This is written by my good friend Jorgen Randers, one of the original authors of the MIT’s “Limits to Growth” blockbuster back in 1972. So, forty years on, looking forward to the next forty years.
It provides an extraordinarily comprehensive survey of every aspect of sustainable development – economic, social, environmental and political – that you can imagine. It’s particularly strong on the economic stuff, as befits a systems modeller and life-long commentator on what he (still) sees as an all but irreconcilable disconnect between the overall shape and astonishing dynamism of consumer-driven capitalism, and the need to create wealth and improve human wellbeing within the Earth’s bio-physical limits.
So it doesn’t make for particularly cheery reading! Especially as he has come to the conclusion that we won’t achieve that reconciliation until the damage done to society reaches such intensely painful dimensions that our politicians have no option but to move.
Interestingly, there is one area in which he is very bullish: in his prediction that the human population will reach its peak upper level of 8.1 billion by the 2040s – primarily because of the impact of continuing urbanisation on peoples’ readiness to have children.
I don’t know of any demographer who would see this as anything other than wild optimism, given that we’ve already crossed the 7 billion barrier, but it was good to see! The great thing is that Jorgen is splendidly assertive about his predictions.
Unlike the original “Limits to Growth”, “2052” is not made up of the choice of scenarios; it’s a firm forecast with just one set of predictions – take them or leave them! And I should in all fairness point out that this is not for the faint hearted! It’s long, densely argued, with only the occasional outbreak of Norwegian irony.
That’s why Jorgen very astutely asked a lot of his good mates to contribute short “glimpses” as to something they believe will have happened by 2052. (I was one of those – and took a particular pleasure in predicting that the nuclear industry will be finally dead and buried by 2052 – with just a handful of reactors still operating in China and France!).
There’s so much good stuff in “2052” that I couldn’t begin to do justice to it – including a final section on “What Should You Do?”. Indeed, the final headline of all sums it up: “Learn to live with impending disaster without losing hope”.
“Don’t let the prospect of impending disaster crush your spirits. Don’t let the prospect of a sub-optimal long-term future kill your hope. Hope for the unlikely! Work for the unlikely! Remember, too, that even if we do not succeed in our fight for a better world, there will still be a future world.
And there will still be a world with a future – just less beautiful and less harmonious than it could have been.” Two other books warrant a quick mention – both highly relevant to the “2052” analysis.
The admirable Dambisa Moyo (who first shot to fame by writing an elegant and compelling critique of Western aid) has been tracking the growth of China (and its impact on the global economy) over a number of years. Her new book (“Winner Take All”) provides chapter and verse on China’s strategic approach to securing access to all those commodities on which its economy depends – iron ore, precious metals, food, timber, energy and so on. It’s a pretty devastating read.
With 1.3 billion people and not a lot of land, China got used to long-term strategic planning a long time ago. Fifteen years of breakneck double-digit growth has made its current resource squeeze all the more painful. And what emerges, through Dambisa Moyo’s analysis, is that China doesn’t really think like any other nation – it thinks like a civilisation intent on securing its national interests over centuries rather than the next few decades.
Which makes Fred Pearce’s “Land Grabbers” all the more fascinating. Fred has been researching “The Fight Over Who Owns The Earth” (the book’s subtitle) for the last couple of years, and has gathered together the data on both land acquisition and mega- leasehold arrangements, not just in Africa, but in South America and elsewhere.
China’s grabbing more land than anyone else, but the United Arab Emirates are not far behind, and big global multinationals are getting in on the act too. Bottom line: the land is shifting under our feet, both literally and metaphorically, and most Western politicians are still largely blind to what’s actually going on out there.