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Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Global Update Hardcover – June 1, 2004

4.3 out of 5 stars 76 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Updated for the second time since 1992, this book, by a trio of professors and systems analysts, offers a pessimistic view of the natural resources available for the world's population. Using extensive computer models based on population, food production, pollution and other data, the authors demonstrate why the world is in a potentially dangerous "overshoot" situation. Put simply, overshoot means people have been steadily using up more of the Earth's resources without replenishing its supplies. The consequences, according to the authors, may be catastrophic: "We... believe that if a profound correction is not made soon, a crash of some sort is certain. And it will occur within the lifetimes of many who are alive today." After explaining overshoot, the book discusses population and industrial growth, the limits on available resources, pollution, technology and, importantly, ways to avoid overshoot. The authors do an excellent job of summarizing their extensive research with clear writing and helpful charts illustrating trends in food consumption, population increases, grain production, etc., in a serious tome likely to appeal to environmentalists, government employees and public policy experts.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


33 Years Later
Business Standard
by T N Ninan / New Delhi
August 06, 2005

Dennis Meadows is a bear of a man. Big-built, bearded, with heavy tread and a gravelly voice and, more important, the kind of intellectual simplicity that lies at the other side of complexity.
The co-author of The Limits to Growth, which the Club of Rome issued in 1972 to spark the sustainability debate, is in the Swedish village of Tallberg, addressing a small group on the original Club of Rome thesis.
Was it right in saying what it did, or are the sceptics right in scoffing at the entire notion that there are indeed limits to what the earth can sustain? Meadows has a short answer: Yes, the Club of Rome was right. And since we have done nothing to address the concerns raised in the 1972 report, we have less time than before to take corrective action.
Up go some slides to prove the point. The global population has grown from around 3.5 billion at the time of the 1972 report, to more than 6 billion today, and will soon grow to more than 7 billion. Industrial production has gone from an index of about 180 (base 1963 = 100) to more than 400.
The index of world metals use has gone up more than 50 per cent. And the concentration of carbon dioxide (which had gone up from about 270 parts per million in 1750 to about 320 in 1972) has gone up since to about 370-- increasing in 30 years by as much as in the previous 220.
The conclusion: mankind's "global ecological footprint" has gone from a sustainability level of about 90 per cent of the earth's capacity, to 120 per cent. In other words, we are already beyond the sustainability point.
Meadows makes two other points. First, we have not realised that we have crossed the sustainability limit because we are now drawing down on nature's bank balance that had been built up over the millennia; and that cannot go on indefinitely because the account will soon be overdrawn.
And second, if you thought that the Club of Rome was wrong because we have not faced disaster yet and so we will not face disaster in the future, you've misunderstood what the original "Limits to Growth" report forecast--which, broadly, was that the current rate of growth and patterns of consumption could continue for another 50-80 years before things begin to go seriously wrong.
And we have already used up something like half that grace period. And while the challenge in 1972 was to slow down (having reached 90 per cent sustainability levels), the challenge now (at 120 per cent) is to back down.
In other words, population must stop growing (it's happening, but too slowly), and we must change our cultural habits of consumption, because we cannot continue to make today's claims on the environment.
As an Indian, this entire thesis goes against the grain of the national development goal: we want to get our income levels up from $600 per capita to (maybe) at least $2,000, at which level one might hope that there is no absolute poverty left if you assume not hugely unequal income distribution; and China of course will want to do the same and more.
If you factor in what that will mean for global energy demand and the demand for other non-renewable resources, it seems pretty obvious that what we have already seen in the markets for oil and iron ore (to take two examples) are a foretaste of what is to come. Indeed, oil may already have reached the level of peak production, and what that means for the global economy is pretty frightening.
Does that mean that India and China should not aspire to what the developed economies have delivered by way of standards of living? It seems a manifestly unfair question when the west is equally manifestly unwilling to change its consumption habits. If neither happens, and even if some technological fixes can be worked out that buy us some time, the message is pretty straightforward. Things cannot go on as before.

Limits to Growth
Choice Magazine
November 2004,

The premise of Limits to Growth continues on the same theme as the earlier books by the same authors (the original Limits to Growth, CH, Nov'73; Beyond the Limits, CH, Nov'93), but now "there is no question about whether growth in the ecological footprint will stop; the only questions are when and by what means." Using computer simulation modeling to integrate data and theories into possible future scenarios, possibilities range from the disaster of "overshoot" of the earth's limits and a collapse in both population and human welfare, to the opposite vision: a smooth adaptation of principles of sustainability within the earth's carrying capacity. A good, clear, objective explanation of causes and possible effects, this book fits well with current concerns that not enough has been done to halt environmental degradation. Consequences predicted in the 1970s seemed to allow enough time for long-term planning and changes, but now, "Time is, in fact, the ultimate limit." Another update is planned for 2012, when more data should be available to test the realities of exponential growth, depletion of resources, increasing wastes, and diminishing returns on investments in more efficient technologies. Summing up: Highly recommended. All levels.
-S.E. Wiegand, Saint Mary's College

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Chelsea Green; 1 edition (June 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1931498512
  • ISBN-13: 978-1931498517
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.4 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,245,170 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 21, 2004
Format: Paperback
In the Authors' Preface, they provide important background information to their "30-Year Update": Published in 1972, "The Limits to Growth (LTG) reported that global ecological constraints (related to resource use and emissions) would have significant influence on global developments in the twenty-first century. LTG warned that humanity might have to divert much capital and manpower to battle these constraints -- possibly so much that the average quality of life would decline sometime during the twenty-first century." Then in 1992, the authors conducted a 20-year update of their original study and published the results in Beyond the Limits. "In BTL we studied global developments between 1970 and 1990 and used the information to update the LTG and the World3 computer model. BTL repeated the same message: In 1992 we concluded that two decades of history mainly supported the conclusions we had advanced 20 years earlier."

However, BTL (1992) offered one new finding: "...humanity had already overshot the limits of Earth's support capacity. This fact was so important that we chose to reflect it in the title of the book." If you have not already read one or both of the two earlier volumes, these brief excerpts from the Authors' Preface to Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update will suggest a context within which to understand and appreciate the significance of what Meadows, Randers, and Meadows share in this third volume.

If I understand their key point, it is this: Humanity's consumption of Earth's resources (i.e. humanity's "ecological footprint") proceeds at an increasingly faster rate than Earth's available resources can accommodate (i.e. its "carrying capacity").
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Format: Paperback
No one likes limits, but they're with us all our lives, from the restrictions our parents place on us as children to the limits that society and Mother Nature compel us to adhere to as adults. The authors do a clear and thorough job of explaining how physical limits affect the Earth and the human society evolving within it.
Updating their mathematical model and learning from three decades of experience since the original 1972 study, the authors reinforce their earlier finding that persistently overshooting the Earth's carrying capacity could lead to any one of a variety of unhappy scenarios for humanity. While expressing due respect for technology development and the effects of free markets, they emphasize that these are necessary but not sufficient tools for getting us through the 21st century.
The authors have been criticized as doomsayers whose predictions have proven wrong. Such criticism obviously has come from people who have not actually read their work. They have not produced just a single computer run of their model and then proclaimed, "This is what will happen." They have done hundreds of runs to attempt to illustrate how important variables - such as population growth, industrial production, technological development, and pollution - interact to shape future scenarios in a 100-year timeframe. A thorough reading of this book demonstrates that rather than being disproven, their original scenarios are looking ominously accurate.
Chapter 5 is the book's good-news story, providing a case study on how the world got together to tackle the ozone depletion problem over the last quarter century. This and the final two chapters demonstrate that the authors have not given in to hopelessness.
The most critical shortcoming of the authors' work is one they clearly acknowledge.
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Format: Paperback
Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update is a look at the resources of the planet and how they are being used, using the tools of systems dynamics computer modeling, with an eye to seeing if the current practices of unchecked growth in the use of resources is a viable, sustainable approach to living (an idea that on it's face appears to be an obvious no-brainer). The authors have produced two prior books on these issues, Limits to Growth and Beyond the Limits. The central questions are these: Are current policies leading to a sustainable future, or collapse? What can be done to create a human economy that provides sufficiently for all? They quote another researcher who points out that humanity surpassed sustainability in the 1980s, a statement that is congruent with their computer modeling.

The basic idea is that resource use will exceed resource capacity, a condition called overshoot, which will lead to collapse of many of the institutions of humanity, as we know them. They define a sustainable society as one that `meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.' Sounds very similar to the current state of the social security program, which will be bankrupt in the near future, without major changes.

One major limit to the consumption of resources that is often not considered, are `sinks', methods, ways and places of disposing of waste products generated by humanity. The authors make this a focus by using a phrase called `ecological footprint of humanity', defined as `the land area that would be required to provide the resources (grain, feed, wood, fish, and urban land) and absorb the emissions (carbon dioxide) of global society.
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