In 1969, the Club of Rome commissioned a group of scientists from a range of disciplines to generate a computer model of what would happen to humanity if we continued with business as usual. The result was the publication of The Limits to Growth in 1972. It’s conclusions made for uncomfortable reading. Long before the planet ran out of resources, humanity would experience an economic collapse followed by an ecological disaster.
At the time, politicians and economists dismissed the report as being overly pessimistic; or even plain wrong. However, in a new report to MPs on the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Limits to Growth, Professor Tim Jackson of the University of Surrey says:
“There is unsettling evidence that society is tracking the ‘standard run’ of the original study — which leads ultimately to collapse…
“In the standard run scenario, natural resources (for example oil, iron and chromium) become harder and harder to obtain. The diversion of more and more capital to extracting them leaves less for investment in industry, leading to industrial decline starting in about 2015. Around 2030, the world population peaks and begins to decrease as the death rate is driven upwards by lack of food and health services.”
The report raises concerns that oil production has already peaked – that is, it is now passed maximum output, and future production will be more difficult and more expensive. Coal and gas production are expected to pass their peak around 2025. Economic collapse is anticipated not because resources will run out, but because our current economic system cannot accommodate declining output, degrading quality and increasing costs. Ecological collapse is expected because we have already crossed too many planetary boundaries.
The MPs on the APPG have set out to encourage public discussion of these issues:
“Formed in February 2016, our aims are: to create the space for cross-party dialogue on environmental and social limits to growth; to assess the evidence for such limits, identify the risks and build support for appropriate responses; and to contribute to the international debate on redefining prosperity.”
However, given the experience of the current UK government’s approach to climate change, nothing short of a mass movement on the limits to growth will empower the MPs to turn Parliamentary dialogue into social and economic action.