The book, Limits to Growth, published in 1972 was designed to publicize the findings of an MIT study funded by a group of European industrialists calling themselves the Club of Rome. Was this MIT collapse study correct?
(This is Part two of our series on the Club of Rome predictions. It was written by Bruce Nappi, a long-time Job One for Humanity volunteer and a former Sandia National Lab, and U. California Lawrence Livermore National Lab scientist.)
These leaders, a number from the auto industry, were already encountering natural resource limits that impacted auto production. The goal of the study was to anticipate serious future production problems.
The observations made by the book, with the support of the U.N., were initially taken seriously by most world companies. Plans were developed and about to be enacted. The one significant country that did not go along was the U.S. Instead, the U.S. government, academia, and highly impacted companies, led by the carbon fuel industry, launched an effort to heavily discredit the program. They used the same approach and consulting firms that discredited the claims of tobacco and asbestos links to cancer. These same firms, and their approaches, with huge funding from the carbon industry, are currently a major force working to discredit scientific findings about global warming and climate change.
In the early 1970s, a significant scientific study was conducted that addressed the viability of infinite growth in human population and the economy. That study concluded these ongoing assumptions were not viable long term. In fact, the study realized that severe repercussions to the entirety of world society were inevitable in a relatively short time if major adjustments were not started immediately.
The world failed to make any of the recommended adjustments. In fact, most governments and societies acted to exceed the worst-case problems that the model anticipated. Therefore, it is now expected that the impacts shown in the models will occur, they will be worse than what the models showed and will occur sooner than shown.
Because of the continued discrediting of the study outcomes, people newly discovering the book or those who have been misled by the discrediting efforts, often ask, “has anyone rerun that study to determine if its models still hold true using the latest information?” The answer is, yes! As the original study foresaw, the current repeats of the study show the anticipated impacts will be greater and the time table shorter. For example, the peak in world population is now anticipated around 2026, not some time in the 2070s suggested by the 1970 models. These studies, in addition to one by the original MIT group in 2004, have been run by reputable groups who have no conflicts of interest in their predicted outcomes. Three such studies are: 1. Professor Graham Turner at the University of Melbourne, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, 2014; 2. Gaya Herrington, KPMG Global, one of the world’s “Big Four” accounting firms, 2021; and 3. Professor Ugo Bardi, department of physical chemistry, University of Florence, 2022. A short summary of key observations from each of the 4 studies (including MIT) are presented here. Each of these studies is available to the public as shown in the reference list.
MIT Club of Rome team - 2004 Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update (1)
Signs that were suggested by the original study are everywhere around us:
· Sea level has risen 10–20 cm since 1900. Most non-polar glaciers are retreating, and the extent and thickness of Arctic sea ice is decreasing in summer.
· In 1998 more than 45 percent of the globe’s people had to live on incomes averaging $2 a day or less. Meanwhile, the richest one-fifth of the world’s population has 85 percent of the global GNP. The gap between rich and poor is widening.
· In 2002, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN estimated that 75 percent of the world’s oceanic fisheries were being fished at or beyond capacity. The North Atlantic cod fishery, fished sustainably for hundreds of years, has collapsed.
· The first global assessment of soil loss found that 38 percent, or nearly 1.4 billion acres, of currently used agricultural land has been degraded.
· Fifty-four nations experienced declines in per capita GDP for more than a decade during the period 1990–2001.
· Per capita grain production peaked in 1985 and has been trending down slowly ever since.
These are symptoms of a world in overshoot. We are drawing on the world’s resources faster than they can be restored. We are releasing wastes and pollutants faster than the Earth can absorb them or render them harmless.
In 1972, the world’s population and economy were still comfortably within the planet’s carrying capacity. The study found that there was still room to grow safely if major changes were initiated. By 1992, this was no longer true. The 20yr. revision to Limits to Growth was subtitled Beyond the Limits. By 2002, the world was “dangerously in a state of overshoot.
The recommendations in this update, based on a belief that world leaders could never be so blind as to ignore these warnings, were almost completely ignored.
Melbourne study - 2014 (2)
“The Limits to Growth “standard run” (or business-as-usual model) scenario produced about forty years ago aligns well with historical data that has been updated in this paper.” The Melbourne study highlights the following points: (Note, even these points, made in 2014, were overly optimistic about how events would unfold.)
· The global population will therefore fall, at about half a billion per decade, starting at about 2030.
· The average living standards for the aggregate population (material wealth, food and services per capita) will fall back to those of the early 20th century.
· The levels of pollution, natural resources, per capita industrial output, birth rates, death rates, and population growth have very accurately followed the original 1972 models, with the generalization that they all occur earlier.
· A primary indicator, that world leaders and many analysts fail to understand, is the interacting feedback dynamics of the depletion of natural resource. Resources available for common social needs will of course continue to decrease. The rate of this decrease, however, will grow much faster than traditional usage. This happens because larger and larger amounts of those resources need to be diverted to mine and harvest those resources as they become much harder to get.
· A prime example is the extraction of “oil” itself. While new reserves continue to be found, the energy needed to extract and process that oil is so much higher than what has already been used that the CO2 produced per barrel is also higher.
· A second compounding factor is that the new extraction machinery needed to get the oil steals critical resources from other needs. For example, chromium is needed to make the specialty steel required, thereby hastening its depletion.
· What major economic analysts and governments will not admit is that the continually increasing inflation, and the Global Financial Crisis, are related to this growing world-wide inefficiency of extracting all natural resources.
· The Melbourne study repeatedly emphasizes that, the time to start action was in 1972 when the original report came out. The reason is, the Limits to Growth models showed that many resource depletions had already started at that time.
· It is notable that there does not appear to be any other economy-environment models that have demonstrated such comprehensive and long-term data agreement.
· Based on currently observed data, it would appear that the global economy and population is on the cusp of collapse. (Remember, this statement was made in 2014.)
The Melbourne study did not only focus on rerunning the Club of Rome computer models with up-to-date data. It also reviewed many of the academic papers that discredited the 1972 MIT study since it was published. In each case, the Melbourne analysis showed, using now available data, that each of these discrediting studies was flawed and how they were flawed!
KPMG Study (3)
In 2021, the KPMG Group, one of the “top four” accounting firms in the world, conducted a review of the history of the Club or Rome effort since 1972. KPMG was aware that, “Empirical data comparisons since then indicated that the world was still heading for collapse.” The KPMG “objectives were to examine whether this was still the case based on the most recent data, and whether there was opportunity left to change that trajectory.” While not stated in the report, it is obvious that this research was being requested by some of the most prominent institutions in the world, who are their clients.
Because of its prominent world status, KPMG was able to obtain the latest and most reliable data from, “academia, non-government agencies, United Nations entities, and the World Bank.” Their overall assessment was:
“The scenarios aligned closely with observed global data, which is a testament to the LtG work done decades ago. The two scenarios aligning most closely indicate a halt in growth over the next decade or so, which puts into question the usability of continuous growth as humanity’s goal in the 21st century. Both scenarios also indicate subsequent declines, but only one—the scenario in which declines are caused by pollution, including greenhouse gas pollution—depicts a collapse pattern.”
“This suggests that it’s almost, but not yet, too late for society to change course.”
The KPMG report then went into great detail about the disinformation effort that stopped the initial positive world-wide response.
Ugo Bardi Limits and Beyond 2022 (4)
This book is a collection of essays. The essays are from prominent people who are very familiar with: 1. the original Club of Rome study; 2. how the world failed to understand and respond to the study; and 3. what the original study still has to tell us. With regard to the main question asked by the article, yes, they all agree that the original study accurately foresaw how world society would unfold. They also clarify a primary goal of the study: to develop a model that shows society how to build a sustainable world.
The model still remains fully capable of doing this. However, the objective of “sustainability” does not promise that humanity has the ability to set any standards of living they want. All that can be achieved is a “sustainable solution” consistent with the parameters of current conditions.
The original study used an initial assumption that all people in the world would achieve a “level of well-being” roughly equivalent to the lower-income nations of Europe in 1972. For most people, both then and now, this would be a sobering realization. Since world action was not put in motion when the alarm was first raised in 1972, current parameters are severely degraded from the ideals that were still achievable in 1972. That is, many wishes most of humanity had for a “reasonable” quality of life in 1972 have been lost to the average person alive today and centuries to come.
This article is focused on showing that the original Club of Rome study, and the 1972 book Limits to Growth that summarized the study, have repeatedly proved to be quite accurate. When the original computer model is adjusted for actual current conditions, the accuracy if further improved. Unfortunately, the overall variable projections showing the collapse of society are still supported, but expected to occur sooner and with more severity. This support for the accuracy of that effort needs to be made clear because the forces in industry, government, and academia that attempted to falsely discredit the report are still active.
Unfortunately, even among environmental and resource preservation activist groups, another deception is common. Society will repeatedly see statements like, “it is not too late to take action”. This claim, while narrowly true, is deceiving because it hides a broader picture. The claim is being made to increase or maintain the group’s membership and continue their revenue streams. What is being hidden is the great amount of loss that has already accrued that cannot be easily undone, or undone at all, or undone without significant social impact. It is hiding the irresponsibility and incompetence that society has allowed to accumulate in almost all of our major social institutions.
A distressing corollary to the Limits and Beyond observations is that, unless humanity acknowledges its failure to act, and drastically adjusts its current and future life models, the quality of life that can still be achieved will continue to get drastically worse. Most people in the world are not capable of facing such a future.
Denial will be a common psychological response. This will further negatively compound the response. Only those who take prudent steps, and prepare with reasonable goals, will be able to avoid the worst conditions.
1. Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update, 2004 (written by the original authors)
2. Is Global Collapse Imminent?: Turner, G. 2014 ‘Is Global Collapse Imminent?’, MSSI Research Paper No. 4, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne
3. KPMG Accounting firm 2021 study, Gaya Herrington
4. Limits and Beyond: 50 years on from The Limits to Growth, what did we learn and what’s next? 2022 Ugo Bardi https://www.amazon.com/Limits-Growth-Revisited-SpringerBriefs-Energy/dp/1441994157
Find out if, 50 years ago, the Club of Rome/MIT study was dead right about a coming global collapse. Remember to read parts one and three of our global collapse series.
We hope to release Part 3 of this series by or before mid-November. Part 3 will factor in more recent climate change projections and analysis into the original Club of Rome and MIT predictions.
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