Nature & Environment Archive

Pre-Release Special: Dreaming the Future

Monday, August 27th, 2012

When Kenny Ausubel, an award-winning social entrepreneur, author, journalist, and filmmaker, and his wife Nina Simons started the Bioneers Conference in 1990, they gathered a diverse group of people who shared a dream about changing human society to make it more harmonious with nature.

In the spirit of that same dream, Ausubel’s new book is filled with inspiring thoughts about what our lives could look like — if only we try a little harder to live like good Earthlings instead of like shortsighted resource hogs with nothing to lose. In fact we have a great deal to lose — perhaps everything. It is time, argues Ausubel, to reimagine our future and our connection to each other, and to nature.

Dreaming the Future is a collection of essays by Ausubel, about the big ideas, metatrends, and game-changing developments of our time.

Paul Hawken, author of Blessed Unrest and coauthor of Natural Capitalism, says:

“Without doubt, Kenny Ausubel has one of the most glorious minds on the planet. Herein he has crafted a dazzling treasury of essays on the destiny of humanity and its place on earth, a rosary of startling truths. His ability to describe the cataclysmic loss of living systems contrasted with the luminous and untold rise of human awakening is unique among living writers and speakers. Read this for its brilliance, but read it also to find joy in the intricate reimagination of what it means to be a human being at this parlous moment in civilization.”

To celebrate the arrival of this poetic and imaginative new book, we’re putting it on sale for 25% off this week.

Occupy World Street: The Music Video

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

This may be a first for Chelsea Green: An author who’s created a music video to promote his book.

The author is Ross Jackson, of Denmark, and the book is Occupy World Street: A Global Roadmap for Radical Economic and Political Reform. The book shows how the uprisings around the world stem from a similar source: A populist response to the selfish, swashbuckling behavior of global financial elites who wreck economies and then call on governments to enact punishing “austerity” measures that keep them off the hook (and out of jail), while further harming people already in distress.

The book also offers a roadmap for how several countries, banding together, could break away from the boom and bust neoliberal economic cycles and chart a new bath based on shared prosperity and sustainability.

You think he’d be satisfied with offering such a radical, but at the same time rational, view of the world. Nope. Jackson is now offering us a global sing-a-along — a protest song that we can all get behind. We’ve embedded the video below for your viewing, and singing, pleasure.

The catchy folk song — written and composed by Jackson who also appears in the video strumming a guitar and sauntering the streets — is an homage to the Occupy movement that has seen occupations spring up around the world, often fueled by the imagination and anger of the younger generation. Jackson also uses the song to offer a critique of the Euro and why it’s been so damaging to sovereign economies.

We’re posting the complete lyrics below so you can sing along to Jackson’s ditty. You can also find a downloadable lyric sheet on Jackson’s website, where he’s calling himself “The Singing Economist.”

Let’s see Paul Krugman top that. We’re waiting.

OWS The Song – Lyrics
Written by Ross Jackson, June 2012   

Well I walked downtown to Zuccotti Park.
It was 6 p.m. and getting dark
When I saw a young couple chattin’ and drinkin’ cokes.
I asked them what was going on here,
And the young lady answered loud and clear,
“We’re here to send a message to our folks.

“This land was once the land of the free,
Of justice and democracy.
Now America’s lost her way and got off track.
One man one vote was the order then.
Now our land’s been stolen by the money men
And all of us here are just trying to get it back.”

Occupy New York City
Occupy Santa Fe
Occupy Cincinnati
Occupy San José

We might be in Salt Lake City
Or in Washington D.C.
¬Speaking out for human
Rights and more equality.

The young man said his name was Bob
And recently he’d lost his job.
His firm had pulled up stakes and moved offshore.
“They say it’s cheaper in Shanghai
Where profit rates are record high
And they don’t pay much in taxes anymore”.

“The one percenters cheat and steal
And don’t produce a thing that’s real.
Asset speculation is their style.
These guys are parasites,” he said.
“They ought to get real jobs instead,
And make a contribution that’s worthwhile”.

Occupy San Francisco
Occupy Wichita
Occupy Sacramento
Occupy Omaha

Occupy Minnesota
Occupy Tennessee
Standing up for nature
And sustainability

Then I went to Europe to just check out
What the euro fuss was all about.
The youth are without jobs and that’s the key.
The young folks want their countries back
But leaders take a different tack;
Bank bailouts and more austerity.

The euro was a big mistake;
A backdoor to a Eurostate
That citizens would rather be without.
The people want a deal that’s fair
Where bankers pay their rightful share.
Until that day they’ll roam the streets and shout.

Occupy Copenhagen
Occupy Birmingham
Occupy Londonderry
Occupy Amsterdam

We are camping out in Athens
As we make a final plea:
“We’d rather leave the euro
Than have more austerity.”

We will occupy Milano
Occupy Luxembourg
Occupy Barcelona
Occupy this whole world

Now our numbers they are growing,
And we won’t accept defeat,
Time to end injustice;
Time to Occupy World Street

Time to end injustice………..

Time to Occupy World Street

Eight Ways the World Will Change by 2052

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

Originally published by Fast Company.

Editor’s Note

Forty years ago, The Limits to Growth study addressed the grand question of how humans would adapt to the physical limitations of planet Earth. It predicted that during the first half of the 21st century the ongoing growth in the human ecological footprint would stop–either through catastrophic “overshoot and collapse”–or through well-managed “peak and decline.”

So, where are we now? In 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years, Jorgen Randers–one of the co-authors of Limits to Growth–issues a progress report and makes a forecast for the next 40 years. This excerpt is reprinted with permission of Chelsea Green Publishing.

Let me answer some of your likely questions about the next 40 years as I expect them to unfold.

1. Will I Be Poorer?

Some of us will, others will not.

In order to give a clearer answer, the question must be asked more precisely. The question must be: Will I be poorer compared to x? And you must decide whether x should be (a) today, (b) what you would have been if humanity rose to the occasion and ran a rational world, or (c) relative to your peers.

Furthermore you must be precise about what future time you are asking about. Is it 2052? Or the halfway mark, 2032? You do remember, I hope, that the average income path to 2052 will not be a straight line. Per capita consumption in my forecast grows to a peak sometime within the next 40 years and is in decline in 2052—details depending on where you live.

If we’re willing to sacrifice some precision, though, I can provide this general answer: As long as you are not a citizen of the United States, you will be richer in 2052 than you are today. But only slightly so, unless you live in China or BRISE. I can add some detail: you will be much poorer than you would have been in 2052 if a benevolent dictator took control in 2012 and forced through the necessary investments to keep everyone employed and global warming below plus 2°C.

And I can add: Unless you do something very stupid (or very unconventional) during the next 40 years, you will be in the same position vis-à-vis your neighbors and peers as you are now. Both you and your peers will experience the same parallel development over the next 40 years. The only exception is if you are presently very affluent. Then it may be that your social rank will have declined through the processes of redistribution, which I believe will occur during the next 40 years in order to reduce some of the tension implicit in the rapid increase in inequity in the capitalist world.

Finally, I will give you a piece of uninvited advice: Yours is the wrong question. You should not ask, “Will I be poorer?” You should rather ask, “Will I be more satisfied?” Whether you are satisfied with life is more important (for you) than whether you are somewhat richer or poorer. Empirically, for some, income is the sole determinant of life satisfaction. But for the majority, a whole host of factors influence our well-being—job, health, family, community, prospects for the future—in addition to income. It is the sum total of all aspects of life that determine your well-being, both now and in the future.

So when you privately assess the implications for yourself of my global forecast, try to judge what it will mean for your well-being, not only what it will mean for your income.

2. Will There Be Enough Jobs?


Or to be slightly less flippant: there will be as many jobs in the future as there have been in the past—relative to the workforce, that is. Or to be more scientific: there is little reason to expect that underemployment will be much higher (or lower) in the future than it has been over the last generation. This means that 10% of those who would like to get a paid job won’t get it overnight. The number will be closer to 5% during business upturns and closer to 15% during downturns. In the future, like in the past.
The reason is simple. A job is absolutely crucial from the point of the individual in industrial and postindustrial urbanized society. It is the only way in which the individual can get part of the societal pie–without engaging in theft. Since a job is crucial, the individual will do his utmost to obtain one. And society–at least in the long run–will do its utmost to ensure there are jobs, typically by seeking rapid economic growth. But we know from recent history that this is a taxing task, and that politicians often fail. As a result we do experience lengthy periods of excessive unemployment, even in the advanced economies. And the task of securing full employment may become harder in the future, since I forecast lower growth rates in GDP.

But given the importance of employment for societal peace and order, and given the real fear among the elite about a reshuffling of the cards, the necessary effort will be applied–sooner or later. The reason why I am willing to state this so blatantly is that the task is solvable in principle. When the unemployment problem is not solved in the short term, it is because society is not immediately willing to use the tools that the ruling elites actually have at hand. Because these tools imply taking from the rich (those with a job) and giving to the poor (those without a job).

For in the end the rulers can print paper money and pay unemployed people to do what society needs to get done, in return for the paper money. For example, politicians can decide that society needs to build dikes to protect against rising sea levels, or remove litter from public places and highways, or paint all roofs white (in order to reflect more sunlight and reduce global warming), or create new pieces of art for public enjoyment. And they can print the necessary money to pay for this work. The new money will boost demand for everything that the workers need–food, shelter, energy, vacation–and have the traditional expansionary effect. The cost will be higher inflation, but that bothers the rich more than the poor. As long as there are underutilized resources in the economy, deficit financing of compulsory work for the state is sustainable. It is possible to lower unemployment by printing new money. But the rich will scream. Because they will see this for what it is: namely, a transfer of wealth and income from the rich to the poor.

If the elite is stupid enough not to solve the unemployment problem within reasonable time, revolution (or at least sufficient rattling of the system to get crisis work going) will result. Such disruption will lower incomes in the short term, but it will distribute the cards in new ways in the longer run and therefore provide new opportunity for the formerly unemployed. Disruption makes unemployment more bearable, and probably gets it back down into the 10% range.

So I see little reason why there should be higher levels of unemployment in the future. But that is not the same as saying there will be smooth sailing. Unemployment figures will continue to fluctuate between the barely acceptable and the totally unbearable. And all along there will be unnecessary suffering.

3. Will the Climate Problem Hurt Us?

Yes, but not critically before 2040.

My forecast shows in quantitative detail how I believe the global average temperature will increase over the next couple of generations. The average temperature will go from plus 0.8°C relative to preindustrial times in 2012 to plus 2.0°C in 2052, and a maximum of plus 2.8°C in 2080.

The forecast maximum in 2080 is above the threshold that world leaders agreed would place us in the danger zone for runaway climate change; but it is important to realize this is a politically negotiated goal. Views differed, and still differ, on what will be safe. Or in other words, what will hurt us.

There is a large body of literature about what will happen at plus 2°C. Science agrees on the broad lines–more drought in drought-prone areas, more rain in rainy areas, more extreme weather (strong winds, torrential rains, intense heat spells), more melting of glaciers and the Arctic sea ice, somewhat higher sea levels, and a more acidic ocean, in addition to the higher temperature and the higher CO2 concentration in the atmosphere that will boost food and forest growth in higher northern latitudes. Ecosystems will move poleward and uphill.

But science cannot yet predict the detailed strength and regional distribution of these impacts. Thus it is impossible to forecast what will be the effect on your surroundings over the next generation. But you can get a strong indication if you start looking slightly beyond science. By asking locals in daily contact with nature, you will get to know what has changed over the last 20 or 40 years. You can do worse than assuming that these changes will strengthen during the rest of your life.

Let me give a concrete example. The only rational reason to live in a cold, northern city like my hometown of Oslo during the dark subfreezing period from mid-November to mid-March is the great opportunity for cross-country skiing (ideally on moonlit white glades in the pine forests just north of the city) on the one meter or so of cold fluffy snow that covered the ground until the last real winter in 1986.

But over the last 25 years, the average winter temperature in Oslo has gone up by plus 2°C. This has shortened the period of stable cold weather from four to two months. Instead, we now have two months of good skiing and two months of wet, gray, and cold slush, which keeps the forest dark and makes it impossible to even go jogging there after work. One-half of the Oslo winter is gone, sacrificed on the altar of climate change. This is clearly visible in the eyes of someone who has been skiing regularly over the last fifty years. It is discernable in the snow statistics, but it is not yet an established fact in the urban public mind. And certainly not institutionalized in a strong Norwegian climate policy.

This loss of skiing is a nuisance, but not catastrophic. As is the prolongation of the dry period in the western United States, or the increased number of very hot days in Provence. But they do constitute a loss. And a longing, among the grown-ups, for the good old days. A little more problematic, to say the least, is the slow rise of the ocean level around those Pacific islands that will be submerged if the ocean actually rises by a meter—just twice the expected sea-level rise by 2052.

So if you want to find out how climate change will hurt you, ask a local elderly outdoorsman or old farmer what he believes is going on. And then try to answer the question “Will I be more satisfied?” under the conditions that he thinks are emerging. But please be aware how subjective the answers you get will be: Most Norwegian farmers living next to my moonlit skiing forest are delighted at the prospect of higher temperatures, better forest growth, and the opportunity to clear-cut more often, with less snow bothering the cutting operations.


The Looming Crisis In Mass Transit

Friday, June 29th, 2012

Article by James McCommons, author of Waiting on a Train. Originally published in the Saturday Evening Post.

Over the past 50 years America made massive public investments in its highways—hundreds of billions of dollars in the interstate system alone. And largely because of that investment, cities and suburbs have grown into sprawling, disconnected clusters, largely dependent on the automobile. But America is changing, and it’s time to rethink the way we travel. “We have to change that and give people more options,” says John Robert Smith, president of Reconnecting America, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., that advises local leaders on transportation planning.

What’s the problem with car travel? Not to put too fine a point on it, but our current network of roads and more roads (with a piddling number of trains and buses along the margins) is not sustainable. Today, 91 percent of Americans commute to work in a car, usually alone. The daily cost of fuel for cars is a staggering $1 billion-plus. Then there is conservation: All told, American drivers burn roughly one-quarter of the world’s oil. [See also What Government Needs to Do by Jim Oberstar, former chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.]

Demographic trends also reflect a country reconsidering its settlement patterns and transportation networks, particularly in light of an expected population increase of more than 100 million new citizens over the next 40 years. Much of the population—from retiring boomers and young people alike—will be closer to city centers where mass transit is available.

Petra Todorovich, director of America 2050, a national urban planning organization in New York City, says when you look ahead a few years, better mass transit will be sorely needed. “We can’t just keep building more highways and creating more sprawl,” Todorovich says.What is essential for the success of mass transit is not just building the infrastructure itself, but connectivity. Travelers need to get from point A to point B quickly and efficiently. But for mass transit to work well, those same travelers also need to be able to switch easily from a taxi, a bus, a ferry, an airplane, or a train in a matter of a few steps to continue on to point C. In Europe, trolleys and high-speed trains run into the airports and the switch is accomplished in a short escalator ride. It’s seamless, even intuitive.

In America, not so much. “We are 30 to 40 years behind Europe and Asia,” said Smith, who adds that the big push for mass transit will have to come from state, city, and county governments and filter up to the federal level.

Despite the obstacles to rebuilding America’s mass transit system—and there are quite a few obstacles—there are also a few bright lights. A few months ago, I went to California to write a piece about the proposed bullet train that would run between San Francisco and Los Angeles. There’d been a storm of political fighting over funding—the cost of the train may exceed $50 billion—and battles over where to put the right of ways, but it appears California will start laying track in late 2012. The 220-mph train would be one of the largest public works projects ever attempted in the United States, but California has a history of doing big and gutsy infrastructure projects.

While the complete bullet train is at least a decade off, California is moving ahead on mass transit. In 10 days of traveling between its major cities, I avoided renting a car, even calling a cab. For such a supposedly car-centric state, the connectivity was remarkable. For example, beginning in Oakland, I traveled to Sacramento on the Capitol Corridor, a train operated by Amtrak but subsidized by the state.

From there, I caught another corridor train, the San Joaquin to Bakersfield where I easily stepped on an express bus to downtown L.A. On the city’s metro system, I rode the Blue Line light rail out to Long Beach, the Red Line to Hollywood, and then city buses to see friends in Wilshire and Silver Lake.

To reach San Diego, I took the Pacific Surfliner which runs hourly out of L.A.’s Union Station, and then a trolley to my hotel in Old Town. Over the next few days, I was on Sprinter, Coaster, and Metrolink—all commuter trains—and the Surfliner again. And when it was time to fly home, I caught an express FlyAway bus from Union Station to LAX.

Outstripping ridership projections, light rail systems in Houston (top) and Charlotte (bottom) also attracted millions in transit-oriented development (TOD).

Outstripping ridership projections, light rail systems in Houston (top) and Charlotte (bottom) also attracted millions in transit-oriented development (TOD).

What is happening on the West Coast is being repeated around the country. New light rail systems are being built or expanded in Salt Lake City, Denver, Dallas, Portland, Seattle, Atlanta, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Charlotte. Cities, such as L.A., are actually restoring service where decades ago they literally ripped out street car tracks to make room for cars. But it’s not just trains. Buses operating on natural gas, hybrid engines, and even overhead electrical wires are redefining city bus service. And in rural America, counties and other entities are finding ways to bring mass transit—typically bus or van service—to people who can’t afford cars or are unable to drive.

Mass transit is very much in the public eye, which is not surprising when one considers rising gas prices, highway congestion, unsustainable suburban sprawl, and an aging population. In 2011, Americans took 10.4 billion trips on public transportation, the second-highest annual ridership since 1957.

“For a long time, most transit riders were captive riders. They couldn’t afford a car and had to use the bus,” says Todorovich. “Now we are seeing more people using it as a lifestyle choice.”

Lifestyles matter, too. Many experts see America’s embrace of handheld devices and the desire to be connected electronically as another factor favoring mass transit over driving. Drive a car and you can’t or, at least, shouldn’t text. “If you are on a train or bus, you can stay on your iPad or smartphone,” adds Todorovich. And buses and trains that are Wi-Fi equipped make connecting that much easier.

It’s a big step from wanting or needing mass transit, to actually building it. With little clear direction from the feds, the solutions will be different for different localities. Which brings us to the bus-versus-train argument. Many urban areas are choosing to build light rail—even though improved bus service can be just as effective and would be a ton cheaper, says Professor G. Scott Rutherford, director of the TransNow Regional Center at the University of Washington in Seattle. That’s because buses run on infrastructure already in place—namely roads—and they are able to easily go off that right of way into neighborhoods, such as suburbs. Building new right of ways for trains is difficult and expensive, especially when trying to retrofit rail into highly urbanized environments.

But many cities see light rail as the only way to lure people out of their cars, says Rutherford. “There’s a rail bias,” he says. “Hey, I love trains, too, but an honest analysis in many communities would show that trains are not as good as buses.”

He points out that the common image of the loud and smoky city bus is a thing of the past. Buses today are cleaner, quieter, and quite efficient compared to automobiles.

Just as important, despite my successful experiment in California, in most American cities, bus stations, train stations, and airports were not built with an eye toward connectivity. Most such travel hubs are separated by several miles—the only transport option is an expensive cab ride. Even where there are attempts at connectivity, they are often problematic. In Milwaukee, Amtrak’s commuter train stops near Mitchell Airport, but passengers have to board a shuttle bus and then be deposited at the front of the airport. At the Seattle-Tacoma (Sea-Tac) Airport, the new light rail train only gets within 1,200 feet of the baggage area. The train station is located in the parking garage.

The obstacles range from turf wars to simple lack of foresight: “You could put the bus right in the front of the terminal, but the airport doesn’t want to interfere with single passenger cars picking up passengers. And because it sells parking, it doesn’t want to sacrifice spaces to get the train closer,” Rutherford says. “A lot of problems are jurisdictional. Transit crosses regional and political boundaries and there are competing interests.”

Keep reading.

From New Composter to Poo Composter: A Green Garbage Guide

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

The following article was adapted for the web from Composting: An Easy Household Guide by Nicky Scott and The Humanure Handbook by Joseph Jenkins.

There are a bewildering amount of different composting systems and bins available on the market. This article will help you choose which bin or system suits your lifestyle, your family, your house, or apartment.

Composting systems broadly fall into two types:

  • THE FIRST TYPE deals with fresh, uncooked fruit and vegetable skins and peelings, cardboard and paper, as well as green garden waste materials—prunings, hedge clippings, etc.
  • THE SECOND TYPE deals with all but can also be used for other food wastes as well, such as cooked food, meat, fish, cheese, fats, and grease.


The compost bin that most people are familiar with is the plastic ‘Dalek’-type bin. Sizes vary from 50 gallons to over 175 gallons; some have access/inspection hatches, and they come in a variety of colors. These bins are available through some sanitation departments, water companies, garden centers, and on-line.

Because uncooked fruit and vegetable waste is dense and wet, one way to deal with it is to aerate it by putting it in a tumbler. A tumbler consists of a drum mounted on a stand; they either tumble end over end, or around on their axis. They are also useful for dealing with perennial weeds and for mixing materials. However, they take up a lot of space. The coarse compost they produce can be used directly on the garden or can be placed in a covered pile in your garden to enable it to mature to a finer product.

The most common digester is the Green Cone. It consists of a basket, rather like a washing basket, which is buried in the ground with a double-skin cone, which is all that is visible above ground. This makes it difficult for rats to get in. The material breaks down and is pulled into the surrounding soil by worms. A digester is more of a waste-disposal option, since you don’t harvest the compost.

Green Cones are available on-line and at some big garden centers. See Solarcone, Inc.

As your confidence and understanding of composting increases, you will want to increase the range and amount of materials you compost. Certain materials present us with challenges, and just about anything in large quantities can be a challenge. Once you feel more confident you can move away from making compost in a plastic container and make your own compost heap, or even a ‘hot heap.’

This system gives you the opportunity to make much larger quantities of excellent compost quickly to use on your garden. It’s also fascinating and fun.

  • Option 1: No box – a pile on the ground
    Assemble as much material as you can–ideally enough to make a 4’ x 4’ roughly cube-shaped pile. You can heap the materials up as high as you can reach–it will end up being conical.

  • Option 2: Put it in a box
    You can make a cheap simple box to contain your heap out of old pallets. These can simply be tied together, and you can easily insulate them if desired.

  • Option 3: Use two boxes
    twoboxes.pngThe ’Rolls-Royce’ design for this type of heap is the New Zealand box. You can buy one ready-made, or construct your own.


When the heap is built, cover it with some old plastic sacks to keep in the water vapor that will be given off and some old carpet that will help to keep the heat in.


For those of you who want to climb to the top of the compost mountain, you will need to get there through humanure. Well…not through humanure…but by composting your—and your family’s—waste. This is the ultimate in compost creation and it has many benefits to boot. And yes, I mean more than just the poop jokes.

The Toilet

  • Option 1: A mobile bucket. Some people elect to cap an unfortunate bucket with a customized toilet seat and sealing lid. Then they simply use the bucket as their toilet. (See here.)
  • Option 2: A built-in. Some folks prefer to remove their old toilet in favor of a built-in installation of the new compost toilet. (See here.)
  • Option 3: The Hacienda. Serious humanure enthusiasts dedicate some square footage in their yard to a ‘humanure hacienda.’ This is essentially an out-house, and is most appropriate in warmer climates. (See here.)

The Humanure Pile
Composting humanure isn’t much different from the techniques above. The major difference is volume.. This means that you will need more than one (preferably three) sizable (about 5 ft tall by 4 ft square) compost bins. You should fill up each bin, each year, and then leave it to compost while you move on to the next bin. Start each bin by filling the bottom 18 inches or more with course, absorbant organic material. This will act as a biological sponge.

The humanure pile, like the contents of your toilet bucket, must always be covered with a clean organic material. On top of the clean organic top layer, you should place some sort of wire fencing to keep larger rodents out of the pile. This is especially necessary if you choose to combine your humanure and food compost.

Using the Compost
Once a compost bin is full and ready (after a year of aging), you can begin to use the compost for agricultural purposes.

References and Resources:

Happy composting!

Facing Peak Oil with Good Humor: Matt Harvey Visits Transition Town Totnes

Friday, June 15th, 2012

Matt Harvey is a well-known UK poet and comedian, and author of the upcoming book Where Earwigs Dare.

Rob Hopkins is the founder of the Transition Network and author of The Transition Companion, The Transition Handbook, and The Transition Timeline.

In this video from 2010 the two speak about the Transition Town Movement, and why we should prepare for a world without cheap energy.

Chapter 1: Worrying About the Future, An Excerpt from 2052

Friday, June 1st, 2012

Forty years ago, three researchers teamed up with a computer model and attempted to predict the future.

The result was a report to the Club of Rome entitled The Limits to Growth. But that was just the beginning.

In the years that followed, the future scenarios the model predicted — the most dire of which showed humanity using up its nonrenewable resources as fast as possible, and then sliding into myriad catastrophic shortages and crises — were hotly contested, and viciously derided as bad science. They were also occasionally championed as a Cassandra story — telling a truth nobody wants to admit.

The controversy surrounding Limits to Growth remains to this day, even as actual observations track right along with some of the more dire scenarios outlined by World3 (the model), Dennis Meadows, Donella Meadows, and Jorgen Randers (the researchers).

Randers has continued to worry productively about the future, and his new book, 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years, offers a best guess at what that future might be. To develop this new forecast, Randers spoke to numerous experts, and asked what they saw coming in the realms of economy, resource-use, environment, climate change, and more. What will happen to us in the coming decades? Some of the answers may surprise you.

The book is now available, and to celebrate its arrival we’re putting it on sale for 25% off.

Below is an excerpt from the book’s first chapter, “Worrying About the Future.”

An Excerpt from 2052 by Jorgen Randers

James McCommons: The Great Escape

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

originally appeared in Audubon magazine, the September-October 2010 issue. Summer is a great time to take to the rails and see the country without the stress and hassle of driving, or the extreme disconnect of rocketing 30,000 feet above the landscape in a jet.  In that spirit we revisit McCommons’ list of the ten best trips.

Traveling by train might sound old-fashioned, but it remains one of the best, most environment-friendly ways to see some of America’s wildest places. Here are 10 trips of a lifetime.

There was a time when the railroad ran through most towns in America, when a trip to the seashore, mountains, or desert, even the wilderness, began aboard a train. Today trains can still take you to natural places where the wonders of a national or state park, a bike path, or a river are just steps away from the tracks.

Riding the rails and leaving your car at home is an environmental choice. Per passenger mile, trains are 24 percent more fuel efficient than automobiles, 17 percent more than airplanes. For the final leg of your trip, you may have to rent a car, or you might consider bringing a bike, using public transportation, if available, or simply walking.

Whether you hop aboard a short-distance tourist railroad, a commuter line, or Amtrak—the only intercity passenger railroad left in America—the following 10 routes cross some of the country’s most iconic landscapes. On long-distance trips, reclining coach seats can be comfortable enough for sleeping, or you can pay extra for a sleeper compartment, which includes meals in the dining car. Ticket and sleeper prices vary. Best advice: Do some research online, check for discounts, and plan ahead.

Click on the thumbnail images below for a downloadable PDF of the spotting scopes guide.

The Empire Builder
This train runs the “Hi-Line” route, on tracks owned by BNSF Railway, across the country’s northern tier between Chicago and Seattle/Portland. Passengers may glimpse pintail ducks, blue wing teal, and many grassland birds in North Dakota’s prairie pothole region; pronghorn antelope on Montana’s high plains; and mule deer and elk in the Cascades.

In the Rockies the train crosses the continental divide at Marias Pass and follows the southern border of Glacier National Park, where railroad history runs deep. The Great Northern Railway pushed hard for the park’s establishment in 1910 and built hotels and chalets to lure tourists to what was advertised as the American Alps. Amtrak stops at East Glacier and West Glacier, where you can catch a 1930s era “Jammer” touring coach to a nearby hotel or campground. At the park’s Essex Junction stop, you can stay at the Izaak Walton Inn, formerly a railroad barracks. Glacier Park is a 30-hour ride from Chicago and about 16 hours from Seattle.

For information: Amtrak; Glacier National Park; Izaak Walton Inn

The Algoma Central Railway
Pack a canoe onto a railroad baggage car. (It’s true—this train will carry snowmobiles and even boats.) Ride the rails into boreal forests of moose and muskeg, and step into the wilderness. Then, after paddling through lakes and rivers, head back to the tracks and flag down the next train. Just wave your arms for the Algoma Central Railway, which runs for 296 miles between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst, Ontario.

Wilderness seekers head for the Chapleau Game Preserve, a 2,700-square-mile region of Crown Land (acreage owned by the British royalty and open to the public), where animals are protected from hunting and trapping. Between mileposts 184 and 245, passengers can step off directly into the preserve and embark on their backcountry trips.

Or you can get off at Fraser (Milepost 102) or Eaton (Milepost 120) to visit Lake Superior Provincial Park. If you’re just looking for a day trip, take a ride to Agawa Canyon. The canyon, which formed 1.2 billion years ago, is explorable only by train and five short hiking trails.

For information: Algoma Central Railway; Chapleau Game Preserve

The Grand Canyon Railway
In the early 1900s the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway built a 65-mile spur from Williams, Arizona, to the canyon and erected the El Tovar Hotel on the south rim. The spur closed in 1968 but was resurrected in the late 1980s as a tourist railway. Year-round the Grand Canyon Railway operates a daily train of vintage passenger cars.

Leaving Williams, the train mostly steers clear of the highways and runs through the Colorado Plateau’s open desert, where blue-black mountain ranges serrate the horizon, and prairie dogs, pronghorn antelope, golden eagles, and red-tailed hawks abound in the scrub brush and dry grasslands. As the route climbs higher, the desert gives way to picturesque ponderosa pine forest near the canyon. The Southwest Chief, an Amtrak long-distance train, stops at Williams, so it’s possible to switch to the canyon train and reach the rim by rail from Chicago (32 hours to Williams) or Los Angeles (nine hours).

For information: Grand Canyon Railway; Grand Canyon National Park

The Sunset Limited
Running just three days a week between Houston and Los Angeles, the Sunset passes through the sparsely inhabited Chihuahuan Desert and the ancient volcanic mountains of southwest Texas.

The jumping-off point is Alpine, a small town established to provide water to steam locomotives. Alpine is a 23-hour ride from Los Angeles, 16 hours from Houston. You’ll need to rent a car in Alpine to go exploring because there is no public transportation to nearby parks. To the south, 98 miles away, sprawls Big Bend National Park, 800,000 acres of desert, 7,000-foot mountains, and the Rio Grande. Here’s a place to see roadrunners, javelinas, jackrabbits, and kangaroo rats while hiking through rock-strewn landscapes dotted with agave. The region’s diverse habitats make Big Bend a phenomenal birding destination.

Learn about the flora and fauna at the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center, 26 miles north of Alpine at Fort Davis. Continue north to 3,000-acre Davis Mountains State Park to hike backcountry trails through the Limpia Canyon Primitive Area. If you don’t want to camp, stay at the park’s Indian Lodge, built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

For more information: Big Bend National Park; Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center; Davis Mountains State Park

Hudson River Line/Metro-North Railroad
(New York)
Commuter trains that carry workers into New York City on weekdays also provide doorstep access on weekends for people hiking the rocky Hudson Highlands along the Hudson River.

Hikers can board at Grand Central Terminal and disembark less than two hours later and 46 miles north at the Breakneck Ridge station. The aptly named Breakneck Ridge Trail gains 1,250 feet in less than the first mile before reaching a series of exposed summits with stunning views of the river and the surrounding plateau. The trail ends 4.6 miles later at a fire tower on South Beacon Mountain; on clear days it’s possible to see the skyscrapers of Manhattan from the peak.

Weekend trains also stop at the Manitou station, just a short walk from Bear Mountain State Park. Even the regular stops of Beacon and Cold Springs provide fairly easy biking or walking access to the state parks in the highlands.

For information: MTA Metro-North Railroad; Bear Mountain State Park; Breakneck Ridge Trail

Maryland Area Regional Commuter
Each evening two trains run the Brunswick Line between Washington’s Union Station and West Virginia. The tracks follow the Potomac River to Harpers Ferry, where John Brown’s 1859 raid on the federal armory struck the spark that helped touch off the Civil War. The trip takes two and a half hours from Washington’s Union Station.

The Appalachian Trail passes just 300 yards from the Harpers Ferry train station. Hikers cross a bridge to Maryland Heights and Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, where they gain extraordinary views of the river valley below. Watch for peregrine falcons; since 2001 a dozen young falcons have been released in the Heights.

Consider bringing a bike to ride the towpath along the old Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which runs 184.5 miles from Georgetown, in Washington, D.C., through Harpers Ferry to Cumberland, Maryland. Begun in 1828 to connect the Chesapeake Bay with the Ohio River, the C&O Canal was never finished because of the coming of the railroad. Today it’s a linear national historic park marked by old farms and patches of woods dotted with trillium, dogwood, serviceberry, and rhododendron.

For information: Harpers Ferry National Historic Park; Maryland Transit Administration

The Denali Star
The train is a spectacular way to reach Denali National Park and Preserve. It takes about eight hours from Anchorage and four hours from Fairbanks. Running May to September, the Denali Star is popular with backpackers, rail fans, and wildlife watchers. When the weather is right, riders get impressive views of Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley) and typically see dall sheep, beaver, moose, wolves, and sometimes grizzlies. Caribou migrate across the tracks in fall. If you pay for an upgrade on the route from Anchorage to Fairbanks, you can get the GoldStar Service, with plush seating in custom-made observation cars that feature outdoor decks.

The Alaskan Railroad, owned by the state since 1985, is for more than tourists. It hauls freight and supplies to people living in roadless country. Anyone wanting to board can simply wave down the train.

For information: Alaskan Railroad; Denali National Park

The Adirondack
Running daily between New York City and Montreal, this train skirts the eastern edge of six-million-acre Adirondack Park, the largest tract of land protected by a U.S. state. The Adirondack makes six stops at communities in the park’s eastern region. The trip takes about six hours from Montreal and five hours from New York.

Local transit shuttles at the Fort Edward and Westport stations run to Glens Falls, Lake George, and Lake Placid. At Port Kent passengers can board the seasonal ferry to Vermont, a passage popular with bikers along Lake Champlain. Motorcoach connections are possible at other stops, although you’ll need to taxi over to the local bus station. Otherwise, you may want to consider renting a car to tour the park.

You can find cappuccino and gourmet coffee on the road, and dine at grand old hunting lodges—all the while stopping at trailheads for hikes into big tracts of roadless country. As the land has healed from logging, extirpated species, including moose, fisher, beaver, marten, osprey, and lynx, are making comebacks.

If you prefer to stay on the train and enjoy the scenery, onboard docents, working in partnership with the National Park Service, narrate the journey with tidbits about nature and the region’s Revolutionary War/War of 1812 history. In the fall foliage season, Amtrak adds a vintage domed observation car, which allows passengers stunning 360-degree views.

For information: Amtrak; Adirondack Park

The White Pass & Yukon Route Railway
(Alaska and Canada)
Starting in Skagway, Alaska, at sea level, this train climbs 2,865 feet in 20 miles up steep grades to reach its high point at White Pass in the Canadian Yukon. This was the route of the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush, hailed by miners as the “last great adventure.” The railroad isn’t long—just 110 miles to Whitehorse—but the route leads through dense old-growth forests, glacier fields, and a colorful past. At first the miners hiked to the gold fields carrying their provisions on their backs. A railroad was needed, but such rugged country required a narrower gauge of track, tunnels, trestles, and carving the roadbed out of sheer mountains. Today the picturesque ride takes about three hours one way.

 For day hikes, trekkers can get off at two locations, Laughton trailhead and Denver Glacier, where the U.S. Forest Service has renovated an old caboose into a cabin for overnight stays. Follow in the footsteps of gold rushers with a challenging hike on the 33-mile-long Chilkoot Trail, which begins near Skagway and ends up at Lake Bennett, where you can catch the train back down.

For information: White Pass & Yukon Route Railway; Tongass National Forest

The Cardinal
Three days a week the Cardinal runs a circuitous route from New York to Chicago via Washington, D.C. The train is so named because six states—Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois—it passes through have designated the Northern cardinal as their state bird.

The Cardinal is a mom-and-pop sort of train with just one sleeping car (shared with the crew) and a single server/cook in the diner. Passengers often board at unstaffed stations and buy their tickets from the conductor.

The West Virginia portion of the route runs along the New River Gorge National River, a linear national park that protects 70,000 acres of land and 53 river miles. The rugged gorge is as much as 1,000 feet deeper than the surrounding Appalachian Plateau. Hikers and birders can detrain at Hinton, Prince, and Thurmond. The latter is about a seven-hour ride from Washington. Within a short distance are primitive campgrounds, trails for hikers and bikers, and whitewater for rafters and kayakers.

For information: Amtrak; New River Gorge National River


James McCommons is the author of Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service—A Year Spent Riding Across America.

Apocalypse Soon? Scientific American Looks at 2052

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

Has Civilization Passed the Environmental Point of No Return?

In a recent article, Scientific American magazine asks this question, as many have asked it for years. The magazine takes a look back at the conclusions drawn about the future of human resource use and possible collapse by the infamously controversial Limits to Growth study — and looks for further guidance to 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years, a new book by Jorgen Randers, one of the authors of Limits to Growth.

From the article:

“Remember how Wile E. Coyote, in his obsessive pursuit of the Road Runner, would fall off a cliff? The hapless predator ran straight out off the edge, stopped in midair as only an animated character could, looked beneath him in an eye-popping moment of truth, and plummeted straight down into a puff of dust. Splat!…Don’t look now but we are running in midair, a new book asserts. In 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years (Chelsea Green Publishing), Jorgen Randers of the BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo, and one of the original [Limits to Growth] modelers, argues that the second half of the 21st century will bring us near apocalypse in the form of severe global warming.

“Although there is an urban legend that the world will end this year based on a misinterpretation of the Mayan calendar, some researchers think a 40-year-old computer program that predicts a collapse of socioeconomic order and massive drop in human population in this century may be on target.”

“Randers’s ideas most closely resemble a World3 scenario in which energy efficiency and renewable energy stave off the worst effects of climate change until after 2050. For the coming few decades, Randers predicts, life on Earth will carry on more or less as before. Wealthy economies will continue to grow, albeit more slowly as investment will need to be diverted to deal with resource constraints and environmental problems, which thereby will leave less capital for creating goods for consumption. Food production will improve: increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will cause plants to grow faster, and warming will open up new areas such as Siberia to cultivation. Population will increase, albeit slowly, to a maximum of about eight billion near 2040. Eventually, however, floods and desertification will start reducing farmland and therefore the availability of grain. Despite humanity’s efforts to ameliorate climate change, Randers predicts that its effects will become devastating sometime after mid-century, when global warming will reinforce itself by, for instance, igniting fires that turn forests into net emitters rather than absorbers of carbon. ‘Very likely, we will have war long before we get there,’ Randers adds grimly. He expects that mass migration from lands rendered unlivable will lead to localized armed conflicts.”

Read the entire article over at Scientific American to hear what another Limits to Growth author, Dennis Meadows, has to say about the future.

Provocative Book Presents Stark Reality for the Next 40 Years

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Forty years ago Limits to Growth addressed the grand question of how humans would adapt to the physical limitations of planet Earth while in pursuit of limitless growth.

Next month, Chelsea Green will publish 2052, a provocative new book that examines what our future will look like in the next forty years. Written by Jorgen Randers, one of the original authors of Limits, as well as its subsequent updates (Beyond the Limits and Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update), the book probes what the world will actually be like in forty years.

Guess what? It’s not looking good for humanity. That’s what happens when you ignore the warnings first issued in Limits. As in, you can’t push an economic model fueled by limitless profits and resources when, in fact, we live on a finite planet. Mix that in with dysfunctional democracies — such as ours in the United States — that are bought and sold by corporations who profit from our addiction to fossil fuels and the conflicts that erupt as a result (war, etc.)

Earlier this week, the Club of Rome — which commissioned the original report that culminated in Limits to Growth as well as the report that has culminated in 2052 – presented the book’s key findings at the annual conference of the World Wildlife Fund.

In his introduction (video linked here and embedded below) to delivering some of the book’s key findings, Randers  related the current work, and warnings, to those issued four decades ago.

“The big question at the outset, was: ‘Will the world overshoot and collapse?’ This was the warning that my friends and I made in 1972 in the Limits to Growth book where we basically said because of the decision delays in international governance systems, the world will be allowed to expand beyond its sustainable capacity, and then sooner or later it will be forced back down to sustainable territory and this will an unpleasant development. We are now forty years down the line and it is perfectly obvious that world has already overshot. At the time, in 1972, our critics said that human society is not going to be so stupid as to let the world move into non-sustainable territory. Well, we now are in unsustainable territory.”

A key example is global greenhouse gas emissions, and the rising temperature of the planet.

Reaction to the report’s findings and the media event has been swift, and rightly so, including this nice synopsis from New Zealand.

The book challenges the US-dominated belief that we can continue to tap the planet’s limited resources to fuel unlimited growth. In fact, the ecological footprint created by this type of economic activity is likely to do just the opposite.

In short, the US will see a general stagnation of growth for decades to come because our dysfunctional democracy — which bends to the needs of the private market rather than the social good — hinders us from focusing on solutions. I mean, let’s face it — members of Congress,  media pundits, and even the current administration continue to talk  up the need to increase our dependence on fossil fuels by drilling in the Arctic, boosting domestic oil production, or allowing tar sands to be imported from Canada.

Already critics are crying foul — this is some grand socialist, environmental whacko experiment to enslave us all to some UN colony. For some critics, Randers isn’t alarmist enough and they believe he is underestimating how quickly the planet will heat up, and the consequences of it — including poverty, famine and increasingly low birth rates as more families are forced to choose between survival and bringing new lives into the world.
Below is a video from Randers’ presentation at the WWF forum. Watch and determine for yourself whether you believe Randers is over, or under, estimating what could happen in the future.

Keep in mind as you listen: One of the original schematics laid out in Limits to Growth — rapid growth followed by what is called “overshoot” of resources and then a decline — has largely played out as predicted as this Smithsonian article demonstrates.

With such potentially depressing news, it’s nice to see the younger generation taking up the call to arms and suing their elders for screwing up things to badly. Maybe there is hope that change can be forced more rapidly than our failing democratic systems allow.

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