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The end of a model
Having been founded for two centuries on making increasing use of resources once thought to be inexhaustible (as can be seen from the bases of classical economics), our economy is now repeatedly coming up against the physical limits of our planet. Until now, we have benefited from energy –essentially carbon-based energy– that was increasingly abundant and becoming cheaper and cheaper in real terms, which enabled continual growth in human productivity. The deep-rooted dependency of GDP on energy in general, and oil in particular, emerges unmistakably when we look at the trends in oil and GDP since 1965.
Purple line: trend in the physical production of oil since 1968 (3-year average). Blue line: trend in average GDP per head of population worldwide (3-year average).
Sources: World Bank (GDP) and BP (oil production).
The twin constraints of energy and climate change are raising question marks over the very foundations of our industrial societies, since they imply a de-correlation between the feeling of prosperity and the level of physical flows. But reducing the dependency of what we do on flows of materials and energy is becoming a strategic, financial, ecological and social necessity.
This profound sea change, which is driving one of the biggest challenges of the century, deserves our commitment and effort to bring together as much human energy, will and intelligence as possible in order to prepare for this shift at the earliest-possible stage while identifying all its opportunities. We must anticipate the future and not be hostage to it, since doing nothing will unfortunately result in human drama and suffering more surely than failing to make any effort at all.
The Shift Project is bound up with this vision, and is fully committed not only to understanding the challenges involved, but more importantly to helping us all to succeed in meeting them. TSP is a proactive source of proposals, and contributes to sharing solutions, developing resources, identifying the step changes required and marking out the pathways that will lead us to new models for growth.