An influential report from the 1970s found that global decline forecasts for this century looked alarmingly accurate. In 1972, a team of scientists from MIT used a computer model to explore the future of humanity after receiving a commission from an international team of top academics, scientists, business leaders, and politicians in the Club of Rome. The report – The Limits of Growth – uses a systematic dynamics model known as World 3 to observe complex interactions between human population, industrial output, pollution, food production, and the Earth’s natural resources.
It was found that a “stable world” situation – where global collapse was avoided and living standards were stable – might have been possible, but dramatic changes in priorities and social values were needed. If unsustainable economic growth continues without regard for the environment, it could create a global society by drowning the food crisis and human welfare. In the end, World 3 has shown that a “business as usual” situation is likely to lead to the collapse of global society in the twenty-first century.
Shrinking, in this context, does not mean that humanity will be on the verge of extinction like dinosaurs – instead referring to the total stagnation of industrial development and significant degradation of human welfare. The work drew a bunch of criticism and controversy, but from another perspective on the data, it is clear that the model’s predictions, so far, have been surprising. As published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology in November 2020, Gaya Herrington, director of the accounting firm KPMG, looked at how the practice data of the last decades stood in line with forecasting.
Using the new data, he looked at four different possible scenarios: two different “business as usual” situations, a “stable world,” and “broad technology”, where human technological development has been able to invent its way out of environmental barriers. . Both “normal business conditions” triggered a global collapse in the twenty-first century, one through depletion of natural resources and the other through pollution, climate change and/or environmental catastrophe. Extensive technology was able to avoid a complete collapse within the century, although in the end the cost of technology increased and human welfare declined.