Back to Top

Difficult Projections

Forecasting how bad things will get is a tall order

By now I've spent some more time with the World Wildlife Fund and Ecofys's Energy Report: 100% Renewable Energy by 2050. It's really pretty impressive, dauntingly detailed, and coming at the "big question" in ways I haven't necessarily thought about. I feel like I could spend really a tremendous amount of time poring through it, studying along the way so that I could make independent judgments about their modeling. And, whether directly or indirectly, I suppose that's one thing I will indeed do over the next couple of years.

Right away, though, there are some things that seem to me to be rather significantly played down. I think they wanted to make the numbers work (and, for chrissakes, who doesn't want the numbers for global survival to work?), but as a result they've concocted a scenario where everyone behaves responsibly. You have to ask yourself, though: what are the odds of that?

And by "everybody," I mean a growing world population. There are some 7 billion of us at present. How many of us there will be by 2050 is an open question, because a lot of things could happen between now and then. The Ecofys report seems to figure it at about 8 billion (the chart they show it on doesn't explicitly state the exact number), but 8 billion is on the low end of estimates that project growth (there are some that project a drop). As things stand right this moment, though, the number is increasing.

While that population number is increasing, the changes in the climate are making the weather around the world far less predictable and benign. The growing regions for staple crops are changing inexorably, and just because the best region for growing corn changes from Iowa to manitoba doesn't mean that the lands are available for farming, that there are farmers in place, or that the soil will support the growth of corn. It seems foolhardy not to project a serious amount of turmoil around world food production. Maybe we should theoretically all switch to growing quinoa (I'm fucking sick of being encouraged to eat quinoa), but that's just theory. In practice, the farmers starve on their march to Cairo and the ones that make it riot in the streets.

I don't know if we get to some point of stasis, but I think it's possible. I doubt it's possible that we get there with 8 billion people on board. There's a pretty solid argument to be made that the natural carrying capacity of the Earth is a *lot* lower than that--something close to the population of the world just prior to the switch to fossil fuels as our dominant source of power. So do the majority of humans die between now and 2050? No one could seriously hope for that. But it suggests we need to move the population steadily downward. You can say that wealthier nations tend toward lower, sometimes even negative birth rates, but will we shift the entire planet to a negative birth rate?

Despair is not a strategy any more than hope is. We've got to lay out a reasonable plan and then try to move toward it despite the upheaval that is already beginning to rain down on us. And real solutions mean political changes, mean engagement with policy, mean global engagement rather than isolationism. But I suspect we're in for a damned rough ride over the next century and I don't see how we can be going in the wrong direction on just about everything in 2013 but still arrive neat and tidy at an energy neutral existence in 2050.

Robert Richardson is the principle nomad here at the Mode.
0 Comment(s) to the "Difficult Projections"
  • Latest
  • Popular
  • Tags
The Tango pocketable PC
Two additional pocketable PC type concepts I wanted to menti...
Tuesday, February 11, 2014 - 21:33
Dell Wyse Cloud Connect
Two or three products have crossed my desk of late and they'...
Sunday, February 2, 2014 - 11:30
If you've been thinking to yourself, watching the news of la...
Sunday, January 12, 2014 - 21:35
Well, it's hard not to be intrigued by this. It's a 3D print...
Friday, January 10, 2014 - 22:46

Fatal error: Class CToolsCssCache contains 1 abstract method and must therefore be declared abstract or implement the remaining methods (DrupalCacheInterface::__construct) in /home/nomadic/public_html/sites/all/modules/ctools/includes/ on line 52