The Limits to Growth Revisited

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World population stood at 3. Even the latest U. The U. It turns out that the invisible hand of population control correlates very nicely with economic freedom. Food supplies: According to the data from the Food and Agriculture Organization , global food production has more than tripled since , while world population has increased from 3 billion to 7 billion. This means that per capita food has increased by more than a third. The latest figures [PDF] from the United Nations show that as world population increased by a bit over 10 percent between and , global food production rose by 21 percent.

Arable land was proposed as one possible ultimate limit in the MIT model. In one generous model run, pollution was controlled and nonrenewable resources were essentially unlimited.


A article in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B argued that available technologies could close the yield gap between first world farmers and developing country farmers even as the world warms. If this is done, the article concluded , "There is a good prospect that crop production will increase by approximately 50 percent or more by without extra land. In , the Limits researchers noted that about 1.

The Limits analysts did note that if crop yields doubled which they did not expect that land devoted to producing crops would only increase marginally—which is what actually happened. Nonrenewable resources: Probably the most notorious projections from the MIT computer model involved the future of nonrenewable resources. The researchers warned: "Given present resource consumption rates and the projected increase in these rates, the great majority of currently nonrenewable resources will be extremely expensive years from now.

The advent of the "oil crises" of the s lent some credibility to these projections. To highlight how dire the situation with nonrenewable resources was, the MIT researchers calculated how quickly exponential consumption could deplete known reserves of various minerals and fossil fuels. Even if global consumption rates didn't increase at all, the MIT modelers calculated 40 years ago that known world copper reserves would be entirely depleted in 36 years, lead in 26 years, mercury in 13 years, natural gas in 38 years, petroleum in 31 years, silver in 16 years, tin in 17 years, tungsten in 40 years, and zinc in 23 years.

They recognized that it was very likely that undiscovered reserves would be found and that technological improvements at extracting resources would occur, so just to be generous they made the same calculations with known reserves increased five-fold. Again at exponential consumption rates, they expected that after a gratuitous five-fold increase in resources there would now be only 15 years of aluminum left, eight years of copper, one year of mercury, nine years of natural gas, 10 years of petroleum, two years of silver, 21 years of tin, and 10 years of zinc.

Based on current consumption rates, the U.

Geological Survey USGS in its mineral summaries report [PDF] estimates that the world has years of bauxite reserves, which are used to produce aluminum. Similarly at current consumption rates, known copper reserves will last 43 years. Known lead reserves will last 18 years, although the USGS adds that identified lead resources equal 1. Mercury reserves are enough to another 48 years, but the USGS notes, "The declining consumption of mercury, except for small-scale gold mining, indicates that these resources are sufficient for another century or more of use.

In , the Limits researchers estimated known global oil reserves at billion barrels. Since then the world has produced very nearly 1 trillion barrels [PDF] of oil and current known reserves hover around 1. With regard to natural gas supplies, the International Energy Agency last year issued a report [PDF] asserting, "Conventional recoverable resources are equivalent to more than years of current global consumption, while total recoverable resources could sustain today's production for over years.

Why does the horizon of mineral reserves never seem to go out further than a few decades? Basically because miners and technologists do not find it worthwhile to find new sources and develop new production techniques until markets signal that they are needed. How this process evolves is encapsulated by the USGS report which notes that in known world copper reserves stood at "about million metric tons of copper.

Since then, about million metric tons of copper have been produced worldwide, but world copper reserves in were estimated to be million metric tons of copper, more than double those in , despite the depletion by mining of more than the original estimated reserves. Environment: In most of the Limits model runs, the ultimate factor that does humanity in is pollution. In their model pollution directly increases human death rates and also dramatically reduces food production. In fact, as the world economy has grown, global average life expectancy has increased from 52 years in to 70 years now.

It must be acknowledged that globally, pollution [PDF] from industrial and agricultural production continues to rise.

Ugo Bardi's blog

But the model assumed that pollution would increase at exponential rates. However, many pollution trends have not increased exponentially in advanced countries. Consider that since , the U. For example, in both the U. Recent data suggests that sulfur dioxide emissions even from rapidly industrializing China peaked in [PDF] and have begun declining. Another pollution concern was world fertilizer consumption that by had increased five-fold since World War II to 50 million tons. The Limits analysts noted that fertilizer consumption was growing exponentially "with a doubling time of ten years.

Presumably this doubling time suggests that since , global fertilizer use should have increased to million tons today. In fact, global fertilizer use is currently million tons [PDF]. Around U. Although, the Limits model measure for what counted as "pollution" was quite vaguely commodious, the Australian researcher Turner decides to use in his analysis carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels as his chief pollutant. The Limits analysis was actually pretty good at projecting atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide.

My worrying can be traced through some of my writings over the last twenty years. Is there reason to worry? Are we facing a global future that makes it sensible to be concerned? Will the future be better than the present? Or will it be worse? Or is this simply a hang-up of an old man? You are holding the book that is my answer to these questions. After four decades of worrying about a blurred future that I really did not know well I decided it would help my pain to describe the next four decades as precisely as possible. I wanted a picture of the future that humanity is going to create for itself during the four decades ahead, the future that will result from the many human decisions of mixed quality and wisdom, the future that is most likely to happen the future that will be written in the history books.

In short, I wanted a forecast of the most likely global roadmap to so that I would know what I am in for. So that I would know whether there actually is reason to worry on behalf of my children. Or the poor in Africa. So that I could possibly do what all other upper-middle-class people in the industrial world seem to do namely, relax and contribute to societal development with an unworried mind. Luckily my forecast of the most likely global future to will have other uses. Your answer may be different from mine. Different people draw different conclusions from the same picture.

Second, it will satisfy curiosity. Having worried about the future for so long, I am genuinely interested in knowing what it will be. On my fiftieth birthday, my fondest wish was to awake from the dead for a week in the year , to learn what had transpired during the twenty-first century. I believe many share this curiosity about what lies ahead.

Third, some will use the forecast to help them invest profitably. Fourth, the more socially inclined will use the forecast to clarify what new policies, legislation, and societal institutions will have the greatest effect in creating a best future, so they know where to put in their effort. Others will want to know what the future holds in order to improve their chances for a better life during the next several decades, for example by moving to another city, country, or region before it becomes impossible, or by changing a profession before it becomes outdated.

Finally, some will want to adapt up front to the world of the future, to coming hot spells, sea-level rise.

Fair Warning?: The Club of Rome Revisited, by Keith Suter

There are many motivations, and they are all valid. Our common interest is a desire to know how the world will develop over the next forty years. Why Now? Which does not mean, of course, that the world will come to an end. But it does mean that the global future will be less rosy than it could have been.

In a way, this realization helped my pain. I started to accept my loss. But this mental shift did not stop my worrying. It simply shifted its focus. Now I was worrying about how bad the situation would get before humanity resolved to change its ways. That probably would have been a better state of mind if I had been able to air the matter in the public arena. But I did not dare to make the shift public. I worried about reducing to zero the small ongoing effort to mend our human ways.

It could tempt the few who were hard at work on sustainable development to throw in their towels. So I kept worrying behind closed doors, while observing continually rising emissions of greenhouse gases, increasingly dysfunctional global environmental governance, growing destruction of coral reefs, and the continuing loss of the remaining old-growth forests. She advised me in her quiet. Actively handle the grief as one should after the loss of a mother or good friend Accept the fact that this old growth was gone.

Look the future straight in the eye and accept it. Get used to how things are. Stop worrying. It took a long time to accept this wise advice. But over the years it did help. Now I am genuinely happy whenever I see some remaining patch of undisturbed old-growth forest, in the middle of an ocean of clear-cut land. Regardless how small. It is much better than nothing. Before, I would have focused my attention on its messy clear-cut surroundings and been sad because it would remind me about how recently much of the Northern Hemisphere was covered by peaceful deep and undisturbed temperate and boreal forests.

In Michigan this is less than one hundred years ago; in Russia less than fifty! And I would have grown even sadder when thinking about how fast the rest would go. By analogy, I believe it will be calming to get to know the world that is likely to be our home in the future, rather than dreaming about the world that could have been. The first step down the road to mental peace is to obtain a precise description of what the future is likely to look like.

Then to accept it. And finally to stop grieving. Is a Forecast Possible? But can this be done? Is it possible to make a forecast of global developments over a forty-year period? And guessing is simple; it can be done without any knowledge whatsoever about the topic. There is a chance that our guess is right. And a much larger chance that it is wrong, as in ail gambling. People understand that it is an advantage to know a lot about the system before one tries to forecast its future path.

If rational players plan to rely on a prediction they usually prefer an educated forecast over unintjmied guesswork.

Bibliographic Information

Guessing is for the less informed. Not only in practice but also in theory. Of course they are right. I am the first to accept this, having spent a lifetime making nonlinear dynamic simulation models of socioeconomic systems. But my critics need to be more precise. They are right in the sense that it is impossible to predict individual events in the future, even with deep knowledge about the system.

The weakness of weather forecasts beyond five days proves this to most outdoorsmen But they are not right when it comes to forecasting broad developments. Technically speaking, it is possible to say something about trends and tendencies that are rooted in stable causal feedback structures in the world system.

Lethal model 2: the limits to growth revisited.

The forecast in this book is of that broad nature. It is an informed guess tracing the big unes in what I sec as the probable global evolution toward I will use numbers to make my case, but always in the most indicative sense. The most reliable aspects of my forecast are its general trends or tendencies. Yes, of course we could.

All decisions are made in a context, and the context strongly influences the decision. I agree that decisions may come a year earlier or three years later if the right leader emerges at the right time. And yes, they may arise as an Internet campaign rather than as a resolution in parliament. Details are hard to predict, but forecasting the big picture is simpler.

It is simpler to tell whether it will be colder next winter than this summer than it is to tell whether next week will be warmer or colder than today. Let us take a simple but highly relevant example of human decision making. Namely the decision to have another child. One perspective is that this is a prime example of the operation of the unpredictable and free will, that the decision to have another baby is done on the spew of the moment and that success is determined by a number of local conditions at the time of the conception.

Another perspective is to observe that women on average have fewer children if they are urban, educated, and lower middle class than if they are rural, illiterate, and poor. Thus I agree that it is impossible to predict that my daughter will have exactly one child. But it is still possible to say that the number of children per mother will decline as a country industrializes. This is the difference between event prediction and forecasting. In the pages ahead we will explore the broad tends that will influence our lives and those of our children.

Here and there you will find an imaginary future event described, but that is only to bring the possibilities to life. It is simpler to prepare for the future if you start by imagining it. My forecast does not eliminate free will, but rather is based on the belief that human decision making is influenced by the conditions under which the decision is being made.

Smaller families result when the education level is higher. More social unrest occurs when income distribution is uneven. If there is reason to believe that conditions will develop in a certain manner, it is reasonable to forecast the decisions that will follow suit. Why Forty Years? Why not ten or one hundred? The reason is boringly simple and personal. In it is forty years since The Limits to Growth was published, discussing how humanity could handle life on a limited planet over the next hundred years or so.

We know a great deal about the rationale for the decisions made during these decades. And we have a fair understanding of the pressures that have locked us into nonaction on a number of froms. We experienced how fast technology can solve certain solvable problems, and how slowly humanity progresses on less tractable issues.

Since we know so much about the first forty years it seemed reasonable to extract lessons from those forty years and try to look at the next forty. When studying a dynamic phenomenon one should start by looking as far back as one is planning to look ahead. If you want to say something about population growth from to , it is helpful to know the population numbers from to So my forecast for the next forty years is an educated guess at what I believe will happen, not a scenario analysis, and certainly not a description of what ought to happen.

  • Techniques of problem solving?
  • Limits to Growth Revisited;
  • The More of Myth: A Pedagogy of Diversion.
  • B-24 Liberators of the 15th Air Force 49th Bomb Wing in WWII.

The latter has been done too many times.

The Limits to Growth Revisited The Limits to Growth Revisited
The Limits to Growth Revisited The Limits to Growth Revisited
The Limits to Growth Revisited The Limits to Growth Revisited
The Limits to Growth Revisited The Limits to Growth Revisited
The Limits to Growth Revisited The Limits to Growth Revisited
The Limits to Growth Revisited The Limits to Growth Revisited

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