food - which is only a temporary "solution"  and one which leads to a bigger problem later.  Similarly the "solution" to climate change is likely to be technical - geoengineering  - e.g. screening the sun -  without addressing CO2 -  See "How to make a problem bigger"
       Meadows notes that in 1972, the world was not yet in Overshoot, according to the ecological footprint analysis.  Thus, we needed merely to slow down, in order to achieve a sustainable arrangement with the biosphere.  However,by  now, we have thoroughly overshot our long term carrying capacity, and in the process have damaged that capacity, so that as we return to an equilibrium, we will experience a serious decline.   A collapse.  

     Randers is somewhat more optimistic.  He believes, for instance that we could still address climate change through technical means.  He suggest building lots of wind farms in the midwest and lots of electric cars.  But he's not as optimistic about actually doing that.  He suggests that action is impossible in a capitalistic democracy.  He suggests a benign dictatorship, a suggest that our only hope is the Chinese communist party!

         One way to look at the Limits model is in terms of inputs and outputs.  Inputs are the various resources, and outputs would be the various pollutants are their ramifications.   The trends continue to grow until there is some feedback.   The feedback runs through agricultural production to human population.   One of Meadow's slides shows the original BAU curves, to which he adds dates.  2012 appears to be very near the inflection point of the curve for per capita food production.    So perhaps that is a good indicator to watch.   Arguably it could be affected by a resource problems - oil, or water.  Or by pollution - climate change caused drought or floods.  However, this has not yet occurred.  The FAO shows per capita food production continuing to rise.   Food production needs to grow by 60+%, by 2050.   

    Of note:  One of Meadows slides refers to a report by the Netherlands Assessment Agency, called "Growing Within Limits.  It was  issued in 2009 which he shows that we remain on the BAU path projected by the Limits in 1972.    It cites a 2008 study, as follows

"...the ‘standard’ scenario(without policy changes) in the publication showed global collapse in the middle of
the 21st century. Almost four decades since the publication of Limits to Growth in 1972,
Turner (2008) compared the historic trends with the original projections.
This comparison showed the ‘standard’ scenario to be very close to the actual trends
for many variables, such as total population levels, birth and death rates, industrial
output, and per-capita food consumption. For more complicated indices, such as
resource depletion and persistent pollution, the results were more difficult to check.

Using data on energy resources and CO2 concentration for comparison, Turner concluded
that, also for these variables, the Limits to Growth projections reflected past
trends reasonable well. For instance, the report indicated an increase in global CO2
concentrations, from 320 ppm in 1970 to 380 ppm in 2000; in reality the concentration
in 2000 was 369 ppm. In contrast, alternative scenarios presented in Limits to Growth
showed emission projections that lie below the actually observed trend."

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