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2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years [Hardcover]

Jorgen Randers , Jorgan Randers
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

13 Jun 2012
Forty years ago, The Limits to Growth study addressed the grand question of how humans would adapt to the physical limitations of planet Earth. It predicted that during the first half of the 21st century the ongoing growth in the human ecological footprint would stop - either through catastrophic overshoot and collapse - or through well-managed peak and decline. So, where are we now? And what does our future look like? In the book 2052 Jorgen Randers, one of the co-authors of Limits to Growth, issues a progress report and makes a forecast for the next forty years. To do this, he asked dozens of experts to weigh in with their best predictions on how our economies, energy supplies, natural resources, climate, food, fisheries, militaries, political divisions, cities, psyches, and more will take shape in the coming decades. He then synthesized those scenarios into a global forecast of life as we will most likely know it in the years ahead.The good news: we will see impressive advances in resource efficiency, and an increasing focus on human well-being rather than on per capita income growth. But this change might not come as we expect. Future growth in population and GDP, for instance, will be constrained in surprising ways-by rapid fertility decline as result of increased urbanization, productivity decline as a result of social unrest, and continuing poverty among the poorest 2 billion world citizens. Runaway global warming, too, is likely. So, how do we prepare for the years ahead? With heart, fact, and wisdom, Randers guides us along a realistic path into the future and discusses what readers can do to ensure a better life for themselves and their children during the increasing turmoil of the next forty years.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 376 pages
  • Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing Company (13 Jun 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1603584676
  • ISBN-13: 978-1603584678
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 15.5 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 786,238 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


It's too late to wonder how different and refreshingly breathable the world would be if everyone had listened hard to Jorgen Randers 40 years ago. The question now is if we'll heed him this time. Here's our chance. Please seize it, everyone. --Alan Weisman, author of The World Without Us, and Gaviotas

This thoughtful and thought-provoking book will be inspiring, and challenging, for all who really care about our common future. --Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway and leader of World Commission on Environment and Development

This thoughtful and thought-provoking book will be inspiring, and challenging, for all who really care about our common future. --Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway and leader of World Commission on Environment and Development

About the Author

Jorgen Randers is professor of climate strategy at the BI Norwegian Business School, where he works on climate issues and scenario analysis. He was previously president of BI and deputy director general of WWF International in Switzerland.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The numbers don't add up 20 Nov 2012
I received this book with high hopes. The author is professor or climate strategy at the Norwegian Business School. He co-authored, as a young man, the seminal work 'Limits to Growth' and its 1992 and 2004 updates, and is a regular speaker on sustainability-related issues on the international circuit.

On the back of the book, the blurb states that "we know what want the world to be like in forty years. But what do we know about what the world will actually be like? This is the question Jorgen Randers tries to answer..."

Yet somewhere along the way, this book has failed to deliver.

Randers offers us a world with a population peaking at about nine billion, requiring global food output at least thirty percent higher than today but produced from roughly the same area of agricultural land. The increased yields, apparently envisaged as coming from genetically-modified crops, do not seem credible given the very limited achievements in the biotech sector to date. Indeed, it might be argued that the proliferation of GM crops and the increasing dominance of world food production by a handful of multinational companies actually threatens future food security.

A more likely scenario is that global food output will fall in response to reduced fertiliser inputs, unavoidable climate changes, and increasing soil degradation.

Energy use and consumption of material goods are projected by Randers to be forty percent higher than current levels in 2052. Gross world product is predicted to double, thereby requiring a substantive decoupling of energy and GDP, something the available evidence suggests is highly unlikely. Randers labels the non-energy-related component of GDP as 'investment'.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A balanced forecast and a great book 24 Oct 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Jorgen Randers is one of the authors of the 1972 Limits to Growth (LtG) report and this book marks the 40th anniversary of its publication. After a 20-year and a 30-year update of the report written by the original collective, this is a very personal update of what the world's limits to growth imply for the decades ahead. It is Randers' best guess as what might happen over the next forty years. He has produced a very readable book, spiced by 2-4 page long "glimpses" of the future by guest authors.
At the outset, Randers reminds his readers that the aim of LtG was to signal the importance of foresighted action on environmental matter. Only so can the world hope to avoid ecological "overshoot", i.e. using more ecological services than the planet can sustainably provide. Nowadays this is measured in terms of the "ecological footprint". When LtG was published it was close to 1 earth (i.e. borderline sustainable); now it stands at 1.5 (overshoot), and business as usual (BaU) will get us to 3 by 2050. In overshoot, the world draws down natural capital year by year and the situation is literally unsustainable, and just two options exist going forward: "managed decline" towards a footprint that fits the earth, or "uncontrolled collapse induced by nature."
Randers, describing himself as a lifelong worrier, has thus seen his and his co-authors' warnings go unheeded for the past forty years. As a consequence, and prior to writing 2052, he was convinced that humanity was heading for collapse. But in making his forecast he says he became less pessimistic. To the uninitiated the book will be a depressing read - but one could say it's about time they did catch up with reality!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 2052 is a long way off 2 Jan 2013
In our fast changing world it's a brave man that makes predictions as far ahead as 2052. But Jorgen Randers is an old hand at this; He was one of the authors of the famous book Limits to Growth in 1972. Based on an early computer model, the book suggested that if the trends up to 1972 were to "continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next 100 years", with a resulting "sudden and rather uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity". Forty years on, and aided by an updated computer model, Jorgen Randers revisits these predictions in his new book, 2052.

His new book is a worthwhile - albeit dense - read, although Randers' pessimism about humankinds' likelihood of rising to meet the challenges ahead is at times uncomfortable. He warns about undue optimism stating "to this day, six billion people are being misled into believing that there are no natural constraints and they can have it all because human ingenuity will come to the rescue." Instead he says "I believe the world will be sufficiently stupid to postpone meaningful action."

Randers' modelling suggests that world population will peak at around 8 billion in 2040, before returning to current levels by 2075. He suggests that global GDP growth will continue, but only slowly, so that the global economy will be twice as big in 2052 as it is now. In mature economies with shrinking populations - such as much of Western Europe - he foresees negative growth. But this global doubling of growth will put further strain on the planet he says, even taking into account improved efficiencies. As a result he predicts that disaster and adaptation costs will explode in coming decades.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  50 reviews
59 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An effort at an objective forecast for forty years from now 19 July 2012
By Paula L. Craig - Published on Amazon.com
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 diffuse heat. It works best 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.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars truly fair and balanced 25 July 2012
By genre lover - Published on Amazon.com
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.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative and Accessible 13 Aug 2012
By Breauxjw - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
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.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A sobering but realistic outlook on my students' futures 1 Dec 2012
By Partsky - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Gets a lot right and a lot wrong. 28 Nov 2012
By Forte - Published on Amazon.com
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.
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