Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 8, No. 9, September 2012
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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Dynamics of Growth, Degrowth, and Stabilization

Cross of 9/11 - Tangle of Terror
Artwork by Ray Tapajna

Another month has passed, and the world community continues to suffer from human violence and environmental deterioration. Violence begets violence, and we are witnessing more and more violence even among the most affluent people. It seems that social solidarity is inversely proportional to extravagance in the consumption of goods and services. Likewise, global warming continues to increase as a result of more and more fossil-fueled industrial activity. But even in the midst of the impending ecological crisis, many people of good will keep working to foster a better future for our children and grandchildren. As Jorgen Randers points out in a recently published book (see below), we must "learn to live with impending disaster without losing hope." We must hang in there. Despair is not an option!


Page 1. Book Review of 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years, Jorgen Randers, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2012
Page 2. Life after Rio, by Mark Halle
Page 3. Eight Fallacies about Growth, by Herman Daly
Page 4. Degrowth or Decadence, by Ramón Alcoberro
Page 5. Sizing the Carbon Bubble, by James Leaton
Page 6. Finance + Climate Change = 2?, by Guillaume Emin
Page 7. Visiting the Economies of the Future, by David Brancaccio
Page 8. Dynamics of Change in Human-Driven and Natural Systems, by Didier Andrivon
Page 9. The Social and Psychological Foundations of Climate Change, by Andrew Hoffman and P. Devereaux Jennings

The following supplements have been updated:

Supplement 1: Advances in Sustainable Development (prayer, study, action, news, pubs, tools, data, models)
Supplement 2: Directory of Sustainable Development Resources (library of 1000+ links to online resources)
Supplement 3: Long-Term Strategies for Sustainable Energy (clean energy, mitigation and adaptation strategies)
Supplement 4: Short-Term Strategies for Sustainable Energy (education, taxes, basic income, ISO standards)
Supplement 5: Fostering Gender Equality in Society (gender solidarity and equality, men and women in society)
Supplement 6: Fostering Gender Equality in Religion (liberation from patriarchy, men and women in religion)


The horizontal and vertical scales are not shown in order to avoid giving the impression that this is a prediction. This is a simulated scenario, not a prediction. It portrays dynamic modes of behavior that can be expected during the transition from consumerism to sustainability, as follows:

~ Population, production, and consumption peak, stagnate and/or oscillate with downward trend, and eventually decrease to long-term sustainable levels.
~ The peak in energy availability is followed by a long decline until it settles to the steady-state flow that is allowed by solar (and perhaps other cosmic) sources of energy.
~ The solidarity index is an indicator of social cohesion, which is tightly coupled with the sustainability of resource usage. Solidarity reinforces sustainability and vice versa.

This is not intended to be an "alarmist" scenario. However, it would be wise to take the Precautionary Principle into account when formulation sustainable development policies as we enter the Anthropocene Age. Widespread violence is bound to emerge if demographic and consumption adjustments are to be made involuntarily. Is this "the future we want" for the entire community of nations? NB: The current SDSIM 2.0 is a demo, not a capability.

Book Review of
2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years
Jorgen Randers, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2012

Luis T. Gutiérrez

The Limits to Growth research project, sponsored by the Club of Rome since the early 1970s, has been instrumental in quantifying natural resource constraints and deconstructing the myth of "infinite growth in a finite planet," and has made a significant contribution to increase awareness of the human predicament and generate support for many similar research projects using a variety of analytical methods. It has been vilified in every possible way by those with a vested interest in resource exploitation for short-term profit, and ridiculed by some who consider it little more than an exercise on the obvious: so resources are finite, what else is new? But it seems fair to say that, specifically in terms of using the system dynamics method of analysis, and even more generally in using computer-based modeling and simulation for studying the total human-ecological system, it has produced some of the most influential reports published to date.

The first report was published in 1972, followed by updates in 1992 and 2004. Now comes a new book, 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years, by Jorgen Randers, who has been a team member and one of the authors since the beginning. Whereas the Limits to Growth reports assume resources to be finite and attempt to elucidate how the kind and timing of human decisions can alleviate or exacerbate the dynamics of growth followed by overshoot and degrowth - while refraining from predicting the future - Randers now sticks his neck out and articulates a forecast for the next 40 years as his own synthesis of inputs collected from a large group of sustainability experts. He is careful to clarify that this forecast is not the kind of prediction for which a statistically significant confidence level can be validly calculated, but offers it as his personal and carefully considered outlook.

Structure of the Book

The book was published by Chelsea Green Publishing in June 2012. It has 392 pages of small but readable print, with numerous graphics and summary boxes. In between the front and back matters, the book is structured in three parts and twelve chapters:

Preface: What Will the Future Bring?
Part I: Background
    Chapter 1. Worrying about the Future
    Chapter 2. Five Big Issues toward 2052
Part II: My Global Forecast
    Chapter 3. The Logic Behind My Forecast
    Chapter 4. Population and Consumption to 2052
    Chapter 5. Energy and CO2 to 2052
    Chapter 6. Food and Footprint to 2052
    Chapter 7. The Nonmaterial Future to 2052
    Chapter 8. The Zeigeist in 2052
Part III: Analysis
    Chapter 9. Reflections on the Future
    Chapter 10. Five Regional Futures
    Chapter 11. Comparison with Other Futures
    Chapter 12. What Should You Do?
Closing Words

It is not presumed that this brief review can do justice to the book, let alone 40 years worth of Limits to Growth research and active engagement trying to make the findings understandable and taken into consideration worldwide. The modest intent here is to provide a digest of the book and some informal comments in light of the recent UN Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development.

Review of Part I: What have we learned during the past 40 years?

In terms of global sustainability, the main lesson learned during the last 40 years is that the psychological momentum gathered by the "consume now, pay later" mode of human behavior after World War II appears to be invincible even as resource constraints make it increasingly harder to sustain. However, it is improbable that the "growth and overshoot" trends of the past 40 years can continue for the next 40 years. The author provides some interesting insights on his own Limits to Growth journey, from the youthful enthusiasm of graduate school at MIT to the crucible of middle age and beyond. After much soul searching, he settles for a tripod of methods to organize lessons learned pursuant to articulating a global forecast that is internally consistent and most likely to approximate the trends and adaptations that will unfold between now and 2052. The three methods are:

  • Integrating forecasts produced by a large (30+) number of anonymous but recognized experts in different dimensions of the sustainability spectrum.
  • Using a number of dynamic spreadsheets to ensure that all the available data is used in calculating trends over time (by systems of nonlinear difference equations that simulate dynamic system behavior as driven by stable feedback loop structures and time delays) in order to ensure precision of factor definitions and filter out conceptual inconsistencies.
  • Basing the forecast on the dominant paradigm of growth and consumerism while simultaneously bouncing it against possible modes of human adaptation that may emerge when people are hit in the pocketbook as a consequence of resource constraints.

This is not a book written to foster false hopes of a rosy future for our children and grandchildren. But the temptation to retreat into pessimism devoid of hope is also resisted. As long as humans are capable to adapt - out of necessity if not altruism - there is hope for a sustainable future, no matter how difficult. According to Randers, five key and very difficult systemic issues must be resolved during the 2012-2052 time window: phasing out liberal capitalism, overcoming the myth of unlimited economic growth, restructuring democracies for improved responsiveness, renewing generational harmony, and managing climate change. For each of these issues, a summary of historical data and current projections is provided in chapter 2.

Review of Part II: What can we reasonably expect during the next 40 years?

At a high level, the forecast is about gradual change from 2012 to 2052, followed by rapid (perhaps turbulent) change during the second half of the century. It is about a transition from fossil-fueled economic growth to sustainable well-being, from consumerism to sustainability, with roughly 50% of the transition process completed by 2052. Chapter 3 provides a comprehensive overview of the forecast and the underlying rationale. The forecast attempts to answer two basic questions,

1. What will happen to consumption over the next forty years?
2. Under what conditions-and in what social and natural environment-will that future consumption take place?

for the global economy and five regions: USA, OECD-less-USA (i.e., European Union, Japan, and Canada), China, BRISE (a group of 14 "big emerging economies"), and ROW (the rest of the world). These "regional" groupings make sense from the perspective of income levels but are problematic with regard to climate change intensity. The "deterministic backbone" (set of dominant causal drivers) of the forecast is diagrammed in Figure 3-1 (page 57). The diagram shows population growth as an exogenous input to the global economy, which is surprising given that the impact of economic growth on population (via improved life standards, education, health care, etc.) is well known.

The rationale for the mathematical formulation of forecast variables (including definitions, units, and assumptions) is provided in plain English, as it should, with a link to the 2052 worksheet (requires Excel 2007) for actual formulae and quantification details. Readers who like to see graphs of forecasted behavior over time must fast-forward to chapters 9 and 10. The appendices, in particular the summary forecast in Appendix 1 (pages 354-356) are very helpful. But isn't there a causal link from "Growth in per capita consumption" to the determinants of population growth? Likewise, isn't there another causal link from "Resource and climate problems" to the same and other demographic drivers?

The polarity of these links from consumption to population may shift at some consumption thresholds, which makes their formulation tricky; but ignoring the influence of economics and the natural environment on human fertility would seem to be an oversimplification with regard to question 2 above. Indeed, chapter 4 on "Consumption and Population to 2052" provides a good discussion of the two-way interactions between consumption and population trends, and glimpse 4-1 on "The End of Uneconomic Growth" by Herman Daly is a jewel, but no supporting reference back to Figure 3-1 can be found. Chapters 5 and 6 cover ground on measurable variables (energy, emissions, global warming, food, ecological footprint) that are tightly coupled to human fertility and well-being, but the presumed independence of population from economic factors is not mentioned.

In chapter 5, the discussion on shifting a greater percentage of GDP from consumption to investment does not take into account evidence to the effect that Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROI) for is much lower for renewable energy sources (wind, solar, etc.) than it is for fossil fuels. The jury is still out as to whether renewables can physically pick up the slack regardless of how much is invested. Further engineering research will be required to substantiate this part of the forecast, which is also tightly connected to the projected trends of emissions and climate change intensity as portrayed in Figure 5-3 (page 115).

The energy availability issue is pervasive and also applies to food production and ecological footprint (chapter 6). Since more expensive energy (from whatever source) is bound to translate not only into more expensive environmental remediation but also into more expensive food, it is questionable that "food production will satisfy reduced demand" except for the very rich. Increasing energy efficiency (or energy intensity in terms of energy inputs required per unit of production) is necessary but not sufficient to avert an energy crisis in all industries, including agriculture, after peak oil. The total amount of energy throughput required to sustain the economy and the population is what really matters. Even if food demand and energy demand decrease by reduced population and/or consumption, it has yet to be shown that renewables can sustain the global system after fossil fuels are phased out due to a combination of scarcity, ecological impacts, and the huge investments that would be required. Furthermore, given the latest report on global warming, and with rising temperatures already raising food prices, the likelihood of a severe energy crisis before 2052 is not insignificant.

Chapter 7 on "The Nonmaterial Future to 2052" and chapter 8 on "The Zeitgeist in 2052" are a bit more speculative, but very reasonable. There must be a cultural evolution away from brute material growth and toward prioritizing human well-being. Human pain and suffering during this cultural evolution, which is unavoidable, would be greatly mitigated to the extent that a critical mass of "global citizens" emerges that foster voluntary participation in the transition as opposed to waiting until people are hit hard in the pocketbook (and elsewhere). Rio+20 was another small step in this direction, and hopefully the mid-September meeting at Jeju will be another step going forward. All nations will have to muddle through this together, and in doing so it might be helpful to keep in mind that sustainability has little to do with "technological progress" and much to do with human solidarity with other humans, our natural environment, and the entire community of creation. From 2012 to 2052, and beyond, growth in human solidarity will be the name of the game:

The paradox of our time in history
is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers;
wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints.
We spend more, but have less;
we buy more but enjoy less.
We have bigger houses and smaller families,
more conveniences, but less time;
we have more degrees, but less sense;
more knowledge, but less judgment;
more experts, yet more problems,
more medicine, but less wellness.

We drink too much, smoke too much,
spend too recklessly, laugh too little,
drive too fast, get too angry,
stay up too late, get up too tired,
read too little, watch TV too much,
and pray too seldom.

We have multiplied our possessions,
but reduced our values.
We talk too much, love too seldom,
and hate too often.
We've learned how to make a living, but not a life,
we've added years to life not life to years.
We've been all the way to the moon and back,
but have trouble crossing the street
to meet a new neighbor.
We conquered outer space but not inner space.
We've done larger things, but not better things.
We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul.

We've conquered the atom, but not our prejudice.
We write more, but learn less.
We plan more, but accomplish less.
We've learned to rush, but not to wait.
We build more computers to hold more information
and to produce more copies than ever,
but we communicate less and less.

These are the days of two incomes but more divorce,
fancier houses but broken homes.
These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throw-away morality, one-night stands,
overweight bodies, and pills that do everything
from cheer to quiet, to kill.
It is a time when there is much in the show window
and nothing in the stockroom.
A time when technology can bring this letter to you,
and a time when you can choose to share this insight,
or just hit delete.
Remember to spend some time with your loved ones,
because they are not going to be around forever.
Remember to say a kind word
to someone who looks up to you in awe,
because that little person soon will grow
up and leave your side.
Remember to give a warm hug to the one next to you
because that is the only treasure
you can give with your heart and it doesn't cost a cent.
Remember to say "I Love you" to your partner
and your loved ones, but most of all mean it.
A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt
when it comes from deep inside of you.
Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment
for someday that person will not be there again.
Give time to Love, give time to speak,
give time to share the precious thoughts in your mind.
To all my friends in my life, thanks for being there!

Live with intention, walk to the edge.
Listen hard, practice wellness, continue to learn.
Laugh, play with abandon. Choose with no regret.
Appreciate your friends.

There is a saying which I am sure you will recognize:
"Do what you love, live as if this is all there is.
Life's journey is the destination…
so dance like no-one's watching,
work like you don't need the money,
and love like you've never been hurt before…"

Attributed to comedian and social critic
George Carlin (1937-2008)

Link to the Club of Rome

Indeed, the transition from consumerism to sustainability will require a significant amount of individual human adaptation. This will entail supporting, and eventually being reinforced by, concomitant institutional adaptation, especially in politics. The current lack of political will to make decisions and commitments pursuant to the common good is appalling. In particular, any proposal for world governance in order to resolve issues that are intrinsically global in scope is DOA ("dead on arrival") out of understandable concern about too much centralization of power. Using the principle of subsidiarity, whereby decisions are to be authoritatively made at the lowest possible level consistent with the scope of the problem, would be instrumental for fair and effective governance at the global, national, and local levels. This book is conveys an economic forecast in which Homo economicus is assumed to remain Homo economicus. Given the tight coupling between economics and politics, however, mentioning the likelihood of wider use of this principle, or some other method to establish the required checks and balances before 2052, would have been appropriate.

Review of Part III: What can we do now for our children and grandchildren?

The book is dedicated to the author's children and grandchildren and is, from beginning to end, an appeal to inter-generational solidarity. Part III is an analysis of the forecast. It offers numerous insights that deserve consideration, and these are presented in chapters 9 to 12. Chapter 9 is about "reflections for the future" and translates the global forecast to time graphs that show recorded trends from 1970 to 2010 and projected behavior from 2010 to 2050. Chapter 10 then breaks down the global forecast into "regional" forecasts for the five non-geographical regions grouped by gross-income level: USA, OECD-less-USA (i.e., European Union, Japan, and Canada), China, BRISE (a group of 14 "big emerging economies"), and ROW (the rest of the world). In comparing the Limits to Growth scenarios (first published in 1972) with the forecasts in this book, it is helpful to identify the time windows and the variables taken into account:

1972 Limits to Growth Simulation Plots
Time window: 1900-2100

Population (persons)
Crude birth rate (births/1000 persons/year)
Crude death rate (deaths/1000 persons/year)
Non-renewables resources (fraction of 1970 reserves)
Industrial output per capita ($/person/year)
Services per capita ($/person/year)
Food per capita (kilogram-grain/person/year)
Pollution (multiple of 1970 level)

Note: The 1992 and 2004 updates of "Limits to Growth" incorporate new data and refined terminology, but otherwise the simulation plots exhibit the same growth and degrowth modes of behavior during the 1900-2100 time window.

2052 Global Forecast Graphs
Time window: 1970-2250

Population (persons)
GDP (Trillion $/year)
Consumption (Trillion $/year)
GDP per person (Thousand $/person-year)
Consumption per person (Thousand $/person-year)
CO2 emissions (CO2 billion tons/year)
Temperature rise (Degrees Celsius)
Energy use (Million TOE/year)
Energy use per person (TOE/person-year)
Fraction renewable energy (% of energy use)
Food production (Billion tons/year)
Food per person (Tons/person-year)
Investment share of GDP (% of GDP
Unused bio-capacity (% of TBPC)
Sea-level rise (Meters)

Acronyms: GDP = Gross Domestic Product, CO2 = Carbon Dioxide, TOE = Tons of Oil Equivalent, TBC = Tons of Biomass Production Capacity in land not used for food, wood, or cities

Generally speaking, the 2052 forecast is a carefully sculpted nuancing of the Limits to Growth (LTG) scenarios. The dramatic degrowth trends suggested by the LTG scenarios for the 21st century are attenuated, and most of the pain is reasonably postponed to the second half of the century by taking into account every conceivable form of mitigation and adaptation while remaining within the Homo economicus paradigm. Without the feedback loops that induce lower birth rates and higher death rates due to hunger and pollution, world population peaks around 2040 and then begins to decline slowly. Whereas LTG shows "industrial output per capita" collapsing early in the century, the 2052 forecast shows GDP, and GDP per capita, steadily growing up to 2050, albeit not exponentially, with consumption and consumption per capita peaking by mid-century.

Energy use, and energy use per capita, continue to grow until the 2040s, with COs emissions lagging close behind but mitigated somewhat by and exponential increase in the fraction of total energy use that comes from renewable ("clean") sources. This may turn out to be the Achilles' heel (or, to use the author's term, the "cliff-hanger") of this forecast: based on existing evidence, it is questionable that renewables have enough energy content to sustain a growing economy for long, regardless of the share of GDP allocated to clean energy development. Hopefully, EROI calculations to date are underestimating the amount of useful energy that renewables can deliver; else, continued reliance on fossil fuels would mean more CO2 emissions, more global warming, and potentially catastrophic climate disruptions that could induce, among other things, diminished food production capacity.

Chapter 10 slices the forecast for each of the five regions: USA, OECD-less-USA (i.e., European Union, Japan, and Canada), China, BRISE (a group of 14 "big emerging economies"), and ROW (the rest of the world). The vertical scales naturally change from one region to another, but all the charts are normalized for ease of comparison. For all regions, the general shape of all the curves is concave (growth-peak-stagnation-degrowth), with some differences in time-phasing and the timing of oscillations. The one exception is "unused bio-capacity," which declines monotonically for all regions except China. The rationale for China's unused bio-capacity going negative, then recovering and regrowing after 2020 or so, is not clear. If anything, chapter 10 shows that, when it comes to the transition to sustainability, all nations are on the same boat. In today's "globalized" world, national borders and regional groupings remain meaningful for some purposes, but global problems will require global solutions and, as Randers points out, "the main challenge in our global future is not to solve the problems we are facing, but to reach agreement to do so."

Chapter 11 finally mentions the EROI issue, albeit in passing. Accelerating the deployment of renewable energy technologies by investing more in R&D is certainly possible to some extent, but more investment cannot cancel the laws of thermodynamics. A solar economy would be great, but not so if covering all remaining unused land with these devices still fails to deliver enough total energy in usable form. But the most interesting content of this chapter is about the continuities, and discontinuities, between the 1972 and subsequent LTG scenarios and the 2052 forecast. "LTG stated that the growth of the global population and economy would crash into the physical constraints of the planet in the first half of the twenty-first century. The world would pass through these constraints - because of long reaction and decision delays - and move into overshoot, from which there would be only two ways back: "managed decline" or "collapse induced by nature."" According to the 2052 forecast, natural and social resilience are making it possible to manage degrowth and hopefully postpone unmanageable collapse until after 2052. This may be reassuring for those who are already in the third phase of life, and perhaps for our children, but hardly so for our grandchildren; even though Glimpse 11-1, "The Fifth Cultural Step," by Dag Andersen, offers a ray of hope.

Chapter 12 offers a number of very sensible recommendations to make the future better than the forecast or, at least, prevent a worse future coming to pass. There are recommendations for the body politic at all levels, as well as for individuals willing to get started without looking back to see how many are following. Nothing radically new, but the exposition of refreshingly lucid and devoid of alarmist threats and inflammatory slogans. The final advice is the most important: "Learn to live with impending disaster without losing hope."

From Homo economicus to Homo ecologicus

Perhaps it is time to recognize that Homo sapiens sapiens is still "work in progress." Human evolution did not stop with the emergence of the first humans in Africa, 70000 or so years ago. Human evolution continues, just as evolution continues in all non-human forms of life. We are currently in the Homo economicus phase and, as Glimpse 11-1 suggests, further human and cultural development is possible in the long-term. We should not have false hopes about Homo economicus becoming Homo ecologicus before 2052. But in order to "live with impending disaster without losing hope," we must keep hoping and working for Homo economicus to become, at least, Homo reciprocans, whereby humans acquire a propensity to cooperate for the common good even if sometimes such manner of thinking and acting might seem to be incompatible with self-interest; for everything that goes around comes around and we must learn that self-interest, isolated from the common good, eventually works against self-interest.

This is certainly true among humans. In particular, it is true in gender relations. This is a crucial point that goes deeper than economics, easily becomes a visceral issue in both society and religion, and therefore is understandably noted only in passing here and there in this book. It also seems to be an
Source: Wikipedia
uncomfortable topic that most people are inhibited from discussing lest they be considered to be naive feminists or somehow mentally ill. But it needs to be mentioned, for there is no way in the world that Homo reciprocans can emerge as long as 50% of humanity is trying to dominate, in subtle or not so subtle ways, the other 50%. And we now know that the gender continuum includes a relatively small but nevertheless significant percent of homosexual persons. As long as those in the minority heterosexual masculine polarity keep trying to be dominant, no matter how subtly, the emergence of Homo reciprocans is practically impossible.

Going further in the evolutionary process, it is reasonable to keep working for Homo reciprocans to eventually become Homo ecologicus, whereby it is fully recognized that we are embedded in the cosmos and must live in solidarity with the entire community of creation as opposed to humans dominating nature. Then we can become Homo solidarious, people who strive to attain a balance between self-interest and the common good of both humanity and the human habitat, not for the sake of human self-interest alone but because the intrinsic value of animal life and natural resources is recognized as a divine gift entrusted to our care. This is a future in which humans have not ceased to be humans, a future in which humans are more fully Homo sapiens sapiens, a future worth praying and working for!

Some Suggestions for Prayer, Study, and Action

Prayer: That the hand of God helps in human affairs after humans have done everything humanly possible to resolve vexing issues is wisdom shared by all religious traditions. It is questionable that humans have done all that is humanly possible to reverse the ecological crisis, and leaders of all religious traditions (Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Protestant, Buddhist, Bahá'í, etc.) have already expressed concern about the way we are using and misusing natural resources and the human habitat. With so many people throughout the world professing to be religious (albeit not necessarily affiliated with any form of organized religion) prayer may be the mightiest weapon to overcome the powerful vested interests lurking under the "infinite [material] growth in a finite planet" oxymoron. Everyone can pray in some manner. We need to pray for all people to embrace, at least to some extent, the fundamental ideal of solidarity generally known as the Golden Rule:


Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.
Hinduism: Do naught unto others what would cause you pain if done unto you.
Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man.
Christianity: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Islam: No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desire for himself.
Sikhism: I am a stranger to no one; and no one is a stranger to me. Indeed, I am a friend to all.
Taoism: Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.
Source: Drone Warfare and Moral Choice, Judith Hand, 26 July 2012

Study: One thing engineers and economists could do is to research the crucial EROI issue; the combined threat of unaffordable energy and climate disruption for most people on earth is one that cannot be ignored any longer. For a more comprehensive background on this issue, see The Discovery of Global Warming. Politicians and global citizens would do well to figure out how to define and implement better checks and balances in governance in order to improve the ability to manage climate change without excessive centralization of power; the Acton Institute is actively researching this issue from the perspective of Catholic social doctrine, but more work is needed on reconstructing political institutions for the 21st century. More generally, natural and social scientists, working together, would make a significant contribution by integrating the principles of solidarity, subsidiarity, and sustainability into policy-making frameworks that foster balance between individual self-interest and the common good. Bringing nonviolence into the picture would be helpful.

Action: Since the 1970s, Randers and others in the Limits to Growth project have been globetrotting for ecological sanity. In the 1990s, Donella Meadows published The Global Citizen and pointed out that "nothing is so powerful as an exponential whose time has come." There is a Donella Meadows Institute to carry on her legacy. But what is needed now is exponential growth in the number of global citizens who are actively engaged in the nonviolent struggle for environmental justice. Individual initiatives at the local level may be the most effective way to get started. Plant a tree, recycle trash, try to be parsimonious in consuming stuff and burning fossil fuels! For those who are able and willing, there are many opportunities for organized action: Greenpeace, the Zeitgeist Movement, the Widening Circle initiative, the UN Volunteers, etc. Pick one, and get going!


This book is an admirable effort to integrate an enormous amount of existing knowledge into a coherent vision of the current state of the world and, from there, articulate a forecast for the next 40 years of social evolution at both the global and regional levels. Randers' forecast may or may not come to pass in every detail, and may or may not be the definitive integration of existing knowledge pursuant to ecological sustainability, but is certainly a good example of what needs to be done to foster the required paradigm shift. By expressing both grave concerns and hope for the future, it brings to mind this beautiful poem:

Upon this age, that never speaks its mind,
This furtive age, this age endowed with power
To wake the moon with footsteps, fit an oar
Into the rowlocks of the wind, and find
What swims before his prow, what swirls behind ---
Upon this gifted age, in its dark hour,
Rains from the sky a meteoric shower
Of facts . . . they lie unquestioned, uncombined.
Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill
Is daily spun; but there exists no loom
To weave it into fabric; undefiled
Proceeds pure Science, and has her say; but still
Upon this world from the collective womb
Is spewed all day the red triumphant child.

Edna St. Vincent Millay,
from “Upon This Age That Never Speaks Its Mind,”
Collected Sonnets, Harper Perennial, 1988

The "red triumphant child" we need is a paradigm shift that resolves the five great issues posed by Randers: reinventing the economic system to make it more human and ecologically sustainable; shifting priorities from material growth to integral human development; making governance more participative and responsive in pursuing the common good; a new culture of inter-generational solidarity; and minimizing, to the extent possible, the negative effects of climate change. But it is hard to imagine that this paradigm shift, and resolving the "five big issues," can happen without a significant evolution of human civilization toward greater valuation of inner spiritual needs and the imperatives of social solidarity; and this evolution may require, not so much new breakthroughs in science and technology, as recovering ancient wisdom that we have lost in the "free" market.


  • The Limits to Growth, by Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, and Jorgen Randers, Potomac Associates, 1972. Subsequent updates by the same authors: Beyond the Limits, Chelsea Green, 1992; and The Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update, Chelsea Green, 2004.
  • Our Common Future, Report of the UN World Commission on Environment and Development (Brundtland Commission), 1987.
  • Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Vatican City, April 2005.
  • Degrowth or Decadence, Ramón Alcoberro, Barcelona Metropolis, Summer 2009.
  • Growing within Limits, Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (PBL), The Hague, 2009.
  • The Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation, Richard Bauckham, Baylor University Press, 2010.
  • State of the World 2010: Transforming Cultures from Consumerism to Sustainability, Erik Assadourian, Project Director, Worldwatch Institute, February 2010.
  • The Ecological Wealth of Nations, Global Footprint Network, 2010.
  • The Social Economy or Solidarity Economy: An Embryo Tool for a Sustainable Economy, Jordi Garcia Jané, Conference on Economic Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability, Barcelona, 26-29 March 2010.
  • Energy and the Wealth of Nations, Charles A. S. Hall and Kent A. Klitgaard, Springer, 2011.
  • Plato's Revenge: Politics in the Age of Ecology, William Ophuls, The MIT Press, 2011.
  • Ecological Ethics, Patrick Curry, Polity Press, 2011.
  • Holy Misogyny: Why the Sex and Gender Conflicts in the Early Church Still Matter, April D. DeConick, Continuum, 2011.
  • Vision 2050: The new agenda for business, World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), 2011.
  • Thirty-Year Plan: Thirty Writers on What We Need to Build a Better Future, Orion, 2012.
  • Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation, Tom Theis and Jonathan Tomkin (Editors), University of Illinois and CNX, January 2012.
  • Global Environmental Outlook, GEO-5 Report 5th Edition, UNEP, February 2012.
  • Collapse, Environment, and Society, Karl W. Butzer, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 6 March 2012.
  • The Future We Want, Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, United Nations, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 20-22 June 2012.
  • Looking Beyond Rio, Towards Degrowth, Charles Eistenstein, Postgrowth, 1 July 2012.
  • The Human Factor, Editorial, Nature Climate Change, 27 July 2012.
  • From a Christian Perspective: What is Sustainability?, Markus Vogt, EcoJesuit, 5 August 2012.

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    Prophet Muhammad (c. 570 – 632 CE)


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