2012-10-23 The Limits to Growth.docx

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Western University
Political Science
Political Science 2137
Cameron Harrington

The Limits to Growth October 23, 2012 “The power of the population is so superior to the power of the Earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature deaths must in some shape or other visit the human race.” – Malthus, 1798 “If the present growth trends…continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime in the next 100 years.” - The Club of Rome, think tank, 1972 -Malthus: population would grow to the point where the Earth can sustain anymore -there must be pre-mature deaths -1972 Club of Rome: we are on sustainable trajectory on our planet that eventually, something has to give -Earth cannot sustain anymore Limits to Growth - Scenarios The Limits to Growth ran computer models to forecast future scenarios: “Business as usual” scenario “Comprehensive technology” scenario Result: Collapse ≈ middle 21 century Result: Collapse ≈ third q, 21 century -Earth’s resources are finite (non-renewable) -growth forever is impossible if resources are finite -eventually, you’ll run out of resources that you depend upon -current economic system is not sustainable on an environmental level -rapidly unraveling -environmental and social breakdowns -government haven’t taken steps/failed to tackle root causes because their root causes are tied up in the economic system -Western capital economic system -they see unrestrained economic growth as suitable way for growth and progress -our notion of progress leads us to a dead end in this century -early 1970slarge scale project: create scenarios for the future -use 5 main subsistence (population, food production, industrial production, pollution, and consumption of nonrenewable resources) -they ran these models and tried to forecast -”Business as usual” or “standard run” scenario -represents business as usual situation where all of the parameters and trends that had been occurring, if it continued into next century, then this is what will happen -things would be exponentially growing st -we would reach in the apex in early 21 century -reach highest we could before eventual decline and then collapse -resources would diminish, pollution would increase exponentially, growth would slow down, material wealth diminished st -combination of these things predict that early 21 century will collapse “Comprehensive technology” -things change, we evolve and advance -CT: take into account the technological solutions for sustainability -tried to model new ways we can come up with resources and extract resources or modify them -levels of resources effectively limited -pollution would decrease 20% as to what happened in 1970 -double agriculture land yield -highly optimistic model -even still, it delast the inevitable -instead of mid-21 century collapse, it would happen in 2013 January -outcome is same -pessimistic outlook for future Limits to Growth - Scenarios “Stabilized world” scenario Result: sustainable future -model that they wanted to see -seen as necessary for world to exist in the long run -population increases but stabilized -birth control for everyone -two children maximum -increasing lifetime of industrial revolution -peak oil -the point where oil is most profitable when extracted -somewhere in the not too distant future, it’ll be difficult for us to overcome problems we started -feedback loops -collapse: dependent upon positive feedback -when one sector starts to collapse, it will build pressure on other systems -perpetuate a vicious cycle -accelerates the process -difficult to stop if started, no matter what technological skill you have -biofuels -unforeseen consequences: biofuel grown and displacing crops that extreme weather conditions… -water scarcity -people say we can use water from sea or ocean (highly carbonated source) -no easy solution -salinization: increases salt level in water -most scientists: comprehensive technology too optimistic, we haven’t totally stabilized population, haven’t reduced pollution by 25% to what it was before The Club of Rome - 1972 • The Club of Rome was formed in 1968 • Informal association of global thinkers • Presented their findings in 1972 and published “The Limits to Growth” that year • Part of wave of environmental alarm in 1960s and 1970s • Still active today -evening in late March in 1972group of scientists and policy makerswatched presentation by researchers in MIT called “Beyond the Limits to Growth” -alarmed audience by central message of new book -”if present growth trends in world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next 100 years” -we would be screwed if we don’t do anything -watershed moment in environmental politics -it is possible to alter growth trends -we can change runaway collapse/inevitable collapse that we can create a condition of ecological and economic stability -we can have ecological stability and continued wealth; we can have it sustainable in near future -if we want second scenario, we have to work on it today…not tomorrow, not next decade -becomes more difficult the more you delay -once you make commitment and live sustainablymust be done earliest possible point -this is what ignited controversy of limits to growth -first time a group of scientists have made computer models and came up with dire conclusion -environmental activism The Club of Rome – The Effects • Helped push world leaders to address long-term demographic, environmental, and resource issues • Pres. Carter commissioned The Global 2000 Report to the President “Environmental, resource, and population stresses are intensifying and will increasingly determine the quality of human life on our planet…At the same time, the Earth’s carrying capacity—the ability of biological systems to provide resources for human needs—is eroding.” – The Global 2000 Report -proclamations of coming anarchy/limits to growth document: also compounded by energy crisis that occurred around the same time as the book was published -price of oil began to shoot up -mid to late 1970s: then President Jimmy Carter start working with federal agencies and start to th look at probable changes in population, natural resources, and environment until end of 20 century -mimicked the limits to growth study via government commissioned study -wave of environmental literature (Silent Springs by Rachel Carson, Population Bomb in 1968 by Paul Ehrlich, etc.) -Carter was the first to commission a government body to look at what they should do going forward in the future -produced document called “Global 2000 Report” -concluded that “If present trends continue, the world in 2000 will be more crowded, more polluted, less stable economically, and more vulnerable to disruption than the world we live in now.” -echoing same trends that the limits of growth talked about -Global 2000 Report identified population growth, urbanization, deforestation, water shortages, energy problems, pollution, species diversity problems, climate change, etc.leading problems -echoed this sentiment in a letter to President Carter, saying that “environmental resource and population stress are intensifying and will increasingly determine the quality of human life on our planet. These stresses are already severe enough to deny many people basic needs for food, shelter, health, and jobs, or any hope for betterment.At the same time, the earth's carrying capacity -- the ability of biological systems to provide resources for human needs is--eroding.” -quote: repeating what limits to growth said -echoing points of negative impacts -the more we degrade the earth, the more likely it will collapse The Club of Rome – The Reaction -Strong pushback from “optimists” or “cornucopian” thinkers – Simon, Lomborg, etc -If present trends continue, the world in 2000 will be less crowded (though more populated), less polluted, more stable ecologically, and less vulnerable to resource-supply disruptions than the world we live in now. Stresses involving population, resources, and environment will be less in the future than now.” – Simon and Kahn, The Resourceful Earth, 1984 -Limits to Growth and 2000 report: provoked a strong reaction from critics that didn’t buy in the “pessimism” -Club of Rome seen as pessimist (e.g. “sky is falling” attitude) -people “optimist” (or cornucopian): these people were arguing that our world is going to be much more different than limits to growth -technological innovation will keep resources abundant well, well into the future -no matter if our demands increase, resources will always be there -environmental conditions already improving and it’s only going to get better -human ingenuity will solve the environmental problem -Julian Simon and Herman Khan wrote book called The Resourceful Earth -scientists diametrically opposed to the conclusions of limits to growth side -this back and forth debate continued; hasn’t stopped for the next 3 or 4 decades -Danish statistician Lomborg: adding fuel to this controversy by talking about the trend that is much more benign, much more abundant, much more able to mitigate our effects -40 years since Limits to Growth has been published -startled the complacent population into action -30 years since Global 2000 Report to Carter -useful for us in 2012 to revisit these projections and examine these issues to the predicaments today -how accurate are these reports?Are they really as dire as they projected to be in 1992? -Simon and Khan and others on to something? Maybe Earth is way more resilient and human ingenuity will always be the key? -precautionary principle: it’s better to be safe than sorry -this debate has been intensified in the past decade: limits to growth has moved into the climate change discussion -limits of growth changed from focus on population pressure and resource depletion to the effects of climate change Limits to Growth  “Big bang” effects on the world of environmental politics.  Demonstrated the central contradiction of our time Five Factors central to LtG models: 1. Population growth 2. Agricultural production 3. Nonrenewable resource depletion 4. Industrial output 5. Pollution generation What is the contributing factor? -limits to growth had a big-bang effect on environmental studies, business, economics -overnight, the central contradiction between finite earth and economic model dependent on growth unrestrained growth and finite Earth do not fit together -5 things that would compound and act leaders to eventually cause huge destruction in the world -somewhere in the next 30 years in the world according to model -contributing factor: human economic activity -economic system we’ve built -not talking about capitalism in right wing or left wing communist stand point, or inequality, etc. -looking at it from environmental standpoint -looking at contradictions of economic models/growth in finite world – essential paradox -if we continue along this path since Industrial Revolution into emerging, mobilizing world, it’s only going to get worse -we are heading towards environmental co
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