Nafeez Ahmed on Limits to Growth

20 06 2015

Ahmed Nafeez

Since getting the bullet from The Guardian, Nafeez Ahmed has been busy developing his great independent media website where he can publish anything he likes, no matter how much the mainstream might disagree with him!  His latest offering on LtG confirms everything previously published, but better computing power and modelling knowledge is constantly improving forecasts, to such an extent, not even the UK government can ignore it.  They even funded some of the research…..


GRO’s System Dynamics Model takes a different approach, building on the ‘World3’ model developed by scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which famously forecast that humankind faced impending “limits to growth” due to environmental and resource constraints.

In popular consciousness, the ‘limits to growth’ forecasts were wrong. But recent studies, including one by the Australian government’s scientific research agency CSIRO, confirm that most of its predictions were startlingly prescient.

Dr. Jones and his team at Anglia Ruskin University have taken this confirmation several steps further, not only by testing the model against the real world, but by recalibrating it internally using new and updated data.

“World3 was a very good, robust system,” he told us. “Some assumptions were incorrect and misparameterised — for instance, life expectancy is smaller than assumed, and industrial and service outputs are larger than assumed. And the model was missing some shock dynamics and feedback loops.”

The same questioner put his hand up and asked, “Does this mean the original model and its predictions are flawed?”

“I would say the model was largely correct,” said Jones. “It was right enough to give a fairly accurate picture of future limits to growth. But there are some incorrect parameters and gaps.”

The System Dynamics Model, Jones explained, is designed to overcome the limitations of World3 by recalibrating the incorrect parameters, adding new parameters where necessary, and inputting fresh data. There are now roughly 2,000 parameters in the model, drawing on a database of key indicators on resources and social measures for 212 countries, from 1995 until today.

Jones’ affirmation of the general accuracy of the limits to growth model was an obvious surprise to some in the room.

The original model forecasted global ecological and economic collapse by around the middle of the 21st century, due to the convergence of climate change, food and water scarcity, and the depletion of cheap fossil fuels — which chimes with both the GRO’s models.

Last year, Dr. Graham Turner updated his CSIRO research at the University of Melbourne, concluding that:

“… the general onset of collapse first appears at about 2015 when per capita industrial output begins a sharp decline. Given this imminent timing, a further issue this paper raises is whether the current economic difficulties of the global financial crisis are potentially related to mechanisms of breakdown in the Limits to Growth BAU [business-as-usual] scenario.”

For the first time, then, we know that in private, British and US government agencies are taking seriously longstanding scientific data showing that a business-as-usual trajectory will likely lead to civilisational collapse within a few decades — generating multiple near-term global disruptions along the way.

The question that remains is: what we are going to do about it?

The answers, of course, exist…  but whenever I air them – or at least the answers as I believe them to exist – nobody likes them.

A Degrowth Response to an Ecomodernist Manifesto

29 05 2015

Originally published on the Resillience website, I thought my followers would find this interesting….  having said that, the more work like this I read the more pessimistic I feel anything will be done!  Such is the momentum of the ‘Ecomodernists’

Critique Summary

Authors and Endorsers: Jeremy Caradonna, Iris Borowy, Tom Green, Peter A. Victor, Maurie Cohen, Andrew Gow, Anna Ignatyeva, Matthias Schmelzer, Philip Vergragt, Josefin Wangel, Jessica Dempsey, Robert Orzanna, Sylvia Lorek, Julian Axmann, Rob Duncan, Richard B. Norgaard, Halina S. Brown, Richard Heinberg

A group known as the “ecomodernists,” which includes prominent environmental thinkers and development specialists such as Ted Nordhaus, Michael Shellenberger, Stewart Brand, David Keith, and Joyashree Roy has recently published a statement of principles called An Ecomodernist Manifesto (2015). Many of the authors of the Manifesto are connected to an influential think tank called The Breakthrough Institute.
The Manifesto is an attempt to lay out the basic message of ecomodernism, which is an approach to development that emphasizes the roles of technology and economic growth in meeting the world’s social, economic, and ecological challenges. The ecomodernists “reject” the idea “that human societies must harmonize with nature to avoid economic and ecological collapse,” and instead argue that what is needed is a reliance on technologies, from nuclear power to carbon capture and storage, that allow for a “decoupling [of] human development from environmental impacts.”
The Manifesto has already received strong criticism from an array of commentators, but none of these assessments has yet critiqued it from the perspective of “degrowth,” which is an approach that sees the transition to sustainability occurring through less environmentally impactful economic activities and a voluntary contraction of material throughput of the economy, to reduce humanity’s aggregate resource demands on the biosphere. From a degrowth perspective, technology is not viewed as a magical saviour since many technologies actually accelerate environmental decline.
With these disagreements in mind, a group of over fifteen researchers from the degrowth scholarship community has written a detailed refutation of the Ecomodernist Manifesto, which can be read here. The following is a summary of the seven main points made by the authors of this critique:
1. The Manifesto assumes that growth is a given. The ecological economists associated with degrowth assume that growth is not a given, and that population growth, inequalities, and the decline of cheap and abundant fossil fuels, which spurred the unprecedented growth of the global economy over the past century, means that the limits to growth are either being reached or will be reached in the very near future. The ecomodernists, by contrast, scoff at the idea of limits to growth, arguing that technology will always find a way to overcome those limits. Graham Turner, Ugo Bardi, and numerous others have shown through empirical research that many of the modelled scenarios, and the fundamental thesis, of the Club of Rome remain as relevant as ever—that is, that the human endeavour is bumping up against natural limits. Richard Heinberg has shown that the production of conventional oil, natural gas, and heavy oil all peaked around 2010, despite, but also due to, continued global reliance on fossil fuels, which still make up over 80% of the world’s primary source of energy. The history of industrialism to date suggests that more growth will be coupled with increasing environmental costs. Thus the Manifesto does nothing to question and rethink the growth fetish that has preoccupied (and negatively impacted) the world since at least the 1940s.
2. Ecomodernists believe in the myth of decoupling growth from impacts. Long the fantasy of neoclassical economists, industrialists, and many futurists decoupling is the idea that one can have more of the “good stuff” (economic growth, increased population, more consumption) without any of the “bad stuff” (declines in energy stocks, environmental degradation, pollution, and so forth). Yet to date, there has been no known society that has simultaneously expanded economic activity while reducing absolute energy consumption and environmental impacts. In terms of carbon-dioxide emissions, the only periods over the past century in which global or regional emissions have actually declined absolutely have occurred during periods of decreased economic activity (usually a political crisis, war, or a recession). While it is true that many countries have reduced their carbon intensity in recent decades, meaning that they get more bang for their energy buck, efforts to decouple GDP-growth from environmental degradation through technological innovations and renewable energies have failed to achieve the absolute emissions reductions and reductions in aggregate environmental impacts necessary for a livable planet. In short, absolute decoupling has not occurred and has not solved our problems.
3.  Is technology the problem or the solution? The ecomodernists cannot decide. The Manifesto is open and honest about the impact that modern technologies have had on the natural world, and especially emissions from fossil-fueled machines. However, as an act of desperation, the ecomodernists retreat to the belief that risky, costly, and underachieving technologies, such as nuclear power and carbon capture and storage, will solve the climate crisis and energize the sustainable society of the future. The reality, however, is that nuclear power provides less than 6 percent of the world’s energy needs while creating long-term storage nightmares and present-day environmental hazards. We cite Chernobyl and Fukushima as obvious examples. From the point of view of degrowth, more technology is not (necessarily) the solution. The energy crisis can be addressed only by reductions in throughput, economic activity, and consumption, which could then (and only then) create the possibility of powering global society via renewables.
4. Ecomodernism is not very “eco.” Ecomodernism violates everything we know about ecosystems, energy, population, and natural resources. Fatally, it ignores the lessons of ecology and thermodynamics, which teach us that species (and societies) have natural limits to growth. The ecomodernists, by contrast, brazenly claim that the limits to growth is a myth, and that human population and the economy could continue to grow almost indefinitely. Moreover, the ecomodernists ignore or downplay many of the ecological ramifications of growth. The Manifesto has nothing to say about the impacts of conventional farming, monoculture, pesticide-resistant insects, GMOs, and the increasing privatization of seeds and genetic material. It is silent on the decline of global fisheries or the accumulation of microplastic pollution in the oceans, reductions in biodiversity, threats to ecosystem services, and the extinction of species. Nor does it really question our reliance on fossil fuels. It does argue that societies need to “decarbonize,” but the Manifesto also tacitly supports coal, oil and natural gas by advocating for carbon capture and storage. Far from being an ecological statement of principles, the Manifesto merely rehashes the naïve belief that technology will save us and that human ingenuity can never fail. One fears, too, that the ecomodernists support geoengineering.
5. The Manifesto has a narrow, inaccurate, and whitewashed view of both “modernity” and “development.” The Manifesto’s assertions rest on the belief that industrialized modernity has been an undivided blessing. Those who support degrowth have a more complex view of history since the 18th century. The “progress” of modernity has come at a heavy cost, and is more of a mixed blessing. The ecomodernists do not acknowledge that growth in greenhouse gas emissions parallels the development of industry. The core assumption is that “development” has only one true definition, and that is to “modernize” along the lines of the already industrialized countries. The hugely destructive development path of European and Neo-European societies is the measuring stick of Progress.
6. Ecomodernism is condescending toward pre-industrial, agrarian, non-industrialized societies, and the Global South. The issue of condescension is particularly stark in the Manifesto. There is not a word about religion, spirituality, or indigenous ecological practices, even though the authors throw a bone to the “cultural preferences” for development. Pre-industrial and indigenous peoples are seen as backwards and undeveloped. The authors go so far as to say that humans need to be “liberated” from agricultural labour, as though the production of food, and small-scale farming, were not inherent goods. There is no adoration for simple living, the small scale, or bottom up approaches to development.
7. The Manifesto suffers from factual errors and misleading statements. The Manifesto is particularly greenwashed when it comes to global deforestation rates. It suggests that there is currently a “net reforestation” occurring at the international scale, which contradicts the 2014 Millennium Development Report that shows that afforestation and reforestation have, in fact, slowed deforestation rates, but that the world still suffered a net loss of forested land between 2000 and 2010 by many millions of hectares. Research by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Wide Fund for Nature confirms the reality of net forest losses. Further, the Manifesto makes dubious claims about net reductions in “servitude” over the past few centuries, and the role played by pre-historical native peoples in driving the megafauna to extinction.
In sum, the ecomodernists provide neither a very inspiring blueprint for future development strategies nor much in the way of solutions to our environmental and energy woes.

Are we on the cusp of global collapse?

16 10 2012

Back in April, I wrote So much for debunking the Club of Rome in which I discussed a recent paper written by Dr Graham Turner of CSIRO, entitled “On the Cusp of Global Collapse?” It’s one of the most visited entry of this blog…… Anyone whose imagination was captured by the original “Limits to Growth” book from 1972, will find this is definitely an “Oh shit!” moment……. Since publishing the latest updated version of Dr Turner’s paper on line would breach copyright, I’ll try to write a suitable summary.  I will reproduce the four-paragraph conclusion though, and some graphs. Dr. Graham Turner, who is  senior research scientist at CSIRO, published his first 30-year comparison in 2008, using data from 1972 to 2002 to examine how the real situation compared to those infamous LtG projections of the 70’s.  In this update, another ten years of data are added on, for a more robust 40-year comparison. The data sources Dr Turner used for this analysis are dutifully referenced.  The data includes information from the United Nations for population, as well as food, industrial output and literacy data, and uses the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2011 for oil and electricity consumption figures, plus CO2 data from NOAA, ESRI and Scripps. To ensure apples are not compared with oranges, Dr Turner normalized all the data to the year 1900, and then compared it against three runs from Limits to Growth (1972):

  • The standard run assumes business as usual, using parameters found from the 1900-1970 data.
  • The comprehensive technology scenario models the attempt to reach sustainability through the application of a broad range of the usual (green dream) technological solutions.
  • The stabilised world scenario uses both technology and social policies to achieve equilibrium in key factors like population, food and consumption.

Generally, the data follows the standard run scenario. Where diversions occur, it is in the direction of the comprehensive technology scenario, with very little evidence of social policies influencing the results. Only one factor follows the stabilised world scenario, and that is global death rates. These level off lower than the standard run, but higher than the comprehensive technology curve. Population, birth rates, and per capita food, services and industrial output all follow the standard run. As do global pollution (modelled as CO2 emissions) and the consumption of non-renewable resources (modelled as the fraction of remaining oil). The original LtG World3 model predicted that collapse in the standard run and comprehensive technology scenarios began with resource constraints. Not necessarily resource shortages per se, but rather the increased re allocation of a dwindling pool of capital into extracting harder to get at resources – the “peaking” effect as I like to call it.  Exactly the same conclusion is supported by this latest analysis. Anyone who’s read John Michael Greer’s concept of catabolic collapse will understand how this scenario works.  Dr Turner also acknowledges Joseph Tainter‘s theory of decreasing marginal return on complexity (something I mentioned recently) as a source of the problems shown by the comprehensive technology scenario as well as a being factor in the rising cost of resource extraction. As I have done many times here myself, Dr Turner explores the role of oil and food ‘price shocks’ as feedstock for more general economic crises, and the excessive complexity of the global financial system must be a factor here as well…….. Graham Turner’s conclusions are:

Our previous comparison of global data with the LtG modelled scenarios has been updated here to cover the 40-year period 1970 to 2010, i.e., from when the scenario simulations begin. The data has been compared with the outputs of theWorld3 model for three key LtG scenarios: standard run, comprehensive technology, and stabilized world. The data review continues to confirm that the standard run scenario represents real-world outcomes considerably well. This scenario results in collapse of the global economy and population in the near future. It begins in about 2015 with industrial output per capita falling precipitously, followed by food and services. Consequently, death rates increase from about 2020 and population falls from about 2030 – as death rates overtake birth rates. The collapse in the standard run is primarily caused by resource depletion and the model response of diverting capital away from other sectors in order to secure less accessible resources. Evidence for this mechanism operating in the real world is provided by comparison with data on the energy required to secure oil. Indeed, the EROI has decreased substantially in recent decades, and is quantitatively consistent with the relevant parameter in the World3 model. The confirmation of the key model mechanism underlying the dynamics of the standard run strengthens the veracity of the standard run scenario. The issue of peak oil has also affected food supply and evidently played a role in the current global financial crisis. While the GFC (global financial collapse) does not directly reflect collapse in the LtG standard run, it may well be indirectly related. The corroboration here of the LtG standard run implies that the scientific and public attention given to climate change, whilst important, is out of proportion with, and even deleteriously distracting from the issue of resource constraints, particularly oil. Indeed, if global collapse occurs as in this LtG scenario then pollution impacts will naturally be resolved, though not in any ideal sense. Another implication is the imminence of possible collapse. This contrasts with the general commentary on the LtG that describes collapse occurring sometime mid-century; and the LtG authors stressed not interpreting the time scale too precisely. However, the alignment of data trends with the model’s dynamics indicates that the early stages of collapse could occur within a decade, or might even be underway. This suggests, from a rational risk-based perspective, that planning for a collapsing global system could be even more important than trying to avoid collapse.

Climate Change is accelerating so fast at the moment that it may well have more of a role in the coming collapse than Dr. Turner concedes, but in the end that’s just quibbling in the face of momentous changes that both the model and the data suggest are coming. 2015 just doesn’t seem that far away any more…….


It is now 2015.  And this is where we are today…..:

Conspiracy theories

8 07 2012

Last month, I wrote about Noosa’s Population Cap, stimulated by the ridiculous assumptions our new Mayor publicly announced in our local media that we had to populate or perish.  In that post, I wrote an opinion piece the Noosa News published in response; I said I’d keep you posted…. well it’s been generally well received, except for one respondent who started accusing the Club of Rome of having an agenda to depopulate the world and allow the elites to take over the world…..  to back up his premises, this misinformed person quoted a book he alleged was written by the CoR, “The first Global Revolution”.  The authors of this book (which I have now downloaded, but only skimmed so far) are said to have written within its covers “divided nations require common enemies to unite them, “either a real one or else one invented for the purpose.”[6] Because of the sudden absence of traditional enemies, “new enemies must be identified.”[6] “In searching for a new enemy to unite us, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like would fit the bill….  All these dangers are caused by human intervention, and it is only through changed attitudes and behaviour that they can be overcome. The real enemy then, is humanity itself.”[7] (  This Wikipedia entry, by the way, also states that the CoR published the book, which is clearly wrong.  Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean you have to believe it!

Having downloaded this book, I now know that it was not written by the CoR, but rather another organisation which calls itself “the Council of the Club of Rome”.  The authors, Alexander King & Bertrand Schneider, as far as I can uncover, are not members of the CoR.  If you go to the official CoR website, and search for the book or its authors, you simply get the message “Sorry, but you are looking for something that isn’t here.”

What you will find there is its charter:  “The Club of Rome is a non-profit organisation, independent of any political, ideological or religious interests. Its essential mission is “to act as a global catalyst for change through the identification and analysis of the crucial problems facing humanity and the communication of such problems to the most important public and private decision makers as well as to the general public.” “

Further digging shows that the internet is full of websites claiming this book was published by the CoR.  Worse, they are nearly all conspiracy theory sites pounding the most amazing crap you could ever read….. like this: “The Club of Rome’s 1972 publication The Limits To Growth was a Malthusian blueprint on how the human population needed to be reduced in order to prevent an ecological collapse, which in itself was merely a disguised version of the abhorrent eugenicist ideas that were circulating in the early part of the 20th century and eventually died out with Hitler.”

At no time has the CoR pushed population reduction.  It merely points out that if we do nothing to control our growth, we are doomed.  In fact, back in 1972, population did not need reduction, it just needed to not grow any more!  The “global revolution” quote above says nothing of the sort either…. it mentions “changed attitudes and behaviour”.  And boy are we in short supply of that…!

Sometimes, I have to say, I feel like giving up…..  why is it that whenever any truth becomes inconvenient, it has to become a conspiracy?

And to finish off, here’s a good Peak Oil video to share that is officially supported by the CoR.

So much for debunking the Club of Rome….

11 04 2012

On March 2, 1972, just five days off my 20th birthday, a team of experts from MIT presented a ground breaking report called The Limits to Growth to the world.  I didn’t get to read it for another twenty years, but it made a huge impression on me, it was the beginning of my discovery of the Matrix, and more to the point, my abandonment of it, bit by bit.  Most people who “remember” it as the book that predicted the end of the world by (insert date here – usually 1 January 2000) have never read it…….

What the report did do was predict that within a period of 100 years from when it was published, civilisation would collapse from resource depletion, pollution, over population, and lack of food.  It caused quite a stir at the time….  but soon enough, those who must have growth, the usual suspects like bankers, went out of their way to “debunk” the whole thing using misinformation…..  and sure enough, everyone forgot about it and went on their merry way to over exploit the planet, and populate it to death.

Just so we all understand what we are discussing here, this chart expresses best what the Club of Rome’s most likely scenario looked like.  You’ll notice that apart from the timeline at the bottom, there are no numbers on this chart, it is merely a general idea of what the crude computing power of the time was able to spit out.

Notice the total lack of collapse around the year 2000…?!  But guess what, recent research supports the conclusions of the controversial environmental study released 40 years ago: the world is indeed on track for disaster. At least so says Australian physicist Graham Turner, who revisited the report.  Turner compared real-world data from 1970 to 2000 with the current business-as-usual scenario. What he found was that the predictions nearly matched the facts. “There is a very clear warning bell being rung here,” he says. “We are not on a sustainable trajectory.”

And this is what his findings look like:

Image result for latest data graham turner limits to growth

That shaded area is the thirty year period since the report’s release (it unfortunately doesn’t cover the period to this day), and it clearly shows that we are right on track for population to start dropping within eighteen years, and major problems by 2050.  In fact, Turner seems to think population will start collapsing 20 years before the Club of Rome thought it would……

And I still have people writing to me saying it’s all a load of rubbish, we have a Premier who thinks we can run our transport system on old tyres and carpets, and economists are still talking up a “recovery”….  Don’t know about you, but I feel like screaming.


Out of the blue, I found this great presentation given at the 2009 Commemorative Lecture by Dr. Dennis L. Meadows, one of the authors of The Limits to Growth Report.  It’s long at 48 minutes, but do yourself a favour, make yourself a cup of your favourite poison, and watch it to the fascinating end……..