Forty years ago, The Limits to Growth explored what
would happen if we allowed the world's population and industry
to continue to grow rapidly. They compared humanity's use of
energy and materials to the globe's long-term, sustainable
capacity, and concluded that urgent action was needed to avoid
catastrophic collapses. Were they right?
Four decades ago, "few believed that there were any limits
to growth – some economists still don't. Even those
who accepted that on a finite planet there must be some limits
usually assumed that growth would merely level off as we approached
them." Limits to Growth showed that this was almost certainly
wrong. Since that time, other work (such as Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or
Succeed) have given much more detail of how such collapses
occur, and what changes are needed to avoid them. But The Limits to
Growth was the pathbreaker.
World population growth has, indeed, slowed since 1972. This has
bought us extra time, but has not changed the fundamental clash
between a limited planet and our accelerating use of energy,
materials and water. Like a long term smoker considering whether to
quit, we can still help ourselves through better choices, but some
severe consequences are now highly likely. According to the
original authors, the New Scientist article:
""Doomsday book" (7 January, p 38) is one of the very, very few
critiques of our work, The Limits to Growth, which clearly states our
goal was to understand the dynamics of growth in a finite world
rather than simply to predict collapse or provide a litany of
various limits to physical growth.
Humanity's use of energy and materials is now so far
above the globe's long-term, sustainable capacity that collapse
of some sort is inevitable. Thus I do not pay much attention these
days to discussions about how one or another technology will
"save" us. It is nevertheless very gratifying to see our
message succinctly and accurately conveyed."
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