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Law 2050 Looks at 2052

While on a post-free vacation the past week, I finished reading Jorgen Randers’ 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years. (How could the author of a blog named Law 2050 resist reading a book titled 2052?) Randers is a Norwegian Business School professor specializing in climate strategy and scenario analysis, and was a coauthor of 1972’s The Limits to Growth, which, like 2052, was a report to the Club of Rome project. Unlike LTG, however, 2052 is not a scenario-building exercise (LTG developed 12 global scenarios through 2100). Rather, as Randers describes it, 2052 takes the LTG scenario Randers considers the most probable given the last 40 years of experience since LTG and plays it out in a global forecast for the next 40 years. The forecasting is based on computer modeling using extensive datasets organized around four major cause-and-effect themes: (1) population and consumption, (2) energy and CO2, (3) food and ecological footprint, and (4) a collection of economic, social, and demographic factors. After a macro-view of trends in these categories, all of which point to an “overshoot” in our use of resources, Randers then provides sub-global forecasts for the US, China, OECD (minus US), BRISE (BRIC minus China but plus some others), and rest of the world. Along the way 2052 sprinkles in dozens of micro forecasts by other experts on a variety of pertinent topics.

2052 is a marvelous book, well worth the long, dense read. There’s far more to it than I could possibly summarize here, but a few points seem pertinent to Law 2050‘s scope:

  • Randers predicts a world in which climate change is a major driver leading to a global infusion of energy efficiency technology and renewable energy infrastructure. Whereas LTG foresaw scenarios of overshoot dealt with through managed decline, Randers believes that the climate problem has moved us past overshoot into an era of “collapse induced by nature.” We will need energy efficiency and renewable energy just to tread water. Message for Law 2050: Energy law is going to grow only more important and broader in scope over the next 40 years.
  • The US and OECD will move into a period of stagnation as population levels off and we must pay for the self-indulgence of current and prior generations financed on unsustainable fiscal structures and deferred infrastructure investment. Hindering their ability to pull out of this dive will be the short-term focus of modern democratic politics and capitalism, which ultimately will prevent the US and many OECD nations form making necessary adjustments for the long-term. China, meanwhile, with its centralized governance system and economy will become the dominant global economic force, requiring most other nations to march to its trade policy tune. Message for Law 2050: Start thinking about what it means for the US economy to look much like it does now for a long time while China slowly but surely becomes the center of global trade and policy.
  • There is going to be social unrest across many scales. Many poor people in the world will be much better off than they are today, but many will not and the rich nations will experience declining growth and income. In the US, one lightening rod will be growing tension between the baby-boomers and their children and grandchildren, with Randers predicting that as the young become politically dominant they will simply say no to the prospect of maintaining the levels of support the baby-boomers unilaterally awarded themselves by leaving the bill on the table for younger generations to pick up. Message for Law 2050: There’s going to be some messy legal wrangling over how to pay for all that dessert the baby-boomers want to eat, and whether they’ll get all they ordered.
  • Randers acknowledges some “wild card” scenarios that could throw his forecast off track, including the continued pushing off of peak oil, another financial meltdown, nuclear war, and revolution in a major nation such as the US or China. Notably, however, radical technological change is not one of his wild cards, nor does it play much of a role in the forecast generally. Message for Law 2050: Forecasts are tricky–keep building multiple scenarios and don’t ever underestimate technology.

For all it covers, however, 2052 makes no mention of legal evolution in its forecast. Randers assumes (probably with good reason given the record so far) that the international community will not rally around climate with any meaningful international law response (listing that as one of wild cards instead), but does not consider how law contributes to or could redirect or respond to any of the other trends he predicts at regional and national scales. Nevertheless, and perhaps as a consequence, Law 2050 will make frequent references to 2052 in the future as a robust base for building and testing scenarios of our legal future.

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