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Limits to Growth Author Jorgen Randers on Global Collapse: Fact or Fiction?

I’d like to share with you an idea that occurred to me today regarding the climate crisis:

Humanity conquered the Earth before we knew what to do with it. We’re the chief executive of a world we don’t really understand, taking on a responsibility we didn’t earn, and we refuse to see a need for change before it’s too late.

Humanity is George W. Bush.

The question now becomes: are we on the verge of global collapse—the point at which rising temperatures would create a self-feeding, self-perpetuating loop that would cause catastrophic upheavals regardless of any actions we take?

Jorgen Randers, co-author of the groundbreaking environmental wake-up call Limits to Growth, recently published an article in the magazine ScienceDirect which looks at the data and attempts to answer that question scientifically.


This paper seeks to answer the following question: Is it possible that the slow societal response to the emerging climate crisis may result in ‘‘global collapse’’—that is, a situation were global society first exceeds the sustainable rate of greenhouse gas emissions, and then experiences a sudden, unwanted, and unstoppable decline in the average welfare of hundreds of millions of its citizens?

Certainly, global collapse can be avoided if society decides to act in time, and even at a reasonable cost. Still, global collapse is a possibility in the 21st century, because of the numerous good reasons to postpone societal response, because of the inertia in the climate system, and because there exist self-reinforcing mechanisms that may lead to runaway temperature increase once certain thresholds are surpassed.

The paper argues, finally, that climate-induced global collapse, even if it did indeed occur, would not necessarily be described by future historians as such. The collapse could well be reported as a case of bad global management.

Global collapse could remain fiction, even if it proved to be fact.

© 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

The paper in its entirety can be found in the December 2008 issue of the journal Futures. Go to ScienceDirect to purchase the full text of the paper.

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