68 of 74 people found the following review helpful
on July 18, 2012
Randers' book tries hard to make an objective forecast of what the world will be like in 2052, taking resource limitations into account. He's very good about saying where his data come from, how he interprets them, and how he extrapolates the trends. If you are one of the many economists, journalists, and other pundits out there who are constantly saying that resource shortages are not a problem and that economic growth will solve all problems, this is a great book to get you started on thinking more realistically about the future. For that reason I give the book five stars.
Randers freely admits that his forecast has very large uncertainties. He admits that there are many wild cards out there. It's always possible that some huge, new oil or gas discovery might be made. Randers makes the point that this would be good for economic growth in the short-term, but would also make climate change worse and delay efforts to improve energy efficiency, so that it's hard to say how much long-term change this would cause. It's possible that some considerably nastier things might happen, from financial meltdown and nuclear war to epidemic disease and ecological collapse. It's even possible that humanity might wake up and decide to put a serious effort into population control and reducing pollution, which would probably mean a much more pleasant future. But Randers is mainly interested in what he sees as the most likely future based on the scientific data available now. If you are a "doomer," Randers' forecast will probably not please you, because he thinks that everyday life for humanity in 2052 will probably not be wildly different from today. He thinks life will be more unpleasant in 2052 in many ways, with climate change at crisis levels and wild nature almost gone. However, Randers thinks that while it's possible that there will be a spectacular human die-off, it will probably hit after 2052.
In my opinion, Randers' forecast has many weaknesses. He's a big fan of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), solar panels, and wind turbines. He sees the transition to sustainability as involving energy efficiency, yes, but also lots of high tech. I simply cannot agree with him here. I think CCS from power plants cannot work on a scale large enough to make any difference to the climate; I'd say it's more of a coal company boondoggle than anything else.
As for solar panels, Randers is correct that prices for these have been coming down. However, I don't think this trend can continue through 2052. The low energy density of sunlight puts hard limits on what can be done with solar panels. Large-scale electricity generation using solar panels cannot ever provide electricity in amounts sufficient to do things like running toasters and clothes dryers. I think the transition to sustainability would do far better by focusing on low tech solutions, not high tech. Solar energy comes in the form of photons. Some of these are in the visible range, some in the infrared. The visible light photons work best when used directly to produce light. The visible and infrared photons are also readily converted into diffuse heat. Solar energy also works well when it is used directly to provide diffuse heat--not when used to generate electricity. Think clotheslines for drying clothes, solar hot water heaters on rooftops, and passive solar heating for buildings. Similar hard limits apply for wind turbines. Using a wind turbine to generate electricity, then using the electricity to do something else, necessarily involves losing most of the power in the conversion. We don't often think about the power lost in power generation, lost again when electricity is transmitted through power lines, and lost again when an electrical device is operated. The reason we don't normally think about it is that fossil fuels provide such a dense source of power that such losses don't make a huge difference. This is just not true with solar and wind power. Solar panels and wind turbines are fine for technologies that use only a small amount of electricity--like telephones--but they can't provide enough power to run an industrial society. For more on this, see The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered. The website lowtechmagazine.com also has great articles on this subject, such as how to build urban areas to maximize the use of direct solar heating in buildings.
Randers also thinks that the current trend toward urbanization will continue, with only a small human population working the land. I have to disagree with him here. I think it is much more likely that in the next few years we will see a big increase in unemployment. At the same time, the decline of fossil fuels will mean a big increase in demand for human labor in the fields. Eventually these trends will meet up, and the percentage of people working at farm labor will go up. Jobs formerly done by chemicals or diesel-powered equipment will be increasingly done by people. Long days using a hoe or a pitchfork will be common. The reason for this is simple: in a world where labor was expensive and fuel to build and run machines was cheap, it made sense to run farms using machines. In a world where unemployed and desperate humans are all over the place and fuel for machines is expensive, running farms with mostly human labor will be what makes sense.
Overall, though, Randers' book is thought-provoking, and useful in some respects. I recommend it.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2012
the author - with the help of many scientists, economists, policy makers, consultants, etc - who contribute 'best guess' essays on upcoming changes to the world seen through the lenses of their special areas of expertise - strives for a calm, rational presentation of what our lives and our chidrens lives might look like over the next 40 years - with a few hints at the next 40 as well. He uses mathematical models and statistics to support his ideas, though doesn't go into them into too much detail and thereby bog down the book. (He makes his methods available via his website for those interested.)
I know of no other book that looks at the future from so many angles, including climate, markets and economy, population, urbanization, technological improvements, social evolution, politics, civil unrest, resource depletion - and many more - in so clear and concise a manner.
Different areas of the world - The US, Europe, Asia, Africa, South America - are examined; global changes will affect different geopolitical zones differently, and different countries will respond and adapt with varying degrees of swiftness and efficiency.
The news is not all doom and gloom, at least not yet, not everywhere, possibly, maybe - but we're on a downhill slope and accelerating fast toward an inevitably altered world, and we need to mobilize to avert catastrophe. This is a wonderful book. Thought provoking, informative, necessary.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on December 1, 2012
I read Randers' LIMITS TO GROWTH as a graduate student and have followed his subsequent work. Though I don't expect to live until 2052, most of my students (now in high school) will. I have ordered this book as a text for my Global Futures course because it combines lots of analysis with a series of "future glimpses" by fellow scholars, then Randers' own prediction of what kind of future we can expect. It's a little dense, and limited by reliance on mostly male voices from the developed world, but it includes enough startling revelations -- not gloom and doom, not techno-optimism -- to engage the interest of anyone who expects to live through the next 40 years. Most striking, I think, is his claim that citizens in emerging nations (he calls them BRISE = Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa and other Emerging Economies; China gets its own category) will not be better off in 2052 than the average American or European, but will feel better because of steadily rising material living standards, whereas we who have thrived on and expected growth must get by with less.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on August 13, 2012
This follow-up forecast for the next 40 years is done in the context of the world we knew, the world we know, and the world that a number of very bright people are expecting; all moderated by Mr. Randers from his perspective as a "numbers guy" with many years of experience in the field of forecasting weaves an accessible scenario of the world he expects in 2052.
I find Jorgen's approach of having "experts" write out 1500 word scenario essays on the their area of expertise set in the future to be useful and although he has editorial privileges before and after, the scenes, the diverse viewpoints are informative and not so diluted to be blindered or too tangential.
There is actionable information in this forecast for business, government, NGO and individuals - and that meets my definition of a useful forecast. The data is presented in easily read prose with most of the author's biases openly exposed and consistently adhered too.
I find the Kindle version easy to read even though there are several charts and separate notes to be referred to for critical reading - the links seem to be reliable and easily navigated.
17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on June 2, 2012
I think a lot about my grandchildren and the world they will have to live in. The insights in this book give me hope that the future will not be that bad and that we might be able to manage a way through.
Nevertheless, I think the world financial crisis is not a wildcard and should be considered in the model more throughly. I believe that one of the key drivers that got us into this mess is the ability of Central Banks to foster growth through debt issues and printing money. It seems to me that financing the investments required will be difficult at a time where the major economies are hiper-indebted.
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on September 26, 2013
Knowing what to say about a serious problem that is directly ahead is difficult. Randers seems to have provided us with what is close to a best-case scenario, and presented it to us as his one and only forecast. I recently wrote a post explaining why I think the forecast shown in 2052 is optimistic. [...]
There are several reasons:
1. The supply of oil is forecast in a way that oil supply will continue to rise until 2025, and then decline slowly, based on an assumption that it is appropriate to use a logistic curve to forecast decline. This is a very optimistic assumption, in part because high oil prices are already causing problems for the economy, and partly because the use of the logistic curve assumes that there will be a perfect substitute that will come on line fast enough that there will be no disruption to the economy. For example, this might be cheap plug-in electric cars substituting for gasoline-powered cars. To not disrupt the economy, the phase-in would probably have to be very slow, so that existing cars do not lose resale value.
2. The model essentially forecasts that other fuels will grow rapidly in consumption, and perfectly substitute for oil supply as it declines. Renewables in particular will ramp up very quickly.
3. The model does not consider financial issues. This is a problem because there is considerable evidence that high oil prices are a major cause of both the Great Recession and current financial distress. Debt is very important, both from an investment point of view, and from a point of view of consumers being able to purchase energy-related items, such as cars, homes, and new furnaces. While there is something called "demand" in the model, it does not correspond to what consumers can actually afford--it has no connection to price or income (neither of which are in the model).
4. Another issue is not being able to model local disturbances related to oil limits. For example, the disturbances we are seeing in Egypt and Syria are related to their declining oil exports, although most people do not understand the connection. Also, if there is a loss of oil or electricity in an area, it is likely to lead to many businesses needing to close. This would result in a reduction to GDP and "productivity" as it is calculated in the model. No provision for this is included in the model, and there is no warning that the model is likely optimistic, because it omits such possibilities.
Randers gives little information about the actual model in his book, but he does provide spreadsheet data on a website. A programmer has also written posts about the assumptions in the model on The Oil Drum. My analysis makes use of both the spreadsheet data and the information in these posts.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 3, 2014
The author fails to take into account the non-linearity of the climate system, underestimating the effect on the human "economy" of the accelerated climate crisis. Statements like "global temperatures will be 2.5 degrees higher at the end of 2100" are IMHO ludicrous, we will get there MUCH faster as the multiple positive feedback loops will kick in.
Politically, he seems to ignore that the planet is in the hands of a gang of greedy capitalists who have no interest in saving it - they are more interested in short term profit. So they will be mainly focused in waging resource wars to grab all they can as fast as they can. Limiting CO2 emission is the last of their priorities. Randers completely ignores this essential aspect.
Also, most of the considerations done in the book are not original, and expressed very verbosely.
I understand that the author is a relatively mainstream person - look at this resume and at the very important positions he occupies in many organizations like "BI Norwegian Business School." or "WWF" or BT.... so he can't afford to be too scary in his forecasts.
If you want to read a more reliable forecast, read "Storms of my grandchildren".
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 6, 2012
Based on forty years of data gathered since The Limits to Growth was published; 2052 is a text which succeeds in applying objective information about population, food production, habitats, weather, pollution, water, oceans,industry, production and consumption, towards their combined effects on our environment over the next forty years. Jorgan Randers also reaches out to experts in a number of fields of human endeavor, to cancel out any bias he may have, and brings the projections of these experts into the analysis. It is written in clear human terms. He uses powerful computer modeling to approach synergistic effects from several perspectives. I find that this book leaves the reader with a full and compelling vision of our future, its challenges and opportunities. We need to be fully aware of the effects of exponential growth if we care about the future of the human race, our children's lives, and our environment. 2052 clearly defines scientifically based steps that need to be taken to create a sustainable world, and avoid biosystem and societal collapse. This book is focused and based on real information. It also contains speculation on the political environment and the challenges imposed by major societal changes.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on November 27, 2012
This is a good read for a tabloid style look at the future. Most of what Randers talks about is based off of conjecture around attention grabbing predictions.
I really liked the section about wind and solar, and can't help but hope that he's correct in predicting that the industrialized world will (forgive the expression) "see the light" when it comes to the benefits of a solar-based energy economy.
I can't help but point out that several reviewers here incorrectly dismiss solar as "not being capable of producing enough energy to power high demand economies" or that you'll never see common appliances being powered by solar. This is simply not true. I can point you towards Germany, where in two days during May of this year over 22 gigawatts of power was produced solely from solar - that's roughly equivalent to what 20 nuclear plants would produce in the same timeframe. This is Germany were talking about, nobody ever goes to Germany so they can get tanned. Imagine what the same technology can do in Arizona.
Solar electricity or PV, has nothing to do with heat. It's purely about the spectrum of light that you can capture, and enough of this hits the earth over a single day to power our economy as a planet for years.
There is one key Achilles heel of solar, and that's storage. As we all know the sun is not out half the time, and we need a way to store the energy produced by panels during this timeframe. Currently, battery technology is monstrously inefficient.
But enough about solar, let's move on to what Randers gets wrong.
He is quick, like many people hoping to grab attention, claim that China will somehow become a hegemon of the next century. For those of us who have spent time actually studying this matter, this only serves to make us cringe.
China has some of the largest demographic, economic, and political problems that have existed within the past 200 years. Is the first country that is going to see its population reach an aging decline before it reaches a true first world economic state, the vast majority of the population has yet to see a single ounce of benefit of the economic boom that is being experienced by the wealthy coastal regions, and let's face it, nobody is going to hand the keys of the 21st-century to a government that censors Google.
In conclusion, take this book with a grain of salt. I'd recommend paying more attention to the economic and environmental sections of the book. The political and foreign-policy sections are quite clearly the products of a "small country" agenda.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 11, 2013
A nonlinear systems dynamic model of world economy: a report to the Club of Rome by a member. The best recent example of modeling with the inherent drawbacks of any numerical model -- that is, one is forced to pick a calculatable model for future society. Particular limitations in the case of Rander's model are: 2% growth in GWP/person (it will probably be larger, but use less emissions), and this growth does not include innovations due to digital technology. Also, assumes full employment in spite of automation by government action, not likely. More on limitations at end.
Does nclude the following key assumptions:
Cheap oil (onshore conventional) reached peak production in 1980 (p. 21).
World population growth rate is decreasing, so that peak population will be 9 billion in 2040 (p. 63).
Support burden (for those 15-65) supporting younger and older: will be approximately flat at 0.5 (increase in numbers of older people is compensated by a decrease in numbers of children).
Gross labor productivity/person increases by factor 1.8 over period (p. 68), factor apparently derived from productivity changes over industrial age.
Price of photovoltaic (PV) generation is declining rapidly, so that initial costs will be lower than conventional by 2020. PV drives total renewable energy to exceed conventional by 2033 (p. 115).
Assumes global warming causes slight decrease in food productivity (-5% by 2050, p. 131).
Atmospheric CO2 rises to cause temperature increase of 2 degrees C at 2050 (p. 119).
Sea-level rises 0.56 meters by 2050.
Food produced per person increases by 33% by 2050 (p. 132).
GDP/person rises from $10,000 in 2010 to 18,000 by 2050 (80% increase; annual rate of 1.5%).
Does not include replacement of workers by robots, assumes full employment as a result of government action. Does not explore alternatives to traditional work for population as a whole. Failure of society to provide alternate income and activities to people unemployed due to automation could affect his model by reducing consumer demand.
Does not include effects of other non-foreseeable technology (how could he?). "I basically believe that we will see the same rate of technological and societal change over the next 40 years as we have seen for the last 40 years." (p. 61).
Net result of climate change could be improvement in agricultural productivity, rather than decrease as he assumes.
Advances in digital processing are not expected to cause a significant increase in productivity or other direct economic measures (p. 218). For example, this work ignores the possibility of an increase in labor productivity per person caused by the shift to robotics, beyond an extrapolation of historic trends.