Limits to growth - The Club of Rome


When we went to MIT last year with @yeltakom and @tomas we witnessed a conference called CLIMATE CHANGED, on which we learned about the history of different mathematical and numerical models that have helped humanity better understand how we live and interact with our planet. I first learnt about the book “The limits to growth” by The Club of Rome. According to a NY Times critique from 1972, the year it was published,

Either civilization or growth must end, and soon. Continued population and industrial growth will exhaust the world’s minerals and bathe the biosphere in fatal levels of pollution. As the authors summarize, “if the present growth trends… continue unchanged, the limits of growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next hundred years.”

Now the interesting thing is we have data from the last 40 years. And what happened? This 5 year old article from the The Guardian summarizes quite well:

Limits to Growth was right. New research shows we’re nearing collapse. Four decades after the book was published, Limit to Growth’s forecasts have been vindicated by new Australian research. Expect the early stages of global collapse to start appearing soon.

So let’s have a look at a couple of graphs. First, what they predicted:

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Now let’s compare their predictions with what happened in 40 years after their study:


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How do we respond to this? It seems that our best chances are dramatically reducing our carbon footprint.

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As a final comment my wish is to bring attention to this concept that we can live on planet earth ever growing, ever consuming, ever addicted to fossil fuels. I would like to propose a few questions about how we live on earth right now, and hopefully get some interaction on this topic.

  • What everyday actions can we take to reduce our carbon footprint?
  • What events or technological developments could actually change a global collapse scenario?


Yes @Joaquin - I love this. I also read this article a couple of years ago and was for the first time introduced to Limits to Growth, warning current and forthcoming generations about the
population–economy–environment system that constitutes our world (and our total inability to really comprehend we are the only ones who can actually fix it). With Silent Spring (1962) and The Whole Earth Catalog (1968) I think this essay is one of the most interesting in terms of pleading for proactive change to global challenges. Interestingly, they are all written around the same time…

Despite criticism, I would also like to add I think Limits to Growth is at least to certain extend optimistic, stressing how much one could reduce the damage caused by approaching (or exceeding) global ecological limits if only we take action… What do you think? Is the text written as grief or is it hopeful?

I will answer to question (1) about what everyday activities could do reduce footprint beyond the carrying capacity of planet Earth in a separate post.

For question (2) - I’d say initiatives like and!


Cami! Thanks for your answer! As well to offer a opposing view, on the more positive side, I’d like to mention a few theorists that think humanity is improving:

  1. Hans Rosling > he gained fame for his graphic presentations about world development, showing mainly according to his theory that poverty is being reduced worldwide. He created the Gapminder Foundation and I would like to recommend the Trendalyzer tool that deals with UN data in graphical manner and the amazing Dollar Street initiative, showing how different income families live everyday around the world.
  2. Steven Pinker > according to Wikipedia article on his famous book The Better Angels of Our Nature:

argues that violence in the world has declined both in the long run and in the short run and suggests explanations as to why this has occurred


Definitely @Joaquin. What do you think then, which events or technological developments could actually improve the world becoming a safer, cleaner, more sustainable and healthier environment?


Events: Fossil fuel depletion


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Technological developments:

Aerosolar travel

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Infinite clean energy from nuclear fusion -not the current fision.

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