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Page added on September 10, 2015

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Limits to Growth: An Update

The 1972 book, Limits to Growth, is the best-selling environmental book of all time, and deservedly so. Recently I had the privilege of interviewing Dr Graham Turner, the scientist who has done the most work updating the data underpinning the original Limits to Growth analysis. His conclusions are not always comforting, but surely its better to have a clear grasp of the situation than sleepwalk over the edge. Only then can we be in a position to formulate appropriate responses. I highly recommend spending the time listening to Graham’s thoughtful analysis of the current state of the world. There is no better authority in the world on this important subject.

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10 Comments on "Limits to Growth: An Update"

  1. ghung on Thu, 10th Sep 2015 12:25 pm 

    Interesting that there are no comments yet. One of the most cogent discussions of limits to growth I’ve seen, and the explanation of peak oil/energy dynamics (beginning somewhere around 20 minute mark) is spot on; described as a process, not a point in time.

    I don’t watch a lot of TV, but enjoy some of the shows about folks in Alaska, some other places, supposedly living off the land. One show depicts a couple who have to go farther out into the wilderness each year to get their firewood, using more fuel in their snow machines, taking more time and labour to get the same amount of wood fuel, sometimes less because it has to be transported farther.. The last episode I watched, I couldn’t help but wonder if they wouldn’t get the same, or more, energy return if they had just stayed home and burned the fuel from their snow machines. Seemed pointless.

    The oil industry may be approaching this same point, where cannibalising their own energy production makes overall production of oil pointless. Of course, this begets the complex system of financing/debt (fiat capital acting as a substitute/proxy for net resource production; real capital) because economies have few other choices. The overall net effect will be the same over time: contraction via declining net energy available to do the necessary work to support 7+ billion people.

    I put people into two general categories: Those who grok this process, and those who, for whatever reason, don’t. Seems the former group is rather small, and quite annoying for those who think life as we know it can continue indefinitely. I think even I downplay our collective level of overshoot so that I can get up each morning and do the things I’ve deemed important.

    What motivates you?

  2. apneaman on Thu, 10th Sep 2015 1:08 pm 

    The drive to live is inherent in all living things. An ape must be stone cold rational to admit the pointlessness of it and just get it over with. I think the medical description is “Depressive realism”. To go on living one must have a story or two to believe in at the very least. For me, although I know I won’t make it, I am still curious enough to want to see how it unfolds. My mother is still alive, so I can’t exactly go jumping off a bridge and leaving her with that or rather I won’t. Plus there is still ice cream in the stores. Plus plus it’s funny too. C’mon, we are so completely fucking absurd that I get at least one good belly laugh a day from some incident of ape stupidity to match the frustration. What Doomer does not find endless entertainment in listening to the motivated reasoning of corns? Hilarious!

  3. Dubya on Thu, 10th Sep 2015 1:11 pm 


    Each morning I think there is still a chance that we might avoid a catastrophic collapse.
    I spend most of the day trying to build a doom stead that has some chance of supporting the neighbourhood.
    And each night I am fascinated that Homo sapiens has, once again, been incapable of prescience.

    No matter where we live each of us has a community of a few dozen, and the weather changes like it always has. There are more important things to deal with today, the dishes are piling up, two pairs of pants have holes and the car needs a new battery. I know that as the ocean bubbles up through the manhole covers of Richmond each driver will think “I hope this doesn’t make me late to pick the kid up from daycare”.

    But my cohort seems to include a few more aware people than average, so I am misled into believing that we are close to a behavioural change.

    My old world job is flying trophy hunters into the bush , which, unfortunately conflicts in every way with my post-carbon world. However I am already 80% calorie independent, and as recreational fuel burn disappears not going away for weeks during the grain harvest will help.

    I hope to have a big enough community that I won’t have to use 20 years of military & armoured car training, every person on our street is a gun owner so I want them all on my side.

  4. GregT on Thu, 10th Sep 2015 1:13 pm 

    I found the part starting at the 6 minute mark to be of particular interest. How it was the eCONomists who discredited the Limits to Growth because it didn’t fit with their agendas.

  5. ghung on Thu, 10th Sep 2015 2:06 pm 

    Dubya said: “But my cohort seems to include a few more aware people than average…”

    Gosh, Dubya, I let myself believe that sometimes, and there are some fine, sentient folks around here, but then something like the recent Confederate flag rigmarole comes along and the less sane come out and show their asses; lots of pickups running around our mountains these days flying rebel flags (big ones). Someone is making a fortune selling Confederate flags super-imposed with a scull-and-crossbones thingy; quite popular, locally.

    Anyway, things like this act as a reminder that they’re out there in droves; those reactionary, generally under-educated, angry, and totally blameful fools that Kunstler is wont to warn us about (cornpone southerners) who’ll gun down any truth-sayer who doesn’t fit their pencil-thin worldview. The good side to this is that they’re as easy to outsmart as they are to provoke. I suppose I could cash in by printing a bunch of bumper stickers: I HATE N!@@#&$. I’m sure they would sell well, here in the rural south.

    Anyone not considering this side of things better think twice. I maintain sort of a George and Martha mentality; seemingly harmless/defenceless elderly folks, actually armed to the teeth and fearless, who’ll invite you in for dinner, one way or another.

    I expect that our kids and their families will be around if things get that bad. In my case that would include stepson and sons-in-law: Army Ranger, Marine Gunny, and an all-round gun nut/gunsmith; all peak everything aware. Nothing like a few combat tours-of-duty in failed states to get one’s head around our future civilizational prospects, eh? That sort of thing kicked my doomer id to another level.

  6. Dubya on Thu, 10th Sep 2015 2:52 pm 

    Ghung. I have no illusions about the masses. The people I trust are the local scientists – ecologists, homesteaders & a lovely family of 7 home schooled young earth Jews who are expert archers and riflemen. I plow everyone’s driveway & give away food both because I want to and so they recognize me as a useful part of the neighbourhood.

    I get to talk to a lot of climate denier republican/conservative gun owners who are off to kill a (size) trophy (species). These guys are rich, armed and oblivious, and even the ‘nice guys’ are likely to be my biggest problem.

    Fortunately I’m 3 tanks of gas from Vancouver. But the locals are equally unprepared.

  7. HARM on Thu, 10th Sep 2015 8:15 pm 

    “I found the part starting at the 6 minute mark to be of particular interest. How it was the eCONomists who discredited the Limits to Growth because it didn’t fit with their agendas.”


    “It is hard to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on NOT understanding it.”
    –Upton Sinclair

  8. theedrich on Fri, 11th Sep 2015 4:22 am 

    Alas, the good scientist offers only nostrums (planting victory gardens, enjoying your family and friends, &c.) to stave off the global agony slowly coming to engulf mankind.  He simply restates what most visitors here have long known:  that the prospects of serious action to avert collapse are few indeed, and exceedingly difficult.

    One of the many hurdles to overcoming the predicament is seen in microscopic version even on PO sites:  the contributors’ usually angry and contemptuous statements about people who suggest that a communist utopia is impossible and that the lower forms of mankind must disappear one way or another.  This suggestion opposes the typical view of both Christians and atheists (both thinking of themselves as “compassionate” and “progressives”) that paradise on earth is possible if only the evil rich Whites (except Sörös and friends) give all of their resources to the Third World types:  “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” as the Marxists decree.  Everything will be solved if only those disgusting Southerners and rightists with their “cornpone Nazism” are sent to Gulags.  Then all the invaders from World #3 will live peacefully with the lefties in a fascist-free paradise.

    Collapse is nature’s way of reacting to overload.  Few seem to understand that accepting all of the ThirdWorld miserables to alleviate their misery and give them their “dreams” only accelerates and exacerbates the collapse.  But it is always more satisfying to kill the messenger.

  9. Kenz300 on Fri, 11th Sep 2015 10:02 am 

    It all is tied to population growth……..endless population growth is not sustainable….. high population countries will export their problems rather than address them…..

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