The global collapse predicted in The Limits to Growth was surprisingly accurate. The book, published more than 50 years ago, generated much controversy and criticism. However, when researchers turned to the data in that report, they found that the World3 model predictions were surprisingly consistent with reality.
In 1972, a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a computer model to study the future of humanity. Their client was the Club of Rome, an international group of leading scientists, academics, business leaders and politicians. The Limits to Growth report used the World3 system dynamics model, which analyzed the complex interactions between population, industrial production, pollution, food production, and Earth’s natural resources.
One of the conclusions of this report was that without radical changes in priorities and social values, global society will face collapse in the 21st century. If we continue unrestrained economic growth without paying attention to the environment, we will face food shortages and a dramatic decline in human well-being.
However, collapse in this context does not mean the extinction of humanity, but rather the stagnation of industrial growth and declining prosperity. This raises serious concerns, as the report’s data continue to correspond to contemporary reality.
Gaia Herrington, director of the accounting firm KPMG, conducted a study comparing empirical data from recent decades with the report’s projections. She looked at four different scenarios: two “business as usual” scenarios, a “stabilized world” scenario and a “comprehensive technology” scenario.
Both “business as usual” scenarios lead to a global collapse in the 21st century. One involves the depletion of natural resources and the other involves pollution, climate change, and environmental devastation. The “inclusive technology” scenario avoids total collapse through technological development, but still leads to reduced prosperity.
The only scenario that leads to stability and a maintained standard of living is the “stabilized world” scenario. It assumes dramatic changes in social values and priorities, and stabilizes the population by the end of the 21st century.
So the Limits to Growth report was a surprisingly accurate prediction of global collapse. This is cause for serious concern because our planet is still headed in the same direction, with few signs of change. To avoid collapse, we need to make radical changes in our lifestyles and priorities.