Book Review: Limits to Growth (1972)

Limits to growth

This book forms part of the Deindustrial Reading List. It is not the first one in the sequence but I thought I would start there since it looked like a quick read.

The Greek tragedy of Cassandra comes to mind when reading this book. Cassandra was cursed both with the gift of prophecy as well as the curse that nobody would believe her. The Limits To Growth was published and controversial before I was born. My understanding is that since then it has been vilified and attacked but not disproved. Its recommendations have obviously not been implemented.

The book discusses the findings of a group of scientists who constructed a computer model of the planet that looked at resource use and population growth. The genesis of this model is discussed as well as the extent to which its findings are accurate. Various models and scenarios are then outlined. These models look at populations growing and stabilising, resource availability doubling, pollution declining and increasing as well as the effect of new technologies. The conclusion that is drawn is that we cannot continue our current way of life without running into limits. Even massive increases in various resources (only a paper exercise) buy a little more time before the limits are reached.

The book does not try and beat you over the head with any facts or conclusions. It just tries to ask you to consider the possible implications of their findings. The book was published in 1972 when there was still a bit of breathing room to implement some of its recommendations. Sadly it seems that we, as a civilisation, have opted to tempt luck and see how far we can kick the can down the road under the “business as usual” scenario.

This is a really good book, written in a easy to understand format that outlines a scientific basis for why we can’t just keep on growing and growing on our planet.

I think I have an inkling as to how Cassandra must have felt.