The "Limits to Growth" Revisited

Since the Club of Rome issued its famous report on the “Limits to Growth” in the 1970's, uninterrupted economic expansion has increasingly made its dire predictions an object of ridicule. And yet the report's basic insight – that we live and work in a finite global ecosystem, with exhaustible resources and capacities – has returned to challenge us again.

Since the Cold War’s end, all kinds of barriers have come down, and the world economy has fundamentally changed. Until 1989, the global market encompassed between 800 million and one billion people. Today, it is three times larger, and growing. Indeed, we are witnessing one of the most dramatic revolutions in modern history, and it is occurring almost unnoticed. From a model applicable to the minority of the world’s population, “Western consumer society” is becoming the dominant economic model of the world, one to which there is increasingly no alternative. By mid-century, the lives of seven billion people might be governed by its laws.

The West has established the economic model of the twenty-first century, with its hitherto unheard of standard of living, and almost all nations and regions are trying to equal it, no matter what the cost. When, in the 1970’s, the Club of Rome issued its famous report on the “Limits to Growth,” the reaction was one of concern. Over the years, however, as the world economy continued to grow without interruption – and, in the current age of globalization, seemingly without limits – the dire predictions of the Club of Rome have become increasingly an object of ridicule. And yet the Club of Rome’s basic insight – that we live and work in a finite global ecosystem, with exhaustible resources and capacities – has returned to challenge us again.

The world is not preoccupied today by the “limits to growth,” but awareness of the consequences of growth on the earth’s climate and ecosystem is becoming prevalent. China, for example, needs annual growth rates of 10% to keep its huge economic, social, and ecological problems under control. There would be nothing sensational about this if China were a country like Luxembourg or Singapore. But China has 1.3 billion people. So the consequences of its economic growth are much more serious.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.

required

Log in

http://prosyn.org/BNFNoDs;
  1. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

    Angela Merkel’s Endgame?

    The collapse of coalition negotiations has left German Chancellor Angela Merkel facing a stark choice between forming a minority government or calling for a new election. But would a minority government necessarily be as bad as Germans have traditionally thought?

  2. Trump Trade speech Bill Pugliano/Getty Images .

    Preparing for the Trump Trade Wars

    In the first 11 months of his presidency, Donald Trump has failed to back up his words – or tweets – with action on a variety of fronts. But the rest of the world's governments, and particularly those in Asia and Europe, would be mistaken to assume that he won't follow through on his promised "America First" trade agenda.

  3. A GrabBike rider uses his mobile phone Bay Ismoyo/Getty Images

    The Platform Economy

    While developed countries in Europe, North America, and Asia are rapidly aging, emerging economies are predominantly youthful. Nigerian, Indonesian, and Vietnamese young people will shape global work trends at an increasingly rapid pace, bringing to bear their experience in dynamic informal markets on a tech-enabled gig economy.

  4. Trump Mario Tama/Getty Images

    Profiles in Discouragement

    One day, the United States will turn the page on Donald Trump. But, as Americans prepare to observe their Thanksgiving holiday, they should reflect that their country's culture and global standing will never recover fully from the wounds that his presidency is inflicting on them.

  5. Mugabe kisses Grace JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images

    How Women Shape Coups

    In Zimbabwe, as in all coups, much behind-the-scenes plotting continues to take place in the aftermath of the military's overthrow of President Robert Mugabe. But who the eventual winners and losers are may depend, among other things, on the gender of the plotters.

  6. Oil barrels Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Getty Images

    The Abnormality of Oil

    At the 2017 Abu Dhabi Petroleum Exhibition and Conference, the consensus among industry executives was that oil prices will still be around $60 per barrel in November 2018. But there is evidence to suggest that the uptick in global growth and developments in Saudi Arabia will push the price as high as $80 in the meantime.

  7. Israeli soldier Menahem Kahana/Getty Images

    The Saudi Prince’s Dangerous War Games

    Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is working hard to consolidate power and establish his country as the Middle East’s only hegemon. But his efforts – which include an attempt to trigger a war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon – increasingly look like the work of an immature gambler.