‘Limits to Growth’ Author Honored for Once-Ridiculed Warnings

Posted on Wednesday, February 11th, 2009 at 5:46 am by dpacheco

The following is an excerpt from an article on the SolveClimate.com blog.

If world leaders had listened to Dennis Meadows when The Limits to Growth was published in 1972, humanity might not be in the climate fix it’s in today. Instead, the MIT professor’s warnings about resource depletion and environmental damage were initially ridiculed.

Thirty-seven years later, Meadows is being awarded the prestigious Japan Prize by the Science and Technology Foundation of Japan for his efforts to open society’s eyes to the threats to sustainability.

Washington is finally wising up, as well. But Meadows isn’t as optimistic as he would like to be about the future. He has written two updates to The Limits to Growth, in 1992 and 2004. There will not be another, he told us:

In another 10 years, it will no longer be possible to find policies that still produce attractive outcomes in our model. Resource depletion, population growth, and environmental deterioration will have grown too far.

By 2014, the logical time to write the next report, it will be quite clear whether or not collapse lies ahead. There will be little use in writing about it.

The global growth models that Meadows and his colleagues used to write The Limits to Growth were never intended to be forecasts. They didn’t include all of the powerful self-reinforcing loops that can intensify damage, such as interrelationships between trust and lending in the stability of the financial system, and how the warming atmosphere increases Arctic sea ice melt which increases the temperature, which increases sea ice melt further. Still, they provided a picture of what could happen.

The models should have been warning flags about our very real chances of overshooting the limits to sustainability in five critical areas: global population, food production, resource depletion, industrialization and pollution. Meadows, his wife Donella Meadows, and their co-authors, Jorgen Randers of Norway and William Behrens III, used those five variables to show how changes in each and the interplay among them could affect the sustainability of human society in the future.

They wanted to show how policies could lead toward either sustainability or collapse, Meadows said.

Politicians should have paid attention. Creating sustainable systems doesn’t happen overnight. It requires looking ahead decades. Meadows uses the analogy of a drunkard to explain the concrete and psychological effects: You can tell a drunkard that he will better off if he stops drinking, but he will know that when he quits, he will feel worse over the next few days and weeks. It will take several months for him to feel physically better, get a job and establish social relations that aren’t based on alcohol.

Read the whole article here.

 

Related article: Dr. Dennis Meadows Awarded Prestigious Japan Prize

Image courtesy of Solve Climate.

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