The Club of Rome celebrates the anniversary of “Limits to Growth”

The Club of Rome celebrates the anniversary of “Limits to Growth”

Washington, DC / Winterthur Today (March 1st, 2012) marks the 40th anniversary of a warning that the globe ignored. The “Limits to Growth” was one of the first truly “Global Warnings”. It commanded critical attention and sparked debate around the world about the future of humanity. It pointed out that exceeding our global capacities for resource use and emissions would place significant limits on global economic development in the 21st century. People might be consuming more – but enjoying it less.

Today’s current debates over global warming, “peaking” resources and environmental feedback loops are thus the echoes of a four decade old process. The Club of Rome invites us to re-assess the sweep of such Global Warnings, and to review how they have become more thoroughly substantiated by science, while political processes have neutralized actions for prevention, leaving us with the urgent need to adopt policies for mitigation and adaptation.

The “Limits to Growth” was published in 1972 by a group of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, Jørgen Randers and William Behrens III. The book reported on the results of a study commissioned by a group of intellectuals who had formed the Club of Rome a few years before.

On March 1st 1972, the report was presented to the public at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. The international effects of this publication in the fields of politics, economics and science are best described as a ‘Big Bang’: it exposed the contradictions raised by unlimited and unrestrained growth in material consumption in a world of clearly finite resources and brought the issue to the top of the global agenda.

The book warned that the problems could become so large that humankind would have to divert so much effort to solving the problems that the quality of life could suffer. Specifically, the report showed that if growth rates seen between 1900 and 1972 were to continue, humanity would overstep planetary boundaries sometime between 2000 and 2100.

“The report to the Club of Rome Limits to Growth dared to break with convention: it suggested that growth in material consumption itself might be the problem. The book uncovered a simple truth that has largely been ignored for the last four decades.” says Ian Johnson, Secretary General of the Club of Rome.

This global best-seller, which was ultimately published in 30 languages and sold over 30 million copies, did not provide “predictions” as such. It sketched some alternative scenarios on how the planet could be impacted by the high rate of economic growth, resource depletion and environmental destruction.

In fact, few books had a more profound influence on society than “Limits to Growth” and few books have been so consistently misinterpreted and condemned, especially by those who felt their interests to be threatened.

Back in 1972, the economy was booming and life seemed good – and so the book was out of keeping grated against the optimistic mood of the times. Today, unfortunately, the message of “Limits to Growth” is more relevant than ever, as there is no doubt that the world has crossed and will continue to cross planetary limits. The consequence is the series of crises faced by our global society, which we are witnessing today.

The “Limits to Growth” noted that it was possible to alter growth trends and establish the conditions for a more equitable and desirable world that would provide stability, sustainability and global equilibrium. The key issue today is not only whether we can move towards a global lifestyle that lives within the planet’s limits but how we can do so.

However, since the publication of “Limits to Growth”, humanity has already lost four decades in which action could have been taken to create a new way of providing economic growth, which is consistent with the requirements for a sustainable and equitable world.

The Club of Rome is building upon the pioneering work over the past forty years and takes a 40-year look into the future, trying to find answers to the question “What do we need to do between now and the middle of this Century to place our planet on a new, stable path towards a sustainable and equitable world which manages to prosper within the limits provided by a finite planet?”

As part of this intellectual journey the Club of Rome will publish a new report, titled “2052”, in May 2012. This report has been prepared by Jørgen Randers, who is co-author of the “Limits to Growth”. It will provide a status report as per 2012, and make a forecast for the next forty years of global development.

This Thursday, March 1st 2012, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the launching of Limits to Growth, a symposium entitled “Perspectives on Limits to Growth: Challenges to Building a Sustainable Planet” will be hosted in Washington, DC by the Club of Rome and the Smithsonian Institution’s Consortium for understanding and sustaining a biodiverse planet. The symposium will be webcasted on the Club of Rome website

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Few critics seem to really have read “Limits to Growth” and are repeating misunderstandings and false statements. This is a real pity as the messages of the report are more relevant than ever and provide an essential understanding of the systemic problems challenging humankind today as well as of necessary solutions.

The Club of Rome provides on its website several tools to facilitate the understanding of “What Limits to Growth Really Says”:

  • On the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the launching of Limits to Growth at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC:
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