Epacris (epacris) wrote,

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Revisiting The Limits to Growth

Could The Club of Rome Have Been Correct, After All?

An Energy White Paper
by Matthew R. Simmons
October 2000
... After reading The Limits to Growth, I was amazed. Nowhere in the book was there any mention about running out of anything by 2000. Instead, the book's concern was entirely focused on what the world might look like 100 years later. There was not one sentence or even a single word written about an oil shortage, or limit to any specific resource, by the year 2000.
... The group all shared a common concern that mankind faced a future predicament of grave complexity, caused by a series of interrelated problems that traditional institutions and policy would not be able to cope with ... The book then postulated that if a continuation of the exponential growth of the seventies began in the world's population, its industrial output, agricultural and natural resource consumption and the pollution produced by all of the above, would result in severe constraints on all known global resources by 2050 to 2070 ... At the time, the technique of conducting computer based integrated modeling was quite new ...

The book painstakingly acknowledged that the model's work was still "preliminary" ... The decision to publish the results ... was driven by a desire to quickly get the issues into the public domain ... and spark debate ... about the changes needed to avoid the catastrophic elements that the model indicated would occur by 2070, absent any changes.

the book's conclusions were quite simple. The first conclusion was a view that if present growth trends continued unchanged, a limit to the growth that our planet has enjoyed would be reached sometime within the next 100 years. This would then result in a sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity.

The second key conclusion was that these growth trends could be altered. Moreover, if proper alterations were made, the world could establish a condition of "ecological stability" that would be sustainable far into the future.

The third conclusion was a view that the world could embark on this second path, but the sooner this effort started, the greater the chance would be of achieving this "ecologically stable" success.

The book is beautifully written. It takes only a few hours to read. I would highly recommend it to anyone. It is an interesting mixture of simple, tried and true economic laws, combined with a terrific dose of logic ... essentially lays out an optimistic outlook on how easily these limits to growth can be altered if a real effort to accomplish this is made at an early stage, rather than attempting such changes too late.

The most amazing aspect of the book is how accurate many of the basic trend extrapolation worries ... still are, some 30 years later. In fact, for a work that has been derisively attacked by so many ... there was nothing that I could find in the book which has so far been even vaguely invalidated.

The most profound message which The Club of Rome passionately urged people to consider is the power of ... exponential growth and the danger of the gap that existed between the world's rich and poor. That message is still alive and well ...

Why is this message so mute to so many? Will it take a hasty wake-up call to finally create the meaningful questioning of how this enigma is solved? The Club of Rome got the whole picture right. It was the rest of us who missed the mark!
... all the major conclusions are precisely on track. So far, not a single observed trend has emerged to allay the worries and concerns laid out by the Club of Rome.
Sadly, the dialogue and increased in-depth analysis that The Club of Rome so hoped would begin as a result of their publication never occurred ...

The Club of Rome still exists. It has commissioned more than a dozen other reports, though none ever attracted the widespread attention of The Limits of Growth.

Its most recent report* was published in 1995 and dealt with the world's unemployment dilemma. "Interim" reports on the problems of governability or the lack thereof and on the global warming problem were presented at its last meeting, held in Puerto Rico in 1996.

So the Club is intact, but the passionate concerns spelled out by The Limits to Growth have clearly cooled.
*This was written in late 2000, so things may have changed since.
Tags: books, sustainability

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