The world’s carrying capacity became a widely recognized issue in 1972, when a think tank of scientists known as the Club of Rome published the report The Limits to Growth.
One of the authors, futurist Jørgen Randers, predicts that the scarcity of natural resources and population growth will continue to be the most important megatrends shaping the future.
“Climate change has now claimed its place among the other two megatrends, as we now have proof of its progression,” says the 70-year-old Norwegian professor. Randers believes that significantly lower growth figures will remain a dominant economic trend in the next few decades, especially in developed countries.
This is due to the ageing population and a decline in the profitability of work. As society grows wealthier, employment becomes concentrated in the service sector. In addition, health and social services will employ more people than before.
“Increasing productivity in these fields is much harder than in the manufacturing industry or agriculture. I doubt we will be willing to accept robots taking care of the elderly in the future.”
Funding the fight against climate change
Randers expects to see the world’s GDP (the amount of products and services produced) double within the next 40 years. At the same time, he anticipates that population growth will start to slow down and reach a peak of 8.1 billion people in 2040.
Average consumption per person will grow but a larger portion of national income will be spent on investments in a sustainable future. Within the last couple of decades, an average of 25% of national product has been spent on investments. In the future, we might have to increase this to 40%.
By investments, Randers means roads and production facilities, transportation and education. A vast amount of money will have to be spent everywhere in the world adjusting to climate change and repairing its damage.
“The rise of the sea level will force the Netherlands to build higher protective barriers. Norway will have to excavate long tunnels to protect the roads in the fjord areas from landslides caused by the melting of permafrost,” Randers explains.
The game is not lost yet
The transition from fossil fuels to renewable and emission-free energy sources will also require massive investments, as will the increasingly efficient use of natural resources.
As for future investment needs, Randers adds the struggle to reduce global poverty and economic inequality. Without corrective actions, refugees and armed conflicts threaten the stability of global political and economic systems.
Randers emphasizes that despite the grim outlook, the game is not over yet. “What we need now are solid, long-term decisions based on facts to guide society in the right direction.”
Randers’ recent book “2052 – A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years” has been translated into nine languages and has sold 150,000 copies.
Environmental organisations criticize Randers for being overly optimistic in believing that there will be no shortage of food and water if humankind only makes the right choices.
Meanwhile, many people in the business sector criticize him for not having enough trust in the free market’s ability to mend these issues.
“I have been criticized equally by both sides – it has made me even more convinced that my prediction is solid. The biggest difference to before is that we now have enough information to make a realistic estimate for the next decades.”