One of the things we look for in good science is the ability to make predictions. In 1972, an MIT team modeled twelve different possible scenarios for the future based upon different responses to the environment. Since then, we have followed the BAU2 (Business as Usual) scenario. Based upon our desire for continued economic growth, our use of resources, population growth, and our pollution of the planet, the BAU2 model predicted we would reach a downward turning point for living standards around the world by around 2040.
We have already seen a possible slowing in the doubling time over the last few decades. The population and resource usage remain high, which could result in a rapid decline in industrialized societies. A different scenario, the Comprehensive Technology scenario or CT, depends upon us finding technological solutions even as resources become depleted. CT, itself, depends upon resources.
A third option depends upon humans deciding to limit economic growth and the exploitation of natural resources before it is too late. Although still possible, it would require humans to make an unprecedented behavioural change. Humans are generalists and usually we behave as patch foragers. That means we can use many resources, but we usually exploit key ones until they are no longer economically viable. Then we move on.
Will the 2040’s see a collapse or more than simply a “call” for action? The longer we wait to address pollutions, the waste of farmland, climate change, and the loss of resources through industrial output, the less chance we will have of avoiding a disaster.
It should be noted that these scenarios did not include some key pieces of information that were not considered relevant back in the 1970’s, including the damage to fertility from plastics, or the importance of the microbiome, which is also dropping in its biodiversity.
The models, supported by a recent paper by Herrington, suggest that we are indeed on tract for a drop food supplies, industrial production (not by choice but by resource depletion) during the coming two decades. Down-stream from these problems we can expect a drop in our concerns about human welfare.