Dennis Meadows 40 years on

The American academic Dennis Meadows gave a public conference yesterday (22 November 2011) in Brussels.

Back in 1972 he was head of a research project at MIT which culminated in the publication of the famous Club of Rome report “The limits to growth”.

Now aged 70, he offers his current views on the subject.

Here are key points that are worth bearing well in mind.

Typical reactions to the idea of physical limits since the original report:

– 1. no, there are no limits

– 2. yes, there are limits, but they are distant

– 3. we are nearing the limits, but technology will enable us to deal with them

– 4. technology cannot do it, but markets will bring us to the right equilibrium

– 5. the present crisis is so pressing that we have no time to devote to long term issues

What we perceive as “problems” (climate change, water shortages, …) are in fact symptoms; through them, nature is forcing a different evolution.

Attempting to “solve” each of these so-called problems is not going to eliminate the underlying impossibility to keep growing for ever.

When the report was published in 1972, mankind’s footprint was roughly around 75% of the planet’s capacity to absorb and regenerate. Today, the footprint is around 150%. There is manifest overshooting, which must necessarily be followed by collapse.

Therefore the idea of sustainable development, which is an oxymoron anyway, is no longer a valid or useful concept.

Major changes and drastic reductions of activities with high impacts will take place whether we like it or not. The only question is: will they happen in a peaceful and equitable way?

In this, psychological, social and cultural factors will be more decisive than technology. By itself no technology is sustainable or not. Sustainability has to do with the goals we pursue, and the way we behave and use things and processes.

On the specific issue of oil, the one thing to realise is that present consumption of oil (which accounts for a third of energy sources) far exceeds new exploration finds. Each year only about 20% of consumption is replaced by new finds, and 80% is depletion. And this takes into account progress in exploitation efficiency.

The excess of consumption over new finds started in 1984 and is getting wider. Of the 20 very large oil fields, 18 were discovered before 1970, 2 in the 70’s and none since. Recent discoveries may be important for a company or a country (e.g.Brazil) but only represent a few days, weeks or months of world-wide consumption.

The days of easy oil are over. Prices are soon going to be crippling for the economy.

And the much vaunted renewable energies, despite their high growth rate, only represent a very tiny fraction of energy sources.

A study comparing actual data to the reference scenario published in the original report has been made. It shows a pretty close relationship. The model pointed to a fairly rapid decline of food per capita, population, activity…starting somewhere between 2010 and 2030. This seems to be borne by developments unfolding under our eyes.

Economic growth has still, so far, been rapid in some emerging countries, particularly China, but environmental issues are considerable there, and China is very dependent on exports to America and Europe; if they stop growing, it would be very difficult for China to maintain its level of spectacular growth.

To sum up, global changes that are going to occur in the next 20 years will be far more dramatic than what took place in the last 100.

Yet, the vast majority of people seem unaware or in denial. And politicians are focused on short term issues.

The one thing that individuals and communities can do is to develop resilience (rather than sustainable development which no longer makes sense, as explained earlier).

Resilience implies simplicity (smaller houses, smaller cars, no car…) and also departing from (presently) efficient but fragile systems and having duplicate reserve assets (e.g. a wood stove ready to replace the oil or gas fired heating).

The above is all very pertinent, but it’s still thinking in the purely materialist mode. The spiritual dimension is missing.

Without connection to universal consciousness, the immense turbulences that are so evidently coming will be experienced as a painful mess. To create new conditions of harmonious life, a totally different mindset is the key.

That mindset has to be free from the shackles of materialism, individualism, ego, competition, struggle and fear. On this blog, we shall continue to explore ways towarsds mental freedom and spiritual elevation.

But many thanks to Dennis Meadows for his lucidity, which is a good starting point for our spiritual journey.

Fear not, prepare for resilience and mutual trust.




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