Limits to Growth: Is Our Planet on the Verge of Collapse?

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When the book ‘Limits to Growth’ was published in 1972, the predictions set forth by its authors – that society was headed toward an inevitable collapse by the year 2100 – were considered ridiculous. But are we really on that track? Modern research has confirmed that the sobering conclusions reached by researchers Donella and Dennis Meadows are dead on as the growing population and demands for material wealth lead to more industrial output and pollution.

The researchers used a cutting-edge computer model to track industrialization, population, food, resource use, and pollution. The projections from the time the book was published through 2010 were eerily accurate. “Resources are being used up at a rapid rate, pollution is rising, industrial output and food per capita is rising. The population is rising quickly,” notes The Guardian, just as the book projected.

The book explored a rang of scenarios that could play out by the year 2100 if drastic measures were taken to protect the environment and the resources that humans need to survive. If no actions were taken, the mole predicted ‘overshoot and collapse’ – of the economy, environment, and population – before 2070.

The new research gathers data from the UN, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other sources and plots it alongside the Limits to Growth scenarios. Check out the graphs over at The Guardian to see how well they match up.

To keep up with demand for industrial output, we’ll have to use more resources than ever, and these resources will become more expensive to obtain as we use up the ones that are finite. Lots of capital will go into obtaining them, and then industrial output per capita will start to fall.

Increased pollution and decreased industrial output into agriculture will lead to a drop in food production per capita. That leads to a rise in the death rate, cutting the global population by about half a billion people per decade starting in about 2030. The first signs of collapse are expected to begin in 2015.

So is there anything we can do to stop it? According to the research, the most important factor is preventing ‘peak oil’ by finding other viable, sustainable sources of fuel. But the new data doesn’t indicate that collapse of the world economy, environment or population is absolutely certain.

“It may be too late to convince the world’s politicians and wealthy elites to chart a different course,” says The Guardian. “So to the rest of us, maybe it’s time to think about how we protect ourselves as we head into an uncertain future.”

Photo: Mark Rain

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