The Chronicles of Amber

Apocalypse Soon: Has Civilization Passed the Environmental Point of No Return? (Scientific American) [excerpts]

Four decades ago, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer model called World3 warned of such a possible course for human civilization in the 21st century. In Limits to Growth, a bitterly disputed 1972 book that explicated these findings, researchers argued that the global industrial system has so much inertia that it cannot readily correct course in response to signals of planetary stress. But unless economic growth skidded to a halt before reaching the edge, they warned, society was headed for overshoot—and a splat that could kill billions….

The above article is nearly two years old now.  It notes the recommendations to limit our population growth, depletion of planetary resources, and the damage to the environment due to unchecked expansion of industrial production have been overridden and ignored.

On the environmental front:

“[G]reenhouse gases are being emitted twice as fast as oceans and forests can absorb them.Greenhouse gas production, of course, continues to accelerate in Southeast Asia, America, Europe, and the rest of the developing world.

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On the energy front:

In this model run the economy continues to grow as expected until about 2015, but then falters because nonrenewable resources such as oil become ever more expensive to extract. ‘Not that we’re running out of any of these resources,’ explains [Graham Turner of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization]. ‘It’s that as you try to get to unconventional sources such as under deep oceans, it takes a lot more energy to extract each unit of energy.’ To keep up oil supply, the model predicts that society will divert investment from agriculture, causing a drop in food production. In this scenario, population peaks around 2030 at between seven and eight billion and then decreases sharply, evening out at about four billion in 2100.

On the inequality front:

When economies slow down, [Dennis Meadows, professor emeritus of systems policy at the University of New Hampshire who headed the original M.I.T. team] explains, fewer products are created relative to demand, and ‘when the rich can’t get more by producing real wealth they start to use their power to take from lower segments.’ As scarcities mount and inequality increases, revolutions and socioeconomic movements like the Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street will become more widespread—as will their repression.

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Result:

Food production will improve: increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will cause plants to grow faster, and warming will open up new areas such as Siberia to cultivation. Population will increase, albeit slowly, to a maximum of about eight billion near 2040. Eventually, however, floods and desertification will start reducing farmland and therefore the availability of grain. Despite humanity’s efforts to ameliorate climate change, [Jorgen Randers of the BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo] predicts that its effects will become devastating sometime after mid-century, when global warming will reinforce itself by, for instance, igniting fires that turn forests into net emitters rather than absorbers of carbon. ‘Very likely, we will have war long before we get there,’ Randers adds grimly. He expects that mass migration from lands rendered unlivable will lead to localized armed conflicts.

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And now:

NASA-funded study: industrial civilisation headed for ‘irreversible collapse’? by Nafeez Ahmed (The Guardian) [excerpts]

14 March 2014

A new study sponsored by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution…

Modelling a range of different scenarios, Motesharri and his colleagues conclude that under conditions ‘closely reflecting the reality of the world today… we find that collapse is difficult to avoid.’ In the first of these scenarios, civilisation:

…. appears to be on a sustainable path for quite a long time, but even using an optimal depletion rate and starting with a very small number of Elites, the Elites eventually consume too much, resulting in a famine among Commoners that eventually causes the collapse of society. It is important to note that this Type-L collapse is due to an inequality-induced famine that causes a loss of workers, rather than a collapse of Nature.

Another scenario focuses on the role of continued resource exploitation, finding that ‘with a larger depletion rate, the decline of the Commoners occurs faster, while the Elites are still thriving, but eventually the Commoners collapse completely, followed by the Elites…’

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