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A Comparison of the Limits to Growth with Thirty Years of Reality

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  • Graham M Turner

    () (CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Australia)

Abstract

In 1972, the Club of Rome’s infamous report “The Limits to Growth” (Meadows et al., 1972) presented some challenging scenarios for global sustainability, based on a system dynamics computer model to simulate the interactions of five global economic subsystems, namely: population, food production, industrial production, pollution, and consumption of non-renewable natural resources. Contrary to popular belief, The Limits to Growth scenarios by the team of analysts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology did not predict world collapse by the end of the 20th Century. This paper focuses on a comparison of recently collated historical data for 1970–2000 with scenarios presented in the Limits to Growth. The analysis shows that 30 years of historical data compares favorably with key features of a business-as-usual scenario called the “standard run” scenario, which results in collapse of the global system midway through the 21st Century. The data does not compare well with other scenarios involving comprehensive use of technology or stabilizing behaviour and policies. The results indicate the particular importance of understanding and controlling global pollution.

Suggested Citation

  • Graham M Turner, 2008. "A Comparison of the Limits to Growth with Thirty Years of Reality," Socio-Economics and the Environment in Discussion (SEED) Working Paper Series 2008-09, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems.
  • Handle: RePEc:cse:wpaper:2008-09
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    File URL: http://www.csiro.au/files/files/plje.pdf
    File Function: First version, 2008
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Ross Garnaut & Stephen Howes & Frank Jotzo & Peter Sheehan, 2008. "Emissions in the Platinum Age: the implications of rapid development for climate-change mitigation," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press, vol. 24(2), pages 377-401, Summer.
    2. Searchinger, Timothy & Heimlich, Ralph & Houghton, R. A. & Dong, Fengxia & Elobeid, Amani & Fabiosa, Jacinto F. & Tokgoz, Simla & Hayes, Dermot J. & Yu, Hun-Hsiang, 2008. "Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land-Use Change," Staff General Research Papers Archive 12881, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
    3. Wackernagel, Mathis & Rees, William E., 1997. "Perceptual and structural barriers to investing in natural capital: Economics from an ecological footprint perspective," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 20(1), pages 3-24, January.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    More about this item

    Keywords

    integrated global model; limits to growth; scenarios; data comparison; model validation; collapse; pollution;

    JEL classification:

    • Q01 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General - - - Sustainable Development
    • Q56 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environment and Development; Environment and Trade; Sustainability; Environmental Accounts and Accounting; Environmental Equity; Population Growth
    • O13 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Agriculture; Natural Resources; Environment; Other Primary Products

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