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Limits to Growth

Page history last edited by Professor Wayne Hayes 9 years, 7 months ago

Limits to Growth

The Limits to Growth debate has been central to world sustainability since its articulation in 1970 by the Club of Rome a renowned global civil society organization (we will expain this later). The issue came to attention with the publication of the book by that title: Limits to Growth by Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and Dennis L. Meadows in 1972. Read an important segment of the book here:  limits.rtf. The controversy still rages. The theme of limits to growth will run through ENST209.


The essential and strategic distinction to be drawn is that between physical growth, a quantitative expansion, and development, a qualitative improvement which promotes inclusive prosperity. We will later explore how physical growth in the economy has been decoupled with both development and with equity. Indeed, physical growth will draw down resources to the point of scarcity, if not depletion, and will overwhelm waste disposal sinks (global warming illustrates this). This phenomenon, basic to Limits to Growth is our first encounter with overshoot and collapse, which we will explain in the global crisis section of the course. (For a treatment of overshoot in the context of World Sustainability see an excerpt from Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change by Richard Catton.)


Limits to Growth took an aggregate or big picture approach based on a sophisticated computer simulation developed by Jay Forrester, a professor at the Sloan School of Management at MIT. The model tracked the interaction among such macro-level variables as population, resources, and growth. The model, still in use today with tweaks, did not disaggregate into any distributions along lines of groups of countries (Third World, for example) or by income or wealth groups (bottom 20%, for example). Tacitly, it did not incorporate improvements in technology nor posit institutional adjustments. It forecast trends based on scenarios, such as low or high growth.


The limits to growth issue is central to the article in Schroyer and Golodik by Peter Montague: "Sustainable Development in Six Parts," pp. 59-86, but especially Parts 1 and 2. For an insightful and fascinating overview of how systems theory relates to sustainability, see "Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System" by Donella Meadows.


A Google Tech Talk on Ecological Footprint Analysis is provided by Mathis Wackernagel, well worth watching.


©Wayne Hayes, Ph.D. 5/25/2008

Comments (3)

Professor Wayne Hayes said

at 8:01 pm on Jun 1, 2008

Dave, above and near the bottom, called "Mathis Wackernagel". It's pretty cool. ~WH

Dave Calotta said

at 3:01 pm on Jun 1, 2008

Do you have a link for that video?

Steven Pinelli said

at 10:45 pm on May 29, 2008

I recommend watching the YouTube lecture by Mathis Wackernagel. The statistics and graphs he provides are especially helpful for those unfamiliar with the ecological concepts behind sustainability. Wackernagel's presentation quantifies the overshoot phenomenon which threatens the welfare of Earth. The second half of the video is a question and answer session with the audience - some of your own questions may be answered here.

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