Forty years after its initial publication, a study called The Limits to Growth is looking depressingly prescient. Commissioned by an international think tank called the Club of Rome, the 1972 report found that if civilization continued on its path toward increasing consumption, the global economy would collapse by 2030. Population losses would ensue, and things would generally fall apart.
The study was — and remains — nothing if not controversial, with economists doubting its predictions and decrying the notion of imposing limits on economic growth. Australian researcher Graham Turner has examined its assumptions in great detail during the past several years, and apparently his latest research falls in line with the report's predictions, according to Smithsonian Magazine. The world is on track for disaster, the magazine says.
The study, initially completed at MIT, relied on several computer models of economic trends and estimated that if things didn't change much, and humans continued to consume natural resources apace, the world would run out at some point. Oil will peak (some argue it has) before dropping down the other side of the bell curve, yet demand for food and services would only continue to rise. Turner says real-world data from 1970 to 2000 tracks with the study's draconian predictions: "There is a very clear warning bell being rung here. We are not on a sustainable trajectory," he tells Smithsonian.
Is this impossible to fix? No, according to both Turner and the original study. If governments enact stricter policies and technologies can be improved to reduce our environmental footprint, economic growth doesn't have to become a market white dwarf, marching toward inevitable implosion. But just how to do that is another thing entirely.
The solution, if there really is a problem, is the colonization of the solar system.
"If there really is a problem"? Wow.
I'm all for space exploration, but our problems don't disappear with the colonization of anything. Besides that, what planet in our solar system is even worth colonizing? Mars is about the only one worth consideration, isn't it? Even that would take extraordinary effort. Terraforming is far, far beyond our capabilities, much less transporting several billion people.
I heard a similar speech on TED called the "earth is full" that talks about this same issue. Except he says that it is possible to fix. If anything, its not going to be an easy problem, especially with the depletion of natural resources.
I'm not a world economist, nor do i even be so bold as to claim to have all the answers. But what i can do is bring something to the conversation.
I feel that of course we have set the world on a path to destruction, but before it fails utterly, we can unite and struggle for a better future for all of mankind. I'm only a crane operator but id be willing to put forth the effort to build a new future in a new way for the betterment of mankind.
What i hope to see humanity do in my lifetime is unite under a common goal of saving not only the planet but also humanity itself. We have the technological know-how to do a great many things right, after we have done things so wrong for so long. Humanity must get over its fear of change and look for a new way of thinking and doing things.
Some of the people that read this article may, or may not be aware of projects like the one run in the Oak Ridge National Laboratory with Liquid Thorium nuclear reactors, but that in and of itself could be a big step toward a future that we don't kill ourselves in.
Another project for just such a venture has been initiated and been trying to find funding for some time now, known as the Venus Project. It is literally building and striving for a future that we design with the application of the scientific method so that we can live in harmony with nature, and still be able to flourish as a race. There are no utopian societies, only a society ever trying to make itself better.
In many ways, especially socially, we have stagnated, but we can fix this.
Trojax, you my sir are one smart crane operator.
I totally agree with Trojax. We really are at a stagnate point in society and also in philosphy. Alot of the movies and tv shows nowadays are remakes or reruns, or new shows that are just spin off ideas. If we look around we can see alot of things are in limbo. However, I feel that we can change, especially now that its so easy to communicate an idea and have it spread. I can't say it wont be hard but its doable.
As trojax said I am not really in a position to make any profound judgements on the subject. However, I personally feel that we (especially those of us in the US) will be fine.
This is for several reasons. I think that vertical farming and genetic engineering will make sure that there is enough food. There is enough food produced now so that no one should starve but much of it is wasted. The US is a major food producer so most of us should not starve.
Also, wind power is expected to reach unsubsidized grid parity in 2016, while solar costs are rapidly dropping. I think a combination of renewables and safer nuclear power will supply the world with plenty of power.
Most importantly, many developed countries have level or decreasing population levels, while engineers will continue to improve the efficiency of society and amaze us with new inventions we have never dreamed of.
Here's the same thing from another source: www.youtube.com/watch?v=umFnrvcS6AQ
Bob, while in general I do find it likely that the US would survive such a collapse, there's something else you neglected regarding population size.
First world countries aren't growing rapidly. It's the third world countries that are and those that are developing now that they have limited access to modern medicine. If they can reign in their growth, I think we'll be okay, but that would be difficult. I'm not saying that they should instill laws mandating a child maximum, but something needs to happen.
Even if we (the first world) advance past our destructive ways and advance towards things like solar, wind, and thorium, the third world likely won't be able to afford these and will likely build their growth upon our outdated technology. Presuming the prediction is correct, we shouldn't just do what we can to stop our consumption and lower our dependence on things like oil. We'd have to drastically lower the price of the alternatives so that the developing countries don't do what we've been doing.
Who says growth is absolutely essential? Why can't we have a flat population and economy. People will still be born and die. We will still consume products and food.
First you have to remember: whenever you start in an economics class, the first thing they teach you is, that economics is "not an exact science" so whatever the man writes is at best thumb suck. Very educated thumb suck perhaps, but still thumb suck. Could he sell a book that predicts nothing is going to change, and everything is going to stay hunky dory? By the way, there seems to be a similar scenario around AGW. So, like Trojax and Bob Clementine neither I nor Graham Turner can make any statement that would be more accurate than the Gypsy's with the crystal ball.
Continued economic growth at the scale seen in the last 100 years must stop and pause every so often. I think we will have more and more conflicts around the world about access to resources. Some of the recent conflicts, could already be classed as "oil wars". The situation could well escalate to another world war. Or will China, India and some others be happy to become first class economic powers and stay second class political powers?
Population growth in many nations has fallen to close to zero, and even become shrinkage. That and a saturation of personal possessions has led to a shrinking in economic growth. Some countries boast 5 or 10% growth, but none of them is a fully developed and established with a generally wealthy population. My shares and other (minute) investments in Germany e. g. have not really done anything in years. Some (minute as well) investments I have in Africa are doing much better. So I don't think anybody should be really worried, but if you read the predictions of Nostradamus and others like him, this book is probably for you.
Everything is so wrong! Our laws are plain stupid.
Politicians dont care about building a better society, they just want power and money in their circles.
Stupid religion is keeping people (sheep herds) ignorant. The media is owned by the same ambitious morons that just want to keep peoples stupid. They will hide important info that could affect their companies. The FREE internet is in danger, because Neanderthals are in power.
Class war will be an inminent result of all the bad decisions politicians are making these days! The stupid morons dont see the economic imbalance they are creating right now, will catch them sooner or later. (No , I will not sell you my last piece of bread for a million bucks!)
Scientists are not being heard, false stupid preudoscientists are selling their souls for money and telling lies. Giant food companies will soon own every piece of agricultural land and will control the food offer and destroy the small farmers.
I have a vision and the future SUCKS!
Scarcity in some instances is manufactured, it keeps prices high. Think diamonds.
Money only has value because we place value in it. Ever try to eat a one-hundred dollar bill?
GMO/Monsanto is not the answer/cure you should be looking for.
Don't let the potentially interesting science blind you to the potentially irreversible disaster.
In a global economic collapse, no place is safe...no place.
Maybe it's what we need...
Trojax and PRsurfer are right, this is mainly a political problem rather than a technical one.
To summarise, I think the path to destruction is a collusion between three groups:
1. ORDINARY PEOPLE in the West, who live in wilful ignorance, hand-to-mouth, who don't believe they have any responsibility for the future and are content to blame the other two groups.
2. POLITICIANS who only care about growth during their 4 or 5 year electoral cycle, and are content to placate the other two group's short-term interests.
3. CAPITALISTS who want to make their pile as quickly as possible, believing that they'll be rich enough to buy their own protection when it all hits the fan. They'll do anything for short-tern gain, pushing consumer tat to the people and weaponry to the politicians.
Any amount of forward thinking can conclude that ALL these groups depend on a stable society to function. But will it be too late before they all realise...
Did anyone even look at the source data linked in the article? How can anyone with more than a 8th grade education (let alone someone at MIT) think that the predictions are "depressingly prescient"?
First, the data only covers the period of 1970-2000, so there is no recent information on which to draw. Next, food and services per capita are higher than predicted over that time period, while pollution is lower. Most importantly, what little data there is for "non-renewable resources remaining" suggests that the model is far too pessimistic. Finally, the model somehow calls for drastic changes in all the measured areas in 2025 or so, somehow linked only to "non-renewable resources." But since 1) non-renewable resources don't look like they are going to run out any time soon (at least according to the data displayed) and 2) non-renewable resources are not the only option of energy-generation available to us, this assumption seems highly circumspect.
A great story, sure. But bad science. If you showed me this hypothesis, data, and conclusion without telling me where it came from, I'd probably assume it was a bad science fair project done by the child of some neo-environmentalist.
bah! the economy in America has a minor "collapse" every 4 years with a major collapse much,much less often. by major i mean the type of thing that makes your grandparents say they had it so much worse than you. but so far this hasnt caused any problems
Imagine one day science does create an endless power source that does not pollute, I can only imagine as the population continues to grow, we humans will still kill ourselves via the other things we produce in wants and needs.
Until we create an artificial environment and deal with the byproducts we produce so they are not hazards to ourselves and all other living things around us we are doom. Yes we need to establish ourselves in outer space and face these problems head on.
Of course, I read the other day humans have been using fire for over 1 million years and by past archeology; past human societies have come and gone. Perhaps we human will just hit a wall, become 1% population on earth again, and then begin again.
Science sees no further than what it can sense, i.e. facts.
Religion sees beyond the senses, i.e. faith.
Open your mind and see!
@ Volt Grid parity means it costs consumers the same as conventional sources. Developing countries are investing in renewables as it is often even cheaper for them than it is for us. Many do not have mature electric grids, so off grid applications are often cheaper then extending the grid.
The one thing I forgot to mention is water. Expect usable water to be much more scarce in the future. However, that is really not very scary as wasteful people will use much less water than they use to as it will be much more expensive. Also worse comes to worse you can always desalinate salt water.
Just fire up the gate and move some of us to Alpha site- problem solved :)
Here are some interesting links and comments about the future.
Science sees no further than what it can sense, i.e. facts.
Religion sees beyond the senses, i.e. faith.
Open your mind and see!
Daniel A. Mercer
Back in 1971 I took a course called "The Limits Of Growth" at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Our textbook was photocopied pages from the as yet unpublished "Limits of Growth". The professor had built the computer model whose predictions were featured in the book. One of the concepts they introduced was Global Warming. Aluminum, for instance, was supposed to be depleted in the 1990's because the ore used as an electrolyte in processing, cryolite, was only available from Greenland. Indeed, cryolite was depleted ahead of schedule in 1987 - but by the the Aluminum industry had switched to an artificial cryolite produced from the much more common fluorite. Aluminum, despite the prediction, remains not only abundant but actually cheaper - thanks in large part to recycling. This despite a vast increase in usage.
The problem with the predictions then, and I argued this at the time, was that there was no factor for economics in his equations. As something becomes rarer it becomes more expensive which in turn makes it more valuable which leads to the use of either different materials or to the location of different sources or to the development of different processes. An increase in expense in one substance - oil - leads to the adoption of different materials in another area - the use of aluminum in automobiles or the use of carbon fiber in airplanes.
Our "final" consisted of a project - produce a card deck (did I mention it was 1971) that could be submitted as data to his model demonstrating some aspect of his thesis. I Kobayashi Maru'd it by putting together a deck that in some cases should a decreasing demand for some materials and in other cases showed an increasing supply. My model showed us never really running out of anything. I was pretty proud of it when I got an 'A' until I went to talk to talk to the prof about. A few seconds into the conversation it was obvious he hadn't looked at anyone's results, you got an 'A' if you submitted a deck and it actually ran. Even when I tried to talk to him I could tell my points about economics were falling on deaf ears.
Of course, since 1971 they've had to revise their book several times because of its failed predictions. Much like a Rapturist religious cult having to constantly reset the date of Armageddon.
the know the problem with mining space?
wev won't be ready by 2030, just over 17 year from now, not even close to being ready. we're taslking 25 to 30 years min if we started this second and more like a good 50 plus to be in full swing.
the numbers don't add up to me unless we change to give us more time.
my only hope is maybe we'll wake up as me get closer unlikely but I can hope.
If you look at the population growth rates of first world ntations, you'll see a birth rate that's actually below the 2.2 children/woman needed to maintain the population.
The U.S. only gains in net population from immigration, for example.
There's a few explainations for this, and all of them probably have some influence:
* The liberalization of women--permitting (young) women to have something besides being "barefoot and pregnant" until menopause
* Energy Production per capita--when people have more efficient ways of accomplishing things, this leads to...
* GDP per capita--...more national wealth. If you made a graph of population growth vs. GDP per capita, almost all nations fall into either less than a GDP of $5000 per capita, or less than 2.2 children per woman, which is an inverse relationship. (meaning more GDP per capita implies less children)
This means we (as a society) should be pursing better ways of producing energy, so that the entire world can be brought up to first world energy levels (something like 5x the current world energy production for 7 billion people). There is research in this--but it requires everyone to be willing to take a chance--the chance that there is a way to harness nuclear power safely, we just need to figure out how. I think taking a chance is better than doom & gloom.
The population crash will happen within a year...if the predicted solar flare occurs on dec 21.
Just a few problems, starting with it's completely WRONG. There is nothing "prescient" about "The Limits to Growth" unless you ignore, well, reality. It's predictions are based on the same incorrect assumptions that Malthus made back in 1798, and uses the same flawed math (but updated to include "increasing" resource use over time--brilliant!).
Humans are remarkably intelligent at adapting to shortages and figuring out ways to use alternate resources or use the ones they've got more efficiently. None of these things are accounted for in the calculations of the depressing tribe of doomsayers from Malthus to Turner.
Here's one example. The U.S. population has increased by 36% since 1980 but oil consumption has only increased by 10%. That means we're using less oil per person than we were 30 years ago. We're using it more efficiently. But oil is running out so it doesn't matter if we're using it more efficiently, right? We're using MORE of a decreasing resource. Actually, the proven, economically accessible oil reserves are several times LARGER now than they were in 1980 because we keep finding more of it and the petroleum industry invents better ways to extract it.
Did you know that in every modern industrialized nation the air and water is cleaner than it was 40 years ago and that pollution is decreasing? Did you know that the U.S. has more forest cover now than it did 75 years ago? Despite a larger population?
Do we need even stricter environmental controls to continue the same trend? Absolutely not. In fact in post-industrial nations we've long since reached a point of diminishing returns on all kinds of pollution restrictions.
Did you know that use of energy and resources becomes more efficient each year pretty much everywhere? Know why? Because it's cheaper to do so. Governments have nothing to do with it. The free market does it all by itself without any help from wannabe policymakers like our dour environmentalists.
If you want to have some fun, compare the estimations of "The Limits to Growth" with Paul Ehrlich's predictions in "The Population Explosion" (1968) and read up on the famous bet Ehrlich lost to Julian Simon about the price of commodities and their scarcity. Ehrlich was wrong, The Club of Rome is wrong, and Graham Turner is wrong.
And for all your population worriers, note that birthrates and populations are in decline in most post-industrial nations. The rest of the world is predicted to follow suit in the next 50 years, peaking around perhaps 10 billion; and by 2100 the world population will decline.
The only reason economies will collapse is because there won't be enough taxpayers to sustain the explosive growth of government spending on social programs. It's an impending crisis CREATED by policy makers.
I must disagree with MIT as this can easily be avoided and doing to right things could enable an economic boom during that time.
It is pretty much common sense stuff.
First fund some aggressive family planning in the third world.
Ironically one of the most effective is educating women.
Second the economic race to the bottom is a race no one wins.
The type of predatory and environmentally destructive business practices that have become so popular the last 20 years where companies choose to operate in countries with the cheapest labor and most laxed environmental laws needs to come to an end.
Companies that behave in this manner need to be punished.
Next clean energy including fission from thorium which is extremely safe just search for molten salt reactor.
Then we must colonize space as there's 50 times more available mineral wealth in the inner solar system then there is on earth.
Plus solar power sats could enable nearly limitless energy.
Both China and India have a rough estimate of 1.3 billion people each. Together they are going on almost 40% of the worlds population. In my opinion....Either tell those countries to stop having so many children, start moving Humans to live on other planets, build up into the sky, or build down beneath the ground.
more closer to 36 or 37%...but getting there.
Seeing statics like this almost makes you think that war, plagues, etc. are a necessary part of humans survival! Maybe before 2030 we will experience a nuclear holocaust or a new plague that will curb this problem. Think of say 100 years in the future or 500 years, what will our population be like then if we dont experience a massive source of death? Not that this wouldn't be a tragedy, but death is apart of humanity, and if we are multiplying faster than we die, it makes sense that we must kill and be killed to survive, right? what do you guys think?
you're right. the world is an illusion, what it needs now is a stark reality check.