In ‘2052 – A Global Forecast for the next 40 years‘, Jorgen Randers draws on his own experience in the sustainability area, global forecasting tools, and the predictions – included in the book – of more than thirty leading scientists, economists, futurists, and other thinkers to guide us through the future he feels is most likely to emerge.
From a half century of progressive enlightenment and increasing well-being we are moving to a new Dark Age of hard times for the many and inordinate privilege and wealth for the few. Upward social mobility was a general phenomenon from after 1945 until about 1990. In one and two generations, families moved from being poor or working class to middle class and upper middle class. In the United States, reindustrialization, economic growth, broad university access, labor union–negotiated benefits, Medicare, Medicaid, and health insurance did the trick.
In western Europe, their equivalents in social democratic economies and European Union (EU) policies resulted in well-functioning welfare states providing a better life with expanding opportunities for urban workers, farmers, artisans, and small businessowners. Working hours shortened and vacations lengthened while purchasing power increased and healthy, youthful pensioners came to see retirement as a “golden age.” Read more
In 2011, the world witnessed yet another convulsion of global markets due to US debt concerns and the unraveling of European economies. Decades of mismanagement and denial were rooted in a misplaced belief that a consumption-led growth model underpinned by excessive borrowing would deliver prosperity for all and forever.
The turmoil in 2011 and the financial crisis of 2008 had their origins in the almost religious belief of the West in free markets that has gone on to dominate global financial markets for the past three decades. This long-held belief that markets, technology, and finance, coupled with democracy, can offer everyone every freedom and solve all the problems of the world needs to be reconsidered, to say the very least. Read more
Historians writing in 2052 will remark on three distinctive features of the first half of the twenty-first century. The first will be in relation to the physical environment. They will note, with all the wisdom that hindsight and modern sensing and measurement technology offer, that profound changes occurred in the earth’s biophysical systems over the previous four to five decades.
These will include changes in the chemistry of the planet’s atmosphere and weather systems; in the diversity and regenerative capacity of terrestrial, freshwater, and marine systems; and in the quantity and quality of natural capital, both nonrenewable and renewable. The combined consequence of these developments, they will note, had not only resulted in the greatest reduction the planet’s capacity to provide ecosystem services since Homo sapiens began spreading out of Africa, but also precipitated a new era of climatic instability characterized by increased warming. Read more
The next forty years will rank as one of the most crucial periods in the development of human civilization. The massive changes taking place will influence all people and countries, but there will be regional variations.
The Western world will see the most fundamental changes, and there will be one particular decade—the 2020s—that will carry the same monumental importance as the year 1848 did for the citizens of many European countries. That was the year that several centuries of struggle between the people and the ruling feudal class culminated in revolution. Suddenly Europeans had entered a new era. Read more
There are a number of analytical computer-based tools for projecting the outcomes of different assumptions concerning climate gas emissions during the rest of this century. To bring some order to the plethora of forecasts, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2000 established a set of six standard scenarios for global socioeconomic-technological development to 2100.
IPCC uses these scenarios to estimate the future climate gas emissions in each scenario and provide assessment reports that reflect the current knowledge about the resulting climate change in each scenario. The latest assessment, published in 2007, concluded that the global average surface temperature is most likely to increase by 2.5°C by 2100 in the scenario with the lowest emissions (“B1”) and by 4.8°C in scenario with the highest emissions (“A1FI”)—all relative to the temperature in preindustrial times. The temperature increase by 2050 was estimated to be between 1.8°C and 2.2 °C. The current temperature is 0.7oC higher than in preindustrial times.Read more
Will humanity come to its senses and deliberately slow economic growth in order to save the planet? I think not, but I do think there will be a shift in the composition of future economic activity, so it becomes less damaging to values that are currently not priced in the marketplace.
Forty years ago when I read The Limits to Growth I already believed that growth in total resource use (population times per capita resource use) would stop within the next forty years. The modeling analysis of the Limits team was a strong confirmation of that commonsense belief, based on principles going back at least to Malthus and earlier classical economists. Read more
Historically, economic growth has increased both consumption levels and the loads on the environment. The question now is whether consumption growth can continue while we reduce the human ecological footprint. And, especially, while we dramatically curtail climate gas emissions.
Today, in the framework of sustainable development, some argue that continued growth in GDP may be compatible with avoiding an environmental disaster. A recent example of this rather optimistic way of thinking appears in a report from the OECD. A green growth strategy is centered on mutually reinforcing aspects of economic and environmental policies. It takes into account the full value of natural capital as a factor of production and its role in growth. Read more
In 2012, the prospect for renewable energy looked gloomier than it did a year ago. Particularly in Europe, the financial crisis has led to radical cuts in incentives and targets for renewables.
In the United States, and other markets, electricity prices are stagnating or even declining, not least due to abundant supply from the newborn shale-gas industry. The prospects for a global climate deal that could trigger the required investments in green energy seem depressingly far away. It is not surprising, therefore, that shares in clean-tech companies have dropped more than in any other industry sector over the last eighteen months. Read more
In 2052, only two countries, France and China, will be generating any electricity from nuclear energy at all—and both will have decided to get out of nuclear altogether by 2065. I suspect there are few people who subscribe to such a view today. Despite the Fukushima reactor disaster in spring 2011, the prevailing mood in many countries in autumn 2011 remained broadly supportive of some kind of nuclear renaissance.
However, even before Fukushima, this renaissance was not quite all it was made out to be. As energy expert Amory Lovins points out, “There are now 61 nuclear plants ‘officially’ under construction. However, of those 61 units, 12 have been ‘under construction’ for over 20 years; 43 have no official start-up date; half are late; 45 are in four centrally planned and untransparent power systems, and not one was a genuinely free-market transaction.” Read more