Synopses & Reviews
In 1972, three scientists from MIT created a computer model that analyzed global resource consumption and production. Their results shocked the world and created stirring conversation about global 'overshoot,' or resource use beyond the carrying capacity of the planet. Now, preeminent environmental scientists Donnella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and Dennis Meadows have teamed up again to update and expand their original findings in The Limits to Growth: The 30 Year Global Update.
Meadows, Randers, and Meadows are international environmental leaders recognized for their groundbreaking research into early signs of wear on the planet. Citing climate change as the most tangible example of our current overshoot, the scientists now provide us with an updated scenario and a plan to reduce our needs to meet the carrying capacity of the planet.
Over the past three decades, population growth and global warming have forged on with a striking semblance to the scenarios laid out by the World3 computer model in the original Limits to Growth. While Meadows, Randers, and Meadows do not make a practice of predicting future environmental degradation, they offer an analysis of present and future trends in resource use, and assess a variety of possible outcomes.
In many ways, the message contained in Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update is a warning. Overshoot cannot be sustained without collapse. But, as the authors are careful to point out, there is reason to believe that humanity can still reverse some of its damage to Earth if it takes appropriate measures to reduce inefficiency and waste.
Written in refreshingly accessible prose, Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update is a long anticipated revival of some of the original voices in the growing chorus of sustainability. Limits to Growth: The 30 Year Update is a work of stunning intelligence that will expose for humanity the hazy but critical line between human growth and human development.
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.
Just over 30 years ago a path-breaking book was published called The Limits to Growth. It posited the then controversial idea that unlimited growth on a finite planet would inevitably lead to ecological collapse. The book became a surprise international best-seller and was translated into more than a dozen languages. In 1992 Chelsea Green published Beyond the Limits, bringing the data and the systems analysis up to date. Now Limits to Growth: The 30 Year Update takes the analysis into the first decade of the 21st century to show that while the situation remains precarious, there is still time to bring the Earth back from the brink of ecological collapse.
In 1972 four young scientists at MIT wrote a book called The Limits to Growth
that shocked the world and became an international best-seller. Using the World3 computer model, the authors looked into the future and sounded an alarm, for the first time showing the consequences of unchecked growth on a finite planet. Their book gained worldwide attention and became the cornerstone of a global debate on how to achieve a sustainable future.
Twenty years later the authors wrote Beyond the Limits, a follow-up volume that showed humanity was already overshooting Earth's limits. Beyond the Limits again provoked a national debate and galvanized the scientific and environmental academics leaders to incorporate Limits to Growth into the core environmental studies curriculum.
Now Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update brings data on overshoot and global ecological collapse to the present moment. It provides a short course in the World3 computer model, types of growth, and the various kinds of overshoot likely to occur in the current century. While it remains to be seen whether public policy will respond effectively and in time to problems such as climate change, this book makes a compelling case for the vital need for a Sustainability Revolution.
About the Author
Donella Meadows, who died unexpectedly in 2001, was a systems analyst and adjunct professor of Environmental Studies at Dartmouth College and wrote the nationally syndicated newspaper column "The Global Citizen."
Jorgen Randers is a policy analyst and President Emeritus of the Norwegian School of Management. He lives in Oslo, Norway.
Dennis Meadows is a professor of Systems Management and director of the Institute for Policy and Social Science Research at the University of New Hampshire. He lives in Durham, New Hampshire.
Table of Contents
Authors' Preface ix
Chapter 1. Overshoot 1
Chapter 2. The Driving Force: Exponential Growth 17
Chapter 3. The Limits: Sources and Sinks 51
Chapter 4. World3: The Dynamics of Growth in a Finite World 129
Chapter 5. Back from Beyond the Limits: The Ozone Story 181
Chapter 6. Technology, Markets, and Overshoot 203
Chapter 7. Transitions to a Sustainable System 235
Chapter 8. Tools for the Transition to Sustainability 265
Appendix 1: Changes from World3 to World3-03 285
Appendix 2: Indicators of Human Welfare and Ecological Footprint 289
List of Tables and Figures with Sources 311