Britain Realises Limits 40 Years Too Late

We don't need more reports

I find it amazing and tragic how organisations and governments keep issuing reports that confirm the dire situation humanity is in with regards to depleting resources, climate change and economic contraction. Latest is a report Limits Revisited: a review of the limits to growth debate commissioned on behalf of British MPs written by Tim Jackson (author of Prosperity without Growth, 2009) that concludes we are headed for “an eventual collapse of production and living standards” in the next few decades, given business-as-usual. 

The report makes for some interesting reading and refers to some very important studies but offers nothing new in terms of scientific insight. It simply restates what previous studies have already confirmed, the global economy is running into resource limits. Going forward we should not expect resource fuelled economic growth but rather contraction.

As for climate change, we are pretty much doomed to failure, for a 66% chance of avoiding 1.5°C warming (the “safe limit”) the world only has 6 years to decarbonise the entire economy. That seems impossible given that fossil fuels cover 80% of global energy consumption and it takes many decades to replace all the current infrastructure.

40 years of inaction

It has been more than 40 years since the Club of Rome presented the Limits to Growth report but absolutely nothing has been done to steer society onto a new “greener” path. Resource depletion and emissions have continued unabated. 

Living sustainably is now impossible and instead we have to focus on bolstering our resilience to coming shocks and disturbances. While I do think we should do everything in our power (e.g. limit the destruction of ecosystems, transition from fossil fuels to renewables, go from global to local economies) to change the way we live on this planet we also have to realise that many so called “solutions” are no longer viable because we waited too long. 

We could have stabilised our population at 3.84 billion in 1972, leaving more space for ecosystems and a larger per capita share of resources for people. We could have replaced much of the infrastructure needed to make a transition to alternative fuel sources by now. But we didn’t do those things. Now, instead, nature is forcing us to live within the planet's limits through the usual mechanisms (e.g. epidemics, starvation, drought). 

The war torn Middle East (e.g. Syria, Iraq, Yemen) is a clear case of overpopulation, depleting resources (freshwater, oil) interacting with climate change (megadrought) and conflict over the remaining resources. These states were fragile to begin with (e.g. high inequality, lack of trust, lack of infrastructure) so even small perturbations were enough to push them over the edge. 

But even countries with a higher degree of resilience from the outset have started crumbling under the pressure of entropy in form of deflation (e.g. Greece, Italy, Japan). The downward trend is global. The collapse process, i.e. reduction in socioeconomic complexity, is already underway.


Out of the ashes into the fire

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