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U of U ECON 7004 - Economics and Limits to Growth

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Dennis Meadows - Economics and Limits to Growth: What's Sustainable?135 comments on Dennis Meadows - Economics and Limits to Growth: What's Sustainable?You must log in to post a comment. If you don't have an account, create one.ShareThis| Show without comments | PDF version135 comments on Dennis Meadows - Economics and Limits to Growth: What's Sustainable?You must log in to post a comment. If you don't have an account, create one.ShareThis| Show without comments | PDF versionSearch The Oil Drum with GoogleSupport The Oil DrumRecently on TOD:WorldTOD:CampfireTOD:EuropeTOD:CanadaTOD:Australia/NZTOD:Net EnergyBlogrollEnergy SitesEnvironment & Sustainability SitesBlogsFinance & Economics BlogsOrganizationsPeak Oil PrimersBeware email scams!Dennis Meadows - Economics and Limits to Growth: What'sSustainable?Posted by Gail the Actuary on January 4, 2010 - 10:27amTopic: Economics/FinanceTags: dennis meadows, limits to growth [list all tags] http://www.theoildrum.com/node/6094Dr. Dennis Meadows is one of the authors of the well-known 1972 book "Limits to Growth," plus two updates of the book. He has received a number of awards for his work, most recently the prestigious Japan Prize from the Science and Technology Foundation of Japan. Dr. Meadows recently gave a talk for the Population Institute. Both the presentation and a podcast of Dr. Meadows giving his talk can be downloaded from the Population Institute site. In this post, I summarize what I understand Dr. Meadows to be saying in that talk. Readers with time are encouraged to listen to the Podcast and look at the presentation themselves. Dr. Meadows did not cover all of his slides in his talk. This post relates only to those that he did cover. The number one take-away for me from this talk is The end of growth does not come from depletion, but from rising capital costs. In some ways, this is intuitive. When you put this statement together with the work I have been doing that shows that debt cannot continue rising inthe face of peak oil, it makes this issue even more important.A second major take-away for me (besides the importance of population in the equation) is Changes in technology may delay the end of growth by a few years, but they do not avoid it,and do not avoid the decline. A third observation I found interesting is that the biggest stresses are likely to occur at the time when growth ceases--that is now--not, as is popularly believed, as the result of the decline itself.What follows is my summary of the presentation. The more technical parts are fairly close to a transcript. For precisely what was said, I recommend the recording itself, free from i-tunes. The application runs on MacIntosh machines. I am not certain about Windows.1Slide 1The reason I [Dr. Meadows] am giving this talk is because I think that there is the possibility of positive change. Much of the way that we conduct ourselves is based on habit. For example, we get into the habit of crossing our arms with our right hand (or left hand) on top. It is not that putting the right hand or left hand on top is better or worse. We have just developed a habit of crossing our arms in a particular way.If we are going to solve the population problem, we need to learn new habits. I am hopeful that like learning to cross our arms in a different way, we can inspire people to learn new habits that will limit population growth--something that is needed with finite resources.My [Dr. Meadows'] views regarding what is sustainable are different now than they were 40 years ago. At that time, I worked with others at Massachusetts Institute of Technology to build a simple computer model that might offer some insight into the impact of limits to growth. We did not expect the model to be predictive--only that the scenarios might provide a rough boundaries regarding what might happen in the future. In our reference scenario in 1972, we expected growth to continue for 40 to 80 more years. The major difference I see in looking at the situation now is that things seem to be developing more rapidly than we expected then.2Slide 2Let's start by looking at our reference scenario. The red line shows where we were when the model was first developed. I have blocked out the fourth quadrant of the chart, because the worldsituation is likely to be so different from the situation we modeled that the model is likely to be totally irrelevant. The area shaded in light blue represents the time period that might possibility be changed by the policies we implement today. 3Slide 3In 1972, we expected another 40 to 80 years of growth in the various scenarios. While some of the scenarios we looked at ended in orderly decline, most of the scenarios we modeled ended in collapse. This likely outcome was later confirmed by William Catton in his book Overshoot.You will note I say that technology may delay the end of growth a few years, but it does not avoid the end of growth or the decline. I have worked in science and technology, and I have a scientific degree, so I am not saying this because I am unaware of what technology can do. Whenwe put together models using phenomenally optimistic assumptions, it just moved the decline date back a few years.Social changes are essential for a better outcome. Take population for example. There are two ways population can decreased: 1. The birth rate can go down, or2. The death rate can go up. A key factor to understand is that what are normally considered problems today--for example, climate change, energy shortages, and erosion, aren't really problems. Instead, they are symptoms of attempted infinite growth in a finite world.4In some ways, the situation is like if you have a friend who has cancer, and because of the cancerhe has a headache. It is not nice to have a headache, so you give your friend pain relievers, but you don't imagine you have cured the problem. The problem is cancer, and until you deal with the problem, there will be one or another manifestation, such as a head ache.We talk a lot about climate change today. I predict that in three or four years, we won't be talkingabout climate change. We will be talking about energy scarcity or food shortages or declining water supplies. This will occur not because we have dealt with climate, but because it is one of a large family of pressures which are going to mount until finally physical growth stops. Slide 4[I do not believe that Dr. Meadows spoke directly about this slide, but I thought it was important for


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