Limits to Growth Update

This Scientific American article from 2012 reviews the predictions of the MIT modelling, almost 50 years ago, of five forms of human impact on the planet, The trends identifed are remarkably aligned with what has happened in reality to the growth of population, pollution, resource depletion and industrial output driven by the accumulation of productive capital. The depressing conclusion is that  democratic institutions are no longer able to halt the rush past global limits on human activitities.

“Many observers protest that such apocalyptic scenarios discount human ingenuity. Technology and markets will solve problems as they show up, they argue. But for that to happen, contends economist Partha Dasgupta of the University of Cambridge in the U.K., policymakers must guide technology with the right incentives. As long as natural resources are underpriced compared with their true environmental and social cost—as long as, for instance, automobile consumers do not pay for lives lost from extreme climatic conditions caused by warming from their vehicles’ carbon emissions—technology will continue to produce resource-intensive goods and worsen the burden on the ecosystem, Dasgupta argues. “You can’t expect markets to solve the problem,” he says. Randers goes further, asserting that the short-term focus of capitalism and of extant democratic systems makes it impossible not only for markets but also for most governments to deal effectively with long-term problems such as climate change.”

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