Paul Ehrlich on The Limits to Growth
Biologist Paul Ehrlich reflects on the 1972 MIT study, The Limits to Growth, on its 50th anniversary – including the fact that it has been refuted (poorly), ignored, and confirmed. The study was done by a team of scientists commissioned by the Club of Rome to develop a computer model to simulate the interaction of earth and human systems. It revealed that continuation of the then-current trends in population, industrialization, resource use and pollution would result in overshooting the carrying capacity of the Earth and result in a general collapse at some point in the first half of the 21st century.
The study results were published in the 1972 book, The Limits to Growth, which holds the record as the top-selling environmental book. The book was authored by four system dynamics scientists (Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, Jørgen Randers, and William Behrens III). Gaya Herrington, whose 2020 analysis of The Limits to Growth was published in Yale’s Journal of Industrial Ecology, described the study and book aptly: “the authors identified society’s relentless pursuit of growth not as the solution to, but the cause of, so many of the environmental and social crises that plague humanity still today.”
“….what is it about Homo sapiens that leads us to the limits as a moth to a flame. Why don’t we stop? Why should we? Can we?” – Brian Czech, Executive Director of the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy
Read The Limits to Growth:
Online Read, but includes scans of pages and downloadable charts
Mentioned in Our Discussion of The Limits to Growth:
Limits to Growth 50th Anniversary Events – on Club of Rome website
UN Event June 2-3: Stockholm+50: a healthy planet for the prosperity of all – our responsibility, our opportunity
View live on the web The Stockholm+50 Conference: What You Need to Know and Why It Matters
Take this survey before June 2
June 10 seminar: Limits to Growth +50: Can Economies Keep Growing Indefinitely on a Finite Planet? Organized by: Norwegian University of Life Sciences
The Limits to Growth at 50: From Scenarios to Unfolding Reality – by Richard Heinberg
Limits and Beyond (New book April 2022 from the Club of Rome, a collection of essays)
Nate Hagens interviews Dennis Meadows in his podcast, The Great Simplification
Dennis Meadows on the 50th Anniversary of the Publication of The Limits to Growth – interview by Richard Heinberg
Is Global Collapse Imminent? – by Graham Turner (2014)
The Limits to Growth “standard run” (or business-as-usual, BAU) scenario produced in 1972 aligns well with historical data that has been updated in this paper
Update to Limits to Growth: Comparing the World3 Model with Empirical Data – by Gaya Herrington
Come On! Capitalism, Short-termism, Population and the Destruction of the Planet – by Anders Wijkman and Ersnt Von Weizscker and with contributions from more than 30 members of the Club of Rome What a 50-year-old World Model Tells Us About a Way Forward Today – by Gaya Herrington, now vice president of ESG Research at Schneider Electric and member of The Club of Rome’s Transformational Economics Commission
In this episode, we also discuss these “growthbusting news” items:
Walk Or Cycle Instead of Driving, Urges Ford Boss
New flight of fancy for billionaires – the Air Yacht
Back from a Touring Hiatus, Coldplay Pledges to Make Performances More Sustainable
The European Environmental Bureau has launched a campaign calling on the EU to refocus from GDP Growth to Wellbeing
Doughnut Economics: How to Bake a Better Future
The 25% Revolution – film
GrowthBusters Called Me Extreme, So I Responded – episode of This Sustainable Life podcast by Joshua Spodek
Mobilising Humanity Film Premier at COP26 – Ed Gemmel described his nightmare in this episode of the Planet in Crisis podcast from Scientists Warning Europe
Give Us Feedback:
- Record a voice message for us to play on the podcast: +1-719-402-1400
- Send an email to podcast at growthbusters.org
The GrowthBusters theme song was written and produced by Jake Fader and sung by Carlos Jones.
On the GrowthBusters podcast, we come to terms with the limits to growth, explore the joy of sustainable living, and provide a recovery program from our society’s growth addiction (economic/consumption and population). This podcast is part of the GrowthBusters project to raise awareness of overshoot and end our culture’s obsession with, and pursuit of, growth.
Dave Gardner directed the documentary GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth, which Stanford Biologist Paul Ehrlich declared “could be the most important film ever made.” Co-host Stephanie Gardner has degrees in Environmental Studies and Environmental Law & Policy.
Join the conversation on Facebook
Make a donation to support this non-profit project.
Archive of all episodes of the GrowthBusters podcast
Subscribe to GrowthBusters email updates
See the film – GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth – Now Free on YouTube
Explore the issues at www.growthbusters.org
View the GrowthBusters channel on YouTube
Follow on your podcast app so you don’t miss an episode:
Tags: Earth Day, economic growth, environmentalism, overconsumption, overpopulation, overshoot, sustainability
Trackback from your site.
Robert James Youngberg
As noted, 2022 is the 50th anniversary of the seminal work by Paul Ehrlich, ‘The Limits to Growth’ commissioned by the Club of Rome. I read this in college in 1974, it made a significant impact on my way of thinking and my view of the world. I have been involved in international activities in some form ever since.
Some, even E. O. Wilson, have noted that population growth is slowing, even declining in some developed countries.
However, it is not the absolute number of people per se that is the problem, but rather the consumption of global resources per capita.
20% of the world’s population is responsible for the consumption of 80% of the planet’s resources.
Per capita consumption in developed countries is 5 – 10 times higher than per capita consumption in least developed countries.
This means the population of least developed countries would have to be 5-10 times higher to reach the same consumption level in developed countries such as Europe or the U.S.
Two things need to be done immediately:
1. Significant reduction of consumption in developed countries.
2. Facilitate development in least developed countries to utilize sustainable resources, particularly encourage renewable energy.
Keep up the great work!!!
Nelson Hyde Chick
Peeking at ten billion means nothing if the environment collapses at nine.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Robert. Overconsumption by those of us in the overdeveloped world is no doubt a huge contributor to our being in overshoot. We want to work on that. However, let’s not fall into the trap of feeling we have to choose only one contributor to address. If per capita consumption is a problem, then the number of “per capita”s obviously has an impact. And while people in yet-to-be-overdeveloped nations have much smaller footprints, they want and deserve to live decent lives – which will enlarge their footprints. So it is important to consider how many people the planet can support at a modest, but decent lifestyle. Every smart inquiry I’ve seen into this arrives at a number of 3 billion or less. Correcting the overconsumption of the rich world doesn’t get us out of overshoot. 8 billion people would have to live like paupers in order to avoid killing the planet. So let’s support smart policies and informed decision-making about levels of consumption, economic growth, and family planning.
One of my most valued books is “Prosperity without Growth” by Tim Jackson.
Why is there no mention of this book anywhere??
No doubt Tim Jackson is a smart, important voice. He has agreed to be on the GrowthBusters podcast soon, to discuss his newest book, Post Growth: Life After Capitalism. You can get a sample of his wisdom in this episode of the Planet in Crisis podcast that I produce for Scientists Warning Europe: https://planetincrisis.libsyn.com/25-ecological-economics-with-prof-tim-jackson-scientists-warning-into-action-cop26-press-conference
Kevin Brendon Hester
One thing I’ll miss from not doing Nature Bats Last on the Progressive Radio Network is interviewing fascinating scientists like Professor Paul Ehrlich. We had some really fun discussions off air, often on the subject of Kiwi wine
I’ve added this brilliant discussion to the comments section of one of my interviews with Paul.