Sunday, April 27, 2008

"They have taken us completely by surprise."

Many years ago I worked with an organization whose name said nothing about its mission or what it was, “The Club of Rome.”  Under the Club’s auspices, I and a few others helped to found a new field of study, “Global Modeling,”  (You can read about this in my co-authored book, Groping in the Dark: The First Decade of Global Modeling.)  Global Modeling used computer simulation to study long term interrelationships between population, resources, environment and economics at a global level.

By far the most noteworthy study published under the Club of Rome’s auspices was The Limits to Growth (1972).  Limits to Growth compellingly demonstrated that relationships between the human species and elements of the environmental niche that sustains us (planet Earth) could be viewed as one system.  It showed how ‘business as usual’ policies could, within fifty years or so, could cause sustainability crises manifested as economic turbulence, high pollution levels, resource scarcities, declining economic output and, eventually, declining population.  Those of us who raised these warnings were ridiculed as doomsayers and scaremongers.  Vigorous attempts were made to discredit the Limits to Growth Model, though updates in 1992 and 2002 have shown that its scenarios are on track.

This week’s news and Washington talk shows brought me back to the days of my Club of Rome work. Pundits were describing interrelated crises:  rising energy prices, rising food prices, global warning, conflicts in the world’s poverty stricken areas and financial instability.  When asked if set of interrelated crises could have been foreseen, one commentator observed, “[these interrelated crises] have taken us completely by surprise.”

Those of us who build the first global models, and began sounding warnings about ‘limits to growth’ more than thirty years ago are not surprised.  

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