The heads of Dennis and Donnella Meadows can be seen behind the publication headline of “Limits of Growth” by the Club of Rome in 1972. Taking the amount of what we use up per capito and the known volume of available resources, a calculation of the time when the reserves will be exploited is done for each component.
In the meantime, the “Meadows Paradox” happened: newly explored resources supplement the existing ones. Consequently, the predicted reduction of resources did not happen.
How is the situation in 2010? Can we trust in the Meadows Paradox?
The figure shows a calculation representing the application of data with respect to the CO2 cycle from the “Scientific American”. It has been validated backwards until 1950. What is of interest here are the model assumptions for the future after 1984.
First and foremost, here is an interesting phenomenon: the advance calculation overestimated the CO2 concentration development. What happened?
You have to be aware of the origin of the dynamics in the CO2 models. Basically, there are two reasons. Firstly, there is the population growth as seen in actual persons, and secondly there is the increase in energy consumption per person. Now, a third effect that was not yet apparent in 1984 is added to the list: the Desert Tec effect. The energy consumption is not necessarily coupled with generating CO2. This effect might cause a decoupling between population growth and increased energy consumption.
That is exactly what I had assumed when I calculated the optimistical prognoses, although at the time I had no idea how it could be done. My optimism was at a maximum regarding the political realization. Actually, I had anticipated that this kind of technological advance might be possible within 20 years.
Summary and conclusion: the CO2 graph will propel us way beyond the 400 ppm we have had for millions of years. But the “today” of then caused an exaggerated estimation of the today of now. I wonder if that is already pointing towards a development where industrial growth and CO2 production will slowly decouple. Or is it just that the measurements of the “Scientific American” of the time were less than accurate?
“Meadows Eye” will keep a watchful eye not only on the computational model of system dynamics, but also on the measurement value input. For both model components, the uncertainness is still quite high. Consequently, it must be assumed that the uncertainties for the temperature development based on those measurements are also dangerously high.
We active people find ourselves in the situation of a Pascal’schen Wette (Pascal’s Wager). What to bet on and how much to stake if the chances are minimal but the profit potentially very huge – and on the opposite end a lot of comfort can be guaranteed with little at stake?
We will probably only be able come up with a reasonable decision after the time span for betting has been extended so as to include children and grandchildren.
(Translated by EG)