In 1972, four MIT researchers published a report called “Limits to Growth.” In it, they used computer models to analyze economic data, and predicted that if civilization continued on its path toward increasing consumption, the global economy would collapse by 2030.
Forty years later, instead of seeming unlikely, the prophesies of this controversial study appear to be coming true, right on schedule: we have only accelerated our consumption of the planet’s resources, and this destruction can’t go on much longer.
Led by MIT’s Jay W. Forrester’s Institute the study used a computing model to examine the correlation between global developments and their affect on the Earth. Variables involving the amount of available resources, different level of agricultural productivity, birth control and environmental protection were taken into account to examine what the future holds for the human race and, according to the researchers, it isn’t very good.
As we approach the 2030 deadline, Australian physicist Graham Turner took another look at the report’s predictions for Smithsonian Magazine. Turner compared real-world data from 1970 to 2000 with the business-as-usual scenario. He found the predictions matched the facts almost perfectly. “There is a very clear warning bell being rung here,” he says. “We are not on a sustainable trajectory.”
Although world leaders have been aware of this for several decades, self-centered political policies and corporate greed have only caused our consumption to become more voracious. Indeed, Turners comparisons showed that in some cases during the past forty years, population growth, and demand for food and services has exceeded the MIT study’s expectation.
“Only drastic measures for environmental protection proved to be suitable to change this systems behavior, and only under these circumstances, scenarios could be calculated in which both world population and wealth could remain at a constant level. However, so far the necessary political measures were not taken,” explains The Club of Rome, the Italian think-tank which commissioned MIT to conduct the research.
Despite the fact that the original researchers saw no reason to assume growth and sustainability are not mutually exclusive, world leaders remain paralyzed. If governments enact stricter policies and invest in technologies that reduce our environmental footprint, economic growth doesn’t have to equal a ticking time bomb for the human race. However, warn both Turner and the original study, waiting too long could mean irreversible population losses and environmental damage.