Limits to growth and keeping out of the caves

In 1972, the seminal book The Limits to Growth by the Club of Rome presented some challenging scenarios for global sustainability, based on computer modeling of population, food production, industrial production, pollution, and the consumption of non-renewable natural resources. However, contrary to popular belief the scenarios did not predict world collapse by the end of the 20th century. According to the book, the path we have taken will cause decreasing resource availability and an escalating cost of extraction that triggers a slowdown of industry, which eventually results in economic collapse some time after 2020.

Economists criticised The Limits to Growth, which has been largely ignored by policy makers.

Graham Turner at Australia’s CSIRO has compared historical data for 1970-2000 with scenarios presented in the Limits to Growth. His report shows that 30 years of historical data compare favorably with key features of a business-as-usual scenario called the "standard run" scenario, which results in collapse of the global system midway through the 21st century. The data do not compare well with other scenarios involving comprehensive use of technology or stabilizing behaviour and policies.

Yet Turner argues that a sustainable economy is attainable. "We wouldn’t have to go back to the caves," he says. The results indicate the particular importance of understanding and controlling global pollution.