On March 2, 1972, a team of experts from MIT presented a groundbreaking report called The Limits to Growth to scientists, journalists and others assembled at the Smithsonian Castle. Released days later in book form, the study was one of the first to use computer modeling to address a centuries-old question: When will the population outgrow the planet and the natural resources it has to offer?
The researchers, led by scientist Dennis Meadows, warned that if current trends in population, industrialization, pollution, food production and resource depletion continued, that dark time—marked by a plummeting population, a contracting economy and environmental collapse—would come within 100 years.
In four decades, The Limits to Growth has sold over ten million copies in more than 30 languages. The book is part of the canon of great environmental literature of the 20th century. Yet, the public has done little to avert the disaster it foretells.
To mark the report’s 40th anniversary, experts gathered in Washington, D.C. on March 1. Meadows and Jorgen Randers, two authors of The Limits to Growth, and other speakers discussed the challenges of forging ahead into a sustainable future at “Perspectives on Limits to Growth: Challenges to Building a Sustainable Planet,” a symposium hosted by the Smithsonian Institution and the Club of Rome, the global think tank that sponsored the original report.
I spoke with Meadows, who retired in 2004 after 35 years as a professor at MIT, Dartmouth College and the University of New Hampshire. We discussed the report and why he feels it is too late for sustainable development and it is now time for resilience.
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