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World System

Everything affects everything else.








The Club of Rome was an informal group of industrialists, scientists and philosophers who met to discuss world problems. Here is an obituary of Alexander King, one of its founders.

In 1972 the Club of Rome pioneered the use of computers to model the world system. The results were published as a report: The Limits to Growth. They commissioned a study of the factors affecting the condition of the world. They included:

  • size and rate of increase of the population
  • rate of use of non-renewable resources
  • production of pollutants (non-biological wastes)
  • rate of formation of industrial capital
  • availability of agricultural land
  • rate of erosion
  • and several others.

The conclusions from the model were that the conditions in operation at present are likely to result in a population crash (the deaths of several thousand millions) caused by increasing pollution (already evident in such cities as Mexico City and in China), decreasing agricultural productivity caused by rising pollution, resource exhaustion and erosion. The model illustrated the fact that the world ecology is a complex web of many factors, all of which must be considered. Although the model was first made in 1972 subsequent studies tend to confirm and refine its conclusions (despite the denials of some right wing politicians).

The version I am recommending here is a revision after 30 years.

Have world politicians and peoples yet grasped the truths of this study? The signs are that the information is diffusing through the peoples but that the politicians (mostly not trained as scientists) have not yet grasped the magnitude of the problem, nor the innovations in response required.

Beyond the Limits (Earthscan 1992) describes the Model used and discusses the implications of the study.

Interesting reading

The Limits to Growth

Grenzen des Wachstums - Das 30-Jahre-Update: Signal zum Kurswechsel

Beyond the Limits (Earthscan 1992) describes the Model used and discusses the implications of the study.

Limits to Growth - Meadows Wikipedia note

The model.



Possible Solutions

All of these problems can be shown to interrelate so that altering only one of them would not necessarily affect the whole system favorably. One of the authors of the First Global Revolution has stated that:

In any complex system, attack - however apparently intelligent - on a single element or symptom generally leads to a deterioration of the system as a whole.

Forrester's First Law (Global Revolution p105)

The implication of this is that all the problems described in this Section of World Info (and others not described here) must be tackled simultaneously in order to avoid disaster. They are described as a Problematique - a mass of problems all affecting each other simultaneously.

They suggest a policy of encouraging energy from income resources: solar, wind, tidal, Ocean Thermal, biomass and discouraging energy from the stored carbon deposits of oil and coal. But this policy on its own would not have a useful effect (except that it might push the crash a few years later). In addition there must be a policy of discouraging population growth, and probably a decline from the peak it is likely to reach. A further set of policies are required to redesign industrial and agricultural activities to cease producing products which can't be reabsorbed into the biological system. It seems likely that these will be the main objects of intellectual activity for the next century or so.

In The First Global Revolution the Club of Rome report their pessimism that corrective measures will begin early enough. Delay in beginning corrective measures will increase the damage to the world ecological system and probably will reduce the numbers of people which will eventually be supportable permanently. It may be that the dominant politicians will not take the problems seriously until some disaster occurs which cannot be concealed from the voters. The northern hole in the Ozone layer threatens to be such an event. A prolonged drought in the United States grain belt might be another. Increased severity and frequency of hurricanes is a third. However, the extreme hurricane (Katrina) that severely damaged New Orleans and the Gulf coast of the United States in 2005 does not seem to have provoked any policy changes in the G W Bush (2006) US Federal government.

Burke and Ornstein point out in their history of the effects of technology that each "solution" tends to generate new problems. An example of this may be the US government policy of subsidising farmers to produce ethanol from grain. This "solution" has the potential of causing famine by reducing the availability of food. (In 2008 the abrupt rise in grain prices seems to bear out this conclusion). Their observation is that this is a type of the old linear style of thinking, whereas to solve these very complex problems we need more comprehensive thinking that can take account of all aspects of the Problematique - something only computers can do.

Factor Four
Ernst von Weizsaecker et al.

Faktor vier

The First Global Revolution

James Burke and Robert Ornstein - The Axemaker's Gift (Grosset/Putnam 1995)
How technology has affected language and many other topics

Last revised 16/10/11

More books
 Al Gore - Earth in the Balance

Al Gore - An Inconvenient Truth

James Lovelock - Gaia

Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth

Gaia: Die Erde ist ein Lebewesen. Anatomie und Physiologie des Organismus Erde.

La Terre est un Être vivant: L' hypothése Gaïa
 James Lovelock - The Revenge of Gaia

 Rachel Carson - Silent Spring

Der stumme Frühling. Der Öko-Klassiker
 Thomas Friedman - Hot, Flat and Crowded

Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why the World Needs a Green Revolution - and How We Can Renew Our Global Future

Was zu tun ist: Eine Agenda für das 21. Jahrhundert


World Info


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Since 24/11/10

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