According to a simulation from 1972, the results of which were published in 'The Limits to Growth' environmental collapse is due mid 21st century. The Guardian reports that Dr. Graham Turner reran the simulations using recent data and the collapse is actually due sooner. Here is the referred paper by Dr. Graham Turner:

Quoting from his profile by the Guardian:

Dr. Graham Turner is principal research fellow at the University of Melbourne's Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute. He has a background in applied physics and his current work involves whole-of-system analysis on the long-term physical sustainability of the environment and economy.

As economists do you think Dr. Turner is right?

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    $\begingroup$ I rather drastically edited the question to improve the language and to remove references to popularly held beliefs because popularity is not scientific validation. Instead I added the scientific study referred by the Guardian article you linked. If you disagree roll back the edit. $\endgroup$
    – Giskard
    Apr 11, 2016 at 14:04
  • $\begingroup$ Generally speaking, if humanity was heading for a major catastrophe in 10 years, we'd probably start to notice it more than 10 years before. Whether there will be collapse by 2100, or by 2200, on the other hand... $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    Feb 28, 2021 at 13:56

4 Answers 4


We know one core element of the Guardian article is nonsense - the discussion of Peak Oil.

The Peak Oil lament, fashionable a decade ago, was that we didn't have enough oil, and that was going to become a major problem very soon.

However, we know from climate science that the reverse is true - we have far too much fossil fuel reserves (disclosure - that's a paper by my colleagues). Our challenge isn't that we won't extract enough to continue economic growth - it's that we'll extract too much and cause a major environmental collapse. Turner's report makes a significant show about the age of cheap and easy oil being over (pp 11,12) - and that's a prediction that was made to look very silly, quickly, as the report's publication in August 2014 happened just as the 18-month oil-price crash caused by huge global over-supply was beginning.

Is environmental collapse possible? Yes.

Are we causing huge ongoing damage to the environment? Yes.

Were all of the significant predictions of the Club of Rome correct? No. Not only has geometric population growth stopped, but even arithmetic growth is in decline - and the growth wasn't capped by disaster, but by better healthcare, better access to contraception, and more education and emancipation of women. Food production per capita has way exceeded predictions. And the renewable alternatives to fossil-fuel energy are already economic and scalable for static applications, and becoming so for transport too.

Are we still on a trajectory of yesterday's brown economy, that will require a trajectory change if we are to avoid environmental collapse?
Do we have enough evidence to say that the date for that collapse is 2030?
Do we have the technical means to transition to a modern, clean economy and avoid that collapse?

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    $\begingroup$ I had no idea population growth was in decline. Around the time this article came out Earth's population had INCREASED over 7 billion. Is this decline recent? I also saw a Discovery Channel episode that the droughts on Earth such as in California are worsening every year. Therefore food prices have increased. I know income inequality to cost of living must play this, but this is MIT scientist and a model the school made. They're not stupid in this stuff wouldn't they be on the ball? $\endgroup$ Apr 11, 2016 at 17:41
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    $\begingroup$ @BrunoMuraca "Arithmetic growth is in decline" means that the absolute increase per year is less than it was. The table World Population (2016 and historical) in this website .(worldometers.info/world-population) shows absolute increase now as c 83M, less than around 1990 when it was c 91M, so there has been such a decline, albeit slight. $\endgroup$ Apr 11, 2016 at 21:33
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    $\begingroup$ Actually the growth was capped by oil prices $\endgroup$
    – D J Sims
    Jun 3, 2016 at 15:02
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    $\begingroup$ Limits to Growth actually predicted geometric population growth to stop around 2000 which Turner finds was indeed the case. $\endgroup$
    – sba222
    Feb 28, 2021 at 20:58
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    $\begingroup$ I recommend reading the APPG report from 2016 (i.e. post the 2014 oil price drop) which provides a more nuanced view on peak oil. limits2growth.org.uk/publication/limits-revisited $\endgroup$
    – sba222
    Feb 28, 2021 at 21:04

As economists, we should be well advised to restrain from making such forecasts. Future is hard, if not impossible, to predict.

For example, take the job reports in the US which are published on a monthly basis. Forecasters, most of which financial analysts and economists, consistently fail to produce accurate expectations, sometimes by a large amount. Latest example with the previous report (20% error). Basically all forecasters of economic growth year-on-year constantly fail and have to adjust their forecast as the year passes by. See WTO and IMF, but also private institutions, such as Fitch or Standard and Poor's.

If economists fail to predict what's going on month on month, or year on year, I don't see how they could produce any accurate and reliable forecasts @15 years.

Furthermore, most models rely on observations of the past and of the present. Such data are a terrible basis to predict the future. Some learned this the hard way, such as LTCM whose risk management and investment policy relied on past observations to predict volatility, leading them to burst in 1998 when unseen volatility did spread. Future is unpredictable and is unlike the past. Notice that a lot of major innovations occurred by pure chance (lasers, internet to some extend, Carambar candies, and so on). Thus, it would be foolish to make guesses on what's going to happen 15 years from now, especially relying on today's data and known facts.

Also note that it is always much easier to predict doom than prosperity. It attracts public attention, and you can always say after the fact a nice "I told you". French economist Jean-Marc Daniel regurlarly underlines this fact in his books (for example Ricardo reviens ! ils sont restés keynesiens, though I doubt it was translated in English.)

If you want some interesting readings (and more) on the topic, I suggest you take a look at the work of Nassim Nicholas Taleb , in particular his book The Black Swan. I also recommand the podcasts hosted by Russ Roberts, with Harvey Campbell, Nobel laureate Peter Hansen, or James Heckman, which deal with the limitations of economics.

TL;DR: nobody has any idea about what's going to happen 15 years from now.

  • $\begingroup$ I think you answer is not very useful, because you are trying to answer a specific question (are the predictions of the Limit Of Growth still valid), with your general opinion about the value of predictions. $\endgroup$ May 20, 2019 at 13:43
  • $\begingroup$ I disagree. Humans are the most prediciting creatures on the planet, it is our core feature, as noted in our oversized brains. We use prediction to design and improve every tool. Nature operates on trial and error. Humans have exploited 'rational design' by prediction. To evolve we will either continue to improve prediction or develop a different advantage. Predicting global systems is hard, but it is what is necessary to avoid catastrophe. The entire insurance industry is based on this, not to mention strategic defense. The military has acknowledged climate change, why?.. to predict future.. $\endgroup$
    – alchemy
    Mar 6, 2021 at 5:10
  • $\begingroup$ We dont use models to make predictions. Here is a model of an elephant population. It behaves the way you expect it should (shows the graph). Here is the same model with same input values, except at some time in the future 5 elephants randomly die. We'll call this model "the real world". Lets look at the graphs of both runs superimposed. You can see that they agree perfectly until the random event, afterwhich they dont agree at all (except at few points in time where the lines cross). $\endgroup$ Sep 16, 2022 at 20:12
  • $\begingroup$ This is called a synthetic data experment. The model hasnt changed, but it is modeling a non-linear (in this case a choatic) system, so once something unpredictable happens, the result changes completely. The "real" population still changes overtime as it should, but when exactly those rise and falls happen are now different. This may seem obvious, but consider in our experiment the "model" is identical to the "real world" in all the ways that matter. $\endgroup$ Sep 16, 2022 at 20:12
  • $\begingroup$ All the rules and relationships are there and accounted for. The purpose of the model is not to make predictions, but to capture the mechanics of the system being modeled accurately, so that you can then demostrate the effect of different changes, interventions, or impacts (such as 5 elephants randomly being taken out). The aim isnt to predict what will happen, but instead to understand why it works the way it does and learn how to better manage it. $\endgroup$ Sep 16, 2022 at 20:12

Arguments following just one or two lines of predicted change are not useful at best and really deceptive in reality. The interactivity of Non Renewable Natural Resource consumption and energy harvesting is the key area that controls change coupled with the pollution caused by energy harvesting and the consumption of NRNRs. The economics are almost inconsequential. As far as predictions go the LTG report did not have predictions. Read it, not take hearsay verbatim.

  • $\begingroup$ Hi, welcome to Economics:Stack Exchange. Please consider improving the answer by adding references from reputable sources. As many other science stacks we encourage links to external sources. See our help center. $\endgroup$
    – 1muflon1
    Feb 28, 2021 at 18:24

I just want to add one important but neglected fact about the compound growth and doubling time. The frightening fact is that it will take a very short period of time to consume an enormous amount of resource in the later years of compound growth. The doubling time is 72 divided by the growth rate.

For example, if we assume 3% annual growth in resource consumption (thus 24 years is the doubling time), it will take only the next 48 years (two doubling times) to consume the remaining 64% of the total resource. At year 120, 64% of resources are available and we are happy (because we still have plenty of resources remaining). However, it will take an additional 48 years to consume the remaining 64%. See Dr. Albert Bartlett: Arithmetic, Population, and Energy in Wiki.

Sangdon Lee

dX/dt = 0.03*X (X is the cumulative resource consumed)

dY/dt = - 0.03*X (Y is the remaining resources),

X(0)=1, Y(0)=100.

Table of simulation outcome Stock and flow diagram Graph of simulation outcome


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