In 1972 an MIT study predicted that economic growth would rapidly decline and lead to collapse of society by mid 21st century. A new paper published by Yale shows we’re unfortunately right on schedule.
Anyone who watches future science fiction movies, can see that future worlds are almost never good for the masses. A few elite, wealthy groups control all of the world’s resources, they live isolated, away from the peasant population. I’m reminded of one movie especially, Elysium Starring Matt Damon and Jodi Foster where in the future the world’s most powerful live in a paradise on an orbiting station and the rest of peasant population live on a depleted earth scraping by for survival. This new study re-affirms the data from the study performed by MIT in the 1970’s, is showing that we are headed for a societal collapse.
A new eye-opening study by one of the directors at one of the largest accounting firms in the world has found that this decades-old prediction from MIT about an industrial civilization collapsing appears to be coming to fruition based on new economic and social data.
The world currently is looking forward to a rebound in economic growth following the disaster to our economic systems brought on by the pandemic. This new research raises many questions about the risks of attempting to return to business as usual. We may not be able to simply return to normal.
In 1972, a team of MIT scientists got together to study the factors that may lead to civilizational collapse. The system dynamics model published by the Club of Rome, ‘limits to growth’ (LtG), that meant industrial civilization was on track to collapse sometime within the 21st century, due to overexploitation of planetary resources.
This MIT analysis generated heated debate and plenty of controversy, and was widely considered fake and hyperbolic by many analyst due to their findings and methods. The analysis has now been reaffirmed by a study written by a senior director at professional services giant KPMG, one of the ‘Big Four’ accounting firms as measured by global revenue.
What does “Limits to growth” mean?
The study was published in the Yale Journal of Industrial Ecology in November 2020 and is available on the KPMG website. The study derives from the data that if we continue down our current path and conduct business-as-usual, global civilizations will be headed into a huge drop in economic production and decline within the coming decade and societal collapse by 2040.
This is the first time in history that a top analyst working with global corporate entities has begun to take the “limits to growth”, model seriously. Its author, Gaya Herrington, is Sustainability and Dynamic System Analysis Lead at KPMG in the United States. However, she decided to undertake the research as a personal project to understand how well the MIT model stood the test of time.
In the new report, the author states, there is a high likelihood that Human Civilization will come to an end starting 2050.
Herrington, the author, performed the research as an extension of her Masters thesis at Harvard University in her capacity as an advisor to the Club of Rome. However, she is quoted explaining her project on the KPMG website as follows: “Given the unappealing prospect of collapse, I was curious to see which scenarios were aligning most closely with empirical data today. After all, the book that featured this world model was a bestseller in the 70s, and by now we’d have several decades of empirical data which would make a comparison meaningful. But to my surprise I could not find recent attempts for this. So I decided to do it myself.”
Titled ‘Update to limits to growth: Comparing the World3 model with empirical data’, the study attempts to assess how MIT’s ‘World3’ model stacks up against new empirical data. Previous studies that attempted to do this found that the model’s worst-case scenarios accurately reflected real-world developments. However, the last study of this nature was completed in 2014.
What constitutes a Collapse?
Gaya Herrington’s new analysis examines various data points across 10 key variables, namely population, fertility rates, mortality rates, industrial output, food production, services, non-renewable resources, persistent pollution, human welfare, and ecological footprint. She found that the latest data most closely aligns with two particular scenarios, ‘BAU2’ (business-as-usual) and ‘CT’ (comprehensive technology).
The “Business As Usual” shows that including the potential advancements in technology and productivity, the continuous pursuit of growth is not sustainable and devastating contraction within the economy is a certainty. “Both scenarios thus indicate that continuing business as usual, that is, pursuing continuous growth, is not possible. Even when paired with unprecedented technological development and adoption, business as usual as modelled by LtG would inevitably lead to declines in industrial capital, agricultural output, and welfare levels within this century.”
Study author Gaya Herrington told Motherboard that in the MIT World3 models, collapse “does not mean that humanity will cease to exist,” but rather that “economic and industrial growth will stop, and then decline, which will hurt food production and standards of living… In terms of timing, the BAU2 scenario shows a steep decline to set in around 2040.”
Growth to Contraction?
Herrington finding show that in the comprehensive technology (CT) scenario, all economic metrics will still fall and will happen around the date the MIT study estimates and with a range of possible negative consequences, but this does not lead to societal collapse.
Our only option that doesn’t end in collapse is the scenario known as ‘SW’ (Stabilized World). This scenario is also the option which was the least closest fit to the latest empirical data and happens to be the most optimistic pathway in which civilization follows a sustainable path and experiences the smallest declines in economic growth—based on a combination of technological innovation and widespread investment in public health and education.
Although both the business-as-usual and comprehensive technology scenarios point to the coming end of economic growth in around 10 years, only the BAU2 scenario “shows a clear collapse pattern, whereas CT suggests the possibility of future declines being relatively soft landings, at least for humanity in general.”
Both scenarios currently “seem to align quite closely not just with observed data,” Herrington concludes in her study, indicating that the future is open.
Can We Make A Change
The worlds economies are constantly chasing growth. Third world countries are quickly accelerating into 1st world status. This growth, according to Herrington’s data, is not sustainable, but we may have a chance to change the way the world does business. The collapse of economic growth due to scarcity of resources, may be offset by advancements in technology and our ability to produce products without repercussions. The study finds that increased investments in public services and technological advancements in production could avoid the risk of collapse, and lead to a new stable civilization operating safely within resource boundaries. If we are to avoid devastation, we need to begin making changes now and become more cognizant of how our over-populated world interacts with the world economy.
If the world’s governments can’t make changes in policy and monitor economys, data mostly aligns with the CT and BAU2 scenarios. If this happens then the world will experience a slowdown and eventual halt in growth within the next decade. The World3 report and subsequent data modeling shows that if we can make changes, the subsequent decline may still constitute a collapse, but we may create a more sustainable system as a result. The likelihood of world governments, first realizing the problem and second acting on the data driven research is highly unlikely. The study concludes. Although the ‘stabilized world’ scenario “tracks least closely, a coordinated change brought about by world economies could turn toward other goals other than constant growth. The LtG study implies that the chance to make changes though is coming to close quickly.
“In a presentation at the World Economic Forum in 2020 delivered in her capacity as a KPMG director, Herrington argued for ‘agrowth’—an agnostic approach to growth which focuses on other economic goals and priorities.”
“Changing our societal priorities hardly needs to be a capitulation to grim necessity,” she said. “Human activity can be regenerative and our productive capacities can be transformed. In fact, we are seeing examples of that happening right now. Expanding those efforts now creates a world full of opportunity that is also sustainable.”
“She noted how the rapid development and deployment of vaccines at unprecedented rates in response to the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates that we are capable of responding rapidly and constructively to global challenges if we choose to act. We need exactly such a determined approach to the environmental crisis.”
“The necessary changes will not be easy and pose transition challenges but a sustainable and inclusive future is still possible,” said Herrington. (souce Vice)
The data currently suggests that if our human population have the will and direction to make changes within the next 10 years, we may determine the fate of the human civilization. Even though, changes are possible, the “will of the people”, governments, and the world economy as a whole, need to become more conscience to the environmental concerns, social, and best practices of governance priorities. This optimistic view of societal needs, needs to become a goal for everyone, to avoid full collapse. Herrington said, “Perhaps the most important implication of her research is that it’s not too late to create a truly sustainable civilization that works for all.”
Although she holds onto optimism, we all know the saying, “A person is smart, but people are dumb.” The ability of world economies, governments and businesses based on a greed model of operation, is highly unlikely. The most powerful and wealthy entities in world will leave the rest of us grasping for survival.