Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The View From Les Houches: What Are Models For?

Sandra Bouneau, researcher and lecturer at the university of Paris-Sud, shows her model at the School of Physics in Les Houches, France, in March 2018. As you can see from the image, her model is complex and detailed. It is one of the several models presented at the school which attempt to describe the trajectory of the transition.

Overall, all the models based on physics (including Bouneau's one, as far as I understood it) arrived to similar conclusions, confirming the calculations that myself, Denes Csala, and Sgouris Sgouridis published in 2016. In practice, the transition is possible, but it won't happen all by itself. The economic system needs to be pushed in the right direction, in such a way that it will be able to provide the necessary investments.

The problem is that the system is not being pushed hard enough. Some parts of it, including the US governments, are pushing in the wrong direction, dreaming of an impossible "energy dominance" (and even if it were possible, what good would it be for America?).

At the bottom of the whole problem, it is the fact that policy-makers don't believe in models, although they may declare the opposite. There have been many models developed during the past century or so which would have created a different world if the powers that be had acted on the advice provided - first and foremost "The Limits to Growth" of 1972. But that model was not only disbelieved but positively demonized.

In the end, All models are made to search for trajectories which avoid collapse, so ignoring models ensures collapse. And that's what we are doing!


  1. "The economic system needs to be pushed in the right direction..."
    Ugo, what IS an economic system and how does one 'push it in the right direction'?

    1. In China, they have five-year plans. Apparently they know, or they think they know.

    2. Why not ask the fundamental question first:
      Why do we have an economic system?

      Economics says that economics is the study of how society manages its scarce resources.

      I would suggest that we need an economic system to efficently organize the distribution of resources to where they are needed most.

      We idealy would want a system that works on the basic premise of "from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs."

      Any system that more or less provides this service is an economic system. Examples could be a gift or barter economies, as we had for thousands of years in our human history or a communist or capitalist system as we developed recently.

      If we know what we would expect from an economic system we could ask, how do we acchieve that goal in an economic system?

      One historical answer is by market mechanisms, another is by central planing. Note that both are existant in our current economic system right now. "Supply chain management" is not a market driven allocation of resources, but a planned "just in time" organisation of distribution and a large part of our resource allocation in capitalism is done that way. Large companies in many regards thus today work just like the GDR state which on the other hand also included market form distributions.

      What economics now could provide, is answers to the question of how to get to an ideal system that fulfills the basic premises we would set to an acceptable economic system for our society. In a democratic society this would be uo to a political discussion.

      As we KNOW today these premises MUST today also include "not destroying the world in the long run". So we need to add sustainability to the general premises for an acceptible economic system.

      The current system we have is capitalism. Its general assumption is that by inspiring any participant in economic practices by the drive to accumulate wealth, the system reaches an "equilibrium", that perfectly allocates scarce resources according to needs.

      But does it really?
      Is aquiring wealth a good motivator for our economy and what influence does this have on our society as a whole?

      Does this drive for personal wealth result in a system where sustainability is possible or do we need to change this basic drive of our economic system to fulfill this requirement of sustainability?

      If capitalism and sustainability are mutually exclusive, what other drive can we have as a basis for our economic system?

      We need to have this discussion and we push it in the right direction by showing that the need for sustainability is NOT NEGOTIABLE, but demanded by the fundamental laws of nature.

    3. I think that the IIER (Institute for integrated economic ressource) is a great resource for understanding the needs for a transformation of our economic system and how to get there:

  2. If I follow the link to Sandra Bounou I end up at a pro nuclear science institute. How does this influence her work?

    1. In France, support for nuclear energy is not rare among researchers. I don't know what Sandra thinks about the matter, she didn't discuss it in her talk. You may ask her directly, I figure

  3. Pensez que l'on va sauver le monde en se concentrant uniquement que la transition énergétique et donc sur le réchauffement climatique est illusoire. Le réchauffement climatique est un symptôme du problème, en s'acharnant à traiter un symptôme on mourra de la maladie. La maladie c'est le dépassement des limites de notre planète.
    Comment croire qu'on peut remplacer unilatéralement le pétrole par de l'électricité pour toutes les utilisations est un phantasme. De plus une telle transition consommera beaucoup de ... pétrole, en toute inutilité.
    Jean-Luc Jourdain



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome and the author of "Extracted: how the quest for mineral resources is plundering the Planet" (Chelsea Green 2014). His most recent book is "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017)