|A növekedés határai - harminc évvel később / THE LIMITS TO GROWTH, THIRTY YEARS LATER|
Introduction: THE LIMITS TO GROWTH, THIRTY YEARS LATER
A book first written over thirty years ago has been updated and re-published. Why is this important, and why should you read it?
The modern sustainability movement can trace its origins far back in time, at least to the writings of Plato, who lamented the short-sighted mismanagement of land and resources around Attica. But few texts in the history of "sustainable development" stand larger than the publication of The Limits to Growth in 1972.
Also known as "The Club of Rome Report" (erroneously, as there have been many reports to the loose-knit association of senior business and government leaders known as the Club of Rome), Limits was an international sensation. It sold millions of copies around the world and generated hundreds of newspaper headlines. Most of those headlines were variations on this theme: "Computer looks ahead and predicts doom for human civilization."
This headline was not only an oversimplification; it was a misrepresentation of the book's central message, and it led to numerous attacks by then-prominent economists. Limits became a case study in how experts can turn a deaf ear on important new insights--and thereby delay action on critical problems.
Limits reported on the first computer-based systems model of the world's population growth, resource use, industrialization, and pollution trends, and how they reinforced each other. It did not "predict doom." Instead, the study identified critical choices facing humanity in the long term. Growth as usual could not continue, said the authors; eventually, humanity would hit some kind of wall. Either critical resources like land and water would become too scarce, or pollution would build up and push some natural system over the sustainability limit, with catastrophic consequences.
The world is an interconnected system, said the young team of researchers who had authored the study. The risk of a collapse in that system sometime during the next century should be taken as a real and pressing issue, given the accelerating speed of certain trends, and the historical record of previous civilizations collapsing when they faced similar trends.
But, the authors underscored, we can choose a different path for humanity's development--develop better technology, reduce consumption per person, put the brakes on population growth--and thereby avoid the worst. Indeed, it is still possible to create world of abundance for all, while staying within the limits imposed on us by nature.
Thirty years later, some of the worst has indeed been avoided. Humanity has successfully responded to the threat to the protective ozone layer. Population growth has slowed down dramatically in many places, compared to the projections of three decades ago. The percentage of those going hungry worldwide is declining.
But in other areas, it is all too clear that we have reached, and surpassed, the physical limits to growth. Fisheries are collapsing worldwide. Greenhouse gas accumulation from human activity is expected to cost billions of dollars and lives, while forcing whole ecosystems and societies to adapt or vanish. Tensions over limited resources like water and oil already underlie or exacerbate war and terrorism.
All of which makes the publication of The Limits to Growth - The Thirty-Year Update (Meadows et al., Chelsea Green Press, June 2004) all the more important and compelling. This remarkably prescient and intelligent book, rewritten (for the second time) in light of new data and world events, remains one of the best single sources for information and insight about what global sustainability means, and what is required to achieve it. Even those who think of themselves as well-informed experts, or who read the original decades ago, would be well-advised to read the new version, in full. The Preface alone, which reviews the last thirty years and summarizes the history of the study's global reception, is worth the price of the book.
The rest of the book serves as a combination of primer on systems thinking and sustainability, summary of long-term global trends and their interactions, and global scenario study. The analysis is rigorous and quantitative, with many important insights for policy-makers--but very clear and understandable to the non-expert. The book's final chapter then addresses what some might call the "soft side" of sustainability work: the human qualities necessary to make the changes that are required.
The authors' principal conclusions and recommendations remain the same: Technology must improve dramatically. Population growth must continue to slow. And material consumption per person must, on average, be reduced (though it's clear that the world's poorest need to consume more, not less). All three changes were required to reach sustainability in the computer model; one or two by themselves did not suffice.
Whether this is truly a prescription for global sustainability can and should be debated, and the authors are refreshingly candid about the fact they themselves are divided on the odds for success. And as they note, the world is not a computer model, no matter how useful and prescient that model has been. Our complex world, like most individual human beings, is essentially unpredictable.
But as an exercise in thinking about the world and its future, and in helping others to think about it in clearer and more sophisticated ways, The Limits to Growth is--once again, thirty years later--essential reading.
Historical period: 21st century
Author: Meadows, Donella H.
Group, movement, tendency (wherefrom it comes from): Balaton Group