Read the AlterNet review.
From Publisher's Weekly
Updated for the second time since 1992, this book, by a trio of professors and systems analysts, offers a pessimistic view of the natural resources available for the world’s population. Using extensive computer models based on population, food production, pollution and other data, the authors demonstrate why the world is in a potentially dangerous "overshoot" situation. Put simply, overshoot means people have been steadily using up more of the Earth’s resources without replenishing its supplies. The consequences, according to the authors, may be catastrophic: "We... believe that if a profound correction is not made soon, a crash of some sort is certain. And it will occur within the lifetimes of many who are alive today." After explaining overshoot, the book discusses population and industrial growth, the limits on available resources, pollution, technology and, importantly, ways to avoid overshoot. The authors do an excellent job of summarizing their extensive research with clear writing and helpful charts illustrating trends in food consumption, population increases, grain production, etc., in a serious tome likely to appeal to environmentalists, government employees and public policy experts. (June)
33 Years Later
by T N Ninan / New Delhi
August 06, 2005
Dennis Meadows is a bear of a man. Big-built, bearded, with heavy tread and a gravelly voice and, more important, the kind of intellectual simplicity that lies at the other side of complexity.
The co-author of The Limits to Growth, which the Club of Rome issued in 1972 to spark the sustainability debate, is in the Swedish village of Tallberg, addressing a small group on the original Club of Rome thesis.
Was it right in saying what it did, or are the sceptics right in scoffing at the entire notion that there are indeed limits to what the earth can sustain? Meadows has a short answer: Yes, the Club of Rome was right. And since we have done nothing to address the concerns raised in the 1972 report, we have less time than before to take corrective action.
Up go some slides to prove the point. The global population has grown from around 3.5 billion at the time of the 1972 report, to more than 6 billion today, and will soon grow to more than 7 billion. Industrial production has gone from an index of about 180 (base 1963 = 100) to more than 400.
The index of world metals use has gone up more than 50 per cent. And the concentration of carbon dioxide (which had gone up from about 270 parts per million in 1750 to about 320 in 1972) has gone up since to about 370— increasing in 30 years by as much as in the previous 220.
The conclusion: mankind’s “global ecological footprint” has gone from a sustainability level of about 90 per cent of the earth’s capacity, to 120 per cent. In other words, we are already beyond the sustainability point.
Meadows makes two other points. First, we have not realised that we have crossed the sustainability limit because we are now drawing down on nature’s bank balance that had been built up over the millennia; and that cannot go on indefinitely because the account will soon be overdrawn.
And second, if you thought that the Club of Rome was wrong because we have not faced disaster yet and so we will not face disaster in the future, you’ve misunderstood what the original “Limits to Growth” report forecast—which, broadly, was that the current rate of growth and patterns of consumption could continue for another 50-80 years before things begin to go seriously wrong.
And we have already used up something like half that grace period. And while the challenge in 1972 was to slow down (having reached 90 per cent sustainability levels), the challenge now (at 120 per cent) is to back down.
In other words, population must stop growing (it’s happening, but too slowly), and we must change our cultural habits of consumption, because we cannot continue to make today’s claims on the environment.
As an Indian, this entire thesis goes against the grain of the national development goal: we want to get our income levels up from $600 per capita to (maybe) at least $2,000, at which level one might hope that there is no absolute poverty left if you assume not hugely unequal income distribution; and China of course will want to do the same and more.
If you factor in what that will mean for global energy demand and the demand for other non-renewable resources, it seems pretty obvious that what we have already seen in the markets for oil and iron ore (to take two examples) are a foretaste of what is to come. Indeed, oil may already have reached the level of peak production, and what that means for the global economy is pretty frightening.
Does that mean that India and China should not aspire to what the developed economies have delivered by way of standards of living? It seems a manifestly unfair question when the west is equally manifestly unwilling to change its consumption habits. If neither happens, and even if some technological fixes can be worked out that buy us some time, the message is pretty straightforward. Things cannot go on as before.
Review of Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update
By John N. Cooper
Feb 13, 2005
This is a wonderful book. Originally published in 1972 as Limits to Growth and refreshed in 1992 in "Beyond the Limits", the authors have now issued a 30-year appraisal [Chelsea Green Publishing, ISBN 1-931498-58-X], in which they examine the progress made both in their understanding of the mechanisms underlying the impact of humanity on the world ecology and of steps taken toward remediating the accelerating approach to trainwreck that is mankind’s ill-managed and uncontrolled ‘footprint’ on this planet’s environment.
Briefly, humanity has overshot the limits of what is physically and biologically sustainable. That overshoot WILL lead to the collapse of the planetary environment’s ability to support not only our species but much of the rest of the biosphere if we do not act rapidly and effectively to reduce our footprint. These conclusions provide reasons for both optimism and alarm: optimism because humanity has demonstrated its capacity to act appropriately in one specific instance; and alarm because thirty years have been largely wasted since the consequences of our failing to act were detailed. There is still time but the need to act quickly and effectively is urgent. The authors demonstrate that the most critical areas needing immediate attention are: population; wasteful, inefficient growth; and pollution. They show how attention to all three simultaneously can result in returning the human footprint on the environment to manageable, sustainable size, while sharply reducing the disparity between human well-being and fostering a generous quality-of-life worldwide. Absent this, the prospects are grim indeed.
The book is divided into three sections, the first outlining in principle the authors’ systems analytical approach to understanding the planet's ecology. Their presentation is clear and comprehensible with an abundance of charts and figures that make visualizing the concepts easy. They successfully avoid the pitfalls of many technical presentations by using familiar analogies and largely avoiding professional jargon. As a result readers come away with insights not just into global interconnectedness of inputs, outputs, accumulation and feedback but also the significance of such dynamics in local, even personal, situations.
The second section deals with the authors’ updated and revised modeling program, World3, which they utilize to test the plausible effects of changes in human political, economic and social behavior on the environment. Their discussion of World3 focuses on the assumptions for, and results of, a variety calculational scenarios. Details of their latest programming revisions are reserved for an index. Repeatedly they emphasize that their results are NOT prescriptive, but merely descriptive in general terms of likely consequences of humanity's failure or success in rising to meet the issues cited. Again excellent graphics for the various scenarios allow the reader to see at a glance what different approaches toward rectifying past, present and future environmental damage may have.
The final chapters describe options open to humanity that the authors believe have the best chance of avoiding social, economic and probably political collapse in the next century or so. We have a choice: the human experiment, possibly even the biological experiment, that is life on this planet can yet succeed and persist in a sustainable way. But to do so will require our species as whole consciously and deliberately to take immediate, remediating steps, now, seriously and adequately to address the issues we have so far failed to do so effectively. It IS up to us.
© Copyright 2005 by AxisofLogic.com
Limits to Growth
November 2004, Choice Magazine
The premise of Limits to Growth continues on the same theme as the earlier books by the same authors (the original Limits to Growth, CH, Nov’73; Beyond the Limits, CH, Nov’93), but now “there is no question about whether growth in the ecological footprint will stop; the only questions are when and by what means.” Using computer simulation modeling to integrate data and theories into possible future scenarios, possibilities range from the disaster of “overshoot” of the earth’s limits and a collapse in both population and human welfare, to the opposite vision: a smooth adaptation of principles of sustainability within the earth’s carrying capacity. A good, clear, objective explanation of causes and possible effects, this book fits well with current concerns that not enough has been done to halt environmental degradation. Consequences predicted in the 1970s seemed to allow enough time for long-term planning and changes, but now, “Time is, in fact, the ultimate limit.” Another update is planned for 2012, when more data should be available to test the realities of exponential growth, depletion of resources, increasing wastes, and diminishing returns on investments in more efficient technologies. Summing up: Highly recommended. All levels. –S.E. Wiegand, Saint Mary’s College
Update on an old warning: Beware the coming shortages
by David R. Francis
Christian Science Monitor, October 28, 2004
Dennis Meadows warned 32 years ago that the world would run short of resources within a century, putting the planet at risk of expanding hunger as well as economic and social disaster.
Today, that danger is more imminent, says Mr. Meadows, one of the authors of The Limits to Growth, a book published in 1972 and now just updated.
Within 30 years, world living standards could start falling, Meadows predicts. "We are living on borrowed time." The rising expense of protecting the rising population from starvation, pollution, soil erosion, and shortages of nonrenewable resources will cut into the capital available for boosting industrial output, Meadows says.
His book, coauthored with Donella Meadows, his late wife, and Jorgen Randers, was a publishing sensation, selling 30 million copies in 30 languages. But the book was widely scorned, especially after the food and oil shortages of the mid-1970s turned into surpluses.
The critics, though, were often ignoring the 100-year timetable the authors used.
"The Club of Rome [which commissioned the book] got the whole picture right," maintains Matthew Simmons, a prominent Texas oil consultant.
In their update, the authors note, humanity has "squandered the opportunity" to correct its current course over the last 30 years.
The entire world, rich and poor, faces political and economic turmoil likely to arise from a grim situation.
Signs of global trouble are brewing:
- The gap between rich and poor nations is 10 times what it was 30 years ago. During the 1990-2001 period, 54 countries already experienced declines in per capita gross domestic product. This gap could help keep terrorism going, warns Meadows.
- Demand from prospering China has caused shortages of oil and metals. If 9 billion people on earth were to consume materials at the American rate, world steel production would need to rise fivefold, copper eightfold, and aluminum ninefold. It's not possible or necessary, the authors hold.
- World food production per capita peaked about 1990. Total food production will stop growing about 2020, predicts Meadows. A global assessment of soil loss, based on studies of hundreds of experts, has found that 38 percent, or nearly 1.4 billion acres, of currently used agricultural land has been degraded. Key aquifers in the US, China, and India are drying up. This will hit farm output.
- In 1972, the world's population was less than 4 billion. Today it is 6.4 billion and headed toward 9 billion by 2050, the United Nations projects. Meadows maintains the planet can sustain only 2 billion people at a Western standard of living.
"The 'population bomb' hasn't fizzled," he says. "It has already exploded."
Because of their wealth, Americans and inhabitants of other rich nations will likely "buy their way out" from the worst aspects of looming disasters, he says. "The US will be pretty well off."
But he expresses concern that the US will not tackle seriously such universal problems as climate change, depletion of the world's fisheries, or nuclear proliferation. "The quality of public discussion has declined over the last 30 years," he says.
Using computer models, Meadows generates one hopeful scenario where society adopts a desired family size of two children and sets a fixed goal for industrial output per capita, adopts technologies to abate pollution, conserves resources, increases land yield, and protects agricultural land. Then the resulting society of nearly 8 billion people can live with high human welfare and a continuously declining footprint on the ecology.
But this has to be done soon, he insists. The problem is that people tend to ignore the impact of events with consequences they perceive as far in the future. They look to the now.
Limits to Growth, The 30 Year Update
October 14, 2004, Global Footrint Network
"Global Footprint News" Volume 1 Issue 2
30 years ago, a group of young scientists at MIT published a book that shocked the world. The Limits to Growth, lead-authored by Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers and Dennis Meadows became a global bestseller that awoke us to the possibility that humanity could exceed earth's limits. Their research has now been revisited in Limits to Growth, The 30 Year Update.
With vivid examples and accessible language, the book makes the case that not only is "overshoot" possible, but that it is actually occurring. The original Limits to Growth was an inspiration to the development of the Ecological Footprint concept, which tracks and documents global overshoot, and we are pleased that the new book uses the Ecological Footprint extensively to explain its premise.
What is Overshoot? Today, humanity's Ecological Footprint is over 20% larger than what the planet can regenerate and we maintain this overdraft by liquidating our natural resources. The erosion of natural resources is a vastly underestimated threat and one that is difficult to address.
When Limits to Growth was first published 30 years ago, critics discounted the message and argued that the state of the world would progressively improve for all people. But today, the book's warning has not lost any relevance. Although there is reason for hope, there is also solid evidence that the challenges identified 30 years ago are becoming a reality. The 30-year update brings to the public domain a message of urgency: the Earth has a carrying capacity and we are over-extending its limits.
An Eco-Classic Reborn
September/October 2004, E Magazine
Limits to Growth—the 30 Year Update revisits both the influential 1972 work of the same name and its 1992 sequel, Beyond the Limits, to asses environmental progress and project possible world outcomes. “Growth has been the dominant behavior of the world socioeconomic system for more than 20 years,” write authors Dennis Meadows, the late Donella Meadows and Jorgen Randers. The authors present compelling evidence that this focus on growth at all costs has led us into a dangerous phase called “overshoot” in which we’ve overestimated and overused the Earth’s capacity. Without immediate corrective action, the authors warn, we face an unprecedented collapse. Using a computer model dubbed World3, the authors explore how such variables as birth and death rates, energy use and food production might produce varying outcomes. “The world faces not a preordained future but a choice,” they write, hinting at the hope their book provides for a more sustainable future.” –K.S.
Limits to Growth
Autumn 2004, Earthjustice
This is an undated edition of the classic jeremiad first published 30 years ago. I guess the best thing to say about it is that if enough people had paid attention to it when it was first published neither this reissues nor most of the other books we mention in this issue would have been necessary. Although the authors insist that theya re not indulging in specific predictions, the general observations and themes from the ‘70’s—that humanity was about to outstrip the earth’s ability to provide resources indefinitely and to absorb humanity’s effluvia—have proven true. The new book updates the older one and renews the call for people and their governments to wake up before it’s really too late. –TT
The Limits to Growth, Thirty Years Later
Friday, August 13, 2004, WaveFront Newsletter
A book first written over thirty years ago has been updated and re-published. Why is this important, and why should you read it?
The modern sustainability movement can trace its origins far back in time, at least to the writings of Plato, who lamented the short-sighted mismanagement of land and resources around Attica. But few texts in the history of "sustainable development" stand larger than the publication of The Limits to Growth in 1972.
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