Sunday, 18 September 2016

The Limits to Growth, Part 1

In my last post I talked about the events leading up to the publishing of the book, "The Limits to Growth". In this post (and the next few following it) I'll take a look at the contents of the book. For lack of a better way of organizing this I'll just go through the headings in the table of contents and consider the sections one at a time. The cover of my 39 year old copy of the book is shown to the right.


This was written by William Watts, President of the publisher, Potomac Associates. It covers much of the territory I did in my last post, introducing the Club of Rome and their "Project on the Predicament of Mankind".

To sum it up brief, the term "problematique" is used to sum up "the complex problems troubling men of all nations: poverty in the midst of plenty; degradation of the environment; loss of faith in institutions; uncontrolled urban spread; insecurity of employment; alienation of youth; rejection of traditional values; and inflation and other monetary and economic disruptions." All of these problems share three characteristics: they occur in some degree in all societies; they contain technical, social, economic and political elements; and, most important, they interact. Our predicament is that we can perceive the problematique, but are unable to understand the origins and significance of its many components and thus are unable to respond effectively. And this is largely because we tend to look at one problem at a time, rather than viewing the system as a whole.

The study reported on in this book considers five factors that determine growth on this planet: population, agricultural production, natural resources and industrial production and pollution.


Just a list of the figures in the book.


Just a list of the tables in the book.


One of the most significant things in the Introduction is Figure 1, the Human Perspectives graph, which I have included here. The two dimensions of the graph represent time (horizontal) and space (vertical). Each of the dots on the graph is a human concern and its position represents how far out in the future and how far away socially that concern leads us to look. The vast majority of people make decisions with consideration only to the next day or week and their own immediate family's welfare. All their resources are devoted to meeting the short term needs of themselves and their family. This may lead to making decisions that are less than ideal in the long run. Businesses and governments need to look farther into the future and be concerned with neighbourhoods, cities, nations and the world as a whole. The authors state that their concerns in this book are in the upper right corner of the graph, taking the whole world in account and looking as far as the end of the next century (2100).

I can't help pointing out that as we move away from the lower left corner of the graph it takes more and more effort to get accurate information on which to base our decisions—there is a trade off between distance and accuracy. Most of us simply don't have the resources to concentrate on the upper right corner of the graph, even if we are interested in looking that far ahead and outward.

Businesses tend not to think much beyond the next quarter and the immediate part of society they deal with. Governments seem to be little concerned with anything beyond the next election and their own borders. That sort of thinking clearly has less than ideal results. What, then, do I think of an extremely ambitious effort like the study reported on in The Limits to Growth?

A lot of resources went into the study and the authors are at considerable pains throughout the book to make us aware of its limitations. I think its critics are much too eager to dismiss what the study has achieved, primarily because its results are not what they wanted to hear.

When any of us considers a problem we do it with the aid of a model of the world around us. Such models are inevitably simplification of the infinite details in the world, and as such, they are to some extent inaccurate. But even the informal mental models that most of us work with enable us to make moderately good decisions, at least some of the time.

As the authors tell us, the model used in this book was formal and written, and while it was imperfect, oversimplified and unfinished, it had some advantages over typical mental models. Every assumption is written down so it is open to inspection and criticism by all. And after the assumptions were scrutinized, discussed and revised to agree with the best current knowledge, their implications for the future behaviour of the world could be traced without error by computer, no matter how complicated.

At the time of publication the model was still preliminary, but even the implications of its result that were important enough that they could be withheld no longer.

They reached these conclusions:

1) If the present growth trends in world population, industrialization, pollution, food production and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probable result will be a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity.

2) It is possible to alter these growth trends and to establish a condition of ecological and economic stability that is sustainable far into the future. The state of global equilibrium could be designed so that the basic material needs of each person on earth are satisfied and each person has an equal opportunity to realize his individual human potential.

3) if the world's people decide to strive for this second outcome rather than the first, the sooner they begin working to attain it, the greater will be their chances of success.

On the whole I agree with these conclusions and in the following chapters we'll see how they were reached. But before we go on with that, I'd like state a few important reservations. Forty four years have passed since this book was published and some observations can be made based on what happened during those years.

In 1972 we were using about 85% of this planet's carrying capacity, so it wasn't too great a leap to conclude that, if growth could be brought to a halt, a sustainable situation could be achieved.

Since then we have used up a good deal of the reserves of non-renewable resources and over-exploited many renewable resources damaging them in the process. All this has enabled us to grow to the point where we are at 120% of carrying capacity. The task that faces us is not just stopping growth, but a good bit of "degrowth" and a lot of work to restore the damage we've done to the planet.

Of course, even "bringing growth to a halt" is a pretty big if. Here in the developed world we show no sign of willingness to give up a level of consumption that is obviously well beyond our real needs. And those in the developing world are certainly eager to continue developing and gain some measure of the comforts and convenience that we enjoy. One can hardly blame them, even though this is leading us directly toward the sort of collapse envisaged in conclusion 1.

Chapter I—The Nature of Exponential Growth

All five of the basic elements in the study reported in The Limits to Growth (population, food production, industrialization, pollution and consumption of non-renewable resources) were and still are increasing and following a pattern known as exponential growth. The book goes to some length to explain how this works and how difficult it is to model interconnected processes that are growing exponentially.

Most of us have a mental model of how the world works that doesn't include exponential growth or the feedback loops that cause it. Crudely put, the shape of the exponential curve is such that it putters along in an almost straight line, increasing only very slowly for a long time. Then it starts to increase more rapidly and pretty soon goes right through the roof. In the real world, processes following this pattern of growth encounter limits beyond which they cannot be sustained, and either level off or collapse.

It is convenient to talk about the rate of exponential growth in terms of its doubling rate, as when you are earning 10% compound interest on a bank account and it doubles in seven years. For those who find mathematical explanations essential impenetrable, here are links to some stories that illustrate exponential growth quite well:

Chessboard and rice, Lily pond, Salary Options
Football stadium

Over the previous thirty years (1940-1970) the discipline of System Dynamics had been developed at MIT. System Dynamics recognizes that the structure of any system—the many circular, interlocking, sometimes time delayed relationships among its components—is often just as important in determining its behaviour as the individual components themselves. The world model discussed in this book is a System Dynamics model and takes those relationships into account.

The chapter concludes by posing the question whether the current (1970) levels of growth of population and capital can be sustained in the world? And for how long...

Chapter II—The Limits to Exponential Growth

The answer to the question at the end of Chapter I would be determined by a list of necessary ingredients that can be divided into two main categories.

1) Physical necessities which support physiological and industrial activity: food, raw materials, fossil and nuclear fuels and the ecological systems of the planet which absorb wastes and recycle basic chemical substances. These are tangible, countable items which include arable land, fresh water, metals, forests and the oceans.

2) Social necessities such as peace and social stability, education and employment and steady technological progress.

The rest of the chapter is spent evaluating the stocks of the items in category 1. Category 2 is dispensed with immediately, since these factors are more difficult to assess and cannot be dealt with explicitly at the current stage in the world model's development. The authors assumed that the best possible social conditions would prevail.

No doubt this is a realistic approach as far as the capabilities of systems analysis at the time was concerned, but it seems rather optimistic to me in that many potential social problems are simply disregarded, especially in the light of what we have seen happen since.

Originally I thought this chapter could be glazed over quickly, but on second thought, I would say it is the heart of the book, where we first looking seriously at limits. Several of the physical necessities for growth are considered in detail.


Arable land and fresh water are among the primary necessities for growing food, and notable because there is a pretty clear limit to the available amounts of each, which at some point will limit the growth of human population.

Arable land is considered in detail. Through most of our history there has been far more arable land than we could use. Even in 1970 only 1.5 billion hectares out of a total of 3 billion were in use. The remaining arable land was of poorer quality than that which had been already developed, but even assuming that twice as much food could be grown by using all of that land, our population was (and still is) growing exponentially—doubling in around 30 years—so in 30 years we would need all the production from all the potentially arable land. Technology can certainly improve yields (and did so in the years following 1970), but again, doubling the food supply would only gains us another 30 years. And quadrupling it would gain us just another 30. Each doubling becomes more difficult until eventually we are hard up against real limits.

Improved technology also calls for increased capital investment and (as we can see 40 plus years later) has thus far been largely based on using non-renewable resources to increase agricultural yield. My thought is that the likely result of doing everything we can to increase the food supply is that when we finally hit the limit of food production, we'll be doing it with a lot more people to feed and significantly depleted resources left to solve the problem.


Clearly, there is a fixed amount of these materials as well, but what the amount might be is far from obvious. Geologists talk in terms of resources and reserves. Resources being the amount of a mineral believed to exist, reserves being the amount that has actually been discovered and can be accessed economically with current technology.

It is commonplace to divide the proven reserves of a resource by the current rate of use and proclaim the result as "the number of year of supply left before we run out". The authors refer to this as the "static index". They provide a large chart of the minerals used in industry and three different columns for the numbers of years of supply left. The first is the static index, the second is the exponential index, which takes into account exponential growth of the rate at which we use these materials and the third is another exponential index with the reserves multiplied by 5. The last is based on a future with the possibility of further exploration and improved technology for using lower grade ores.

There are also 3 columns listing low, high and average estimates for the rates at which use of these minerals is growing. An old "Peak Oil" guy like myself can't help noticing that coal, natural gas and oil are on the chart and what exponential growth does to the years of supply left.

But the authors chose chromium as an example because it has one of the largest static indexes of any of the minerals in the chart—400 years. Taking exponential growth of use into account, that gives an exponential index to only 95 years. If there were 5 times as much chromium as the 1970 reserves, that would be 154 years, and if we could somehow recycle all the chromium we use, that would only stretch it out to 235 year before we run out. All these estimates are still static in the sense that they don't take the dynamics of supply and demand into account, so the authors created a detailed model that takes into account the many interrelationships among grades of ore, production costs, new mining technology, the elasticity of consumer demand and substitution of other resources. From this model comes Figures 12 and 13.

Figure 12 is a computer plot indicating the future availability of a resource with a 400-year static reserve index in the year 1970, such as chromium. The horizontal axis is time in years; the vertical axis indicates several quantities, including the amount of reserves remaining (labeled RESERVEs), the amount used each year (usage rate), the extraction cost per unit of resource (actual cost), the advance of mining and processing technology (indicated by a T), and the fraction of original use of the resource that has been shifted to a substitute resource (F).

At first the annual consumption of chromium grows exponentially, and the stock of the resource is rapidly depleted. The price of chromium remains low and constant because new developments in mining technology allow efficient use of lower and lower grades of ore. As demand continues to increase, however, the advance of technology is not fast enough to counteract the rising costs of discovery, extraction, processing, and distribution. Price begins to rise, slowly at first and then very rapidly. The higher price causes consumers to use chromium more efficiently and to substitute other metals for chromium whenever possible. After 125 years, the remaining chromium, about 5 percent of the original supply, is available only at prohibitively high cost, and mining of new supplies has fallen essentially to zero.

This more realistic dynamic assumption about the future use of chromium yields a probable lifetime of 125 years, which is considerably shorter than the lifetime calculated from the static assumption (400 years), but longer than the lifetime calculated from the assumption of constant exponential growth (95 years). The usage rate in the dynamic model is neither constant nor continuously increasing, but bell-shaped, with a growth phase and a phase of decline.

Figure 13 uses the same model, but starts out with chromium reserves twice as large. This changes the period during which the use of the resource is economically feasible from 125 to 145 year. In other words, double the original reserve only increases the period of use by 20 years.

We can take all this as another story about how exponential growth works and how it can sneak up on us. The authors make this comment: "Given present resources consumption rates and their projected increase in these rates, the great majority of non-renewable resources will be extremely costly 100 years from now." And they go on to explain that optimistic assumptions about undiscovered reserves, technological advances, substitutions or recycling make very little difference as long as the demand for resources continues to grow exponentially, driven by as they are by exponentially increasing population and industrial capacity.


At the start of this section, the authors make 4 observations:

1. The few kinds of pollution that actually have been measured over time seem to be increasing exponentially.
2. We have almost no knowledge about where the upper limits to these pollution growth curves might be.
3. The presence of natural delays in ecological processes increases the probability of underestimating the control measures necessary, and therefore of inadvertently reaching those upper limits.
4. Many pollutants are globally distributed; their harmful effects appear long distances from their points of generation.

They go on to discuss several specific pollutants in detail. Among them are CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels and waste heat—the most basic by product of all processes that use energy. Both of these were growing exponentially. The authors include a chart that illustrates the very close correlation between energy use and gross national product, what is now known as the "coupling" of growth and energy use. In other words, if we are to have economic growth, we can't escape the resource depletion and pollution that comes with it.

Nowadays "decoupling" is a favourite goal of the "business as usual" folks. This is the idea that through advanced technology we can continue economic growth without using more resources or creating more pollution. But there is no more indication that this is possible today any more than it was in 1970.

The authors' conclusion is that while we do not yet know exactly what the earth's capacity to absorb pollutants might be, we know that there is an upper limit and regardless of what it is, we are approaching it exponentially.

A Finite World

The authors conclude this chapter with the following:

We have mentioned many difficult trade-offs in this chapter in the production of food, in the consumption of resources, and in the generation and clean-up of pollution. By now it should be clear that all of these trade-offs arise from one simple fact—the earth is finite. The closer any human activity comes to the limit of the earth's ability to support that activity, the more apparent and unresolvable the trade-offs become. When there is plenty of unused arable land, there can be more people and also more food per person. When all the land is already used, the trade-off between more people or more food per person becomes a choice between absolutes.

In general, modern society has not learned to recognize and deal with these trade-offs. The apparent goal of the present world system is to produce more people with more (food, material goods, clean air and water) for each person. In this chapter we have noted that if society continues to strive for that goal, it will eventually reach one of many earthly limitations. As we shall see in the next chapter, it is not possible to foretell exactly which limitation will occur first or what the consequences will be, because there are many conceivable, unpredictable human responses to such a situation. It is possible, however, to investigate what conditions and what changes in the world system might lead society to collision with or accommodation to the limits to growth in a finite world.

For me, this nicely sums up the message of the whole book. I'm not going to stop here though. In my next post I'll continue on with the actual world model for which the book is famous, and the results it produced. In the meantime, consider this: the problem might not be lack of resources or space, but that as long as we pursue growth, no amount of resources will solve our problems.

As an aid to those who are reading this whole series of "Limits to Growth" posts, here is a complete set of links.

The Limits to Growth

Thursday, 1 September 2016

The Club of Rome and a System Dynamics Model of the World

This is the first in a series of what amount to book reviews, where I'll be looking at books that have played an important role in shaping my thinking.

Late in the summer of 1977, on the way home from our honeymoon, my wife and I stopped at the Coles bookstore in Barrie, Ontario and I picked up a copy of the Limits to Growth. Remember, this was before the internet and before even big box bookstores like Chapters were a common thing, certainly in rural Ontario where I lived. A stop at a bookstore was an opportunity not to be missed, even if it wasn't very romantic conclusion to one's honeymoon.

The advent of the internet, which became available in the mid 90s around here, was a great thing for me. Now when I develop a sudden interest in a topic, I can read up on it within minutes. It used to be much harder and more expensive to find information on anything.

At any rate, The limits to Growth had been out for about 5 years at that time and I had heard about it somewhere, possible on TV or in a magazine. So when I saw a copy, I grabbed it.

I read the book, and my margin notes from back then sound like a progress worshipper trying to hold onto some hope.

I was (and still am) an avid reader of science fiction. The writers I was following took The Limits as a personal affront, and set about showing where it was wrong. They claimed that technology would save the day, especially space technology like solar power satellites and asteroid mining. This reassured me and I got on with the business of earning a living and raising a family

Sometime around the turn of the century I stumbled upon a Peak Oil website(The Oldavai Theory) and had my first encounter with that concept. I found it rather horrific and had trouble accepting the idea. But work as a supervisor at the provincial electrical utility (Ontario Hydro) and at home in my printing and graphics business kept me too busy to worry much. There was always the reassuring thought that surely technology will save us.

Multiple reorganizations and downsizings at what eventually became known at "Hydro One" made me even more cynical than I already was and sent me looking for more information about Peak Oil and Collapse. I'll cover some of the books I read in future posts, but at any rate, I was soon convinced.

I retired in 2005 and started looking much deeper. Improbable as it had once seemed, The Limits to Growth was right after all,

A few weeks ago I dug out my copy of The Limits to Growth and read it again, for the first time in nearly forty years. This lead me to do some further research in order to figure out how this book got written, in a world where growth was seen as an economic necessity.

As often happens, I found so much material that one post has turned into two (maybe more). This first one will cover the background and the second will consider the content of "The Limits to Growth".

My research lead me to two men: Aurelio Peccei, co-founder of The Club of Rome, and Jay Forrester, father of the science of system dynamics.

(Much of what follows is taken pretty much directly from Wikipedia, interspersed with my comments on its significance.)

Peccei was born in Turin, Italy in 1908, making him about a year older than my father. He became an economist and worked for Fiat. He was under suspicion as an anti-fascist in the 1930s and was involved with the resistance during WWII. In 1944, when he was arrested, imprisoned, tortured, came within an ace of execution and escaped to lie in hiding until the liberation.

After the war, Peccei was engaged in the rebuilding of Fiat. Furthermore, he was engaged in various private and public efforts then underway to rebuild Italy, including the founding of Alitalia.

In 1949, he accepted to go to Latin America for Fiat, to restart their operations, as Fiat operations in Latin America had been halted during the war. He settled in Argentina, where he lived for nearly a decade with his family. He quickly realised that it would make sense to start manufacturing locally and set up the Argentine subsidiary, Fiat-Concord, which built cars and tractors. Fiat-Concord rapidly became one of the most successful automotive firms in Latin America.

In 1958, with the backing of Fiat, Peccei founded Italconsult (a para-public joint consultancy venture involving major Italian firms such as Fiat, Innocenti, Montecatini), and became its Chairman, a position he held until the 1970s, when he became Honorary President. Italconsult was an engineering and economic consulting group for developing countries. It operated under Peccei’s leadership, on the whole, more as a non-profit consortium. Italconsult was regarded by Peccei as a way of helping tackle the problems of the Third World, which he had come to know first-hand in Latin America.

In 1964, Peccei was asked to become President of Olivetti. Olivetti was facing significant difficulties at that time due to the profound changes occurring in the office machine sector. Peccei, with his foresight and his entrepreneurial vision, was able to turn the situation at Olivetti around.

But Peccei was not content merely with the substantial achievements of Italconsult, or his responsibilities as President of Olivetti, and threw his energies into other organisations as well, including ADELA, an international consortium of bankers aimed at supporting industrialisation in Latin America. He was asked to give the keynote speech in Spanish at the group's first meeting in 1965, which is where the series of coincidences leading to the creation of the Club of Rome began.

It took me a bit of searching to find Peccei's ADELA paper on line, but I finally did. It is titled "The Challenge for the 1970s for the World of Today" and calls for an effort to spread prosperity to a wider area of the world, an effort to be lead by Europe, due to its "central" position in the world, but with a large role for the USA as well. What Peccei was talking about was what we would today call "development" and he advised that effort should focus first on the Soviet bloc and Latin America. It is probably worth reading this speech for the perspective it gives on the state of the world in 1965. It is clear that though Peccei was an economist and a business man, he was also very much an idealist with the best interests of his fellow man at heart.

Peccei's speech caught the attention of Dean Rusk, then American Secretary of State, who had it translated into English and distributed at various meetings in Washington. A Soviet representative at the annual meeting of the United Nations Advisory Committee on Science and Technology (ACAST), Jermen Gvishiani, Alexei Kosygin's son-in-law and vice-chairman of the State Committee on Science and Technology of the Soviet Union, read the speech and was so taken by it that he decided he should invite the author to come for private discussions, outside Moscow. Gvishiani therefore asked an American colleague on ACAST, Carroll Wilson, about Peccei. Wilson did not know Peccei, but he and Gvishiani both knew Alexander King, by then Director General for Scientific Affairs for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris, so Wilson appealed to him for information.

As it happened, King did not know Peccei, but he was equally impressed by the ADELA paper and tracked down its author via the Italian Embassy in Paris. King wrote to Peccei, passing on Gvishiani's address and wish to invite him to the Soviet Union, but also congratulating him on his paper and suggesting that they might meet some time as they obviously shared similar concerns. Peccei telephoned King and they arranged to have lunch.

The two men got on extremely well from the very outset. They met several times in the latter part of 1967 and early 1968, and then decided that they had to do something constructive to encourage longer-range thinking among Western European governments.

Peccei accordingly persuaded the Agnelli Foundation to fund a two-day brainstorming meeting on 7–8 April 1968 of around 30 European economists and scientists at the Accademia dei Lincei in Rome. The goal of the meeting was to discuss the ideas of Peccei and King of the globality of problems facing mankind and of the necessity of acting at the global level. The meeting at the Accademia dei Lincei was not a success, partly due to the difficulty of the participants to focus on a distant future.

After the meeting there was an informal gathering of a few people in Peccei’s home, which included Erich Jantsch (one of the great methodologists of planning studies), Alexander King, Hugo Thiemann, Lauro Gomes-Filho, Jean Saint-Geours and Max Kohnstamm. According to King, within an hour they had decided to call themselves the Club of Rome and had defined the three major concepts that have formed the Club's thinking ever since: a global perspective, the long term, and the cluster of intertwined problems they called "the problematique". Although the Rome meeting had been convened with just Western Europe in mind, the group realised that they were dealing with problems of much larger scale and complexity: in short, "the predicament of mankind". The notion of problematique excited some because it seemed applicable at a universal level, but worried others, who felt that the approach was valid only for smaller entities such as a city or community. Saint-Geours and Kohnstamm therefore soon dropped out, leaving the others to pursue their informal programme of learning and debate.

Thus started what Peccei called "the adventure of the spirit". He was fond of stating that, “If the Club of Rome has any merit, it is that of having been the first to rebel against the suicidal ignorance of the human condition.” Peccei felt "It is not impossible to foster a human revolution capable of changing our present course."

I think it is fairly amazing, from my perspective well into the 21st century, that a group such as this would even admit there was such a thing as a "problematique", a "predicament of mankind". Much less make addressing it their main goal. The "business as usual" part of society today resolutely refuses to consider that there is anything fundamentally wrong. But those were different times.

At any rate, a series of early meetings of the Club of Rome culminated in the decision to initiate a remarkably ambitious undertaking&emdash;the Project on the Predicament of Mankind. This was embodied in a document, "The Predicament of Mankind, a Quest for Structured Responses to Growing World-Wide Complexities and Uncertainties, A Proposal.". This is the heart of the proposal:

With reference to the project under consideration, the major objectives of the Club of Rome are:

1)To examine, as systematically as possible, the nature and configuration of the profound imbalances that define today's problematique throughout the world, and to attempt to determine the dynamics of the interactions which seemingly exacerbate the situation as a whole.

2)To develop an initial, coarse-grain, "model" or models of this dynamic situation in the expectation that such models will reveal both those systemic components that are most critical and those interactions that are most generally dangerous for the future.

3)To construct a "normative" overview from the foregoing models and to clarify the action implications &emdash;i.e., the political, social, economic, technological, institutional, etc., consequences &emdash;that such an overview might entail and substantiate.

4)To bring everything that has been learnt as a result of this initial effort, to the attention of those in political authority, in the hope that such findings might stimulate the conception of new lines of policy that would be effective in coping with our situation's overall dynamics and its world-wide dimensions.

5)To persuade governments to convene a World Forum,* with whose consent, support, and encouragement an intensive dialogue concerning the findings of the project would be initiated to the end that a much larger and deeper effort could be undertaken. Such an effort would aim at developing the needed operational "macro-models" conducive to endeavors at integrated policy-planning and to the development of new institutions within whose frame of competence such work could be carried out.

This proposal is a fairly tall order, even the first two items basically call for building a model of the world's systems and how they interact. Fortunately, someone was already at work on that job.

Jay Forrester was born on a farm near Anselmo, Nebraska, where "his early interest in electricity was spurred, perhaps, by the fact that the ranch had none. While in high school, he built a wind-driven, 12-volt electrical system using old car parts — it gave the ranch its first electric power."[3]

Forrester received his Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering in 1939 from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Inducted into Eta Kappa Nu (HKN) the Electrical & Computer Engineering Honor Society in 1949, and went on to graduate school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he would spend his entire career. During the 1940s and early 50s, he did research in electrical and computer engineering, heading the Whirlwind project and developing the "Multi-coordinate digital information storage device (coincident-current system), the forerunner of today's RAM. He is believed to have created the first animation in the history of computer graphics, a "jumping ball" on an oscilloscope.

In 1956, Forrester moved to the MIT Sloan School of Management, where he is currently (2016) Germeshausen Professor Emeritus and Senior Lecturer. In 1961, he wrote about the expanding effects down the supply chains due to fluctuations in demand, thenceforth known as the "Forrester effect" or Bull whip effect.

Forrester is the founder of system dynamics, which deals with the simulation of interactions between objects in dynamic systems. Industrial Dynamics was the first book Forrester wrote using system dynamics to analyze industrial business cycles. Several years later, interactions with former Boston Mayor John F. Collins led Forrester to write Urban Dynamics, which sparked an ongoing debate on the feasibility of modeling broader social problems.

At around the same time as the Club of Rome was releasing its "Proposal", Forrester headed a study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), on the implications of continued growth on population increase, agriculture production, non-renewable resource depletion, industrial output, and pollution generation.

At the Club of Rome's first annual meeting in Bern in 1970, Forrester made an offer to adapt his dynamic model to handle global issues. A fortnight later, a group of Club members visited Forrester at MIT and were convinced that the model could be made to work for the kind of global problems which interested the Club.

The results of the study were published in the 1972 book "The Limits to Growth". Funded by the Volkswagen Foundation and commissioned by the Club of Rome, it was first presented at the St. Gallen Symposium. Its authors were Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jørgen Randers, and William W. Behrens III. The book used the World3 model to simulate the consequence of interactions between the Earth's and human systems.

Dennis Meadows was the project Director for the study, heading a team of 16, including the other three authors of the book. In her "Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System", Dana (Donella) Meadows tells us that

the systems community has a lot of lore about leverage points. Those of us who were trained by the great Jay Forrester at MIT have absorbed one of his favorite stories. "People know intuitively where leverage points are. Time after time I've done an analysis of a company, and I've figured out a leverage point. Then I've gone to the company and discovered that everyone is pushing it in the wrong direction!"

The classic example of that backward intuition was Forrester's first world model. Asked by the Club of Rome to show how major global problems—poverty and hunger, environmental destruction, resource depletion, urban deterioration, unemployment—are related and how they might be solved, Forrester came out with a clear leverage point: Growth. Both population and economic growth. Growth has costs—among which are poverty and hunger, environmental destruction—the whole list of problems we are trying to solve with growth! The world's leaders are correctly fixated on economic growth as the answer to virtually all problems, but they're pushing with all their might in the wrong direction.

Even in 1972, the idea that growth might not be a good thing was sacrilege and The Limits to Growth met with a great deal of criticism. Much of this was from people that, judging from the comments they made, had not even bothered to read the book, but instead chose to attack a "straw man" version of the idea that there might be limits to growth.

In my next post I'll summarize the contents of the book and let you know what I think of it.

As an aid to those who are reading this whole series of "Limits to Growth" posts, here is a complete set of links.

The Limits to Growth