Limits to Growth

Limits to Growth

The 30-year Update

Book - 2004
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In 1972, three scientists from MIT created a computer model that analyzed global resource consumption and production. Their results shocked the world and created stirring conversation about global 'overshoot,' or resource use beyond the carrying capacity of the planet. Now, preeminent environmental scientists Donnella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and Dennis Meadows have teamed up again to update and expand their original findings in The Limits to Growth: The 30 Year Global Update.

Meadows, Randers, and Meadows are international environmental leaders recognized for their groundbreaking research into early signs of wear on the planet. Citing climate change as the most tangible example of our current overshoot, the scientists now provide us with an updated scenario and a plan to reduce our needs to meet the carrying capacity of the planet.

Over the past three decades, population growth and global warming have forged on with a striking semblance to the scenarios laid out by the World3 computer model in the original Limits to Growth. While Meadows, Randers, and Meadows do not make a practice of predicting future environmental degradation, they offer an analysis of present and future trends in resource use, and assess a variety of possible outcomes.

In many ways, the message contained in Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update is a warning. Overshoot cannot be sustained without collapse. But, as the authors are careful to point out, there is reason to believe that humanity can still reverse some of its damage to Earth if it takes appropriate measures to reduce inefficiency and waste.

Written in refreshingly accessible prose, Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update is a long anticipated revival of some of the original voices in the growing chorus of sustainability. Limits to Growth: The 30 Year Update is a work of stunning intelligence that will expose for humanity the hazy but critical line between human growth and human development.

Publisher: White River Junction, VT : Chelsea Green Pub., c2004
ISBN: 9781931498586
Characteristics: xxii, 338 p. : ill
Additional Contributors: Randers, Jørgen
Meadows, Dennis L.


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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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