The Limits to Growth

The Limits to Growth

The 30-year Update

Book - 2004
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[This book] brings data on overshoot and global ecological collapse to the present moment. It provides a short course in the World3 computer model, types of growth, and the various kinds of over-shoot likely to occur in the current century. While it remains to be seen whether public policy will respond effectively and in time to problems such as climate change, this book makes compellingly clear the vital need for a sustainability revolution.-Dust jacket.
Publisher: White River Junction, Vt : Chelsea Green Publishing Company, c2004
ISBN: 9781931498586
Call Number: 330.9 M4618L
Characteristics: xxii, 338 p. : ill. ; 24 cm
Additional Contributors: Meadows, Dennis L.
Randers, Jørgen


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May 18, 2014

Limits To Growth was written by 3 MIT Systems Analysts and first published in 1972. A revised edition, Beyond The Limits, was published in 1992. This 30-year update presents the essential parts of the original analysis and summarizes some of the relevant data and insights acquired over the past 3 decades. The primary thesis is that we cannot continue to grow our economy infinitely on a finite planet; we are approaching Earth’s limits.

The authors do an excellent job of showing how different aspects of the human economy and Earth’s ecology inter-relate in a symbiotic relationship. Population, resources, industry, consumption, capital, agriculture, technology and pollution all affect each other in determining man’s ecological footprint. Delays in recognizing or responding to problems affect the outcomes of changes. The alarming effects of exponential growth, especially of population, are described. This is all viewed with a systems approach – clearly the only intelligent way to view these issues. A computer model, World3, is used to analyse the effects of 10 different scenarios. There are lots of graphs showing the effects of various actions. The first 8 scenarios all lead to “overshoot and collapse” before 2100. Scenario 9 presents a feasible approach to our problems that would have the world reach equilibrium by 2100. Scenario 10 shows what a huge difference it would have made if Scenario 9 had been adopted 20 years earlier in 1982 instead of 2002.

Of course, this book was written more than 10 years ago and the human race still has not made a significant whole-world effort to address our growing ecological footprint. We will very soon run out of time to address these issues with any hope of reducing our footprint or reversing the damage we have done to the Earth and the climate.

The authors look not only at technical and economic issues but also place suitable emphasis on human, cultural, aesthetic and spiritual considerations. The last chapter, “Tools for the Transition to Sustainability” compares the coming necessary Sustainability Revolution to the 2 previous revolutions of similar magnitude – the Agricultural Revolution and the Industrial Revolution. The book concludes with a list of 5 “soft” tools that will be just as essential as the data and systems analysis and computer modeling – Visioning, Networking, Truth-Telling, Learning and Loving.

The writing in the book is clear and understandable but prosaic and a bit “flabby”; the prose would benefit from being tightened up.

One is left with the feeling that there is just barely time to rebalance our relationship with the Earth’s ecosystems but it will require huge human and political will and a huge effort by everyone everywhere - soon. The question is “are we capable of doing that in time?”.


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