Our computer-generated scenarios all showed this growth stopping in the early decades of the 21st century, and, I must say, looking back now, it seems that we’re right on schedule.”

Dennis MeadowsDennis Meadows led the team at MIT whose computer simulations led to the publication of the top-selling environmental book of all time – The Limits to Growth. Scientists built on Jay Forester’s pioneering system dynamics work to chart future trends of five variables, analyzing how they would influence one another. The variables were world population, industrialization, pollution, food production and resource depletion.  Their World3 computer model’s business-as-usual scenario did not paint a rosy picture, and many economists and industrialists criticized the study harshly.

Our work challenged the foundations of modern economic theory. It made life for politicians very uncomfortable, and threatened corporations who were looking to increase their markets. So, all of them, especially the economists, really lit out after our work, and criticized it roundly….”

In recent years, several studies have confirmed that the “standard-run” scenario turned out to be remarkably accurate. This may offer an explanation of the growing list of environmental crises and the inability of the global economy to maintain the robust growth rates experienced earlier:

Scientists Vindicate ‘Limits to Growth’
Revisiting the Limits to Growth After Peak Oil
 A Comparison of the Limits to Growth with 30 Years of Reality

This interview with Dennis Meadows was recorded in 2009. It’s followed by a brief conversation with another team member, Jørgen Randers, offering observations on the 40th anniversary of the landmark report, in 2012.

This is the 16th in our series of podcasts and radio programs. We post a new podcast episode every Thursday. Be sure to subscribe! You can find us at iTunesSoundCloud and Stitcher, or sign up to get an email every Thursday with the newest episode. If you like what you hear, please support this project with a tax-deductible donation. Your comments are invited below.  Why do you think we continue to ignore these computer models even though we’ve been tracking them pretty closely for over 40 years? Photo Credit: Fabian Fiechter

More Info:

The Limits to Growth was authored by Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, Jørgen Randers, and William Behrens III. The study was commissioned by the Club of Rome and underwritten by the Volkswagen Foundation. The book can still be purchased, as can several updates. The original is also available online courtesy of the Donella Meadows Institute. The Club of Rome offers several reports, books and other information following up on the original study.


The Limits to Growth
Beyond the Limits: Confronting Global Collapse, Envisioning a Sustainable Future
The Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update
2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years
 (by Jørgen Randers)

About The Author


  1. Another very smart visionary, Richard Heinberg, mentions The Limits to Growth and offers a very thoughtful summary of the predicament currently facing human civilization over the impossibility of perpetual economic growth. This is a must-read. We hope to have Richard as a guest on Conversation Earth in 2016. http://www.postcarbon.org/can-we-have-our-climate-and-eat-it-too/

  2. Turner also examined a number of reports, particularly by economists, which over the years have purported to discredit the limits-to-growth model.

  3. Turner also examined a number of reports, particularly by economists, which over the years have purported to discredit the limits-to-growth model.

  4. Turner found that the observed historical data from 1970 toclosely matches the simulated results of the “standard run” limits of growth model for almost all the outputs reported.

  5. […] The Limits to Growth framework helps us to see the bigger picture. It shows that as exponential growth of the economy and population pushes global consumption beyond ecological limits, we encounter crises driven by pollution, like climate change, or by resource depletion, such as peak oil. […]

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