Growing Growing Growing

We grow, the buildings around us grow and so do the piles of books and other things we own. The thing is, growth has its limits.

Inspired by a series of articles in which TAZ discusses the limits to growth, I will be looking at what happend to the idea in 40 years.

It all started with a book. In 1972, Donella and Dennis Meadow and Jorgen Randers published The Limits to Growth. Wikipedia explains that book “simulates the consequence of interactions between the Earth’s and human systems”. With other words, the authors tried to figure out the consequences of the growing world population and the growing use of resources. Eventually, the authors predicted, we would reach a point of overshoot, basically the point when the Earth says “too much” and collapses, leading to catastrophe.

The book was written forty years ago, when the world population was as little as 3.860 billion (compared to the 7 billion which are expected for 2012). We can imagine that also the four other variables (being industrialization, pollution, food production and resource depletion) have seen a similar increase.

Really, we did not get much further since 1972. The Center for Advancement for Steady State Economics says it nicely: “Perpetual economic growth is neither possible nor desirable. Growth, especially in wealthy nations, is already causing more problems than it solves”. We know but we don’t act (or not those who should anyway). We are still urging to grow and oil is still at the center of our growth. We all know about Peak Oil and still “oil provides 90 percent of transport fuel, essential to trade, and plays a critical role in agriculture, needed to feed an expanding population” (the Uppsala protocol).

Here is a short summary of what the book was all about made by the Club of Rome who commissioned the initial report:

The best part of it is how they say: “The most important thing is to act as soon as possible – that was in 1972.

After 30 years, a review by CSIRO of the report disclosed that we are indeed perfectly on course of the predictions made by the Meadows and Randers. “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.”

Similarly, the 30 years update by the authors themselves proves the above statement: “In 2002, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN estimated that 75 percent of the world’s oceanic fisheries were fished at or beyond capacity. The North Atlantic cod fishery, fished sustainably for hundreds of years, has collapsed, and the species may have been pushed to biological extinction.” That is just one of the indicators they propose to explain how we are getting closer to the limits to growth.

The 30 years update also says: “We’ve been warned before.”

By the way, don’t think that the Club of Rome and its allies are the only ones who believe in such a dark future. Rather, we have many scientists who propose a similar outlook. An article in red pepper titled Degrow or Die quotes another research: “Recently, leading scientists have proposed nine planetary boundaries, which mark the safe operating space for the planet. Three of these boundaries (climate change, biodiversity, and the nitrogen cycle) have already been crossed, while others, such as fresh water use and ocean accidification, are emerging planetary rifts.” (an article definitely worth reading).

The Mathusian crisis, how the eventual moment of truth is often called could still be avertable if we start looking not up but down on the growth scale. What I mean is degrowth. You can check this article I wrote last month to find out more. If you read German, have a look at the TAZ series which offers many more interesting ideas on how to get out of this race of growth.


3 thoughts on “Growing Growing Growing

  1. Limits To Growth caused quite a storm, worrying corporations that doubt would be created in the minds of shareholders. As with any science today that potentially interferes with corporate wealth, industries worked to discredit the science. As a result, enough public sentiment was swayed against the book that industries carried on as usual.

    Looking back thirty years later of course we know that the scientists were right. Corporations’ overwhelming desire for profit blinded them to the truth, and their deliberate manipulation of the public has become all too clear. Now, thirty years later, the Earth’s temperature has raised two degrees C, and the paces of species extinctions and climate change have been irreversibly accelerated. The best we can do now is to adapt to the world that we have created, work hard to prevent further damage, and restore what is still possible.

    I fear that the great success of industries thirty years ago emboldened them, and that we have unwittingly lived through three decades of discredited science. If this is indeed the case, what will conditions be like thirty years from now, in 2042, when people look back and see this year in hindsight? I’d like to think that humanity may be smart enough to change course, but if we continue to allow our overwhelming thirst for profits to drive our actions then 2042 may end up looking like the film “The Age Of Stupid.” ( If you haven’t seen it yet, watch it!)

  2. Pingback: The Richest People in the World | Kosmos 9

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