Update of 1970's MIT Study Still Shows Global Economy Crashing In 2030

Update of 1970's MIT Study Still Shows Global Economy Crashing In 2030

An update of a speculative study on the sustainability of our global economy and natural resources shows it's still accurate.

There has been a kind of “conflict of interest” between economic health and environmental health; a battle between two very essential human needs that has been growing since the Industrial revolution (even before). Our economies allow us to interact, to cooperate or compete, and our present system of civilization is built upon them. The environment, for reasons that need not be articulated, is even more necessary to survival. In the 1970s a ground-breaking report called The Limits to Growth was published to show how the relationship between economic growth and environmental sustainability is an unsustainable one. It went even further, estimating a total global economic collapse in 2030.

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.”