Peak Civilization: The Limits to Growth

Founded in 1968 by Aurelio Peccei, The Club of Rome published a ground breaking study in 1972called Limits to Growth. The study concluded, in Mathesian fashion, that economic growth could not continue indefinitely due to the constraints of natural resources, particularly oil. The first report was follow by a second in 1974, Mankind at the Turning Point and a third in 1993 called The First Global Revolution, which stated ominously, “because of the sudden absence of traditional enemies, ‘new enemies must be identified.'”

“Sensitivity to initial conditions means that each point in such a system is arbitrarily closely approximated by other points with significantly different future trajectories. Thus, an arbitrarily small perturbation of the current trajectory may lead to significantly different future behaviour.”

The basis of much of the Club of Rome’s work was the use of computer simulation called World3 to run scenarios to help predict future outcomes.  That in and of itself was a fairly revolutionary concept. Though the model conditions have received criticism, Roger-Maurice Bonnet said in his book, Surviving 1000 Centuries: Can We Do It?, “the basic message of Limits to Growth, that exponential growth of our world civilization cannot continue very long and that a very careful management of the planet is needed, remain as valid as ever.”

It is interesting to note that a paper given by Edward Lorenz in 1972 to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C. entitled Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?, also made extensive use of computer simulations to give birth to Chaos Theory.

Limits to Growth is now 40 years old and though its dire predictions have not come true, the reality of limits in all aspects of human existence faces us in a slower and perhaps more terrifying way that we could have imagined.

A recent study by MIT:

Author, Dennis Meadows: Is it too late for sustainable growth?

Today a report on Scientific America, “Apocalypse Soon: Has Civilization Passed the Environmental Point of No Return?” explores some additional implications of World3 and charts out the grim situation.

Figure courtesy of PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency

“We’re in for a period of sustained chaos whose magnitude we are unable to foresee,” Meadows warns. He no longer spends time trying to persuade humanity of the limits to growth. Instead, he says, “I’m trying to understand how communities and cities can buffer themselves” against the inevitable hard landing.”

Metafilter: “I really don’t know how to integrate, process and deal with the fact that we’re basically living in a living nightmare of a dystopia.”

About Daniel Davenport

Daniel is a digital media executive with internet and broadcast experience. Daniel is currently the executive strategy director at THINK Interactive.

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