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The Limits to Growth

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  2,158 ratings  ·  221 reviews
The price of progress: When each of us as an individual decides to buy something, we first consider the price. Yet society at large has long bought the idea of continual growth in population and production without adding up the final reckoning.
Paperback, 207 pages
Published October 31st 1972 by Signet (first published October 1st 1972)
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Dave Schaafsma
Feb 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: environment
7/22/21: A relevant update: The "Lying flat" movement by young people in China who resist the idea that working more and producing more will be better for each and all of us, and the world:


Updated slightly, 12/1/17 (a few links added, below):

“We must not succumb to despair, for there is still the odd glimmer of hope.” Edouard Saouma, 1993 [And yes, one of my points here is that there remains yet a little hope, as we approach 2018. My other point is that Me
This is the book that poses the difficult question of if intelligent life exists on earth. It is an update of the original Limits to Growth and Beyond the Limits with a couple fewer scenarios. The scenarios all model the consequences of the pursuit of growth measured in terms of industrial output, food, and services.

The authors describe the assumptions that go into their computer model and observe that the majority of resulting scenarios result in overshoot and collapse the world as an environme
Dave Schaafsma
Sep 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: environment
One of the most important environmental books of all time, which I actually read as millions others did in 1972, largely "discredited" by the "establishment" Pro-Growth industry. It was written by a group of several assembled thinkers--scientists and industrialists, working together, imagine that--of the time called The Club of Rome. It was translated into dozens of languages, and in 1979, some U. S. poll had it that while a third of this country was "pro-growth," another third was actually "ant ...more
May 15, 2022 rated it liked it
Thought-provoking book, a classic, on the central problem facing humanity: How to curb the exponential growth in population size and industrial production?

The problem is a mathematical one: within a finite system (the universe, the planet) exponential growth will lead to collapse. Due to our success in mastering the world through science, technology and capitalism, and bettering our existence on many accounts, we have created a culture of techno-optimism. That is, we see technology as the soluti
The book Limits to Growth views the world through a systems analysis prism. It looks at where we are at in terms of current and potential future earth resource use and waste creation and what the earth can sustain in these arenas. We are in overshoot mode according to the book (we entered this zone back in the 80s according to their data). This is a dangerous mode to be in especially for long periods of time as it increases probability of a collapse occurring.

How solid are the models and science
Jan 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A groundbreaking book that is even more relevant today than when it was written.

It was widely criticised at the time and is now often written-off as having been 'widely discredited' - obviously only by people who haven't read the book. As they say many, many times, it is not a prediction - nor could it ever be - but rather an attempt to investigate the "behavior modes" of a connected system of exponential growth and positive feedback loops with finite resources.

No-one can model the future of the
Sep 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Q: Could you summarize this book?
A: Several scientists built a computer model to forecast the destiny of humanity in 21st century and predict a decline in human welfare (after some decades). This type of overshoot behavior is well-known in any systems that exhibits (i) exponential growth (e.g., ever-increasing rate of resources extraction), (ii) delay mechanism of some sort (e.g., time lag between CFC production and ozone depletion) and (iii) physical limit (earth is finite in size). To avoi
oh fuck. these folks were spot on when they wrote in 1972 that our consumption and pollution would catch up with the earth's ability to absorb it without drastic repercussions. while the authors didn't take into account class, politics, capitalism, or violence (they said it was too variable to lump in gross generalizations into their systems analysis so left those out, and made it "a-political", but this really needs to be added in, say for example you are super rich, have a house in tahoe, and ...more
Mar 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Serious critique of contemporary technological society

This book is neither easy nor pleasant reading. However, it is not the purely pessimistic voice of doom or the rabid environmentalist tract that many reviews described when the first edition came out 30 years ago. Rather, it is a sort of cross between a primer on budgeting and the warning a doctor might give to an overweight smoker. A good budget rests on a few simple assumptions: Resources are limited; you must plan for the future; and if yo
Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership
One of Cambridge Sustainability's Top 50 Books for Sustainability, as voted for by our alumni network of over 3,000 senior leaders from around the world. To find out more, click here.

As a commissioned report to the Club of Rome, The Limits to Growth uses a computer simulation model developed at MIT to investigate five major trends of lgobal concern: accelerating industrialisation, rapid population growth, widespread malnutrition, depletion of non-renewable resources, and a deteriorating environm
Feb 11, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: ecology
I read this when it was just published, as a 13 year old. It made a haunting impression, and certainly formed my world view. The predictions turned out to be exaggerated, but the tenor was prophetical.
Wayne Marinovich
One of the scariest books I have read, and not in a good Steven King kind of way.

It was hard reading due to the sheer number of facts and figures that you need to summarise the plight of our dear planet. But it is 30-year update so was keen to see what progress we have made as humans. In short.... nothing, nada, zip, zero, squat...

Going to be an interesting next 30 years
Mathieu Mal
May 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-as-an-adult
Quote: "... these five tools are not optional, they are essential characteristics for any society that hopes to survive over the long term. They are: visioning, networking, truth-telling, learning, and loving... Many of us feel uneasy about relying on such "soft" tools when the future of our civilization is at stake, particularly since we do not know how to summon them up, in ourselves or in others. So we dismiss them and turn the conversation to recycling or emission trading or wildlife preserv ...more
Erik Graff
Mar 14, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sciences
This, with Ehrlich's The Population Bomb, and other books about human population growth and terrestrial resource depletion rates scared the shit out of me as a young person. The Chinese two-child policy did reduce the population growth rate curve, but the authors, as I recall, did not predict the global environmental impact of human exploitation of planetary resources. ...more
"The planet cannot continue on its current trajectory for another century without collapse."
*Checks to see when book was written.*
*Published in 1972. 46 years ago.*
*Goes ahead and books that ticket to Harry Potter land.*
Apr 04, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Although the 30 year update to a 1972 MIT systems modelling study may seem extremely niche and irrelevant to most, I genuinely see this book as an unmissable staple for anybody wanting to seriously consider the problem of sustainability on a global scale. The first edition is of relatively strong historical importance and is often quoted in ulterior environmental literature (any JMJ-curious reader ought to check Limits to Growth), but I would say it is well worth reading this updated version ins ...more
Elliott Bignell
Oct 26, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was the third and so far last decadal update of the work famously done for the Club of Rome in 1972. One of the authors died before the volume reached the presses, and I presume that advancing age prevented the remaining, original team of systems scientists from issuing another update. Bardi did a book-length assessment in 2012, however, leaving this version slightly dated, and I will certainly be reading the later derivative, as the subject matter seems to be becoming more relevant by the ...more
Oct 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: environment
A classic in environmental literature, the tremendous debate and controversy generated when it was first published back in 1972 makes this one of the most famous publications the world has ever seen. For the first time it set a time, albeit a broad range in which our global civilization could collapse as we overshoot the Earth's limits. Basically these can be classified as source limits and sink limits, the former being the natural resources at hand from fossil fuels to raw materials and land, w ...more
Oct 07, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While this book can be a chore to read at times with all the figures we're painfully aware of their general existence, I'm glad I read it to the end, as I think it's very important in two aspects:

(1) Structuring my thoughts on growth in academic terms, specifically from a systems science perspective.

(2) The historical context of this book. Reading it today in 2021, it feels a bit superfluous at some points, and the content is something that most of us would take for granted. However, the first
May 20, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm kind of obsessed with the 21st century and what lies in store for humanity in the next 100 years or so. I've read numerous books that predict the overshoot of the Earth's carrying capacity, but this is the first book that looks at the problem with statistical systems approach. The mathematics and profound analysis are what make The Limits to Growth stand out from the crowd. The authors explain (within the confines of their statistical model) exactly what needs to change in order to prevent a ...more
Shivam Agarwal
Jan 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The book which explains real problems we face today. The world model helps in understanding that technological advancement alone will not save humanity from making inhabitable conditions. The suggestions described in the book are something to think about.

Very interested to read the next book - Limits to growth 30 years update.
Jan 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: current-events
add Climate Wars...? http://www.thetyee.ca/Books/2009/01/0...
This is an interesting readers site, btw

It's not necessary to read the whole of Meadows -- but a day or two with it -- will suffice. Well worth the time/

Adam Jones
Sep 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read the fucking book.
Sven Naus
Feb 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book gives you a little insight into the environmental problems we are currently experiencing and examines the limitations of exploiting resources that our society depends on. Unfortunately, the book was written in 2002, so the data used at the time of writing this review were already 20 years old. 10/10 would read an updated version.
Mbogo J
May 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The decision to read this was driven more by personal factors rather than the need for information. A while back I had read The Collapse of Complex Societies and gotten the idea to build a model that can predict the collapse of a complex society during my free time. I had hoped to use bio-mimicry of colony collapse in bees and see if it applied to complex societies. Before I had started to jot down research notes, I came across The Limits to Growth and was pleasantly surprised that several decad ...more
Sandeep Nair
Dec 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: economics, management
There are only a handful of books ever printed that have stirred a revolution for better or for worse. The first edition of this book released in 1972 was one of them. I would argue, for the better.

In this updated version, with 30 years of additional data and computing power, the authors present a few scenarios of what the world could look like in terms of human existence and welfare in response to various resource management behaviors using systems dynamics modeling.

The model projects a path to
Mar 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Great study/research and this is almost 50 years old. I am reminded of Small is Beautiful: Economoics as if People Mattered.

Apparently, we as a society, have chosen to continue to push toward the limits of growth. I mean, shit, we just elected Donald Trump and he is already rolling back environmental regulations that weren't even good enough to begin with. His administration is all about ethnocentrism and manufacturing more. America needs to manufacture less. This economy is more service orient
They predicted that the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years, invoking five major trends of global concert: accelerating industrialization, rapid population growth, widespread malnutrition, depletion of non-renewable resources, and a deteriorating environment.

However, the expectation is that as other, poorer nations increase their level of material wellbeing, they too will reduce birth rates and thus rates of population growth. The “race” be
Jun 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I read this book after watching a documentary called Normal is Over, which is also very good and important.

A read like this calms me like a belief in an afterlife tempers a fear of death; a very interesting introduction to global systems dynamics; sixth graders should be assigned this book as required reading; death to blind technological optimism.

However, I do not think, in response to reading, it would be appropriate to exclaim regarding the length of time over which it has been known that pop
Dec 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The title is kind of clever because to start with they're talking about the absolute physical limits to growth and what happens when we reach them (complete societal collapse), but then later they get onto ways to impose our own limits (you know, to avoid said collapse). Main interesting takeaway from the model was that if you do something about one of the problem factors then all that happens is that one of the others gets you instead - you've got to deal with all of them at once... then lookin ...more
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Donella H. "Dana" Meadows was a pioneering American environmental scientist, teacher, and writer. She was educated in science, receiving a B.A. in chemistry from Carleton College in 1963, and a Ph.D. in biophysics from Harvard in 1968. After a year-long trip with her husband, Dennis Meadows, from England to Sri Lanka and back, she became, along with him, a research fellow at MIT, as a member of a ...more

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“People don't need enormous cars; they need admiration and respect. They don't need a constant stream of new clothes; they need to feel that others consider them to be attractive, and they need excitement and variety and beauty. People don't need electronic entertainment; they need something interesting to occupy their minds and emotions. And so forth. Trying to fill real but nonmaterial needs-for identity, community, self-esteem, challenge, love, joy-with material things is to set up an unquenchable appetite for false solutions to never-satisfied longings. A society that allows itself to admit and articulate its nonmaterial human needs, and to find nonmaterial ways to satisfy them, world require much lower material and energy throughputs and would provide much higher levels of human fulfillment.” 43 likes
“We don't think a sustainable society need be stagnant, boring, uniform, or rigid. It need not be, and probably could not be, centrally controlled or authoritarian. It could be a world that has the time, the resources, and the will to correct its mistakes, to innovate, to preserve the fertility of its planetary ecosystems. It could focus on mindfully increasing quality of life rather than on mindlessly expanding material consumption and the physical capital stock.” 11 likes
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