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Great Scientists are Great Communicators – Part 3 (Last)

Inspirational quotes of Dr. Dennis Meadows, environmental evangelist

Dr. Dennis Meadows, father of sustainability movement, striving to save depleting Planet Earth

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Dr. Dennis Meadows, an American scientist and environmental evangelist, visited Tokyo to receive the Japan Prize in April 2009. He was recognized for his contribution to enlightening the world communities on the creation of a sustainable society and calling for global dialogues among statesmen, policymakers, scientists and business leaders in the hope of saving mankind from depleting resources on the finite Earth.  He warned about the environmental crisis resulting from a finite system of the Earth and the consequent risky fate of mankind in the 1972 report “The Limits to Growth,” of which he was the lead author.

In Tokyo, he graciously went through seven in-person interviews with major Japanese dailies and journals, and I was truly honored to attend every one of them. In fact, his interviews were my first thrilling experience in witnessing the inspiring interviews with 20 Japan Prize winning scientists from 2009 to 2016.

Here are some highlights of his remarks and warnings that will remain viable for many decades to come:

“In the report, we have tried to scientifically project how the Earth would be, if current trends in population, industrialization, pollution, food production and resource depletion continued. Without changing the trends, the dark time, marked by a plummeting population, contracting economy and environmental collapse, could come within 100 years.  Should the growth continue at a current pace, mankind’s pace of progress would tend down from around 2020 – 2050.”

“Our computer simulation model is intended to forecast, not predict, what the future of the Earth would be, based on the fact that the resources on the Earth are limited. No matter how big and abundant the Earth is now, it will not be possible to grow indefinitely on the finite Earth.  Once physical growth gets over the limits, it is destined to collapse.”

“Looking back on the history of the Earth, climate change often happened. Climate change is of serious problem for the survival of mankind and other living creatures.  In such a sense, the Earth is really getting worse.  Under the present policies aimed at population growth and economic growth, resources and foods will reach the limits so fast.”

“Scientific technologies for energy savings and renewal energies could help buy some time to slow down the environmental degradation, but they are hardly solutions. Rather than setting material contentment for standards of well-being, it will be imperative for us to change our habits at cultural and psychological levels as well.  Changing of habits is not easy, but also unpleasant, and also might affect efficiency.  Nevertheless, there will be no survival of mankind without changes.  We ought to learn more the way to live under control.”

“Sustainability is not a goal, but rules to continue driving without accidents. Before reaching the limits, it’s about time to make up the prescriptions.”

Dr. Meadows has positively influenced many people, and committed to promoting values and actions that can lead us in a transition to sustainability. Yet, despite his good track record of forecasting broad changes in the world, Dr. Meadows admits he has not managed to change the values of those in power.

“I don’t think I’ve influenced any US politicians and I don’t think that they have influenced me,” he further continued, “Under the Obama administration, the US government has become concerned about planet-warming issues and been trying to increase renewable energies. However, it might take several decades before American policies to turn around the worsening situation.”

The Limits to Growth was presented for the first time to the public in the Smithsonian Institute Castle in March 1971. Exactly 40 years later, on March 9, 2012, Dr. Meadows addressed a speech at the Smithsonian Institute, and recounted, “In the 1990s, collapse was something that was in mind.  But it has probably been only the last four or five years that it has become really clear to me that we just haven’t got a chance of dealing with these issues in any kind of orderly way.”

In the four decades since the publication, The Limits to Growth sold over ten million copies in 35 languages.  The book was one of the most influential environmental literatures of the 20th century.  Yet, he said, “The public has done little to avert the disaster it foretells.”

“In so far as I can tell, people who use the term sustainable development mean, essentially, that this would be a phase of development where they get to keep what they have but all the poor people can catch up. Or, they get to keep doing what they’ve been doing, but through the magic of technology they are going to cause less damage to the environment and use fewer resources.  Either way, you use the tem, it is just a fantasy.  Neither of those is possible, anymore.  It probably was possible back in the ‘70s, but not now.  We’re 150 percent of the global carrying capacity.”

In a media interview back in April 2009 in Tokyo, asked about writing a new update book, he pondered momentarily, nodded smilingly and said that the title could be, “As I Told You So.”

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Dr. Dennis Meadows at the Japan Prize Award Presentation Ceremony in Tokyo on April 23, 2009.

Link to the Japan Prize website: www.japanprize.jp/en

 

Lagging and fragile global actions to curb greenhouse gas emissions:

Kyoto Protocol (1997), Copenhagen Pact (2009), Paris Agreement (2015)

The United Nations has been taking strenuous initiatives in coming up with a global climate change treaty since 1992. They came close to a deal twice before reaching the latest agreement in Paris in 2015.

In December 1997, world leaders signed the Kyoto Protocol in Kyoto, Japan. The protocol mandated that 37 industrialized nations plus the EU countries cut their combined emissions to 5% below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.  192 parties ratified the protocol.  Many expressed the best hope then for curbing the greenhouse gas emissions considered partly responsible for the warming of the planet.

In reality, however, over 100 developing countries, including China and India, were exempted from the treaty. Furthermore, it suffered a massive blow in 2001 when the then US President George Bush pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol, saying implementing it would gravely damage the US economy.

Although the protocol was eventually extended to 2020, it was regarded “virtually obsolete” without US support and without the participation of China and India, two of the world’s biggest producers of greenhouse gases with huge populations and growing economies. Meanwhile, many climate scientists deplored, “The combined target (5%) set in the Kyoto Protocol is merely scratching the surface of the problem.”  Instead, their consensus was, “Emissions cuts in the order of 60% across the board are needed,” in order to avoid the worst consequences of global warming.

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Kyoto International Conference Center and its Main Hall where the Kyoto Protocol was debated and signed in December 1997.

In 2009 in Copenhagen, US President Barack Obama and other world leaders drafted a new pact to replace the Kyoto deal. It would have gotten China and other developing countries involved, but failed to convince them.  It ended up as little more than a voluntary agreement.

The Paris Agreement, reached in December 2015 among 195 countries, officially came into force on November 4, 2016 with 55 of the world’s most polluting nations having ratified the agreement, including the US, China, various EU member countries and India.

Its ultimate goal is set to limit the rise in average global temperatures to below 2 degree Celsius within the century, with the more ambitious target of 1.5 degrees still something to aim for. However, reportedly even if all were fully implemented immediately, the world temperatures were likely to be on course for an increase of 3 degrees Celsius before 2100.

The Guardian (Nov. 4, 2016) quotes Greenpeace, “The Paris Agreement is a major step in the right direction, but it falls a long way short of the giant leap needed to tackle climate change. Far tougher action is needed to rapidly slash emission.”

There are some serious uncertainties lying ahead before the Agreement can be fully carried out on a global scale: After new US President Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20, 2017, the US government would presumably “rescind” the Clean Power Plan and “cancel” the Paris Agreement as he said during the presidential election campaign.  Without the US, the effort to reduce climate risks would be dead, since the US is the world’s second-largest emitter, and is one of the biggest emitters per head.

The Paris Agreement was ratified relative quickly by the world’s big players, but there are still dozens of countries that have yet to formally ratify the deal. Under the circumstances, they are expected to put off their final decisions to at least 2008.  Besides, it is still taking time to finalize the “rule book” governing the agreement.

The Financial Times’ Chief Economics Commentator, Mr. Martin Wolf, wrote, “It is impossible to have just a US climate policy or a Chinese climate policy. It has to be a global policy…Much has changed in attitude…But little has yet altered on the ground.  Only if we collectively recognize and act upon the realities right now is anything much likely to change. On this, I remain pessimistic.” (FT, Nov. 2, 2016)

It is imperative for the world communities to move much more urgently and at appropriate scale “to overcome the existential threat of unchecked climate change.”

Nick “YOICHI” Nishida

GCI SunPub Co., Ltd.

Tokyo

 

 



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