Demography

The world in 2052

Jørgen Randers, co-author of the controversial 1972 report 'The Limits to Growth', discusses his latest work contemplating the world's future, '2052'.
In 1972, Jørgen Randers\' \'The Limits to Growth\' sparked a heated debate. Four decades of data .../ Credits: Reuters
The Limits to Growth presented 12 possible future scenarios for the Earth from 1970 to 2100, six of which posited societal collapse, six of which looked forward to sustainable development. So which one most closely resembles our current predicament? 

"Recent work has examined which of the scenarios best resembles the actual development from 1970 to 2010 and the conclusion is that it is essentially the resource crisis," Randers recently told PROJECT M. "In that scenario, overshoot-collapse occurs somewhere between 2020 and 2040, so it’s still ahead of us. The important thing about Limits to Growth is that it made the point that the world is so small, that humanity cannot plan to increase population and activity on this little planet forever."

At age 67, Randers, professor of climate strategy at BI Norwegian Business School, remains curious. His current work, 2052, is a description of what he thinks will happen over the next 40 years. "It resembles the pollution crisis scenario from Limits to Growth, a situation where humanity grows, GDP grows and resources are sufficient to handle growth, but emissions of greenhouse gases are so large that we reach plus two degrees centigrade in warming by 2050. By 2080, we move to three degrees centigrade, which means self-reinforcing climate change and climate crisis are a possibility in the second half of this century."

Randers says he wrote 2052 "to convince people that their short-term nature should be compensated for by institutional frameworks that would reduce it." He also wanted to explore whether he should "continue worrying about the future, to work out if something will go terribly wrong during the last 20 years of my life."
When it comes to corporate policy in the future, Randers, who also sits on the sustainability council of the Dow Chemical Company, suggests that companies "shift activity in a climate friendly direction as much as possible without incurring huge costs."

But shouldn't a company do more than that? "If the owner is willing to sacrifice short-term profit in order for the firm to contribute to the solution of the world’s future, fine, but in most cases he is not and consequently there is nothing you can do...essentially you don’t get anywhere as long as you operate within the rules of the capitalist system and democracy. The only thing you can do, and this is what I advise my ‘multinational friends’ to do, is to work to change legislation."

Ultimately, he sees the next 40 years as manageable for humanity but tainted by a damaging legacy. "I forecast that humanity will respond strongly enough to avoid resource problems, water problems, food problems over the next 40 years, but we will not respond strongly enough to avoid the climate problem. Consequently, our grandchildren will live in a world with a highly damaged climate."

Read the full interview on Project M online.

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