Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Jorgen Randers: updating "2052"

Jorgen Randers speaking in Cambridge, 12 Oct 2016

Today, in Cambridge, a meeting was held with several of the authors of the "Glimpses" that were part of the "2052" book by Jorgen Randers. The idea was to update the forecasts that were published in 2012.

Randers showed the update of his model, obtained with new data and with some modifications of the model itself. In five years, there have been modest changes and the basic results of the initial model are confirmed. Basically:

1. Randers' model sees the growth of both the economy (in terms of GDP) and of the population up to 2052; although the forecasted population is less than 9 billion people, much lower than the UN predictions.

2. Randers' model doesn't see scarcity for any resource, at least up to 2052

3. Inequality and poverty will remain as significant problems.

4. The model clearly says that we are NOT staying below the 2 degrees limits. Renewables will be growing fast, but so will do fossil fuels at least for another couple of decades. Randers' climate model (a different one) doesn't produce a "climate tipping point" for the rest of the century, but the raising temperatures will do enormous damage to the world's economy and to people.

Of course, forecasts are always difficult, especially when dealing with the future. My modest opinion is that Randers' model is good and I was impressed by the work that was done and that's being done to keep it up to date and to improve it; so I think that these results should be carefully studied and understood.

Then, still according to my modest opinion, there remains a fundamental problem: models based on system dynamics are not really made to catch tipping points. I think Randers is right when he says that we won't see the climate "catching fire" during this century. We may well be on our way to an ice free planet (and the corresponding 70 m of sea level rise) but that will not be for this century (hopefully!). The kind of tipping points that we are more likely to see are the result of coupling between the climate system and the socio-economic system. For instance, no model could predict the Syrian disaster, and yet its root cause is the double whammy of global warming and oil depletion. What can happen in the future as temperatures keep rising and resources being depleted, it is probably impossible to predict by any model.

But the meeting of today produced also elements of hope. The idea that renewables can make it seem to be diffusing and I myself presented the results of the study that we performed with Sgouridis and Csala that demonstrates just that. Others argued that the financial system is gearing up to provide the necessary resources for the transition. And, who knows? We might really make it! The future cannot be predicted, but we can always hope for a good future!


  1. to pick out one line from the above article
    ......the financial system is gearing up to provide the necessary resources for the transition....

    finance doesn't provide resources

    resources provide finance.

    I don't know the overall calibre of the attendees at this meeting---one must assume that they are of a high academic level....but to drop a mistake as fundamental as that doesn't leave much hope for us ordinary mortals

    I've been saying for years that energy depletion climate change and population growth will deliver the triple whammy, not a double one---we just dont know where exactly but one could take an inspired guess at areas where prosperity is most apparent---thus having the most to lose, and where denial that there's anything seriously wrong is endemic.

    That's probably the USA and Saudi Arabia, both mired in religiousity, convinced that their god will never all them t come to harm and they have a right to infinite prosperity.---and with an inclination to violence if they are denied it.

    for that reason I know that as things worsen, the USA and Saudi will explode, and in so doing destabilise the rest of the developed world.

    Randers' lecture appears to suggest a calm orderly decline towards the 2050s....he really doesn't understand humankind. I'd guess we'll be lucky to get past 2030 without global meltdown on the Syrian scale.
    The current Mid east conflagration is just a dress rehearsal

    As shortages are perceived, even if Randers is right and they are slight, fighting over them will be inevitable

    1. Thank you for this so nice evaluation of our intellectual capabilities, Norman. I always thought that in order to mobilize resources you had to pay for them, and that in order to pay you need financing. But, evidently, you live in a place where you only use barter and you exchange PV plants for sheep and camels.

    2. The window of opportunity you identified with Sgouridis and Scala exists, but it remains very narrow. One large financial hickup - which seems likely in the near future - would be enough to disrupt it and leave us behind schedule forever.

      Another possible tipping point is linked to poverty. With declining wages, increasing unemployment and minimal social mobilitsocial strife will probably be on the rise. We currently see how anti-establishment backlash affects the USA, this could potentially grow much worse inthe future. A more clever version of Trump would be very dangereous.

      Anyway, I hope a full recording will be available some time.

    3. R anders view seems credible. Its basically the evil twin of the Sowers Strategy . No limits. More population , more gnp, more carbon. And no negative feedback to slow it down.
      BTW, I put in a plug for the Sower on my blog

    4. the value of whatever cash we pass between each other, in day to day commerce, is entirely dependent on the viability of the energy system on which any particular nation functions

      Right now the dollar predominates because the USA possessed the highest level of energy within its own borders, The dollar is weakening because that is no longer the case..
      When the UK possessed the most energy within its own borders (coal) the UK pound was prime currency.

      The law is immutable:

      If a nation does not produce sufficient energy within its own borders to satisfy the aspirations of its citizens, then it must beg buy borrow or steal it from somewhere else---or revert to a lifestyle that can be supported by its indigenous energy availability.

      That rule can be applied to the rise and fall of nations throughout history.

      WW2 was an oilwar, Germany and Japan had to steal it from elsewhere or go under. Begging, buying or borrowing it wasn't an option.

      Energy cannot be "bought" if it isn't there (or available elsewhere), no matter how much finance is brought into play. What happens is that energy rich nations (as say UK was in the 19th/20th c, remain convinced that an energy profligate lifestyle can go on long after their energy supplies (coal and oil) start their curve of depletion.
      They began to buy/borrow it from somewhere else while running into bigger and bigger debt to retain the living standards of UK citizens. Same applies to USA.

      Saudi expects to be importing oil by the 2030s. One can only wonder where from.

      If resources are not there (even at Saudi level) then no amount of finance will make them appear.
      Thus energy rich nations enter the denial phase, and play their last card, which is trying to vote prosperity into office---hence "make America great again" If Trump or Clinton do not deliver "resources" all hell is going to break loose

      America left the ''great'' phase in the 70s when their oil went into deficit .
      Following the above law to the letter---Oilwars started in the 80s, and have rumbled on ever since

      You can drill oilwells five miles deep, but the EROEI factor will shut down the wells eventually, no matter how big the financial investment that's fed into the energy production system.

      PV and battery powered energy systems cannot function long term outside a hydrocarbon based infrastructure, other than in isolated instances, because our entire civilisation in its current form is predicated on the conversion of explosive force into rotary motion.

      Exchanging sheep and camels for PV systems, even in humour, will not maintain that

    5. > finance doesn't provide resources
      > resources provide finance.
      I offer an alternative vision.

      Finance would not provide resources, neither resources produce finance. Finance is only a human tool relative to the resources available whatever it be (always will be resources... or everybody will die).

      Finance provides access to the resources available. Not resources directly (it not creates the resources), but it can choose what activities gain access to the market, where most of human available resources are exchanged.

    6. try sinking an oilwell using just money

      oilwells are sunk using the energy factor extracted from the oil of previous oilwells---that's why the system is unsustainable.

      In the 1860s, oil was found at a few hundred feet--then deeper, until now it can be 5 miles deep.

      Each time oil gets harder to get hold of, it burns more energy to get hold of it.
      oil return used to be 1:100, (in the 30s and 40s) We are effectively freewheeling on the infrastructure provided by the cheap oil of that era.

      It is important to bear in mind that any "renewable" system has got to replace that which provided 1 : 100, or something like it. No alternative energies come close to that.
      now the best wells deliver about 1 : 20, and falling
      Gradually we are moving towards the point where we reach 1 : 1.
      Of course we will never reach that point because our infrastructure cannot be sustained on less than about 1 : 12.
      When EROEI drops to that level, it doesn't matter how much money you print and throw into oilwells---the EROEI won't be enough to power our lifestyle.

      The value of money is underpinned by the energy in the system in which it is used as a unit of exchange---no energy, no money

      That value level will find its own balance point, irrespective of economic theories

  2. Ugo, Is there a conference site with presentations posted?

    I feel the key unknown is the rate of decline in net energy. How much surplus do we still have to put toward some kind of transition?

  3. I'm with Norman on this one. The most jaw-dropping item on Randers' list is #1...growth in human population will slow, "because of human choice". When, since hunter-gathering was abandoned, have humans chosen not to reproduce? As long as there are enough resources (Randers' item #2), people will reproduce. As long as there are enough medical resources, humans will choose to live longer and maintain the lives of those who, in earlier societies, would have died at birth or in childhood. Randers' model is pie-in-the-sky stuff. I don't know much about modelling, but I assume it can't be all that accurate for a chaotic system, which is what we're heading towards.

    1. While the percentage growth rate in total population is slowing down, that's because we're no longer in the exponential hockey stick part of the graph but have transitioned to the middle linear part of the S curve. We've had pretty much constant linear growth for about 5 decades now of +80m pa, 12-14 years per +1b. The UN is currently predicting 10b by 2056 and no peak this century. But that's for continuous business as usual with no black swans or resource/pollution constraints.

      So how does Randers think the linear growth is going to stop and flatten out? And when will we start to see the signs that this is happening?

    2. Valid points. #1 is sometimes refered to as "Voluntary Simplicity". There is no historical evidence that indicates that this will be adopted on a large scale (see e.g.

      Ugo wrote: "models based on system dynamics are not really made to catch tipping points". Does Rander use a SD-model? I have read 2052 and was under the impression that Rander used an "excell/spreadsheet model" that did not capture feedbacks/dynamics of the system.

      IMHO. the 1972 study provided humanity with the big picture. Today we are only discussing details.

  4. Whatever thae failures of Randers Models, in my opinion he hits close enough to be very concerned about the future and do something.

    Jorgen Randers has just relesed another book, together with Graeme Maxton, head of the club of rome called
    "Reinventing Prosperity / 1% is enough"

    There they state that only a change of our economic system will save us from Randers Prognosis. Finally the CoR rcognizes that the whole problem has a name, capitalism.

  5. I find it impossible not to see Rander's formulation as very inconsistent, as well as Ugo's analysis.

    1. and 4. are mutually exclusive - another 1 degree rise will see the global economy smashed , conceivably per capita GDP will rise only if population crashes.

    Climate is already starting to 'catch fire' - strong feedbacks are evident and can't be quelled by 2050.

    World War 3 has been underway for several years, is slowly burning and spreading , will 'take off' soon and won't be finished for decades.

    The financial system is set to implode and won't recover for 15-20 years.

    The only viable pathways require a complete reframing of human endeavours - this has been well recognized for decades and the passing of time has clarified that for now we are heading to the opposite pole - whether and when we come to some extreme point and get some wits and energy to rebound and reverse direction is unknown and the conditions which prevail at that point are likely to be very antagonistic to enlightened living.

    Just my hope - less crybaby view. The Sowers Way paper pointed to the still viable technical potential to mitigate quite effectively.



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)