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Rethinking Limits to Growth

When Limits to Growth was published nearly 35 years ago by the Club of Rome, critics scoffed at its interpretations of data, arguing that its view of the world was skewed. Today, however, as we come to realize that “peak everything” is not an illusion, many are rethinking some of the basic assumptions laid out LTG.

Earlier this year, Cameron Smith, a columnist for the Toronto Star, had this to say:

Ever since the Club of Rome published Limits to Growth 35 years ago, the path to global collapse has been mapped. But few paid attention: The threat was far off, the steps toward it seemed easy to accommodate, there was no sense of urgency.

Now, however, a perfect storm is on the not-too-distant horizon. Global warming and “peak everything” are meshing at every turn, and the list of possible consequences is fearsome.

Our friends to the north never cease to amaze us with their powers of perception and awareness to the reality  that surrounds us, but imagine our surprise when the Wall Street Journal opened the same dialog on its front page.

In fact, they point out that one economist who dissed the original argument in Limits to Growth, is now alarmed by the rate at which humans are depleting the world’s resources:

As a young economist 30 years ago, Joseph Stiglitz said flatly [of Limits to Growth]: “There is not a persuasive case to be made that we face a problem from the exhaustion of our resources in the short or medium run.”

Today, the Nobel laureate is concerned that oil is underpriced relative to the cost of carbon emissions, and that key resources such as water are often provided free. “In the absence of market signals, there’s no way the market will solve these problems,” he says. “How do we make people who have gotten something for free start paying for it? That’s really hard. If our patterns of living, our patterns of consumption are imitated, as others are striving to do, the world probably is not viable.”

Dennis Meadows, one of the authors of “The Limits to Growth,” says the book was too optimistic in one respect. The authors assumed that if humans stopped harming the environment, it would recover slowly. Today, he says, some climate-change models suggest that once tipping points are passed, environmental catastrophe may be inevitable even “if you quit damaging the environment.”


Chelsea Green Weekly for May 5, 2017

Ever wonder what your favorite Chelsea Green authors do between writing groundbreaking–both literally and figuratively–books? Here are the best links and resources for your weekend reading pleasure. Let’s start with The Alzheimer’s Antidote. The Alzheimer’s Antidote Amy Berger has been making the rounds on the health, wellness, and fitness circuit, explaining the theories behind her revolutionary […] Read More

Q&A with Kate Raworth about her radical new book, DOUGHNUT ECONOMICS

Q: First things first: Why did you want to write this book? A: I studied economics at university 25 years ago because I wanted to make a difference in the world and believed that economics – the mother tongue of public policy – would best equip me to do that. Instead, its theories left me […] Read More

Chelsea Green: In the Media 2016

Oh, 2016. Where did the time go? Each year, Chelsea Green receives hundreds of mentions (well over 1000 in 2016) in the media both big and small. From interviews, to excerpts, to opinion pieces by authors we’re always working to make sure that the mission and message of each book is spread far and wide. […] Read More

Slack and Taut: Defining a System’s Resilience

A resilient future (or a resilient present, for that matter) needs to be slack, not taut. What do we mean? Core to the concept of a Lean Economy is understanding the need to move toward a “slack” market rather than one that is “taut.” When British economist David Fleming died unexpectedly in 2010, he left […] Read More

Prehistory of the Next American Revolution

What now? A new Revolution? If we are to counter the dangers both of corporate domination and of traditional forms of socialist statism, decentralization is essential—both of economic institutions and of political structure. We are at a point in our nation’s history that could, decades from now, be taught as the prehistory of the next […] Read More