ASPO-5 Live

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

ASPO-5 Day 2: Dennis Meadows Says We’ve Already Overshot

Thirty-five years after he co-wrote the landmark study, Limits to Growth, Dennis Meadows told ASPO-5 that almost all of his original predictions of ecological collapse are coming true. “We have already overshot,” Meadows said. “Collapse is not inevitable but it will very tough to avoid.”

Meadows said peak oil is one of a number of limits that mankind is confronting. “Were facing a lot of peaks and oil is just one of them," he said. “We are also drawing down our fertile soils, groundwater, and forest stocks.” Governments, he said, will be overwhelmed trying to deal with them.

The signs of collapse surround us, Meadows said. These include deteriorating natural resources, rising levels of pollution, more frequent and devastating natural disasters, growing political instability, higher debt loads, and greater demand for resources to secure energy sources. Steady decline has already shown up in the statistics from over 50 countries, Meadows said, a key summary indicator being declining per capita GNP.

Meadows said the critics of peak oil – and to physical limits in general – are slowly coming round, if reluctantly, following a predictable path from denial to qualified acceptance. “Critics start off by saying ‘don’t worry, there are no limits.' Critics of peak oil intuitively don’t believe that oil is finite."

But now people are starting to get worried, he said. Yet political systems are inherently incapable of responding to peak oil. “Current politics and markets are not working under these circumstances,” Meadows said. “Peak oil is a hard problem,” he said. “You have to go through a period where things will get worse before than can get better.” Politics, with its short-term election cycles, just isn’t equipped to deal with problems that demand short-term privation.

“That’s why collapse occurs. We are fundamentally unable to do the things we must do to avoid collapse. Sustainable development is possible but not likely and probably too late.”

Meadows is pessimistic about society's ability to survive the steady depletion of finite oil stocks. “There is no possibility that alternative energy sources will rise fast enough to offset the decline in oil,” he said. Meanwhile world population continues to skyrocket. “Global society will most likely adjust to limits by overshoot and collapse, not by growth,” he said.