Sustainability Science

, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 397–411 | Cite as

More growth? An unfeasible option to overcome critical energy constraints and climate change

  • Iñigo Capellán-PérezEmail author
  • Margarita Mediavilla
  • Carlos de Castro
  • Óscar Carpintero
  • Luis Javier Miguel
Special Feature: Original Article Socially Sustainable Degrowth as a Social-Ecological Transformation
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Special Feature: Socially Sustainable Degrowth as a Social-Ecological Transformation


Growing scientific evidence shows that world energy resources are entering a period shaped by the depletion of high-quality fuels, whilst the decline of the easy-to-extract oil is a widely recognized ongoing phenomenon. The end of the era of cheap and abundant energy flows brings the issue of economic growth into question, stimulating research for alternatives as the de-growth proposal. The present paper applies the system dynamic global model WoLiM that allows economic, energy and climate dynamics to be analyzed in an integrated way. The results show that, if the growth paradigm is maintained, the decrease in fossil fuel extraction can only be partially compensated by renewable energies, alternative policies and efficiency improvements, very likely causing systemic energy shortage in the next decades. If a massive transition to coal would be promoted to try to compensate the decline of oil and gas and maintain economic growth, the climate would be then very deeply disturbed. The results suggest that growth and globalization scenarios are, not only undesirable from the environmental point of view, but also not feasible. Furthermore, regionalization scenarios without abandoning the current growth GDP focus would set the grounds for a pessimistic panorama from the point of view of peace, democracy and equity. In this sense, an organized material de-growth in the North followed by a steady state shows up as a valid framework to achieve global future human welfare and sustainability. The exercise qualitatively illustrates the magnitude of the challenge: the most industrialized countries should reduce, on average, their per capita primary energy use rate at least four times and decrease their per capita GDP to roughly present global average levels. Differently from the current dominant perceptions, these consumption reductions might actually be welfare enhancing. However, the attainment of these targets would require deep structural changes in the socioeconomic systems in combination with a radical shift in geopolitical relationships.


Renewable limits Fossil fuel depletion Global warming System dynamics Peak oil Scenarios 



This work has been developed within the project CGL2009-14268 funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (MICINN). Additionally, Iñigo Capellán-Pérez wishes to thank the University of the Basque Country and the REPSOL Foundation for the support through the Low Carbon Programme ( Óscar Carpintero would also like to thank the financial support from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (Project ENE2010-19834, Project CSO2010-21979, and Project HAR2010-18544).

Supplementary material

11625_2015_299_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 1031 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Japan 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Iñigo Capellán-Pérez
    • 1
    • 1
    Email author
  • Margarita Mediavilla
    • 2
  • Carlos de Castro
    • 3
  • Óscar Carpintero
    • 4
  • Luis Javier Miguel
    • 2
  1. 1.Low Carbon Programme, Instituto de Economía PúblicaUniversity of the Basque CountryBilbaoSpain
  2. 2.Systems Engineering and Automatic Control, Escuela de Ingenierías IndustrialesUniversity of ValladolidValladolidSpain
  3. 3.Applied Physics department, Escuela de ArquitecturaUniversity of ValladolidValladolidSpain
  4. 4.Department of Applied EconomicsUniversity of ValladolidValladolidSpain

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