A comparison of The Limits to Growth with 30 years of reality
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The journal Global Environmental change has just published a paper reporting
on an assessment of the projections of the book 'Limits to Growth'.
A comparison of The Limits to Growth with 30 years of reality
by Graham M. Turner of CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, GPO Box 284,
Canberra City, ACT 2601, Australia
In 1972, the Club of Rome's infamous report "The Limits to
Growth" [Meadows, D.H., Meadows, D.L., Randers, J., Behrens_III, W. W.
(1972). The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome's Project
on the Predicament of Mankind. Universe Books, New York] presented
some challenging scenarios for global sustainability, based on a
system dynamics computer model to simulate the interactions of five
global economic subsystems, namely: population, food production,
industrial production, pollution, and consumption of non-renewable
natural resources. Contrary to popular belief, The Limits to Growth
scenarios by the team of analysts from the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology did not predict world collapse by the end of the 20th
century. This paper focuses on a comparison of recently collated
historical data for 1970-2000 with scenarios presented in the Limits
to Growth. The analysis shows that 30 years of historical data compare
favorably with key features of a business-as-usual scenario called the
"standard run" scenario, which results in collapse of the global
system midway through the 21st century. The data do not compare well
with other scenarios involving comprehensive use of technology or
stabilizing behaviour and policies. The results indicate the
particular importance of understanding and controlling global pollution.
The paper concludes:
Appropriate and publicly available global data covering 1970-2000 have
been collected on the five main sub-systems simulated by the Limits to
Growth World3 model: population, food production, industrial
production, pollution, and consumption of non-renewable resources. In
the style of predictive validation, these data have been compared with
three key scenarios from the original LtG publication (Meadows et al.,
1972). This comparison provides a relatively rare opportunity to
evaluate the output of a global model against observed and independent
data. Given the high profile of the LtG and the implications of their
findings, it is surprising that such a comparison has not been made
previously. This may be due to the effectiveness of the many false
criticisms attempting to discredit the LtG.
As shown, the observed historical data for 1970-2000 most closely
match the simulated results of the LtG "standard run" scenario for
almost all the outputs reported; this scenario results in global
collapse before the middle of this century. The comparison is well
within uncertainty bounds of nearly all the data in terms of both
magnitude and the trends over time. Given the complexity of numerous
feedbacks between sectors incorporated in the LtG World3 model, it is
instructive that the historical data compare so favorably with the
By comparison, the "comprehensive technology" scenario is overly
optimistic in growth rates of factors such as food, industrial output
and services per capita, and global persistent pollution. Similarly,
significant departures in the trajectory of key factors such as
population, food and services per capita, and global persistent
pollution are evident between the data and the "stabilized world"
Global pollution has an important role in the LtG modeling, the
scenario outcomes, and in this data comparison. Fortunately,
uncertainty about the relationship between the level of pollution and
ultimate impacts on ecological systems and human health is
diminishing, particularly regarding greenhouse gases and climate
In addition to the data-based corroboration presented here,
contemporary issues such as peak oil, climate change, and food and
water security resonate strongly with the feedback dynamics of
"overshoot and collapse" displayed in the LtG "standard run" scenario
(and similar scenarios). Unless the LtG is invalidated by other
scientific research, the data comparison presented here lends support
to the conclusion from the LtG that the global system is on an
unsustainable trajectory unless there is substantial and rapid
reduction in consumptive behaviour, in combination with technological
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Phil Henshaw 5 September 2008
Financial Times FT.com:
Reliance on Russian gas will persist
By Ed Crooks, Energy Editor
Published: September 4 2008 20:27 | Last updated: September 4 2008 20:27
The American and British governments have this week been holding out hopes of the European Union curbing its reliance on Russian gas.
Dick Cheney, the US vice-president, and Gordon Brown, Britain’s prime minister, have stressed the importance of alternative energy supply routes following Russia’s clash with Georgia last month.
Gas industry experts, however, believe hopes of making a significant difference to the EU’s need for Russian gas are likely to be in vain.
As Simon Blakey of Cambridge Energy Research Associates (Cera), the research company, says: “The scale of the inter-dependence is so huge it is really not possible to make a major difference to it even over the space of two decades.”
US concern about western Europe’s dependence on Russia for energy supplies dates back to the cold war.
In 1982, following the crackdown on the Solidarity movement in Poland, Ronald Reagan’s administration tried to stop the Soviet Un-ion increasing its gas exports to Europe.
Worried that Europe’s reliance on Russian energy would make it ever more susceptible to Soviet influence, the US blocked exports of equipment for gas production and transport to the Soviet Union and tried to limit west European countries’ purchases of Russian gas to 30 per cent of their consumption.
Today, the European Union buys about a quarter of its gas from Russia, but that proportion is set to grow. It is likely that the old 30 per cent limit will be exceeded in the next decade.
Demand for gas in Europe is likely to rise for another decade, at least. Old nuclear and coal-fired power stations will be going out of use as they end their productive lives. Gas-fired plants are the quickest and cheapest ways to replace them.
The EU’s emissions trading scheme, which will reward power generators that have lower carbon emissions, will also favour cleaner, gas-fired generation in the next decade.
EU countries have agreed demanding targets for increasing the proportion of their energy that is derived from renewable sources to 20 per cent by 2020.
But even if that policy succeeds, which many experts doubt, and there is substantial fresh investment in nuclear power, gas demand then will be about the same as it is now, according to Cera.
Europe’s domestic gas production, meanwhile, is in steep decline. By 2020, it is likely to be only about half of 2006’s output of 218bn cubic metres, Cera believes.
Russia, with the world’s biggest gas reserves on the EU’s doorstep, is the obvious place to look to fill that gap.
There are alternatives, but all of them have their difficulties. Several European countries have been building new terminals for the import of liquefied natural gas: super-cooled gas carried in tankers. But strong Asian demand and delays in big LNG developments have created a very tight market and pushed up prices.
Frank Harris of Wood Mackenzie, another research company, said: “The ability of Europe to diversify away from Russian gas with LNG is strictly limited in the short to medium term.”
Long term, after 2015 or so, there is potential for more imports of LNG to come from countries such as Nigeria, Egypt and Libya.
But in many countries with large gas reserves, their willingness or ability to export is curtailed by strong growth in their domestic demand. Nordine Cherouati, the director of Algeria’s hydrocarbons agency, told a conference in Slovenia this week: “We cannot export gas while the needs of the domestic population are unmet.”
Other countries supply the EU with gas through pipelines, most notably Norway and Algeria. The EU has high hopes for the proposed Nabucco pipeline to bring gas from the Caspian region to Austria and the rest of Europe. Algeria hopes to build a pipeline for gas from Nigeria. But all these countries are subject to the same problems of competing demand for limited resources.
As is widely appreciated in continental Europe, the EU cannot simply cut itself off from Russian gas, or even reduce demand.
At the same conference in Slovenia, Rüdiger Freiherr von Fritsch, the German foreign office’s director-general of economic affairs, stressed the “mutual dependence” of Russia and the EU.
Geography and economics dictate that the EU is dependent on Russia for gas, whether politicians like it or not.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008
Transcipt for educational purposes only