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The Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  1,280 ratings  ·  115 reviews
In 1972, three scientists from MIT created a computer model that analyzed global resource consumption and production. Their results shocked the world and created stirring conversation about global 'overshoot,' or resource use beyond the carrying capacity of the planet. Now, preeminent environmental scientists Donnella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and Dennis Meadows have teamed ...more
Paperback, 338 pages
Published June 1st 2004 by Chelsea Green Publishing Company (first published January 1st 2004)
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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
Feb 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: environment
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 is that there is remains a little hope, as we approach 2018. My other point is that Meadows wrote this in 1993, a quarter of century ago; those odd glimmers of hope continue, but are growing fainter.]

In 1972 three MIT scientists developed a computer model for examining current trends in global resource production. They
Apr 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
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
Wayne Marinovich
Oct 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Mathieu Mal
May 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
May 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: current-events
add Climate Wars...?
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
Read the fucking book.
Sven Naus
Feb 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
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.
"Reading the 30th-year update reminds me of why the systems approach to thinking about our future is not only valuable, but indispensable. Thirty years ago, it was easy for the critics to dismiss the limits to growth. But in today's world, with its collapsing fisheries, shrinking forests, falling water tables, dying coral reefs, expanding deserts, eroding soils, rising temperatures, and disappearing species, it is not so easy to do so. We are all indebted to the Limits team for reminding us agai ...more
Eugene Kernes
May 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
The purview of this book is the physical economy which are constrained by physical laws of a planet. Money economy is a social invention which is not bound to physical laws. Resources and sinks are needed to sustain the ecosystem. Renewable resources do regenerate, but these resources need time to regenerate. Should their extraction rate be faster than the rate they regenerate will reduce the stock. Nonrenewable resources are those which continuously reduce the total stock and will need to be su ...more
Jun 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A few years ago when a new iPhone released, my friend asked me: for how long do you think this can go on, producing more and more? At time this didn't seem like a serious issue to me, I thought we can substitute different raw materials with scarce ones and we can recycle more. It took me some time to realize that I was naive and most serious limits on planet earth are not nonrenewable resources but renewable ones and pollution sinks.

Authors have considered growth issue long ago. With the prospec
Mbogo J
May 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
A Mig
Oct 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
A description of the Earth's Life Cycle (poor) Management. This great overview was certainly possible thanks to the authors' World3 model, which provides a concrete - albeit simplified and not without caveats - synopsis of the dynamics, stocks and sinks of the Earth's resources. The immense damage inflicted by the fishing industry was quite new to me. The need for a new Revolution - of the level of the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions - was mind-boggling, as this suggests that a paradigm ...more
Euan Ross
Feb 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
Ominous that 2020 was the allotted year for decline in most of the simulation runs...

Would recommend this article for anyone who’s read this book. A Harvard scholar compared contemporary real world data to the computer simulations to see how we were weighing up:

“However, independent data comparisons since then indicated that the world was still following the “business as usual” (BAU) scenario. This BAU scenario showed a halt in the hitherto continuous inc
Elliott Bignell
Oct 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Nick Klagge
Aug 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: economics
A very good, if sobering, book.

The original of this book was written in 1972; this is an edition that the authors updated in 2002, 30 years after the original. The book is a discussion of physical limits associated with the expansion of the human population and economy: arable land, potable water, nonrenewable resources, etc. The authors are systems researchers and they make use of a computer model that describes positive and negative feedback loops for a wide variety of things, including demogr
Aug 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update thoroughly explains the dynamics and flavors of exponential, non-linear growth with a clear focus on resource usage and sustainability. The authors go to great lengths to convey their messages in an easily understandable manner. I'll try to summarize the lessons that have stuck with me and strongly influencing my thinking since.

- Growth processes are fueled by resources and constrained by the intake capacity of sinks for waste.

- All resources are finite,
Sandeep Nair
Dec 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: management, economics
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
Gregg Wingo
Oct 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
In 1974, the klaxon of Malthusian limits was heard across the world in the original computer analysis found in "The Limits of Growth" funded and inspired by the Club of Rome. Forty-two years later I decided to pick up and read this 2004 update. I am not a fan of Malthusian theory, in fact, for the most part it has been discredited by the ability of capitalism to innovate. But as David Hackett Fischer proves in "The Great Wave" at times human decision making imposes Malthusian constraints.

Much of
Aug 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a marvelous book that everyone should read!

Limits to Growth: the 30 Year Update takes a comprehensive look at the original study done by the authors in 1972 and has updated the models to reflect the changes that have occurred since then. Even someone with only a basic high school education will be able to enjoy and understand the topics presented in the work. The authors carefully describe what factors influenced the World3 model. They also take time to explain in depth what the model ca
Apr 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A very scientific approach to discuss what factors are limiting our growth as human beings on this finite planet! The four scientists from MIT used the World3 computer model to simulate numerous scenarios of our growth, including sigmod growth, overshoot and oscillation (the scenario we are probably in right now), and overshoot and collapse (hopefully will not be our future), etc.

The book is very interesting to read as it pushes the readers to envision various destinies of human beings like sci
Dec 11, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good effort at modeling the economic/environmental interactions of the world and a call to action to help us avoid collapse in the next hundred years or so. We need to put capital into technologies that reduce pollution, increase food/hectare of land, reduce erosion, use resources efficiently etc. This is necessary but not sufficient. We need to reduce the material throughputs of the system by consuming less (lowering our material standard of living in the industrialised countries and raising ...more
Jul 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Hard to believe this book was written 16 years ago. Since then, both the environmental movement and the denialist movement have both grown in strength, but we seem to have made little progress in making the changes that the three authors lay out here.

The authors make the case through computer models that the way our current system is set up, we will overshoot our planets resources, which will lead to a collapse in human flourishing. I am a computer scientist, I haven't looked deeply at their mo
Steve Bedford
May 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
I have a lot of thoughts about this book. I was worried that it would be a doom and gloom type affair, but it turns out that it was quite inspiring. Sure, it was hard to read in an "Oh God, we're screwed because nobody is going to listen" kind of way, but I think the culture of the US is slowly (maybe too slowly) shifting toward realizing that we need to be more sustainable, which is slightly encouraging. ...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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