In the report / bestseller Limits to Growth (LtG – The limits of development) published in 1972 by MIT and the Club of Rome, concluded that if global society continued to pursue economic growth, it would experience a decline in food production, industrial production and, eventually, population by this century. The authors (Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, Jørgen Randers, and William W. Behrens III) used a system dynamics model to study interactions between global variables, varying the model’s assumptions to generate different scenarios. Back in 1972, Limits to Growth had created a computer model that analyzes global resource consumption and production based on data used by many fields, including population, fertility rates, pollution levels, food production and industrial production, and then presented 12 possible scenarios for the future, based on different predictions of human behavior. In most scenarios, relentless economic growth eventually outweighed the world’s natural resources, making it further economic growth impossible. As a result, personal well-being would begin to decline.
Business as Usual (BaU) became one of the most famous scenarios of 1972. The BaU predicts global economic growth to continue as it did before. When the BaU was inserted into the computational models, the result was that around 2040 the world economy will start to lose ground and, as a result, the world population, the availability of food and other resources will decrease.
The new study “Update to limits to growth: Comparing the World3 model with empirical data” published on Yale Journal of Industrial Ecology by Gaya Herrington, researcher sustainability and dynamic systems analysis at consulting firm KPMG, constitutes an update of the LTG data, and examines the extent to which the empirical data has aligned with the four scenarios of the LTG which encompass a series of technological and resource and social assumptions. Herrington points out that “The research benefited from better data availability than previous updates and includes a scenario and two variables that were not part of the previous comparisons. The two scenarios align more closely with observed data points to a halt in welfare, food and industrial production over the next decade or so, which calls into question the suitability of continued economic growth as humanity’s goal in the 21st century. Both scenarios also indicate successive declines in these variables, but only one, in which the declines are caused by pollution, represents a collapse. The scenario most aligned with the above was not among the two most aligned scenarios in this research. The scenario with the minor declines is less aligned with empirical data; however, the absolute differences were often not yet great. The 4 scenarios diverge considerably more after 2020, which suggests that the window to align with the latter scenario is closing ».
In short, according to the study, simple supply and demand poses a big problem: if the world economy and population continue to grow as they do now, natural resources will eventually run out. Therefore, in the impossibility of meeting the demands for raw materials, the economy and the population will begin to shrink.
While it is true that the Business as Usual scenario may not necessarily end in a total collapse of human society, it will still create a sharp economic downturn that could destabilize the world as we know it.
However, according to the new study, if human behavior manages to change dramatically, we could still get away with another model, a scenario that is less aligned with 2020 data, in which humans may decide to deliberately limit their economic output. before the scarcity of natural resources forces them to do so. This includes, among other things, a demographic decline and immediately limiting industrial pollution and the consumption of natural resources.
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