© 2013 Miro Roman

on consumption – The Limits to Growth

from: The Limits to Growth


In inviting the MIT team to undertake this investigation, we had two immediate objectives in mind. One was to gain insights into the limits of our world system and the constraints it puts on human numbers and activity. Nowadays, more than ever before, man tends toward continual, often accelerated, growth-of population, land occupancy, production, consumption, waste, etc.-blindly assuming that his environment will permit such expansion, that other groups will yield, or that science and technology will remove the obstacles. We wanted to explore the degree to which this attitude toward growth is compatible with the dimensions of our finite planet and with the fundamental needs of our emerging world society from the reduction of social and political tensions to improvement in the quality of life for all. A second objective was to help identify and study the dominant elements, and their interactions, that influence the long term behavior of world systems. Such knowledge, we believe, cannot be gathered by concentrating on national systems and short-run analyses, as is the current practice. The project was not intended as a piece of futurology. It was intended to be, and is, an analysis of current trends, of their influence on each other, and of their possible outcomes.

Our goal was to provide warnings of potential world crisis if these trends are allowed to continue, and thus offer an opportunity to make changes in our political, economic, and social systems to ensure
that these crises do not take place. The report has served these purposes well. It represents a bold step toward a comprehensive and integrated analysis of the world situation, an approach that will now require years to refine, deepen, and extend. Nevertheless, this report is only a first step. The limits to growth it examines are only the known uppermost physical limits imposed by the finiteness of the world system. In reality, these limits are further reduced by political, social, and institutional constraints, by inequitable distribution of population and resources, and by our inability to manage very large intricate systems. But the report serves further purposes. It advances tentative suggestions for the future state of the world and opens new perspectives for continual intellectual and practical endeavor to shape that future.

Although we can here express only our preliminary views, recognizing that they still require a great deal of reflection and ordering, we are in agreement on the following points:

1. We are convinced that realization of the quantitative re-straints of the world environment and of the tragic consequences of an overshoot is essential to the initiation of new forms of thinking that will lead to a fundamental revision of human behavior and, by implication, of the entire fabric of present-day society. It is only now that, having begun to understand something of the interactions between demographic growth and economic growth, and having reached unprecedented levels in both, man is forced to take account of the limited dimensions of his planet and the ceilings to his presence and activity on it. For the first time, it has become vital to inquire into the cost of unrestricted material growth and to consider alternatives to its continuation.

2. We are further convinced that demographic pressure in the world has already attained such a high level, and is moreover so unequally distributed, that this alone must compel mankind to seek ;t state of equilibrium on our planet. Underpopulated areas still exist; but, considering the world as a whole, the critical point in population growth is approaching, if it has not already been reached. There is of course no unique optimum, long-term population level; rather, there are a series of balances between population levels, social and material standards, personal freedom, and other elements making up the quality of life. Given the finite and diminishing stock of nonrenewable resources and the finite space of our globe, the principle must be generally accepted that growing numbers of people will eventually imply a lower standard of living-and a more complex problematique. On the other hand, no fundamental human value would be endangered by a
leveling off of demographic growth.

3. We recognize that world equilibrium can become a reality only if the lot of the so-called developing countries is substantially improved, both in absolute terms and relative to the economically developed nations, and we affirm that this improvement can be achieved only through a global strategy. Short of a world effort, today’s already explosive gaps and inequalities will continue to grow larger. The outcome can only be disaster, whether due to the selfishness of individual countries that continue to act purely in their own interests,or to a power struggle between the developing and developed nations. The world system is simply not ample enough nor generous enough to accommodate much longer such egocentric and conflictive behavior by its inhabitants. The closer we come to the material limits to the planet, the more difficult this problem will be to tackle.

4. We affirm that the global issue of development is, however, so closely interlinked with other global issues that an overall strategy must be evolved to attack all major problems, including in particular those of man’s relationship with his environment. With world population doubling time a little more than
30 years, and decreasing, society will be hard put to meet the needs and expectations of so many more people in so short a period. We are likely to try to satisfy these demands by overexploiting our natural environment and further impairing the life-supporting capacity of the earth. Hence, on both sides of the man-environment equation, the situation will tend to worsen dangerously. We cannot expect technological solutions alone to get us out of this vicious circle. The strategy for dealing with the two key issues of development and environment must be conceived as a joint one.

5. We recognize that the complex world problematique is to a great extent composed of elements that cannot be expressed in measurable terms. Nevertheless, we believe that the predominantly quantitative approach used in this report is an indispensable tool for understanding the operation of the problematique. And we hope that such knowledge can lead to a mastery of its elements. Although all major world issues are fundamentally linked, no method has yet been discovered to tackle the whole effectively. The approach we have adopted can be extremely useful in reformulating our thinking about the entire human predicament. It permits us to define the balances that must exist within human society, and between human society and its habitat, and to perceive the consequences that may ensue when
such balances are disrupted.

6. We are unanimously convinced that rapid, radical redressment of the present unbalanced and dangerously deteriorating world situation is the primary task facing humanity. Our present situation is so complex and is so much a reflection of man’s multiple activities, however, that no combina~ion of purely technical, economic, or legal measures and devices can bring substantial improvement. Entirely new approaches are required to redirect society toward goals of equilibrium rather than growth. Such a reorganization will involve a supreme effort of understanding, imagination, and political and moral resolve. We believe that the effort is feasible and we hope that this publication will help to mobilize forces to make it possible.

7. This supreme effort is a challenge for our generation. It cannot be passed on to the next. The effort must be resolutely undertaken without delay, and significant redirection must be achieved during this decade. Although the effort may initially focus on the implications of growth, particularly of population growth, the totality of the world problematique will soon have to be addressed. We believe in fact that the need will quickly become evident for social innovation to match technical change, for radical reform of institutions and political processes at all levels, including the highest, that of world polity. We are confident that our generation will accept this challenge if we understand the tragic consequences that inaction may bring.

8. We have no doubt that if mankind is to embark on a newcourse, concerted international measures and joint long-term planning will be necessary on a scale and scope without precedent. Such an effort calls for joint endeavor by all peoples, whatever their culture, economic system, or level of development. But the major responsibility must rest with the more developed nations, not because they have more vision or humanity, but because, having propagated the growth syndrome, they are still at the fountainhead of the progress that sustains it. As greater insights into the condition and workings of the world system are developed, these nations will come to realize that, in a world that fundamentally needs stability, their high plateaus of development can be justified or tolerated only if they serve not as springboards to reach even higher, but as staging areas from which to organize more equitable distribution of wealth and income worldwide.

9. We unequivocally support the contention that a brake imposed on world demographic and economic growth spirals must not lead to a freezing of the status quo of economic development of the world’s nations. If s~ch a proposal were advanced by the rich nations, it would be taken as a final act of neocolonialism. The achievement of a harmonious state of global economic, social: and ecological equilibrium must be a joint venture based on joint conviction, with benefits for all. The greatest leadership will be demanded from the economically developed countries, for the first step toward such a goal would be for them to encourage
a deceleration in the growth of their own material output while, at the same time, assisting the developing nations m their efforts to advance their economies more rapidly.

10. We affirm finally that any deliberate attempt to reach a rational and enduring state of equilibrium by planned measures, rather than by chance or catastrophe, must ultimatelybe founded on a basic change of values and goals at individual, national, and world levels. This change is perhaps already in the air, however faintly. But our tradition, education, current activities, and interests will make the transformation embattled and slow. Only real comprehension of the human condition at this turning point in history can provide sufficient motivation for people to accept the individual sacrifices and the changes in political and economic power structures required to reach an equilibrium state.

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