The Limits to Growth has been controversial since its publication, and many analysts and economists disagree with some of the parameters and computer models that the MIT group, called the Club of Rome, utilized in coming up with their dire predictions. Of course, the report was created forty years ago, and it was speculating well into the future. However, an Australian physicist named Graham Turner has recently revisited The Limits to Growth, and his analysis shows that its original predictions remain highly likely.
One of the major criticisms of the study was that it advocated for increased government regulation and policies that might inhibit economic growth. If today’s political narrative, with conservative ideologues crusading for limited government and Democratic leadership fighting those ideas, is any clue, economic growth has long been a fulcrum on which the political pendulum is swung.
At the root of the problem is humanity’s tendency to consume more than they can produce, but it also has major implications for government policy as well. On one hand, environmental sustainability (and its twin issue: public health) have often come at the cost of greater economic growth. Energy is cheaper, transportation easier, materials easier to come by, and production costs are generally lower allowing consumerism to increase. The flip side of that coin is that public health risks increase, inflating healthcare prices, and certain environmental areas become less desirable, dropping real estate and other geographically relevant pricing. In addition, there are public scares when a portion of food supply becomes contaminated or there is an oil spill and other economically depressing events.
Most nations have run along one side of this line, generally favoring further economic growth over increased environmental health. This is the “business as usual” approach, and it is the very approach that the forty-year old report claims will lead to, “global economic collapse and precipitous population decline [which] could occur by 2030.” Turner, upon reevaluation in 2009, agrees. He compared the trajectories of several study components (illustrated in the graph) to the real-world data of those same years, and found that the study’s predictions were remarkably close to the reality. “There is a very clear warning bell being rung here,” he told Smithsonian Magazine, “We are not on a sustainable trajectory.”