Computer predicts the end of civilisation (1973) | RetroFocus


[♪ PULSING 70s ELECTRONIC MUSIC ♪] It’s not some science fantasy effect from 2001. This electronic display emanating from Australia’s
largest computer is a picture of the condition, past, present and future, of planet Earth. The program was originally devised by a
scientist working from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Jay Forrester. It was developed under the auspices of the Club of Rome by an MIT research team to present a complex model of the world and
what we humans are doing to it. The program, called World One, doesn’t
pretend to be a precise forecast. What it does, for the first time in man’s history on
the planet, is to look at the world as one system. It shows that Earth
cannot sustain present population and industrial growth for much
more than a few decades. It shows that simply cleaning up our
car exhausts and making some small effort to limit our
families simply isn’t enough. It’s like an electronic guided tour of
our global behaviour since 1900 and where that behaviour will lead us. Well this is the printed version of what
we’ve just seen on the television screen. And what looks, at first, to be just a maze of computer characteristics is really a system of very
simple graphs which project what’s going to happen to the planet over the
next 150 years if we don’t do something drastic to stop it . Down the left-hand side of the graph is the date 1900, 1940, 1980, 2020, right down to 2060. Now each of these lines of letters represents a
curve showing some aspect of the condition of the planet. The further out
this way they go, the greater that figure is. The further this way the less. For example,
P represents population so here it is at 1900, and then it comes up to 1940,
it starts to take off. Here we are at 1980, up to the turn of the century, and
then it starts to peter off. Let’s now have a look at this next curve, the Q curve, which is the quality of life and this is represented by, for example,
the amount of space people have, the amount of money they have to spend,
the amount of food they have to eat. Now it increases rapidly up to 1940,
but from 1940 on the quality of life diminishes and here we are,
about the turn of the century, and we come up to the year 2020 and
it’s really come right back. More people of course means that
you start to chew up your supply of natural resources, and this
is this curve here, the N curve, that shows that slowly but steadily the pool of
natural wealth in the world; natural resources, minerals, oil and
so on, is slowly but steadily diminishing. So this is the situation – as population
increases, the quality of life decreases, and the supply of natural
resources decreases. But have a look at this curve here. This
is called the Z curve and it represents pollution. Now predictably enough as the population
increases up to 1980, pollution increases. There’s more rubbish. But from 1980
to the year 2020 pollution really takes off. This is assuming of course that
we don’t do anything about it. So the year 2020, the condition of the planet starts to become highly critical and if we don’t do anything about
it this is what’s going to happen. The quality of life is going to go
right back to practically zero. Pollution is going to become so serious,
right out here, that it will start to kill people, So the population will diminish, right back
here, less than it was in the year 1900. And at this stage, round about the
year 2040, 2050, civilised life as we know on this planet will cease to exist. Well hopefully of course it won’t be allowed to
happen, but it’s taken this kind of shock treatment to nudge governments into doing something
and slowly we are. We’re starting to clean up our atmosphere, we’re starting to recycle
our rubbish, we’re doing something positive about population control, but so far our
efforts have really been just a drop in the ocean. The Club of Rome comprises some
70 men of widely varying backgrounds, but their common concern is that the world problems
cannot be solved by individual nations. I spoke with Professor Hugo Thiemann, director
of the Battelle Institute in Geneva, Dr Aurelio Peccei, founder of the club, and
Dr Alexander King, director of the World Bank and the United Nations’ OECD. Dr. King, now you’re describing the world as
a closed system where all these things are interrelated and yet the government, the control of the system, is by individual nation-states. Now how do you convince them to cooperate? The sovereignty of these nations is
no longer as absolute as it was. There’s a gradual diminishing, whittling away of sovereignty, little bit by little bit, especially, of course, the smaller
countries where it’s more obvious, but the bigger countries have to do a good
deal of this by agreeing to international arrangements for the Law of the Seas, or for the limits
of fishing or for control of the wavelengths and radio and a hundred and one other things,
but especially in a technological field I think. This is going to be increasingly so with the developments next year. I was at an important meeting in Washington
a couple of weeks ago and Peterson, the former Secretary of Commerce, was saying the same thing from an economic point of view – that the general world economic situation, the interdependence of countries, on their food and fuels and so on, is leading to an interdependence which has seeds of draining away
of sovereignty within it. So I don’t think one can envisage an idealistic of
jumping to a world federalism or anything of that sort but the building up probably in the next decade in
a number of particularly sensitive fields, like energy, raw materials, the use of the oceans,
space and so on, of a number of what people are tending to call regimes, which will not be
ordinary United Nations-type of organisations but semi-management organisations. There’ll
be a great deal of consent in them. Dr Peccei views the European common market as an elementary example of the kind of regional cooperative which is going to be necessary. What
responsibilities does he see for Australia? You are in a splendid position.
[REPORTER] What should we do? You have food, energy, space. You
are distant from other centres, so you can, for a longer time, feel rather more independent than interdependent. but things of the world are going so fast that I I think that the enlightened leadership in Australia should see down the road that Australia will have to lose some of its own self decisions in order to acquire something else which may be purely political in a very wide sense, or maybe also security. The Club of Rome is reluctant to point the finger at any one nation, yet clearly nations like the United States which consumes approximately 60% of
the world’s resources, will, in the club’s view, have to accept a severe cutback in its voracious
appetite. But the club’s utterances are cloaked in a velvet democracy in the
hope that their facts will gently persuade. We will ask “who is making the decision?”
and whether the decision makers of today whether they perceive the problems, what kind of problems, and the interactions of the problems. That’s a very pragmatic approach. [REPORTER] Has the time come, Dr. King, when we’re going to have to say we can no longer entrust our resources and the exploitation of
those resources to private enterprise? Is the time come when governments
will simply have to take more control? Simple nationalisation and things
like that wouldn’t help at all because we’ve got to keep an incentive
approach and many of the good aspects of private enterprise are very necessary
here, but not in the old exploitative way where the market forces dominated
the whole situation. [REPORTER] Dr Peccei, can you tell me what my lifestyle will be in 100 years’ time? What sort of car I’ll drive, what sort of house
I’ll live in, what sort of food I’ll be eating. Probably you will have a smaller car, you
will use more common transport means, you will work far less hours, you will have
a wider cultural possibility than today, you will not be so much pestered
by immediate needs because through technology, organisation of the markets, the basic needs will be taken care of and I think that you will love nature
and continue then what I think you are doing now to protect our environment,
to avoid this man-made world where the creatures of nature,
the animals, the plants, the green spaces, the wilderness,
is bound to disappear. To the Club of Rome the status symbols of the year 2000 will be the inverse of today’s. Prestige will stem from low consumption.
That personal consumption will have to be less is plain enough, but for that
privation to be seen as prestigious would seem to indicate some radical rethinking,
at least for the fat cats of the planet. [♪ PULSING 70s ELECTRONIC MUSIC FINISHES ♪]

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