The rise and fall of UK labour productivity growth, 1900-2010. Graphic: Jackson and Webster, 2016 /  All-Party Parliamentary Group on Limits to Growth

[cf. MIT researchers predict ‘global economic collapse’ by 2030 – ‘We are not on a sustainable trajectory’ and The Limits to Growth at forty: Is collapse now inevitable?]

By Nafeez Ahmed
19 April 2016

(Insurge Intelligence) – A report commissioned on behalf of a cross-party group of British MPs authored by a former UK government advisor, the first of its kind, says that industrial civilisation is currently on track to experience “an eventual collapse of production and living standards” in the next few decades if business-as-usual continues.

The report published by the new All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Limits to Growth, which launched in the House of Commons on Tuesday evening, reviews the scientific merits of a controversial 1972 model by a team of MIT scientists, which forecasted a possible collapse of civilisation due to resource depletion.

The report launch at the House of Commons was addressed by Anders Wijkman, co-chair of the Club of Rome, which originally commissioned the MIT study.

At the time, the MIT team’s findings had been widely criticised in the media for being alarmist. To this day, it is often believed that the ‘limits to growth’ forecasts were dramatically wrong.

But the new report by the APPG on Limits to Growth, whose members consist of Conservative, Labour, Green and Scottish National Party members of parliament, reviews the scientific literature and finds that the original model remains surprisingly robust.

Authored by Professor Tim Jackson of the University of Surrey, who was Economics Commissioner on the UK government’s Sustainable Development Commission, and former Carbon Brief policy analyst Robin Webster, the report concludes that:

“There is unsettling evidence that society is tracking the ‘standard run’ of the original study — which leads ultimately to collapse. Detailed and recent analyses suggest that production peaks for some key resources may only be decades away.”

The 1972 team used their system dynamics model of the consumption of key planetary resources to explore a range of different scenarios.

As Professor Jackson and Webster explain in the new APPG report:

“In the standard run scenario, natural resources (for example oil, iron and chromium) become harder and harder to obtain. The diversion of more and more capital to extracting them leaves less for investment in industry, leading to industrial decline starting in about 2015. Around 2030, the world population peaks and begins to decrease as the death rate is driven upwards by lack of food and health services.”

Not all the model’s scenarios result in this outcome, but the majority of them “show industrial output declining in the 2020s and population declining in the 2030s. The researchers didn’t put precise dates on their projections. In fact, they deliberately left the timeline somewhat vague.”

The new APPG report flags up two major challenges facing global society: the overconsumption of planetary resources and raw materials, and the breaching of critical ‘planetary boundaries’ triggering irreversible environmental changes.

According to recent peer-reviewed scientific studies reviewed by the APPG’s report, key resources like phosphorous (essential for fertilising soil in agriculture), coal, oil, and gas have “either already reached peak production or will do so within the next 50 years.” [more]

Parliamentary group warns that global fossil fuels could peak in less than 10 years


Executive Summary

Four and a half decades after the Club of Rome published its landmark report on Limits to Growth, the study remains critical to our understanding of economic prosperity. This new review of the Limits debate has been written to mark the launch of the UK All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Limits to Growth.

The 1972 report articulated for the first time the dynamic nature of our dependency on physical resources and on ecological systems. It illustrated the processes of ‘overshoot and collapse’ that can occur when these limits are approached and suggested that, without a shift in direction, adverse consequences would become obvious “within the next century”. The report attracted fierce controversy. It also inspired generations of environmental and social thinkers. It continues to offer challenging insights into the predicaments of the 21st Century economy.

Limits Revisited outlines the contents of the Club of Rome’s report, traces the history of responses to it and dispels some of the myths surrounding it. We unravel the arguments that have raged for forty years in its aftermath and explore more recent findings which relate to the original hypothesis.

There is unsettling evidence that society is still following the ‘standard run’ of the original study – in which overshoot leads to an eventual collapse of production and living standards.  Detailed recent studies suggests that production of some key resources may only be decades away.

Certain other limits to growth – less visible in the 1972 report – present equally pressing challenges to modern society. We highlight, in particular, recent work on our proximity to ‘planetary boundaries’ and illustrate this through the challenge of meeting the Paris Agreement on climate change. We also explore the economic challenge of a ‘secular stagnation’.

If the Club of Rome is right, the next few decades are decisive. One of the most important lessons from the study is that early responses are absolutely vital as limits are approached. Faced with these challenges, there is also clearly a premium on creating political space for change and developing positive narratives of progress.  A part of the aim of the APPG is create that space.

Limits Revisited: A Review of the Limits to Growth Debate

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