Nothing will change to the better, if all of us will fail to change just a bit. Which changes will matter most and what changes are on the second and third place, if we want to keep the current standard of living? We turn with questions to a well-known expert, professor Jorgen Randers from Oslo, co-author of the first publication of our times, called “The Limits to Growth”, which was to wake up modern societies and pay attention to future threats.
In the referred report “The Limits to Growth”, dated 1972, researchers warned: “if current trends in global population growth, industrialization, pollution, food production and resources are maintained, then within the next hundred years we will reach the limits of growth available on this planet. The most likely consequence will be the rapid and uncontrollable collapse of both population and industrial production.”
Having this in mind, here I ask the Norwegian scientist professor Jorgen Randers, what is the status, now in 2021.
Żaneta Geltz: What changes have been introduced since 1970s?
Prof. Jorgen Randers: Overpopulation did not take place, as we could see China has introduced intelligent child birth control and women in the rest of the world has chosen to have ever fewer children. So we did not develop populations, which might have been a real threat to the global situation. Having this happened, we did not experience food crises, neither. It is partly because the population did not grow so rapidly in the above mentioned regions, but also European and American families decided to reduce number of children, which caused negative child birth trends.
Additionally, new technologies have been introduced to farming and agricultural methods, which let countries to obtain higher food efficiency. But here, we have to say that the agriculture was not a complete success, because in the long run, the new technologies and applied chemicals contributed to soil and water pollution, which led to reduction of biodiversity, so this is actually half-success.
So, we have:
- overpopulation – no collapse
- food crises – we did not face a disaster, but we face a lower biological diversity
- resources – we still overuse natural resources, but we slowly turn to circular economy
- pollution – this is the real problem, humanity is emitting greenhouse gases at such a high rate that the planet will be 2-3 degrees warmer in 50 years. The solution is to shift quickly from the use of gas, oil and coal for heat and electricity – not achieved yet, we should accelerate the movement to windmills and solar energy
For example in Norway, all electricity comes from renewable hydropower. And in order to stop the use of oil, Norway has banned the use of heating oil and is shifting rapidly from fossil to electric cars. The biggest climate challenge in Norway is that we are a large producer of oil and gas which is exported to Europe.
And it is not right. We should stop drilling for oil and gas, and use the labor and capital in then petroleum sector to produce green products: like floating windmills or electric vessels. It is what all rich countries (in the European Union and USA) should do, as soon as possible.
Żaneta Geltz: Can you share what you have done in your life to adapt to your discoveries about the planet limits to growth?
Prof. Jorgen Randers: I have changed the heating of my home from oil to renewable electricity (using a heat pump). I try to fly as little as possible, but when I fly – I buy and cancel emissions quotas for twice the emissions from my seat. I have an electric car, also supplied by renewable electricity. I limit and recycle as much as I can my home garbage. I run my own garden, which I like very much.
Żaneta Geltz: Is conventional farming able to feed the planet?
Prof. Jorgen Randers: I definitely think it can, and it could be made much more organic through simple changes like shifting the overuse of chemical pesticides and herbicides in the rich world, to poorer countries. This would be a huge step in the right direction, and this would help to recover natural biodiversity, which now is at a big risk.
Żaneta Geltz: What about plastic?
Prof. Jorgen Randers: Plastic, oh, plastic is too much brought to the first plan! It does not have such a huge impact on climate change and future generation, as stopping the use of oil, gas and coal!
I don’t like all these campaigns focussing attention of the world to plastic so much, even though I agree that it contributes to water pollution, but still it has a minor impact on a global threat by not meeting the goals of SDGs. Plastic, if used wisely and fully recycled, it makes our lives easier – look at all the home equipment that we are using on daily basis. Of course, producing plastic motivates oil drilling, but as long as we still use fossil energy we can use plastic more sustainably, by burning it along with oil and gas in power stations after use. Plastic should not be banned, as the role it plays in the whole pollution in the world is minor, when we compare it with getting out fossil fuels.
Żaneta Geltz: So, how to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy?
Prof. Jorgen Randers: Germany is a good example. They started in 1999, when the government announced that they would reimburse the cost of solar panels and wind mills. After a year, they have summed up all the figures, refunded the cost to people who had switched from fossil fuels to green energy, and sent the bill to all German taxpayers in the form of an extra energy TAX. Initially the tax was small, because few people changed to sun and wind. But after five years or so, so many people had converted that there was a substantial cost growth in monthly bills for the houses using electricity from non-renewable sources. And then finally, voters objected and the subsidy scheme was halted.
But mean while enough renewable power had been installed to start the move towards a coal-free Germany. It is a kind of tricky, because voters did not understand the full picture before the change, but it was an effective motivation to accelerate the switch from fossil fuel energy sources to renewable energy. Now, Germany is a wise example of how it could be done in other societies.
Żaneta Geltz: Can we avoid the crisis then? Can we be optimistic?
Prof. Jorgen Randers: We will not have a crisis in 30 years, if we:
- Change our food system towards more sustainable – more organic – farming, and it is possible to feed the planet with more sustainable solutions without any doubt.
- Switch to electric cars supplied by electricity from renewable sources of energy (not oil, coal or gas).
- Heat our homes and cook, using windmills or solar energy installations, depending on our country specific natural conditions.
- Consume less red meat and support circular economy, that is the benefits of recycling and producing less garbage, so we put less trash and waste to landfills.
- Go down with meat consumption from 80 kg to 20 kg per capita per year, because this significantly reduces the need for grain and agricultural land. As a result we can cut less trees for agricultural purposes, and help conserve biodiversity.We should definitely switch towards eating more plants, but these plants must be also healthy! We should develop technologies that will help reducing usage of pesticides and herbicides.
- Educate ourselves, and as wise consumers, we should both pick more sustainable options (cars, house heating, food), accepting that these choices will be more expensive and less convenient, and this direction is a must for European and American societies, being in the category of wealthy people. The direction of “cheap and convenient” should no longer be a practice that these societies follow, as we should take responsibility (and Poland is also in the EU and treated as a country of wealthy society) for the future risks, at which we expose the generations to come.
Yes, I worry about the future, because we are so slow in responding to the climate challenge.. I am irritated that it takes so long to change what is necessary on a country level and also from an international perspective. But I hope that governments will increasingly be chosen by people according to green economy criteria and thus we may be able to reach Paris Agreement goals, in order to avoid climate change and live rather normal lives free of extreme weather events.
But most important is to educate ourselves, and to vote for the right political parties, which will help adjust our collective behaviour so society fits within the limits of growth of our planet. We need to know more how to live along circular economy principles and do the change from the bottom to the top. Here is a free report for all readers: “Transformation is feasible!”
Jorgen Randers (born 1945) is professor emeritus of climate strategy at the BI Norwegian Business School. He works on issues of the future, especially related to sustainability, climate, energy, and system dynamics. Professor Randers lectures and provides advice all over the world, and increasingly in China.
Jorgen Randers has spent one third of his life in academia, one third in business, and on third in the NGO world. He was President of the BI Norwegian Business School BI 1981 – 89, and Deputy Director General of WWF International (World Wide Fund for Nature) in Switzerland 1994 – 99. In 2005-6 he chaired the Royal Commission that presented a plan for how Norway can cut is climate gas emissions by two thirds by 2050. He has been member of the sustainability council of three multinationals.
He has written a number of books and scientific papers, starting with co-authoring The Limits to Growth in 1972. His recent writings include 2052 – A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years in 2012, Reinventing Prosperity with Graeme Maxton in 2016, and Transformation is feasible! with Johan Rockstrøm et al in 2018.
He has received many prizes and awards. He is a full member of the Club of Rome and is the founding chair of the China Chapter of the Club of Rome.
fot. The Club of Rome
 The 17 Goals, SDGs, https://sdgs.un.org/goals , adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.
 Randers J, Rockstrøm J, Stoknes PE, Goluke U, Collste D, Cornell S. 2018. Transformation is feasible! Stockholm Resilience Center: Stockholm