The Azimuth Project
The Limits to Growth

Contents

Introduction

Written to provide a popular account of the Club of Rome?’s first project, The Limits to Growth was translated into 37 languages and ran to 12 million copies.

Content and Discussion

The Club of Rome had come into being in 1968 when a group of thirty individuals from ten countries and with various backgrounds met in Rome at the instigation of an industrialist, Dr Aurelio Peccei. The club expanded towards its maximum of a hundred members and set out to solve the problems of the world with the Project on the Predicament of Mankind. Phase One of the work on the ‘world problematique’ took shape in the summer of 1970 at Berne and in Cambridge, Massechussetts, where Jay Forrester of MIT presented a global model that “permitted clear identification of many specific components of the problematique and suggested a technique for analysing the behaviour and relationships of the most important of those components.”

The Phase One project was conducted by an interdisciplinary, international team, co-ordinated by Dennis Meadows and supported by the Volkswagen Foundation. It examined five basic factors: population, agricultural production, natural resources, industrial production, and pollution. The Limits to Growth was an account of the findings for popular readership.

Although the authors’ objectives had been clear - to examine the inter-relationship of a number of factors and to present a model that anyone, if they wished, could adjust - the book received a deal of criticism. In particular it was claimed that the stabilising effect of the price mechanism had been seriously neglected and that technology would provide solutions to essentially any problem that became sufficiently severe.

Dennis Gabor, one of the Club’s international team, in a speech to students starting at Imperial College, London, in 1966 had already addressed these issues. His insight appears to have been widely overlooked. He warned students that, though not in his lifetime but probably within theirs, oil would run out. This would happen quite suddenly, he said, and not just because demand would have become greater. Improvements in technology would make it easier and cheaper to exploit difficult reserves. Increases in demand would lead to ever increasing efforts to discover new reserves. These two factors together would give the appearance that there was no end to the resource. (This was, of course, well before the peak oil debate began.)

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Limits to Growth model showed that collapse of industrial society could occur under a variety of condition; such as if resources were depleted while population was increasing or if pollution was not sufficiently controlled. Part of a speech by UN Secretary General, U Thant, in 1969 is quoted in the introduction. This echoes the tenor of the book.

I do not wish to seem overdramatic, but I can only conclude from the information that is available to me as Secretary General, that the Members of the United Nations have perhaps ten years left in which to subordinate their ancient quarrels and launch a global partnership to curb the arms race, to improve the human environment, to defuse the population explosion, and to supply the required momentum to development efforts. If such global partnership is not forged within the next decade, then I very much fear that the problems I have mentioned will have reached such staggering proportions that they will be beyond our capacity to control.

References

A relatively recent comparison with data can be found here:

  • Graham Turner, https://selectra.co.uk/sites/selectra.co.uk/files/pdf/thirty-years-of-reality.pdf of ‘’The Limits to Growth’‘ with thirty years of reality](http://www.csiro.au/files/files/plje.pdf), CSIRO (2008)

Abstract: