So much for debunking the Club of Rome….

11 04 2012

On March 2, 1972, just five days off my 20th birthday, a team of experts from MIT presented a ground breaking report called The Limits to Growth to the world.  I didn’t get to read it for another twenty years, but it made a huge impression on me, it was the beginning of my discovery of the Matrix, and more to the point, my abandonment of it, bit by bit.  Most people who “remember” it as the book that predicted the end of the world by (insert date here – usually 1 January 2000) have never read it…….

What the report did do was predict that within a period of 100 years from when it was published, civilisation would collapse from resource depletion, pollution, over population, and lack of food.  It caused quite a stir at the time….  but soon enough, those who must have growth, the usual suspects like bankers, went out of their way to “debunk” the whole thing using misinformation…..  and sure enough, everyone forgot about it and went on their merry way to over exploit the planet, and populate it to death.

Just so we all understand what we are discussing here, this chart expresses best what the Club of Rome’s most likely scenario looked like.  You’ll notice that apart from the timeline at the bottom, there are no numbers on this chart, it is merely a general idea of what the crude computing power of the time was able to spit out.

Notice the total lack of collapse around the year 2000…?!  But guess what, recent research supports the conclusions of the controversial environmental study released 40 years ago: the world is indeed on track for disaster. At least so says Australian physicist Graham Turner, who revisited the report.  Turner compared real-world data from 1970 to 2000 with the current business-as-usual scenario. What he found was that the predictions nearly matched the facts. “There is a very clear warning bell being rung here,” he says. “We are not on a sustainable trajectory.”

And this is what his findings look like:

That shaded area is the thirty year period since the report’s release (it unfortunately doesn’t cover the period to this day), and it clearly shows that we are right on track for population to start dropping within eighteen years, and major problems by 2050.  In fact, Turner seems to think population will start collapsing 20 years before the Club of Rome thought it would……

And I still have people writing to me saying it’s all a load of rubbish, we have a Premier who thinks we can run our transport system on old tyres and carpets, and economists are still talking up a “recovery”….  Don’t know about you, but I feel like screaming.


Out of the blue, I found this great presentation given at the 2009 Commemorative Lecture by Dr. Dennis L. Meadows, one of the authors of The Limits to Growth Report.  It’s long at 48 minutes, but do yourself a favour, make yourself a cup of your favourite poison, and watch it to the fascinating end……..



21 responses

11 04 2012

The Matrix was a movie…take a pill.

12 04 2012

I did…. I took the red one.

20 04 2012
Don Smith

Movies often have parallels or are metaphors of real life. I think The Matrix is one such movie. After watching Avatar I was struck by the similarity of that theme with the way corporations treat populations here on earth, particularly third world and native ones. What worried me was the apparent silence from the many millions who have seen that movie.

12 04 2012
Justin Nigh

Hi Mike,

I share your frustration. With the local mayoral race on, I’m incredulous that none of the candidates address these concerns in the slightest, despite talks of ‘sustainability.’ Bloyce wants to build more multi-level car lots, but increasing petrol costs will do a better job of the parking problem, while Jamieson says it’s all about “jobs, jobs, jobs,” and according to Kim Edwards we’ll have “economic prosperity” from tourism, assuming people can afford to come here! I think that even if the club of rome problems were outlined to these folks, the “she’ll be right,” nothing bad can really go wrong attitude would override any serious attempts to recognise and do something about them. We’re hamstrung by the system we’ve created, with feedback loops preventing any real action outside it’s framework. No one wants to hear a “no growth” story, and so we get what we want.

This bus will be driven right off the cliff, and like the roadrunner we won’t look down until it’s too late.

23 06 2012

Hi Justin, it was nice to meet you the other night after my presentation to Permaculture Noosa… it’s a pity so many people wanted to speak to me all at once and we didn’t get to meet properly. Hopefully I’ll see you again some time. Mike

23 06 2012
Justin Nigh

Hi Mike,

Yes it was good to meet you too. Thanks for the great presentation. I will see you today as I plan to come for the garden tour.

23 06 2012

Every time I watch it I am struck by what he says after he’s off stage. His body language, tone of voice, etc. Everybody else is speaking platitudes. At first, I thought he was going to continue in that mold, but toward the end his body language changes. At that point, I knew he was going to drop the bomb that nobody wanted to hear, that it’s too late. We passed the tipping point a long time ago. The poisoning of the planet continues apace, and will be joined at about the same time with the decline of cheap and easy oil. Only one leader has ever dared say that warning in public, and that’s Ban Ki-Moon at 2009. Nothing but platitudes since, including Rio+20.

Ian Bremmer’s book, Every Nation for Itself, and by extension each one of us, confirms LTG’s and James Kunstler’s prognostications as we poison ourselves to death while completely depleting our planet’s cheap and easy oil reserves.

Does it seem to anybody else that all those curves have about the same slope, are converging, and that their peaks have already been passed?

If so, shouldn’t we be putting our best minds and resources into preparing for what appears to be headed our way a whole lot sooner than we thought?

Most of the climate change maps I’ve seen are showing that the Pacific Northwest is likely to be a bit cooler and have more rain than the rest of North America. Two MAJOR problems here though: earthquakes and Fukushima.

Does anybody KNOW how serious that threat to the planet really is?

If it falls, how soon do we have, realistically?

17 04 2012
The Scotsman

Been following your excellent web site for a while but have never commented before. I became aware of the Limits of Growth report after reading Richard Heinberg’s The End of Growth, which I thoroughly recommend. I’m pretty sure they are correct, but the timing of course may vary. The sheeple wont be aware of this trend, there are some exceptions ie those in the Transition movement, until its too late. The best I can do is bring up my children to be adaptable to changing circumstances, because I reckon it will effect them more. By the way my garlic is doing just fine! All the best.

7 05 2012

This is a more recent speech by Dr. Meadows on March 12, 2012 before a symposium at the Smithsonian Institution. The last few minutes are wonderful.

8 05 2012

Thank you for participating….. I highly recommend others watch this too……

24 08 2012

Keep up the good work on the frontline Mike.

24 08 2012

Thanks Peter….

19 04 2013
affäre beziehung

Right here is the perfect website for everyone who really wants to understand this topic.

You realize a whole lot its almost hard to argue with you (not that I really will need to…HaHa).
You certainly put a fresh spin on a subject that has been discussed for years.

Great stuff, just great!

19 04 2013

Thank you.

This Sunday, as you probably know,is Earth Day. Are you familiar with the documentary “Do The Math”? You can probably Google it. It’s the end result of what LTG didn’t include.

18 06 2013
Limits to Growth(update from 1972) | groundswellbasscoast

[…] It couldn’t get much clearer than this >readmore> […]

19 08 2014
Tony Dickson

I must be getting old. I have looked at your site before, but have no memory of providing my details.
I was going to say that we have quite a lot in common, but if you have visited our site, you would already know that.
Our awareness really is a curse, but I do not think that I would exchange it for the bliss of ignorance. I suspect that like you, my antidote to depression is anger, which, as Johny Rotten observed, is an energy.
You seem to have more energy than me, so keep up the good work.

Cheers, Tony.

19 08 2014

G’day Tony……. we do seem to cross paths a lot! I’ve only just visited your website (briefly), didn’t realise you had one until now….

And energy….?? I wish! Been suffering from chronic fatigue for nearly four years now, not assisted by Centreling I might add. I’m hoping that moving to Tasmania will inject energy afresh into me, I’m going to need it if I realise half the things I’d like to do.

Keep up the good work rattling those idiots’ cages over at TC…!

19 08 2014
Tony Dickson

You must have been a ball of fire before the CFS. The amount of time you put into your site and TC on top of permaculture and home building; and now you are moving (or contemplating moving) to Tasie? And you are a year older than me!
I’ll keep looking for points of disagreement.I argue therefore I am.

Cheers, Tony..

5 01 2016
The limits to growth | B. Research

[…] this blog article, we can see the predicated trend and the observed trend […]

11 10 2016
Clem Stanyon

Hi Tony,

I’m all for limiting growth; biologist by training and by trade, so ‘growth everlasting’ is a self-contradiction. However, I don’t think the 3 years additional data show that the Club of Rome were right; they essentially predicted a Gladwellian tipping point.

If you look at the 1970-2000 trend lines, either predicted or actual (which are pretty much the same), they are essentially direct extrapolations from the tracking of the previous years. In fact, we should be hitting a tipping point right about now, if the predictions were correct. Moreover, direct extrapolation of the observed non-renewable resources line suggests that there will be about double the predicted amount left in 2030; nothing is said about the renewable resource increase. Similarly, global pollution extrapolation would give half or less of the level predicted by then.

Regarding population: did you see the argument put forward by Has Rosling about “peak child” and education in developing nations?

Essentially, as people become more educated and wealthier, they reduce their birth rates, but that takes a couple of decades to change growth trajectories.

So, interesting study, but without being less than 15 years out of date, it doesn’t show much. Even another 10 years would give a better idea…

12 10 2016

It’s interesting you say “as people become more educated and wealthier”, because the opposite is now starting to happen….. in fact, people in the West have stopped getting wealthier for over twenty years as they went deeper and deeper into debt.

As a consequence, we are already hitting peak consumption of everything, which is a good thing; I think you are right about reaching a tipping point now, because it’s what I feel in my bones!! Especially, unfortunately, when it comes to Climate Change.

Because we are at peak debt, we may well also be at peak education. I personally know loads of people who are not encouraging their kids to go to university, because it’s too expensive, and they don’t want their children to be saddled with unrepayable debts for the rest of their lives.

We may have already passed peak food as well.. population crashing from ~2025 is highly probable…. and it’s less than 10 years away now.

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