Going beyond the Limits to Growth debate

Saliem Fakir, Polity.org, 10 February, 2017.

The Limits to Growth (LTG) thesis was developed in the 1970s by a group of experts collectively called the Club of Rome. They used a computer model to link exponential population growth, income/gross domestic product and consumption, compared with the availability of finite resources. In a sense, they recreated the Malthusian limit. (At the time, they did not have sufficient data or the computing power that we have today.)

The LTG thesis predicted in some of the scenarios that, if it is business as usual, for some finite resources, the prospects will be pretty bleak and society and the environment will collapse. The truth is that many of the thesis’s predictions did not come true, a good example being peak oil. We did not run out of oil – we simply exploited frontier reserves, built more- efficient cars and found substitutes, while new technology allowed us to exploit energy sources like shale. In some countries, such as the US, conventional sources did peak but nobody took into account the effects of high oil prices and technological innovation in overcoming the peak oil phenomenon. There will be more scorn thrown at the peak oil thesis when electric vehicles (EVs) gain scale. EVs will keep oil prices down and we may end up with more oil than we need…

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