Australian researchers have shown that a book written ‒ and written off ‒ four decades ago accurately predicted where the world would be in terms of resource allocation and the environment. And that does not bode well for the future of humanity.
Researchers from the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (MSSI) at the University of Melbourne used data from the last 40 years to compare to predictions made by the authors of the 1972 book “Limits to Growth.” They focused on what the original authors termed the “business-as-usual” (BAU) or “standard run” scenario, collating it to what has actually happened since the publication.
Just two years after the globe celebrated its first Earth Day in 1970, Italian think tank Club of Rome commissioned researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), led by husband-and-wife team Donella and Dennis Meadows, to build a computer model to track the world’s economy and environment. They looked at industrialization, population, food, use of resources and pollution through 1970.
“The task was very ambitious,” Graham Turner, the MSSI paper’s lead author, and Cathy Alexander, a research fellow at the institute, wrote in The Guardian. “They modelled data up to 1970, then developed a range of scenarios out to 2100, depending on whether humanity took serious action on environmental and resource issues. If that didn’t happen, the model predicted ‘overshoot and collapse’ – in the economy, environment and population – before 2070… the ‘business-as-usual’ scenario.”
Turner and his associates sought to update the BAU scenario with information covering 1970 to 2010, gathered from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy 2014; and elsewhere. They plotted the data alongside the ‘Limits to Growth’ scenarios.
“These graphs show real-world data (first from the MIT work, then from our research), plotted in a solid line,” Turner and Alexander wrote. “The dotted line shows the Limits to Growth “business-as-usual” scenario out to 2100. Up to 2010, the data is strikingly similar to the book’s forecasts.”
The results were almost exactly as the MIT researchers had predicted.