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Is it Too Late for Sustainable Development?

Is it Too Late for Sustainable Development?

Dennis Meadows thinks so. Forty years after his book The Limits to Growth, he explains why

Courtesy of Dennis Meadows

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.

GRAPH: Australian physicist Graham Turner shows how actual data from 1970 to 2000 almost exactly matches predictions set forth in the “business-as-usual” scenario presented in The Limits to Growth.

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.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Limits and Beyond: The Yawning Gap

Limits and Beyond: The Yawning Gap

Chapter 1: The Story of an Idea

Limits and Beyond

The book Limits and Beyond, edited by Ugo Bardi and Jorgen Randers, provides a 50th anniversary review of the seminal report Limits to Growth (LtG). The following is from the back cover of the book.

50 years ago the Club of Rome commissioned a report: Limits to Growth. They told us that, on our current path, we are heading for collapse in the first half of the 21st century. This book, published in the year 2022, reviews what has happened in the intervening time period. It asks three basic questions:

  • Were their models right?
  • Why was there such a backlash?
  • What did the world do about it?

The book consists of 19 chapters, each written by a different author, two of whom — Dennis Meadows and Jorgen Randers — were part of the team that wrote the report.

In this post, we review the first chapter, written by Ugo Bardi. He says of the chapter,

The present section . . . tells the story of how the idea of civilization growth and collapse fared in history and how it was interpreted by the LtG study.


Ugo Bardi
Ugo Bardi

Historical Overview

This first chapter provides an excellent overview of the work of various scientists and authors that has led to our current understanding of physical limits and constraints. It shows how societies rise and fall, and how our current level of stable prosperity is so unusual. Starting with the 18th century authors Edward Gibbon and Thomas Malthus, Bardi describes the work of many analysts, including William Stanley Jevons, Rachel Carson, Aurelio Peccei, Jay Wright Forrester, M. King Hubbert and Joseph Tainter.

He describes how the LtG report was received, and discusses possible reasons for the largely negative response at the time of publication. However, the report’s insights seem to be increasingly relevant to today’s world..

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Limits to Growth in the Soviet Union and in Russia: the story of a failure

The Limits to Growth in the Soviet Union and in Russia: the story of a failure

Above, you can see the full recording of a 2012 lecture given in Moscow by Dennis Meadows; one of the authors of “The Limits to Growth” report of 1972. It is long, more than an hour, but – if you don’t have the time to watch all of it – I suggest that you go to minute 21 and watch Dennis Meadows showing this book.

It is titled “Soviet Union and Russia in the global system.” According to Meadows, in the 1980s, Viktor Gelovani, first author of the book, adapted to the Soviet Union the world model used for “The Limits to Growth” and he ran it; finding that the Soviet Union was going to collapse. Then, Meadows says “he went to the leadership of the country and he said, ‘my forecast shows that you don’t have any possibility. You have to change your policies.’ And the leader said, ‘no, we have another possibility: you can change your forecast'”

Meadows’ anecdote is basically confirmed by Rindzevičiūtė, who wrote an excellent article that tells the whole story. It turns out that it is not true that “The Limits to Growth” was ignored in the Soviet Union, as it could be the impression from the documents available in the West. The “Limits” study was translated into Russian, although it was distributed only to very limited circles (generating, by the way, a brisk black market, as Rindzeviciute describes at p. 6). Several Soviet scientists knew very well the study, they had contacts with its authors and a number of them made a considerable effort to warn the Union’s leadership that the system was going to collapse. They didn’t have much success, as Meadows says in his talk.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…


Olduvai IV: Courage
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