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Media Type: Article - Foundational
Year of Publication: 2020
Publication City: Hoboken, NJ
Author(s): Gaya Herrington
Journal: Journal of Industrial Ecology
Comparing theWorld3 model with empirical data
In the 1972 bestseller Limits to Growth (LtG), the authors concluded that, if global society kept pursuing economic growth, it would experience a decline in food production, industrial output, and ultimately population, within this century. The LtG authors used a system dynamics model to study interactions between global variables, varying model assumptions to generate different scenarios. Previous empirical-data comparisons since then by Turner showed closest alignment with a scenario that ended in collapse.
This research constitutes a data update to LtG, by examining to what extent empirical data aligned with four LtG scenarios spanning a range of technological, resource, and societal assumptions. The research benefited from improved data availability since the previous updates and included a scenario and two variables that had not been part of previous comparisons. The two scenarios aligning most closely with observed data indicate a halt in welfare, food, and industrial production over the next decade or so, which puts into question the suitability of continuous economic growth as humanity’s goal in the twenty-first century.
Both scenarios also indicate subsequent declines in these variables, but only one—where declines are caused by pollution— depicts a collapse. The scenario that aligned most closely in earlier comparisons was not amongst the two closest aligning scenarios in this research. The scenario with the smallest declines aligned least with empirical data; however, absolute differences were often not yet large. The four scenarios diverge significantly more after 2020, suggesting that the window to align with this last scenario is closing.
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