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1972 MIT report predicted the collapse of society this century. Recent evidence says we're on our way

Gaya Herrington who conducted the follow-up research has stated that there will be an abrupt decline in quality of life, food production, and industrial output.

1972 MIT report predicted the collapse of society this century. Recent evidence says we're on our way
Image Source: Getty Images/Lisa5201/Representative

A team of experts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) predicted in 1972 that society would collapse if there was exponential economic and population growth, using up the limited resources. The findings were published in a book called The Limits to Growth (LtG). At the time, this prediction became a controversial take, subject to heated debates. Decades later, their predictions seem to be coming true. This was confirmed by Gaya Herrington who gathered empirical evidence as part of her research for her Master's thesis at Harvard University. She was able to reinforce that we are well on our way to a collapsed society.


Herrington is now the Sustainability and Dynamic System Analysis Lead at KPMG in the United States. Even though the research she conducted was not affiliated with the Big Four accounting company, her published research in the Yale Journal of Industrial Ecology has been made available on their website. "Given the unappealing prospect of collapse, I was curious to see which scenarios were aligning most closely with empirical data today," she stated. "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."


As part of the comparison to MIT’s "World3 model" Herrington looked at 10 key variables: population, fertility rates, mortality rates, industrial output, food production, services, non-renewable resources, persistent pollution, human welfare, and ecological footprint and determined our business-as-usual (BAU2) mentality will spark a decline of economic growth within the next decade, reported the Daily Mail. As per the projections, we are looking at the total collapse of society by 2040. Herrington clarified that this did not mean humanity would stop existing but there would be an abrupt decline in quality of life, food production, and industrial output.


The other scenario projected by the empirical evidence is comprehensive technology (CT) in which there is still economic decline, with a range of possible negative consequences, but this does not lead to societal collapse. As per Vice, the study concluded: "BAU2 and CT scenarios show a halt in growth within a decade or so from now. Both scenarios thus indicate that continuing business as usual, that is, pursuing continuous growth, is not possible. Even when paired with unprecedented technological development and adoption, business as usual as modeled by LtG would inevitably lead to declines in industrial capital, agricultural output, and welfare levels within this century." 


Even though things may look dire, the study mentions that it is not too late to change course yet. But the "window of opportunity is closing fast." Herrington suggested adopting the "agrowth" method to deal with it. This is an agnostic approach to growth that focuses on other economic goals and priorities. "Changing our societal priorities hardly needs to be a capitulation to grim necessity,” she said. “Human activity can be regenerative and our productive capacities can be transformed. In fact, we are seeing examples of that happening right now. Expanding those efforts now creates a world full of opportunity that is also sustainable.”

She added, "The necessary changes will not be easy and pose transition challenges but a sustainable and inclusive future is still possible." Limit of growth was also supported by the follow-up scientific 33rd Report to the Club of Rome, authored by Prof Ugo Bardi of the University of Florence's Earth Sciences Department, reported The Guardian.  Australia's federal government scientific research agency CSIRO also came to a similar conclusion as did another research published in American Scientist.


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