A 1972 study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology known as “The Limits to Growth” predicted that society would collapse sometime in the middle 21st century. Contemporary research from a director at one of the world’s largest accounting firms shows that the study’s prediction alarmingly appears to be accurate.
In 1972, MIT scientists set out to study what it would take for society to collapse under real world conditions. Their system dynamics model, commissioned by the Club of Rome, showed that there were “limits to growth,” a kind of cap on how many resources we could produce and consume as a society, especially considering factors of “population, food production, industrialization, pollution, and consumption of nonrenewable natural resources” according to the study.
Using a computer simulation to model these factors, the scientists found that civilization would likely collapse in the mid-21st century due to the strain of the rabid consumption of the planet’s resources.
The report, which was published under the name “The Limits to Growth,” quickly became a sensation. It has sold 30 million copies in 30 different languages. The results were the source of much controversy and cutthroat debate between experts and journalists alike.
New research shows “The Limits to Growth” is accurate
Now a senior director at KPMG, a Dutch firm that is amongst the “Big Four”– a nickname for the four largest accounting firms in the world — has published her own study affirming the results found over thirty years ago by MIT.
That director is Gaya Herrington, who leads Sustainability and Dynamic System Analysis at KPMG’s office in the United States. Herrington’s study, which was published in the Yale Journal of Industrial Ecology in November 2020, can be read on KPMG’s own website.
Asked why she had decided to take up the gauntlet of the infamous study, Herrington said that “Given the unappealing prospect of collapse, I was curious to see which scenarios were aligning most closely with empirical data today.
“After all, the book that featured this world model was a bestseller in the 70s, and by now we’d have several decades of empirical data which would make a comparison meaningful. But to my surprise I could not find recent attempts for this. So I decided to do it myself.”
Herrington’s study analyzes the same factors as the original Limits to Growth. What she found was that if our civilization continued to grow “population, fertility rates, mortality rates, industrial output, food production, service, non-renewable resources, persistent pollution, human welfare, and ecological footprint,” — the ten key variables she outlines — at a rate that was “business as usual,” or consistently upward, with no change in consumption, we would indeed be on track for collapse within this century.
“Economic and industrial growth will stop, and then decline, which will hurt food production and standards of living… In terms of timing, the BAU2 (business-as-usual) scenario shows a steep decline to set in around 2040” said Herrington in her sobering recent report.