Limits to Growth 25 years later

Twenty-five years ago a small group of scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology created a computer model at the behest of the Club of Rome to predict what would happen in the next generation. The report based on that computer model, Limits to Growth sold over 9 million copies worldwide, generated numerous books, editorials and commentaries devoted to its apocalyptic predictions of catastrophe. Looking back today, as the Associated Press did in an excellent survey of the report, we know the report wasn’t worth the paper it was printed on.

It’s useful to take a look at some of the predictions Limits to Growth made which were accepted uncritically by environmentalists and others and compare that to what really happened.

Limits to Growth Prediction Reality
1. World population would hit 7 billion in 2000 World population will barely reach 6 billion by 2000
2. The world would run out of farmland to feed the rising population Agricultural production almost double while cultivated land increased only 5 percent
3. The world could run out of oil by 1992 Total oil reserves are twice as large (at 1 trillion barrels) than when Limits to Growth was published
4. The world would run out of copper, tin and silver by 2000 There is enough of each natural resource to last for the foreseeable future and mineral prices have actually declined in real terms

Of course at the time critics spoke out against the forecast made in Limits to Growth and the sort of draconian actions for which its proponents argued. But they were dismissed with the typical environmental arguments — “it may be wrong, but can we take that chance?”; or “it’s wrong and irresponsible to claim that natural resources such as oil will be in larger supply in the future, etc.”

But don’t think those who think we’re headed for the apocalypse will see the errors of their way. Like some religious cult which keeps rescheduling doomsday when their appointed god fails to appear, so extreme environmentalists and others will continue to claim we are doomed unless we follow their One True Path.

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