The Limits to Growth was written in 1972 by Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jørgen Randers, and William W. Behrens III. The four were systems specialists at MIT who were studying the impact between earth’s systems and human systems. In short, they were looking at demand and consumption and waste, versus supply and regeneration.
18 Years to Go
“In 1972, researchers at MIT released the seminal — and frightening, and controversial — report, Limits to Growth, predicting a catastrophic collapse in 2030, followed by decades of slow decline. The basic gist: if we continued to consume non-renewable resources at our usual pace, then sometime in the mid-21st century we’d experience an economic crash followed by rapid population decline. While some greeted this wake-up call as the nerdy version of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, many prominent economists excoriated the report’s methodology and findings.
Now, 40 years later, Australian physicist Graham Turner has looked back at some of their data. Comparing actual results against the MIT team’s computer modeling, he looked at rates of industrial output, pollution, natural resources, and population growth, among other measures from 1970 to 2000. This alarming chart in Smithsonian shows that, for that thirty-year span, the MIT team’s projections were almost spot-on.”
Excerpt from Morning Advantage, April 9, 2012; Harvard Business Review
Donella Meadows and her colleagues developed an update to the 1972 report—2003’s Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update (read a summary here: http://web.boun.edu.tr/ali.saysel/ESc307/limits.pdf). Basically, they compared their projections with reality and found, like Graham Turner did recently, that their projections remained spot on, supporting the projected mid-21st century crisis. Barring any massive and miraculous technological breakthroughs in water, energy and food production (all, not one!), we should hit that wall somewhere between 2020 and 2050.
Truthfully, I have spoken about this for 6 years, in countries throughout the world. I am not met with dull eyes at all. For the most part, individuals want to see change and many are engaged as individuals. However, if there is hope—and I still believe there is—it will take an enlightened corporate leadership to revolutionize their strategies and address this crisis. Product, service and business models will have to change dramatically. Sure, waste reduction will have to stop; financial constraints and budgets will have to be maintained—but those are the paradigms of the past, not the future.
Sustainable companies, and a sustainable planet, will depend on organizations that integrate social, economic, environmental, and ethical values into the core business strategy. And this isn’t just a plan for the sector leaders or for a few organizations, but for all businesses and industries. If business and industry swing in this direction and act quickly, there is great hope for resolving this crisis…or at least delaying it sufficiently to allow technological revolution to deal with this problem.
Those that “get it” and move quickly in this direction and will most likely have long-term sustainability. Or, we can just wait for the planet to adjust itself, and the reigning socioeconomic systems to reset, and see which companies are still around.
So, what do you think?
Image credit: lulian lonescu/Flickr