Science & Tech

Scientists in 1972 accurately predicted the current state of the planet

Scientists in 1972 accurately predicted the current state of the planet
Limits to Growth (pt1) | Original 1973 film about civilization collapse on schedule in 2020

A scientific report conducted in the early 1970s has been worryingly accurate about the path our planet is heading on, with little sign of change in sight.

The report titled The Limits to Growth was published in 1972 after a team of scientists from MIT used a computer model to look into the future of humanity.

Club of Rome, an international group consisting of leading academics, scientists, business leaders, and politicians, commissioned the report. Put bluntly, the report predicted global collapse within the coming century. So far they are yet to be proved wrong.

World3, a system dynamic model was used to look at the detailed interactions between factors such as human population, industrial output, pollution, food production, and Earth's natural resources.

The model showed that if society were to continue "business as normal" - uncontrolled economic growth without regard for the environment - the result would be food shortages and plummeting human welfare at some point within the 21st century. Resulting in the collapse of global society.

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However, if dramatic shifts in priorities and societal values occur, the report argued that global collapse could be avoided, as well as living standards remaining stable. They labelled this the "stabilised world" scenario.

"Taking no action to solve these problems is equivalent to taking strong action. Every day of continued exponential growth brings the world system closer to the ultimate limits of that growth. A decision to do nothing is a decision to increase the risk of collapse," the report reads.

Whilst the work attracted criticisms after its publication, it seems it wasn't far off.

In November 2020, Gaya Herrington, a director for the accountancy firm KPMG, looked at how recent data aligned with the original report's predictions in the Journal of Industrial Ecology.

She used recent data to look at four different scenarios: two "business as usual" scenarios, a "stabilised world", and "comprehensive technology" where humanity is able to innovate its way out of environmental issues using technological advancement.

Both "business as usual" scenarios resulted in global collapse. One through the decline of natural resources and the other through pollution, climate change, and/or environmental deviation.

The "comprehensive technology" scenario managed to avoid total collapse within the 21st century, but decline in human wealth was eventually brought about as a result of the rising cost of technology.

There was hope. The "stabilised world" scenario, where priorities were shifted, saw the human population stabilise near the end of the century. Avoiding global collapse. Herrington argued in her report that this scenario is still achievable, but radical change needs to be implanted, and fast.

"Although SW [stabilised world] tracks least closely, a deliberate trajectory change is still possible. That window of opportunity is closing fast." Herrington wrote in a LinkedIn post describing her report.

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