Limits to Growth Redux

Twitter went aflutter this week with late-breaking (two years late) news in Smithsonian Magazine that Australian physicist Graham Turner had compared the findings of the landmark Limits to Growth report to actual recorded data from 1972-2000 and the Limits to Growth model held up remarkably well.  Turner’s report, titled “A Comparison of the Limits to Growth with Thirty Years of Reality,” finds that in all five of the key global economic subsystems – population, food production, industrial production, pollution, and consumption of non-renewable natural resources – the Limits to Growth standard run scenario (essentially business as usual) looks uncannily similar to the actual data, whereas the other two scenarios – stablizing behavior and policies, and comprehensive use of technology – do not.

As Turner’s report explains, Limits to Growth has been subjected to countless attempts to discredit its accuracy and cloud public opinion on the issues it raises.  “A Comparison of the Limits to Growth with Thirty Years of Reality” cuts through the public distortions and uses real data, and the actual models Limits to Growth draws on, to show that the Limits to Growth report deserves another look.

Although this new report does not address finance, we believe that the financial system plays a critical role in deciding the path we will follow: business as usual, rapid technological development, or stabilization.  Limits to Growth detailed why we must choose stabilization.  As we continue to march on the business as usual path, finance must help us find an off-ramp onto stabilization, or, as this report suggest, we may be in for some serious consequences.