The Club of Rome -
'Limits To Growth'
ABC Government Radio - Australia
"Limits to Growth" was commissioned by The Club of Rome, a thinktank of scientists, economists, businesspeople, international civil servants, and politicians from the five continents. The Club began in an informal way at the behest of Aurelio Peccei, an Italian businessperson based in Rome. In 1965, Peccei gave a speech on the dramatic changes taking place in the world, especially relating to science and technology. The speech attracted considerable attention.
Alexander King, who had not previously known Peccei, received a copy of the speech. King was a British scientist, who had been a scientific adviser to the British Government, and who was then at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (<, the organization of rich Western countries. King had similar concerns to Peccei about the commonly-held veneration for growth that allowed little thought for any long-term consequences, and decided to meet Peccei to see how these ideas could be followed up.
'Limits to Growth' was full of complex graphs like this one, which predicted if global policy changes weren't changed by 2000, "Population and industrial capital reach levels high enough to create food and resource shortages before the year 2100." (p.169)
Peccei and King were not confident that either the market or technology could function as a way of solving environmental problems. After calling together groups of economists and scientists to discuss problems facing the world, they asked a group of computer experts at MIT in the US to examine what would happen if people continued to consume such a high amount of resources. This study became the basis of the "Limits to Growth" book.
The study had some obvious limitations, most of which stemmed from the use of computer modelling. This was the first time that computer modelling had been used for such an ambitious exercise. The success of such modelling depends on both the quality of data and the capabilities of the computer. In 1970, methods of data collection were still rudimentary. Many countries, for example, did not know the true size of their populations. There have been many improvements in national data collection but, even today, we are still far from getting all the data we need to produce accurate models. For example, there is debate in many countries on how to work out the exact numbers of unemployed people, with official statistics usually being lower than those of non-governmental organizations that work with unemployed people.
In addition, the quality of the model used was limited by the available computer technology and could only use a low number of equations in its construction. Computer modelling has now become more sophisticated with the far greater computer power that is available meaning that models have become more complex. However, computer modelling still leaves a great deal to be desired, as is evident with the failure of government finance departments to predict the size of economic growth in the coming years.
Leaving aside the details of the projections, there is the question of the essence of the warning: is the earth approaching its "Limits to Growth"?