The Limits to Growth

The Limits to Growth (English Original title: The Limits to Growth ) is a 1972 on 3 St. Gallen Symposium presented study on the future of the world economy. Starting point of the study was to show that the current individual local action of everybody has global implications, however, do not correspond to the time horizon and scope for action of individuals.

The study was commissioned by the Club of Rome and funded by the Volkswagen Foundation with his time one million DM. Donella and Dennis L. Meadows and their staff at the Jay W. Forrester's Institute for System Dynamics led by a systems analysis and computer simulations of various scenarios.

The used model of the world was the investigation of five trends with a global effect: industrialization, population growth, malnutrition, exploitation of raw material reserves and habitat destruction. So scenarios were calculated with different overestimated mineral reserves of the earth, or set a different efficiency of agricultural production, birth control or environmental protection.

To date, this book of over 30 million copies in 30 languages ​​have been sold. 1973, the Club of Rome was awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade.

1972: results of the initial publication

The key conclusions of the report were: If the current increase in world population, industrialization, pollution, food production and the exploitation of natural resources continues unabated, the absolute growth limits are reached on Earth over the next hundred years.

Reaching the limits to growth could lead to a fairly rapid and unstoppable decline in population and industrial capacity, if thereby the environment irreparably damaged or the raw materials are largely consumed. Changing the growth conditions to bring about an ecological and economic equilibrium, which is also maintained in the longer term, however, seemed possible. The sooner humanity deside to produce this state of equilibrium, and the sooner they start it, the greater would be the chances also to reach him.

The collapse scenarios were - due to the dynamics of exponential growth - among others. The report therefore describes the first part of the mathematics of exponential growth very detailed and easy to understand. In the case of the world's population, there were around 1650 a doubling time of 250 years. In 1970 the doubling time of the world's population but only 33 years. Such growth, the authors called " super- exponential". The messages of the report to the world population in 2000 have now been verified. This year, lived with six billion people, almost exactly as many people as in the standard run of the world model were considered.

The second important effect in the scenarios was the introduction of control loops, with which the different components of the world model influenced each other. For example, the population growth is dependent on the birth rate and the death rate. As long as the birth rate is higher than the death rate, the population is growing. Is the mortality rate is higher, so it sinks. With birth and death rates, however, are dependent on the medical care and food production. Food production and medical care in turn depend on the industrial production, as these impact on the provision of technologies for agriculture and public health has.

A special feature at the time was that the simulations were created with the help of computers. The then-known data on the development of the world's population, industrial production, pollution, food production, raw materials and other data is fed into the World3 called a computer model. World3 was written in the DYNAMO computer language. At that time, one needed mainframes to run the program. With the advent of the 30-year - updates (see later in this article ) in 2004, a CD was released, at which the World3 computer model - is included as a computer program - in the slightly modified variant 03. It runs on any PC, because PCs far surpass the capabilities of the former mainframes today.

The simulation results of most scenarios showed a more extensive, initially inconspicuous population and economic growth to a rather abrupt reversal of the trend prior to the year 2100. Only immediate decisive action to protect the environment, to birth control, to limit capital growth as well as technological measures changed this system behavior so that scenarios could be calculated, under which the world's population could hold as well as the long term prosperity constant. These technological measures included reuse of waste, extended service life of capital goods and other types of capital goods as well as actions for long-term increase in soil fertility of agricultural and forestry holdings. The authors had received not only disaster scenarios as a result, but also scenarios that led to a state of equilibrium.

Meadows et al. treated the important technology question in great detail in a separate chapter. This will include a scenario are calculated, in which it is possible using the technique to reduce the consumption of raw materials by completely recycling to zero. In another scenario " unlimited supplies of raw materials " and a huge decrease pollution through technology are taken into account, and finally these models are complemented by increased agricultural productivity and perfect birth control. It turned out that - according to the conceptual model - also maximum technology does not prevent system breakdown, provided that the production of capital would continue to grow indefinitely, because even a maximum technology, the negative consequences could no longer compensate.

Population growth was in the models first a prerequisite for increasing the economic performance because the population would have an impact in commodity production, food production, the requested services and industrial production. This economy -promoting aspects of population growth but would Fold at a border crossing into the opposite, since the capital would be greater than the wear rate of investment. This would for example be the case if the cost of raw materials always continued to rise, because the abundant deposits were exhausted and would need to be accessed always inferior stock. There could therefore be no infinite population growth according to the results of the 1972 report, without thereby eventually affecting also the industrial capital.

The authors were aware that they created the scenarios in part on the basis of insufficient data, so model runs were both under the assumption of a constant as well as up to five times higher reserves, were detected than in 1972, carried out. There were also each have different requirements for economic growth, but nevertheless the raw material supplies were exhausted before the year 2100 in most scenarios. The report clearly stated that no predictions were made, but only " evidence of the characteristic in the world system behavior " would be given.

Meadows et al. first study, as well as the policy-induced oil crisis of 1973, triggered a rethink, especially in the western states. Then it came to the development of new technologies, increased energy efficiency and a "qualitative growth " with greater decoupling of economic growth, energy consumption and pollution. In the Eastern Bloc countries, such as the GDR, Meadows were theses government officially rejected as " hostile - negative", but given significant environmental problems in particular introduced and addressed by the church environmental movement and the opposition.

Reactions to the publication

Immediately following the publication it came to controversial reactions. Henry C. Wallich of Yale University called in an editorial (13 March 1972) in Newsweek The Limits to Growth as " irresponsible nonsense" ( irresponsible mischief ). Meadows disaster scenarios were used to propagate heavily influenced by political ideas of subjective visions of the future.

Julian L. Simon and Herman Kahn and later critics have criticized a Blend of technical progress in a pure trend extrapolation. Simon and others consider population growth as the baby boom of a requirement, not an obstacle economic progress. Allen Kneese and Ronald Riker criticized an inconsistent use of growth functions: while the population, capital and pollution would grow exponentially, would in appropriate technologies for better use of resources and reduced pollution - if at all - only accepted linear growth. In the context Meadows was also a neomalthusianisches approach.

From the beginning and up to the present is often criticized that the drying up of individual commodities would be predicted to certain annual figures in the 20th century. Whether Limits to Growth contains this false prediction is controversial. Consistent with the text view is that it is a misinterpretation: The study lists for raw materials three " index numbers " for the shortages, of which misinterpret the critics as a range prognosis. The other view is that actually a dried up in the 20th century has been implicated or at least the possibility of confusion was accepted. One indication of this view is that the Environment Council of the U.S. government is quoted at the beginning of the section on nichtregenerierbare raw materials without comment with the following statement: " At the current rate of expansion [ ... ] silver, zinc and uranium can even at very high prices yet in this century are scarce. " on the other side is the view that the critics make a misinterpretation, supported by the fact that

  • The total collapse text later time points and forecasts of commodity prices " in 100 years " makes
  • The number used by the critics as range forecast would imply that no raw material deposits after 1970 more would be found, and
  • That the later editions of The Limits to Growth represent clearly differentiated the point range forecast, but does not change the basic statements of the book.

In this respect, the discussion of the interpretation of the index figures would be irrelevant because the other statements of the book of which have independent existence. However, this point is used to discredit the testimony of the book in its entirety.

In June 2008 Graham Turner published by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation ( CSIRO ), a study in which he compared the historical data for the years 1970-2000 with the scenarios of the original study in 1972. He found a great agreement with the predictions of the standard scenario, resulting in a global collapse in the middle of the 21st century.

1992: The new frontiers of growth

1992 published The new frontiers of growth. New findings ( for example, greater natural resources than 20 years previously known), and which has taken place in the meantime development have been included in the updated simulations, but the results remain similar in trend. As in the 1972 report, the most scenarios end with " overdraft limit and collapse." By birth control, restriction of production, technologies for emissions control, erosion prevention and resource conservation but a state of equilibrium could be achieved. The later would start with these measures, the lower would be the achievable material standard of living. A total of 13 scenarios were presented in the report, three of which lead to a state of equilibrium.

The simulations were carried out in 1992 against the backdrop of over 1972 improved data situation. Thus, the authors mentioned the climate impact of greenhouse gases by 1972, although, however, the consequences of which could not overlook. 1992 has already been much better estimate of the man-made greenhouse effect. A separate chapter is devoted to the caused by CFCs deplete the ozone layer. Herein, the problem of an overdraft limit is described by CFC emissions, and also made it clear that humanity is capable of responding to global problems and to adopt international agreements to protect the ozone layer one hand.

2004: The 30-year update

In 2004, the authors published the 30-year update. In it they brought the data used to date, took before slight changes to their computer model World3 and computed based on various scenarios possible developments starting from the year 2002 to the year 2100., In most of the calculated scenarios results in exceeding the limits to growth and a subsequent collapse ( " overshoot and collapse" ) no later than, 2100. continuation of "business as usual " the last 30 years would lead to a collapse from the year 2030.

Even with vigorous reaction of environmental and efficiency standards, this tendency can often only mitigated, but not be prevented. Only the simulation of a highly ambitious mixture of restriction of consumption, population control, reduction of pollutant emissions and numerous other measures results in a sustainable society at nearly 8 billion people.

The 2004 study also focuses on the development from 1972 to 2002 and describes, among other things,

  • An increase in the social gradient (20 % of the world's population possessed 85 % of global GDP )
  • Soil quality (40% of arable land would be overused )
  • Overfishing (75% of fish stocks are already fished ) and as early as 1972 that
  • The exhaustion of fossil fuels is imminent in a few decades.

The authors assume that the capacity of the soil, raw materials to provide and absorb pollutants had been (see Ecological Footprint) already exceeded in 1980 and will continue to be exceeded ( in 2004 already by about 20 %).

2012-40 years after

The 40 -year forecast up to 2052

In May 2012, presented Jørgen Randers, who had already been a first publication in 1972 among the authors, at a meeting of the Club of Rome, a renewed again forecast under the title 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years ago.

Already Beyond? - 40 Years Limits to Growth

40 years after the Volkswagen Foundation was the first study to the limits of growth funded by the Volkswagen Foundation invited the end of November 2012 in their series of events mansions symposia on a two-day symposium entitled Already Beyond? - 40 Years Limits to Growth ( trans.: "Already too late ... "). Accompanied by a " Winter School " in Visselhoevede under the theme of " Limits to Growth Revisited " for 60 young scientists, gardens met in the gallery building of mansions in Hanover International " established trade representative " to the conference to discuss the latest findings. Participants on the panel included, in addition to Dennis L. Meadows,

  • Sanghamitra Bandyopadhyay, University of London;
  • Stefan Bringezu, former director of the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy;
  • Dipesh Chakrabarty, University of Chicago;
  • Sir Partha Dasgupta, an economist at the University of Cambridge;
  • Felix Ekardt, University of Rostock;
  • Tyler J. Frazier, Technical University of Berlin;
  • Sibylle Günter, scientific director of the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics;
  • Mark Jaccard, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC );
  • Wilhelm Krull, Secretary General of the Volkswagen Foundation;
  • Zbigniew W. Kundzewicz, Polish Academy of Sciences, Poznan;
  • Jürgen Kurths, elected member of the Academia Europaea;
  • David Lam, University of Michigan;
  • David McAllister, Minister President of Lower Saxony;
  • Martin Meister, GEO International;
  • Dirk Messner, Director of the German Development Institute;
  • Helga Nowotny, President-elect of the European Research Council;
  • Rüdiger Pethig, University of Siegen;
  • Stefan W. Pickl, University of the Bundeswehr;
  • Matin Qaim, University of Göttingen;
  • Roland Rau, University of Rostock;
  • Daniel Alexander Schacht, Hannover Allgemeine Zeitung;
  • Uwe Schneidewind, president of the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy;
  • Max Schön, President of the German Association for the Club of Rome;
  • Frank Uekötter, organized in 2002, the conference "Nature Protection in Nazi Germany";
  • Wikus van Niekerk, Stellenbosch University, South Africa;
  • Stephan Weil, Mayor of Hanover; ' and
  • Harald Welzer, co-founder and director of Futurzwei.


" The Limits to Growth " stands in a long tradition of growth- critical publications. Criticism of exponential growth processes is jahrtausendealt. The WeizenkornLegende and Joseph Pfennig are known. Also in the Bible, in several places, a ban on interest expressed, for example, in Deuteronomy 23.20-21 "You shall not charge interest to your brother impose interest on money, interest on food, interest of any thing that one borrow against interest. The foreigner you may impose interest, but to your brother you must not impose interest, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hand in the land whither thou goest to possess it. ". Also in the Quran, in Sura 3, Verse 130 " O you who believe! Do not take interest by her again take in multiple values, which have borrowed her ".

The Chapter I of the report " The Limits to Growth ," the authors presented a quote from Han Fei -Tzu ahead (about 500 BC): " People think, five sons were not too much and have each son five sons; when the grandfather dies, he has twenty-five offspring. Therefore, there are more and more people and their wealth is dwindling; they work hard for low wages, " said Aristotle, 322 BC ". Most people think that a state that could make people happy would be great; but even if they are right, they do not yet know what is supposed to great and small states mean in ... Also for the size of states there is a limit, as for any other thing, for plants, animals and hand tools; because these things lose their natural effectiveness if they are too large or too small; either they go completely deprived of their nature or they are destroyed. " Thomas Robert Malthus warned in 1798 in his essay The Principle of Population before the population trap, which would occur through population growth. 1865 William Stanley Jevons predicted in The Coal Question exhaustion of coal reserves for 1980 and formulated the Jevons paradox: Technical progress, which leads to a more efficient use of raw materials, but can lead to an increased consumption of these raw materials.

As a result of the report The Limits to Growth, in turn, published a series of growth- critical reports, some with international distribution, some with a regional focus. The most significant result is likely to report " Global 2000 - The Report to the President ". In the appendix of this report, the various world models are discussed, of which only three World is one of many Global 2000 itself was based on the so called " world model of government " (meaning the U.S. Government ). In German-speaking countries was published in 1994 the book " madness growth " by Reiner Kling wood. In the richly illustrated work, the diagrams of the study " The new frontiers of growth" were shown. On these curves reached the 1995 published report to the Club of Rome also " Factor 4 - Doubling Wealth - Halving Resource Use ", by Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker and Amory B. Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins, back.

At about the same time as the 30-year update published in 2005 showed the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment that are overused by 24 key ecosystems 15, which corresponds to a rate of 60%. In some systems, the consequences have already demonstrated in other operability would subside with continued stress in the future, the conclusions of the study.


The Limits to Growth was included in the TIME library of 100 nonfiction.