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Paul Ehrlich on The Limits to Growth

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. Paul Ehrlich on The Limits to GrowthThe 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

High Quality Scan


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
Campaign Page
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


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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.

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Comments (7)

  • Avatar

    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!!!


    • Avatar

      Nelson Hyde Chick


      Peeking at ten billion means nothing if the environment collapses at nine.


  • Avatar

    Dave Gardner


    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.


  • Avatar

    Ted Findhammer


    One of my most valued books is “Prosperity without Growth” by Tim Jackson.
    Why is there no mention of this book anywhere??


  • Avatar

    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.


  • Avatar



    David Wilkerson prophecies 1973 source.
    The Bible writes of a savior who is going to return to save the world. It’s not our job. Relax.


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