Saturday, April 7, 2012

Sustainable Development is an Oxymoron

On March 2, 1972, a team of experts from MIT presented a groundbreaking report called The Limits to Growth. Read more in the Smithsonian Magazine.

More recently, Australian physicist Graham Turner of CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems shows how actual data from 1970 to 2000 almost exactly matches predictions set forth in the “business-as-usual” scenario presented in The Limits to Growth.

Looking at the thick line updates of the 1972 trends, I find the energy trend alarming. The rest of the trends do no seem to be as alarming as originally forecast in 1972. Significantly, the population growth in China is under substantial control. But growth in China, Brazil and Nigeria counterbalance the population reduction of China.

The retired MIT professor who led the original study had this to say:
  • Sustainable development: I consider to be an oxymoron actually...
  • Predicting a global collapse ... is like being in San Francisco and knowing that there is going to be an earthquake and that it is going to cause buildings to fall down. Which buildings are going to fall down, and where are they going to fall? We just don’t have any way of understanding that.
  • You can for a brief period spend more out of your bank account than you save, if you have come through a long period of thrift. But eventually, of course, you bring your bank account back down to zero and you’re stuck. That is exactly what is happening to us on the globe. We are living off the savings of biodiversity, fossil fuel accumulation, agricultural soil buildup and groundwater accumulation, and when we have spent them, we will be back down to the annual income.
  • In 1998 we had the dot-com bubble bust. In 2008 we had the housing bubble bust. Both illustrated what incredibly primitive understanding and capacities we have for dealing with bubbles. We are now forming a bubble in population, and in material and energy consumption.


Brian Davey said...

Hello Panos, I would like to use this graph for something that I am writing and wonder what its original source was. (I know its Graham Turners article in CSIRO but that article doesn't have the graph so nicely presented as on your blog). Did you do this presentation or did you get it from somewhere else.

Thanks Brian Davey

Panos Prevedouros said...


It came from the cited Smithsonian Magazine article. Surprisingly the article does not currently show the graph...