Megatrends and How to Survive Them #7 Global Limits

Published by Patricia Lustig on

Megatrends and How to Survive Them is the title of our book that is published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing. This is one of a series of blogs based on the work we have done for the book.

As increasing numbers of people become middle class (using Hans Rosling’s four levels, levels 3 and 4 the number is roughly 3 billion people), their wants and desires require ever more resources.  They have seen what others have (in mature economies in the global North) and they want some of it too.

The current world population and the life styles of most of us are stressing the global natural systems with unknown results.  There are three main areas where our impact on the global environment is causing problems: climate change, environmental degradation and resource shortages.

Climate change is leading to more and more extreme weather events.  It leads to higher sea levels as glaciers and polar ice melt.  Droughts and heatwaves create water shortages.  Desalination of the Atlantic as the polar ice melts will have unpredictable effects on the Gulf Stream that warms northern Europe.

Environmental degradation has – in some areas – passed the point of no return.  Johan Rockstrom suggests that we have gone beyond restorable limits on biodiversity, chemical pollutants (e.g. on crop land) and deforestation.

Finally, some resources that we have up until this point in time taken for granted that they are available in sufficient quantities, are becoming scarce.  You only have to remember the issues experienced by Cape Town in April of this year where an ongoing drought made the headlines and water was rationed.   Some minerals are also becoming scarce and we have known for some time of the scarcity of the rare earth elements some of which are needed for the manufacture of our ubiquitous smart phones and high-tech gadgets.

Increasing numbers of people in China and elsewhere are starting to eat more like the average American – that is, they want to eat more meat and to have a more varied diet.  China is scouring the planet in an attempt to fulfil its people’s desires.

We think it very likely that by 2032 many major cities around the world will experience more flooding which will have a knock-on effect to our increasingly urbanised world.  It won’t just be river flooding, but also rising sea levels and sea surges due to increasingly volatile weather for many coastal cities around the world.  Social systems may become stressed as urban populations swell and as the size and frequency of emergencies and disasters increases.

Unless air pollution is quickly tackled – as China realises – many more deaths will occur.  As it is, even today, living in urban areas with air pollution contributes to decreases in longevity.  It is much harder to tackle sea pollution, both visible and invisible, which requires international coordination and regulation which may well be hindered by the multi-polar world order we are approaching.  We don’t even (yet) know all the consequences of this.

It is likely that much more thought will be given to our use of resources.  As more people are able to afford more – and more varied – food, it is likely that countries and regions will take a more active planning stance in order to attempt to meet demand.

The drive to design for re-use and recycling is getting stronger and as resources become scarcer, this will be imperative.  We are likely to see innovation not just in design and recycling but also in waste management as the need for it becomes undeniable.

This may lead to devolving responsibility to people and organisations so that they manage their resource usage and waste locally.

Some questions that might be useful for you to explore:

  • How resilient are your supply chains to resource scarcity and unstable weather conditions?
  • How might flooding put your organisation at risk?
  • How might you need to innovate to better design for re-use and waste management?

Some interesting articles in this area:

Johan Rockstrom:

We live in interesting times!

By Patricia Lustig,  MD LASA Insight and Gill Ringland, SAMI Emeritus Fellow and Director, Ethical Reading.


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