How “The Limits to Growth” Broke Australia’s Bipartisan Carbon Tax

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Australia’s famously climate skeptic former Prime Minister Tony Abbott won leadership by a single vote, because a senior member of parliament had learned the hard way to be skeptical of defective computer models and exaggerated claims of imminent disaster.

The day that plunged Australia’s climate policy into 10 years of inertia

By Annabel Crabb

Ten years ago today, Andrew Robb arrived at Parliament House intent upon an act of treachery.

No-one was expecting him. Robb was formally on leave from the Parliament undergoing treatment for his severe depression.

But the plan the Liberal MP nursed to himself that morning would not only bring about the political demise of his leader, Malcolm Turnbull, but blow apart Australia’s two great parties irrevocably just as they teetered toward consensus on climate change, the most divisive issue of the Australian political century.

They have never again been so close.

Enter the quiet assassin

Robb obtained a confidential copy on the Monday afternoon. He says it horrified him. 

It was a total sell-out, but it was so cleverly crafted that it would look, to the less informed, like we’d won the lottery in the negotiations,” Robb would later write in his memoir, Black Dog Daze.

And so it was that Andrew Robb made one of the most extraordinary and — by most conventional measures — indefensible tactical decisions in the history of political chicanery. 

Robb ripped himself a scrap of paper and scrawled a note to Turnbull. 

“The side effects of the medication I am on now make me very tired. I’d be really grateful if you could get me to my feet soon,” he wrote.

Turnbull called Robb to speak soon after. He rose, and denounced the proposed scheme in forensic detail, his words carrying significant weight as the erstwhile bearer of the relevant portfolio. 

The deal never recovered. The meeting went on for six more hours. Turnbull — a streetfighter when cornered — added the numbers of shadow Cabinet votes to the “yes” votes in the party room and declared that he had a majority.

One week and one day later — December 1, 2009 — a ballot was held for the leadership of the Liberal Party. 

Tony Abbott — who nominated against both Turnbull and shadow treasurer Joe Hockey — won by a single vote.

Limits To Growth is still the highest-selling environmental book in the history of the world, having sold 30 million copies in more than 30 languages.

But Robb’s early fascination with the work gave way to distrust of its conclusions and primitive computer modelling; he says its warnings of resource exhaustion and economic collapse towards the end of the 20th century were overstated.

“The thing they didn’t talk about was technology. That you could find gas 300 kilometres offshore, for example, and find a way to bring it onshore. Because of this, the Club of Rome — which was quite a reputable group of people — looked more and more ridiculous as the years rolled on.

The Club of Rome has its critics and its defenders; Limits To Growth was commonly derided by the 1990s as a misguided Doomsday scenario, but has enjoyed something of a renaissance lately. The CSIRO published a paper in 2008 finding that the book’s 30-year modelling of consequences from a “business as usual” approach to economic growth was essentially sound.

But what’s not deniable is that this work influenced one young man who grew up to be one member of a parliamentary party with a singular role to play in one vote on a policy that would either change or not change the course of a country.

Read more:

I understand Andrew Robb’s disillusionment with computer modelling, based on his experience with The Limits to growth.

LTG is easy to criticise, it is full of assumptions and guesses, assigning arbitrary meaning to abstract quantities. For example, at one point the authors admit an assumption 10x current global pollution is relatively harmless, but 100x current pollution is lethal. The author’s arbitrary assumption that substantially increased pollution is automatically harmful is contradicted by historical evidence that our ancestors’ coal powered pursuit of industrialization and economic growth radically increased life expectancy. Worst of all, The Limits to Growth does not clearly define what they mean by pollution.

The LTG criticism of technology as a long term fix for limits casually dismisses thousands of years of human innovation and problem solving.

ABC Columnist Annabel Crabb does not provide a link to the CSIRO study which suggested the Club of Rome was right, but I think she meant this one;

A Comparison of the Limits to Growth with Thirty Years of Reality

Graham M Turner (CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Australia) 2008

In 1972, the Club of Rome’s infamous report “The Limits to Growth” (Meadows et al., 1972) presented some challenging scenarios for global sustainability, based on a system dynamics computer model to simulate the interactions of five global economic subsystems, namely: population, food production, industrial production, pollution, and consumption of non-renewable natural resources. Contrary to popular belief, The Limits to Growth scenarios by the team of analysts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology did not predict world collapse by the end of the 20th Century. This paper focuses on a comparison of recently collated historical data for 1970–2000 with scenarios presented in the Limits to Growth. The analysis shows that 30 years of historical data compares favorably with key features of a business-as-usual scenario called the “standard run” scenario, which results in collapse of the global system midway through the 21st Century. The data does not compare well with other scenarios involving comprehensive use of technology or stabilizing behaviour and policies. The results indicate the particular importance of understanding and controlling global pollution.

Read more:

Interestingly the CSIRO download link for the full paper doesn’t work, but I found another copy.

The CSIRO paper points out some major flaws with the Limits to Growth, such as LTG’s treatment of “non renewable resources”;

A potentially confounding issue is the aggregate nature of the non-renewable resource variable in the LtG simulation. Resources are not considered separately, but as an aggregate. If there is little substitutability between resources then the aggregate measure of the non-renewable resources remaining is determined by the resource in shortest supply because economic growth within the model is affected by the increasing extraction effort associated with this resource. If there is unlimited substitutability then the aggregate measure is determined by the sum of all resources including the most readily available resource because as other resources are diminished the industrial process can switch to more available resources without (in this case) significant impact.

Other variables were also “aggregated” in questionable ways;

The World3 model was highly aggregated, treating variables as either totals, such as population being the total world population, or appropriate averages, such as industrial output per capita. No spatial or socio-economic disaggregation was directly employed in the model structure, although the values of parameters were informed by available data at suitable levels of disaggregation.

Clearly aggregating “non-renewable resources” and per-capita industrial output as single numbers is absurd. Yet despite these criticisms the CSIRO study concludes that The Limits to Growth has value. For example, the last paragraph of the CSIRO study;

In addition to the data-based corroboration presented here, contemporary issues such as peak oil, climate change, and food and water security resonate strongly with the feedback dynamics of “overshoot and collapse” displayed in the LtG “standard run” scenario (and similar scenarios). Unless the LtG is invalidated by other scientific research, the data comparison presented here lends support to the conclusion from the LtG that the global system is on an unsustainable trajectory unless there is substantial and rapid reduction in consumptive behaviour, in combination with technological progress.

I would love to know exactly what would constitute invalidation in the eyes of true believers in “The Limits to Growth”.

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Richard Hill
November 23, 2019 10:24 pm

I can well remember reading LTG when it first appeared. At the same time I was an enthusiastic reader of science fiction. My memory is that the book did not inspire me to any action. To an SF reader it didn’t have any surprises. I remember well the predictions of running out of oil, fish, schoolteachers,,, not just in LTG but in general culture.
Just think of fracking, and how it is changing the world. The only thing that i can advise, after quite a long life, is don’t worry about long range problems. Sort out immediate threats first.

Reply to  Richard Hill
November 24, 2019 2:24 am

Richard Hill

Deal with what’s within one’s control rather than worrying about what’s outwith one’s control.

Eric Vieira
Reply to  Richard Hill
November 24, 2019 3:55 am

One also has to consider that some non-renewable resources can be recycled, or will be when availability makes recovery economically feasible. Recovery of glass and metals for example is quite high already. Nuclear waste is another example where new nuclear technologies could produce energy from it while simultaneously reducing the amounts and half-life. I also see a future for polycarbonate polymers and dialkyl carbonates as solvents as they inherently sequester CO2 (if CO2 really is a problem which is not proven…).

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Eric Vieira
November 24, 2019 8:42 am


You said, “…, or will be when availability makes recovery economically feasible.” One hears this claim, or something similar, frequently. What is overlooked is that that act of becoming “economically feasible” means that, barring a technological innovation, the cost of the end product has to increase to cover the increased cost of the components. When something that is necessary or highly desirable increases in price, it reduces the discretionary spending and by implication, the quality of life.

Of one assumes that an invention is initially created using the optimal materials, but market forces cause a cost increase of one or more of the components, substitutions CAN often be made. However, the substitute may not have optimal qualities for the application, meaning the item is less reliable, or does not perform as well as previously. That is, one cost is traded off for another. Anyone who has bought a tool or other product made in China, and was used to American quality, knows all too well that making something cheaper has undesirable consequences. Generally the cost savings is a result of poor manufacturing quality control or inferior materials. It is generally acknowledged that recycled paper is not of the same quality as virgin paper. Many recycled raw materials are of lower quality, due to contamination, than the original materials. So, recycling has its limits with regard to the quality of the finished product and how often the materials can be recycled. As NASA has discovered, there is no such thing as a free launch.

Reply to  Clyde Spencer
November 24, 2019 2:13 pm

Materials and tools have also various levels of uses. Using the right quality for the right use is the important decision management has to make. Recycled materials could merely cascade down a ladder of uses. Water usage is a good example. Drinking water accounts for less than 10 per cent of the daily water usage. Where water is in abundance, it is only natural to supply the whole water demand to drinking water quality even if it is used for toilet flushing. (in fact a large portion of water in use are naturally recycled). If management makes the decision exclusively on cost and fails, it is not the problem of the recycling and reuse system but of the management decision making.

John Endicott
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
November 25, 2019 5:26 am

Clyde, why bar technological innovation? History is replete with examples of technological innovation. Eric even gives an example in the very post you are responding you – potential *future* recycling of Nuclear waste based on “*new* nuclear technologies”.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  John Endicott
November 25, 2019 8:06 am

You asked, “why bar technological innovation?” The reason is that technological innovation is not dependable. We have been chasing controlled thermonuclear power since the 1950s. The claim at the time was that it was 40 years into the future. Now, the joke is that it is still 40 years into the future. Innovation has pulled our asp out of the fire many times in the past. However, it can’t be depended on to produce what we need WHEN we most need it. Some day it may fail us when we desperately need it. I compare it to a stage magician pulling a rabbit out of his top hat. When the drum roll stops, and he reaches in and finds that there is no rabbit, he doesn’t have a second act to follow. We live in a society with a business model of “just in time delivery.” That doesn’t provide much leeway to supply critical things like food, which people need daily, and will die in about a month if not supplied. We have created a society dependent on technology, which has the downside of being brittle, unlike the Amish agrarian society.

We behave as if technology will always save us just because it has. The recent planned power outages in California, where one person has already died, is an example of how taking electricity for granted was a short-sighted mistake. PG&E estimates that it will take a decade to correct the situation — if legislative actions don’t exacerbate the situation.

So, my point is, technology has a great track record. But, no matter how good a horse is, it doesn’t win every race.

John Endicott
Reply to  John Endicott
November 25, 2019 9:49 am

The thing is Clyde, there’s no immediate need to “change horses” (especially not to unreliables like wind and solar) as there’s plenty of our current energy sources to comfortably last mankind well into next century at least. Do you honestly think there will be *no* technological innovations in just that time, let alone beyond it? seriously?

The recent planned power outages in California, where one person has already died, is an example of how taking electricity for granted was a short-sighted mistake

That was *not* due to a lack of electricity nor to a lack of fuel to make electricity. It was due entirely to mismanagement (of the forest and of keeping the lines clear of vegetation), which is a completely different problem to the one being discussed.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  John Endicott
November 25, 2019 1:29 pm


I was not arguing that we should change horses. I was pointing out that shortages of critical materials, both short-term and long-term, are common occurrences. The usual result is either an increase in cost of the product, or a decline in quality, or both. To that end, it behooves us to try to anticipate problems. There is an old saying that a good general plans for the worst and hopes for the best.

My second point was that depending on technology to always come to our rescue has a downside. And, when we unexpectedly find ourselves in a difficult situation, a technological solution may take too long. I’m only arguing to not take technology for granted, that it will always have unintended consequences that an enlightened society should anticipate. Learning to play chess should be a requirement in elementary school.

John Endicott
Reply to  John Endicott
December 2, 2019 9:48 am

I was not arguing that we should change horses. I was pointing out that shortages of critical materials, both short-term and long-term, are common occurrences.

Yes, and they get dealt with when they occur. We don’t need to restructure our economy or switch to unreliables to do so.

it behooves us to try to anticipate problems.

And it does us no good to anticipate non-problems.

My second point was that depending on technology to always come to our rescue has a downside.

Which is a non-sequiter, no-one is “depending on technology to always come to our rescue” they’re simply pointing out that technology exists and evolves. and will continue to do so, so there’s no point in ignoring or downplaying technology particularly on the time scale that we have with our existing sources of energy.

And, when we unexpectedly find ourselves in a difficult situation, a technological solution may take too long.

And, as pointed out, you are so very wrong about the “too long” (“two decades without electricity”, Bwahahahahahaha) we’ve got plenty of our current varied sources of fuel that we won’t be in the dire situation of your fevered imagining for a long time to come, which is plenty of time for technological (or otherwise) solutions for that far off day to start presenting themselves. it’s really as simple as that.

Reply to  Richard Hill
November 24, 2019 9:32 am

Richard, the only expert who got it right with predictions was Yogi Berra –
“It’s hard making predictions, especially about the future. . .”

Warren Blair
November 23, 2019 11:09 pm

CSIRO is a cesspool of socialist academics including some IP theft specialist employees working for China; yes really!
Sometimes the facts get through . . . such as this inconvenient CSIRO study from 2015:
Is Australia getting greener?
On average, Australia is “greener” today than it was two decades ago.

Joel O'Bryan
November 23, 2019 11:09 pm

I think regional collapses are certainly possible. But it is not Limiting resources, it is political instabilities.

China is one potential. It cannot feed and satisfy its 1.43Billion people without substantial transoceanic trade flows for agriculture and energy imports. Th recent swine flu culling of its pig populations and the need for US and Brazilian soy imports to help it re-build pig stocks are evidence of that. China sends out vast quantities of manufactured goods and processed metals from that inflow of raw materials and it thus it is able to feed its vast population to maintain political control.
A war with the US and the US Navy could sink it though…figuratively.

Look at what is happening in oil rich Iran right now with US sanctions.

“Days of protests over rising fuel prices and a subsequent government crackdown have killed at least 106 people across Iran, Amnesty International said Tuesday, adding that the real figure may be much higher. Iran’s government has not released a toll of those arrested, injured or killed in the protests that began Friday and spread quickly across at least 100 cities and towns, but it disputed Amnesty’s report through its mission to the United Nations, calling it “baseless allegations and fabricated figures.”

However, a U.N. agency earlier said it feared the unrest may have killed “a significant number of people.” Amnesty cited “credible reports” for its tally and said it “believes that the real death toll may be much higher, with some reports suggesting as many as 200 have been killed.”

So will an Ayatollah-led Iran collapse? President Trump, Israel, and Saudi Arabia clearly are hoping so.
And Iranian protests are just getting started, and US sanctions are starting to have real effects on the credibility of the Iranian government with the people there.
So could Iran collapse? I think, Yes. But not because of limits to resources. But because the people of Iran y chose the wrong political system 40 years ago that became the boot on their face.

The US, Mexico, and Canada are in a situation unlike any other region in the world. Together these 3 friendly nations can feed, clothe, and provide energy and raw materials for all its peoples and technology even if the rest of the world fell apart. Even things like rare earths, lithium, and cobalt are available here in the US… if there is a political will to mine and process them.

Limits to growth are far, far away for these 3.

The governments of South America is constantly being challenged by Cuban subversion with Chinese and Russia funding. Africa could be a basket case overnight. Political instability can destroy everything else.

Thus from a strategic security standpoint Australia and NZ must maintain a fallback, fail-safe lifeline to US-Canada as long as the US Navy can remain dominant against any future Chinese naval build-up in order to maintain oceanic trade routes, just as in WW2 against Imperial Japan. If that doesn’t happen, Aussies better start brushing up on their Mandarin. (see Tibet for what that means)

Same for Japan and the UK. Maintaining strong links to the US and Canada, just as they did in 1940-1941 when it was isolated from mainland Europe is vital. South Korea is another story though with its connection to mainland China and its vassal state NKorea. How Korea would play out is unpredictable.

So the whole Limits to Growth is absurd from both a resource and technological stand-point. The resources are available. And technology will improve and technology revolutions for resources will come, just like the shale-fracking revolution washed over the US before the political leadership realized what was happening.

What will (would) lead to a Limits to Growth scenario though is choosing the wrong political system, or a political leader that imposes the wrong political system on a nation.

Electing and then allowing a President Bernie Sanders (or most of the other passengers on that Democrat clown bus) would quickly destroy the US economy in pursuit of Green stupidity, and thus the end of energy dominance would quickly realize a Limits to Growth, not just here but world-wide, as fossil fuel prices would skyrocket on oil supply shocks. Resources and thus growth depend on energy density as we obtain from oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear power. There is no renewable green pixie-dust that can substitute for those. Wind and solar power are 2 orders of magnitude steps backward in energy density and reliability. Collapse would be certain under Green leadership.

Which is exactly what those arsonist-marxists are banking on.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
November 24, 2019 9:27 am

You said, “The resources are available.” That is usually true, but not always. David Middleton has made the point that cobalt may be the ‘limit to growth’ for lithium batteries, not lithium.

Non-geologists may not be aware that at one time 90% of the worlds production of molybdenum came from one-square mile of land — Climax, Colorado. A good case can be made that the Korean war was really about tungsten in South Korea. President Eisenhower publicly announced that we could not let the North Koreans take over the world supply of tungsten.

While various platitudes about motherhood, apple pie, and communism were given as reasons for the Vietnam War, there is an alternate explanation. At one time, 90% of the world’s tin came from Malaysia. Britain had just won a 10-year struggle against communist insurgents, insuring a continuing supply. There was something called the Domino Theory, perhaps created by the observed colonial actions of Japan before WWII. It is irrelevant whether the theory was correct or not. The fact that it was accepted as a truism by senior policy makers governed the actions of nations like the US. Eventually, the Domino Theory lost the support it once had. That is when the US lost the will to fight in Vietnam. It wasn’t the street riots!

I could go on about the role that critical natural resources have played in geopolitics throughout the history of Man. The point is, until or unless an alternate source of critical minerals are found that can be depended upon, they need to be protected and coveted. Even so, every mine that has ever been opened eventually becomes a hole in the ground that is sometimes called a Superfund Site.

At issue is the Left’s dislike of any form of resource extraction. They simply don’t understand on what side their toast is buttered. We no longer use wood for gunstocks. They are, instead, made of petroleum. Many things in the home, such as carpets and faux granite kitchen counters are made of petroleum. Yet, the left wants to destroy the crude oil infrastructure that supplies such things.

The basic premise of Limits to Growth is well founded. It is a credit to the ingenuity of humans that we have found technological workarounds and substitutes for most of the resource shortages that have occurred in the past. However, they are not always without unintended consequences. The substitution of thermistors for mercury-in-glass thermometers has created an issue of the comparability of modern temperature records with historical records. Do plastic bodies on our cars increase the vulnerability of the electronics to a Carrington Event?

The bottom line is that we should always be looking ahead, anticipating problems, and preparing for them, rather than just blindly reacting to surprises. The Limits to Growth provides us with a rational, objective look at potential future problems. Now, if we could only educate the touchy, feeley do gooders who don’t understand science and technology!

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
November 24, 2019 11:05 am

The real Limits to Growth are political. Choosing bad political systems, unable to deal in innovative ways with a scarcity.

To use Nassim Taleb’s framing from his book Anti-Fragile, it is the top down versus bottom up organization of political systems that makes them either fragile or anti-fragile to change that scarcity of a resource can bring. It is no accident that fracking technology was developed in the US after 2000 as the threat of tightening oil supplies from dwindling domestic reserves loomed ever larger as a disruptive force. It is no accident that Norman Borlaug was product of the US education system and his clear vision for a need to feed the world with better wheat and other grain cultivars. His work laid the scythe to Ehrlich’s 1968 Population Bomb which itself was part of the foundation of 1972’s LtG and its failed predictions.

Innovation and technological advances are the uniquely human attribute. Choose the wrong political system, and Limits to Growth type collapse will occur. Not because of a lack of resources, but because of a lack of incentive to innovate.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
November 25, 2019 6:55 pm

Wonderful perspective.
Thank you.

Vangel Vesovski
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
November 26, 2019 9:41 pm

“It is no accident that fracking technology was developed in the US after 2000 as the threat of tightening oil supplies from dwindling domestic reserves loomed ever larger as a disruptive force.”

But shale is not a solution. The shale sector has never generated positive free cash flows, which means that it has mostly been a scam. I do not mean to imply that fracking and horizontal drilling will not produce any oil or gas economically because the data is clear that the core areas can be very productive. The problem comes down to ingenuity in the financial sector. Thanks to liquidity injections by the central banks, shale companies were able to get financing for activities that promoted malinvestments. They did not stick to the core areas but moved to marginal formations where losses were assured. The innovation on the part of the SEC made it easy to hide the problem because the need to prove homogeneity was removed by new rules designed to help the fledgeling new industry grow in ways that a free market would not permit. And by permitting to use a BTU rather than price comparison to claim reserve equivalency, the SEC permitted gaming of the numbers. Now we see that the innovation has run its course as the high-yield bonds issued to finance drilling in uneconomic areas are selling for pennies on the dollar. While we have seen many companies go into bankruptcy in the past few years, the pace is accelerating and many of the larger players are teetering on the edge. In a year, we will be asking how we could have been stupid enough to believe such an obvious deception and many people will be wondering why we seem to have abandoned coal and nuclear generation.

paul rossiter
November 23, 2019 11:44 pm

A while ago the CSIRO was arguably one of Australia’s premier research organizations, providing valuable assistance to the manufacturing, mining and agriculture industries. While this continues, they now also have a considerable investment in the CAGW “industry”.

The key conclusions of the CSIRO report described above are:

“The analysis shows that 30 years of historical data compares favorably with key features of a business-as-usual scenario called the “standard run” scenario, which results in collapse of the global system midway through the 21st Century.

Looking at the data in the report shows that this claim could lead to an unjustified conclusion since all the data presented covers a period before the predicted catastrophic collapse and indeed is just as would be expected from a “business as usual” economic growth scenario. The only way invalidation could occur would be by demonstrating discrepancy between the observed data and the projections well into this turnaround period sometime around 2030.

Not surprisingly, global pollution is reduced to just atmospheric CO2:

“Given the difficulty of obtaining suitable data on other pollutants, the approach taken was to use atmospheric CO2 levels relative to 1900 levels as a measure of persistent pollution.”

In the analysis, such “pollution” is expected to lead to a negative impact on health and agriculture. Funny, I thought that increased CO2 was leading to an increase in agricultural productivity and that warmer temperatures were generally leading to a decrease in mortality rates.

The CSIRO report does admit:

“The data does not compare well with other scenarios involving comprehensive use of technology or stabilizing behaviour and policies.”

Well, I never! Fancy thinking that technological innovation might have any impact on future services per capita, industrial output or use of non-renewable resources.

It goes on:

“Fortunately, uncertainty about the relationship between the level of pollution and ultimate impacts on ecological systems and human health is diminishing, particularly regarding greenhouse gases and climate change impacts. ”

Perhaps the real message that more funding is needed is revealed in the last line of the abstract:

“The results indicate the particular importance of understanding and controlling global pollution.”

Coeur de Lion
November 23, 2019 11:49 pm

I’ve just read Rosling ‘Factfulness’ and am immensely encouraged about the future.

Reply to  Coeur de Lion
November 24, 2019 12:45 am

I’m half way through. It’s a bit hard for my little brain but so far I’m with you!

November 24, 2019 12:02 am

I became acquainted with this modeled in Dynamo, IIRC. The program predicted a population crash caused by an rapid increase in the death rate. What has happened is exactly the opposite. The first world has instead experienced a sharp drop in the birth rate, sometimes below the replacement level. Worldwide, birth rates have dropped significantly, which disagrees with the model, IIRC. This kind of modeling error reminds me of Dr. Frank’s focus on climate model’s inability to model clouds correctly. When the internal variables of a model are fundamentally wrong, the model should not be given any credibility in the aggregate.

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  Phil
November 24, 2019 8:14 am

Decreasing populations: “Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline” (2019) by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson.

William Astley
Reply to  Walter Sobchak
November 24, 2019 1:49 pm

That sounds like an interesting book. “Decreasing populations: “Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline” (2019) by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson.

It will be interesting to see how the developed world address that problem.

“This time, however, we’re thinning ourselves deliberately, by choosing to have fewer babies than we need to replace ourselves. In much of the developed and developing world, that decline is already underway, as urbanization, women’s empowerment, and waning religiosity lead to smaller and smaller families. In Empty Planet, Ibbitson and Bricker travel from South Florida to Sao Paulo, Seoul to Nairobi, Brussels to Delhi to Beijing, drawing on a wealth of research and firsthand reporting to illustrate the dramatic consequences of this population decline–and to show us why the rest of the developing world will soon join in.”

China and India were forced to take action as they had reached the limit of population growth that their country could handle.

There is still a serious problem in Africa (Population 1.2 billion) with out of control population growth and Kafka corruption and mismanagement that was limited everything.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Phil
November 24, 2019 9:38 am

As with any model, its the unstated assumptions that usually bite one in the asp. “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” That is the importance of comparing the output of a model with reality. If there is a problem, it has to be identified and corrected for the model to be useful.

The modelers got the psychology of humans wrong. Birthrates tend to go down with increasing affluence. But, that doesn’t mean that there can’t be critical problems resulting from an unanticipated shortage of one or more natural resources. Today, it often takes a decade for a mining operation to get permitted in a developed country such as the US. It may take another decade to get all the mining and refining infrastructure built up. People can’t go two decades without electricity, which is a definite risk if we rapidly decommission and demolish fossil fuel power plants.

John Endicott
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
November 25, 2019 10:02 am

People can’t go two decades without electricity

what utter nonsense you speak. People *won’t* go “two decades without electricity” because the fuel sources (and they are multiple) won’t all just vanish over night (it’s not like we rely on one type of fuel to the exclusion of all others, and even if we did, that one fuel won’t completely disappear overnight either).

Yes, currently, permits take time. but should things get even half-way close to as dire as you imagine (they won’t for the reasons already mentioned) all it takes is the right politician to put that red tape in the shredder so that permits don’t take so long and in the meantime those fuels can be sourced from other countries that don’t have that weight of red tape. may cost a little more as depending on imports often can, but then increased expense often spurs innovation as people seek to find cheaper alternatives. so no need to worry about your nonsensical “two decades without electricity”.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  John Endicott
November 26, 2019 4:09 pm

I hope your optimism proves warranted. However, I’m reminded of Disney’s First Law: “Wish and it will come true.”

Let’s see what happens in California over the next decade.

John Endicott
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
November 27, 2019 4:59 am

The problems in California, as already mentioned, are entirely political not technological and not economical.

November 24, 2019 12:09 am

It appears that Limits to Growth, Climate Change, and The Population Bomb are three expressions of the same underlying issue.

November 24, 2019 12:18 am

I picked up a copy of Limits to Growth in an old book store, it’s good for a laugh.

It talks mostly about resources, but is written by people who have obviously never had any experience in development and use of resources.

I’ve experienced this complete ignorance of all areas of resource science in government, going something like: ‘we will put all the mines here, 30km from towns to reduce transport costs’. (As if they can just arrange where copper, gold, lead, oil actually occurs). Some literally have no idea. (They then get annoyed of course when you tell them they shouldn’t transfer all the land they want to government conservation areas where potential resources might be).

This book makes the usual academic errors concerning risk and uncertainty; so that if we don’t know where, say, the copper actually is, well let’s go and simply get some government surveyors to go and find it, and then just update how much there is. It’s kindergarten resource economics. No idea on risk and uncertainty, no idea on market competition, no idea of resource uncertainty, no idea on resource anything really.

Jared Diamond’s recent book ‘Upheaval’ touches on resource science from the academic perspective a little, and is a little better than LTG was, but he still makes the same sort of assumptions/errors. I put this down to an academic culture of resource ignorance generally. Part of the reason academics (and some public servants) are so bad at resource science is that they don’t normally have anything to do with them. They have no idea how risk and resource uncertainty works, and how the market deals with it.

Same sometimes goes for climate science.

Reply to  thingadonta
November 24, 2019 4:09 am

There is documented proof of your ‘rsource ignorance’. In the mid 1980s my company took the left-leaning Australian Federal Environment Minister through the courts because the United Nations world heritage process was being used to deny us use of granted leases and licences in our search for uranium following our success in discovering the world class Ranger deposits.
We had narrowed down our search enough to find uranium in a few early drill holes, one at a prospect named Ranger 68. The government plan was to lock this up.
The Federal Court judge who wrote the decision of the Full Bench compared us to owners of an automobile service station whose business was threatened if a government relocated the road. The service would need to change location. Sheer incompetence and ‘resource ignorance’.
BTW, this judge had been President of the green protest group, the Australian Conservation Foundation, for 5 years just before this case, opposing mineral development, but he lacked the ethics and courtesy to recuse himself.
This is but one example of several I can give you in support of resource ignorance. This one cost us millions to billions, no compensation was offered, we paid large court costs. Geoff S

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  thingadonta
November 24, 2019 9:57 am

You remarked, “… they shouldn’t transfer all the land they want to government conservation areas where potential resources might be).”

My primary advisor, Dr. Norman J Page, identified a locality in my thesis area as having great economic potential for platinum group minerals. Shortly after the USGS report was published, the Chanchelulla Wilderness was established, eliminating any possibility of further exploration or development. The last time I visited the area, 5 people had signed the register at the trail head over the previous two years. I don’t think that restricting economic development, in what had been National Forest, in favor of a couple of hikers every year was a wise decision. Previously, there were almost certainly more hunters in jeeps using the area, before the roads were bull dozed closed.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
November 24, 2019 11:34 am

You do realize how many Marijuana Grow operations would be disrupted by a mining operation there?

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
November 24, 2019 3:43 pm

You mean the clandestine operations that illegally appropriate water resources, put out poisons for animals, allow fertilizers and human wasted to drain into the pristine streams, and use public land for private gain? The ones that sometimes kill deer hunters that stumble on the operations? Even before it became a serious problem, I didn’t wander around there without being armed. As I understand it, Californians are no longer allowed to be armed on public land except during hunting season, and in possession of a hunting license. Unfortunately, the state does not issue hunting licenses for two-legged vermin.

Reply to  Clyde Spencer
November 25, 2019 1:30 am

In 3 separate parts of Australia, my corporate colleagues and I were suddenly refused permission to even visit and touch areas we had selected for mineral exploration, routine approaches. In each case we were excluded by a government invoking the United Nations world heritage mechanism, a formula that steals some sovereignty fom gullible Nations. In two of those cases, the land use was immediately changed into military training area, which scarcely seems the obvious way to protect outstanding cultural and natural values for the enjoyment of future generations.
These processes evolve, far too often, down a path of bureaucratic madness. All citizens then suffer. Geoff S

Andy Mansell
Reply to  thingadonta
November 26, 2019 10:51 pm

They have no idea about real life full stop, having spent their entire lives in the classroom, protected from the outside world and its empirical realities. Their children usually go on to do the same, meaning that generations of people that have never set foot in the real world are telling the rest of us how it is. Unfortunately for them, (and us), ‘well educated’ does not automatically equal ‘very intelligent’. Just one more assumption they make…..

November 24, 2019 12:20 am

Malthusians fundamental flaw is to never integrate technological bootstraps in their asumptions.
Same story with Marx whos theory is completely wrong partly for the same reason :
– profits do not tend to zero (and thus, Capitalism does not “collapse on its own”) partly because companies achieve (from time to time) technological gaps. On the long run, this can sustain assets owners and emploies retribution and has positive externalities (less pollution, technological propagation by “imitation”, lower costs means more efficient ressources allocation, higher purchasing, investment power, etc.).

Any economic (eco-system, …) theory that does not (at least) integrate this process is totally meaningless and those who endorse such theories are flat wrong, as Malthusians and The Club de Rome have proved to be.

Reply to  Petit_Barde
November 24, 2019 2:00 am

“Any economic (eco-system, …) theory that does not (at least) integrate this process is totally meaningless”

I have always distrusted economics. I feel that it fails to take into account the most obvious example of economic activity, the ecological history of Earth’s biosphere over the full geological history of our world.
Take for example the limit to growth the primary feed-stocks of water and carbon dioxide. Are we going to run out of these necessary fundamentals after 4.3 billion years of life? No of course not, our world is drowned in seawater, and the sedimentary rocks contain abundant levels of mineral carbonates from which carbon dioxide can easily be released.
So, what about pollution? Oxygen is by far the most dangerous polluting gas in our atmosphere, ask all of anaerobic life what happens to them in the presence of free oxygen gas, but without oxygen complex organic life forms would be impossible.
The whole history of geoecology is the story of resource limitations being overcome by bio-innovation.

November 24, 2019 1:01 am

Agenda 21 is an actual plan to kill democracy and implement a global government. WUWT, wiki

We have the example of the Soviet Union. Central planning is a ticket to disaster. What has succeeded in the long run is something like evolution. Evolution is the result of many experiments (random DNA mutations), most of which die. The very few that survive, and can cope with the changed environment, breed and propagate. Similarly, capitalism creates many businesses, most of which fail within ten years. Those that succeed allow the economy to succeed and continue.

November 24, 2019 1:05 am

All true posts, but most animals will fight if overcrowded. Man is the only one where this is self inflicted.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Eric Worrall
November 24, 2019 3:56 am

Didn’t seem to be a problem in 1995 when the British lease of HK ended (All this trouble over tea and opium. British wanted tea, the Chinese wanted opium. The Chinese gave HK to the British) and China took control.

Reply to  Eric Worrall
November 24, 2019 5:26 am

I love in Singapore, it is 278 square mile, 5.8 million people and one of cleanest, safest, least polluted and nicest countries in the world.

The reason for this is the government works on the basis of logic, reason and facts.

And expat American

Reply to  CNC
November 24, 2019 10:14 am

.. And a lot of subtle big brother.. Sometimes not so subtle.

Reply to  Kenw
November 24, 2019 11:42 am

When I lived there (ex-pat Brit) it did remind me of Bulgaria in the ‘old days’!

But clean, safe, economically dynamic and very nice peop[le.


Reply to  Kenw
November 24, 2019 9:14 pm

True, but my point was a small space could support a lot of people easily with a good environment.

I do believe the best government is the least amount of government.

Baer Stanley
Reply to  Eric Worrall
November 24, 2019 8:46 am

That holds true for much of the earth, Eric, which is ocean. Add in interior Africa, SA, NA, Siberia, etc and you will find that humans occupy a tiny portion of available land. Also, simple arithmetic shows that all of the earths present population could stand in a area as large as Rhode Island.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Baer Stanley
November 24, 2019 10:22 am

You claimed, “… all of the earths present population could stand in a area as large as Rhode Island.” You are confusing what is possible with what is desirable. That is a logical fallacy because after the photo shoot, they’d have to disperse. People need an infrastructure to supply food and water, to get to jobs, and recreate. They need agricultural land to grow food. China imports significant quantities of food grown in low-population density US midwest and Brazil. People need resources to support the infrastructure and their shelter from the elements. I wouldn’t want to be standing like a flock of penguins during a Rhode Island Winter. You can’t equate the minimum physical volume people need to exist, with the surface area necessary to support them. The question that should be asked is, “What is the optimal population density for humans?” In most countries, there is a direct correlation between crime and population density. I suspect that one of the reasons that Singapore is so safe is that the law comes down on scofflaws with an iron hand (or a bamboo cane).

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Baer Stanley
November 24, 2019 4:09 pm

At a little over 1/3 square meter per person, things would be a little tight. It would probably be a little more roomy if everyone were naked. The limited space might make procreation difficult. Or, determining paternity. Things would be sufficiently tight that body heat might keep everyone warm in the Winter — except those on the outside of the mass. Like penguins, they’d have to keep exchanging position with those in the interior to keep from freezing. I guess food could be handed over everyone’s heads to feed those in the interior. However, things would get a little messy after the food had been digested and needed to be excreted. Yeah, we could fit everyone into Rhode Island and not even have to have people sitting on other’s shoulders.

John Endicott
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
November 25, 2019 11:46 am

*Whoosh* that is the sound of Baer’s point flying right over your head Clyde. He’s not advocating that the entire human population move to Rhode Island. He’s illustrating just how few we are compared to the vast size of the planet. The hint was where he said “you will find that humans occupy a tiny portion of available land”.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Eric Worrall
November 24, 2019 10:05 am

You said, “… but there are political issues not related to population.” That is your assumption. Japan has an old saying that “The nail that stands up gets hammered down.” That is how Japan has coped with high population densities. Freedom tends to be inversely proportional to population density.

George Daddis
Reply to  Chaswarnertoo
November 24, 2019 6:13 am

You are ignoring the fact that population growth in developed countries is negative, forcing them to import labor from less developed countries to keep their economies going. As those supposed 3rd world countries, with the help of fossil fuel energy raise their own economies, their reproduction rates also tend to decline (e.g. India).

A reasonable “strategy” therefore is to continue to uplift those areas now dependent on manual labor by expanding fossil fuel use world wide.

It is not necessary for you to agree with my theory; India and China are now taking care of themselves and China is cementing alliances in places like Africa by fitting them with fossil fuel energy supply.

Reply to  Chaswarnertoo
November 24, 2019 7:17 am

Who gets to define what is over crowded and how do you know that mankind is within a couple orders of magnitude of reaching those levels?

Your statement makes as much sense as declaring that all animals will die if the oxygen runs out, so we had all better stop breathing.

Robert Beckman
Reply to  MarkW
November 24, 2019 9:01 am

Oh there’s definitely a carrying capacity of the planet, and it’s even one we could measure.

Take the most efficient light to calorie converting plant, cover the entire planet in it to capture all of the solar irradiance, account for ~1200 calories per person per day, and that’s the max number over the long term (we could surge higher for a few millennia by adding nuclear, fossil, etc, but those will eventually run out at that scale).

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Robert Beckman
November 24, 2019 10:25 am

Your suggestion is an upper bound because every human will stomp on and shade plants, decreasing the available calories. You have to subtract plants for each and every human.

Reply to  Clyde Spencer
November 24, 2019 11:40 am

He assumes everyone just lies still and exists. I think he also has to assume Netflix.

Reply to  Robert Beckman
November 24, 2019 10:46 am

What about cold fusion and/or transhumanism and/or space colonization?

November 24, 2019 1:48 am

I did a search for “the Club of Rome” And the first thing that came up was this article


November 24, 2019 1:59 am

And here I thought the Club of Rome and Limits to Growth had never done any good at all. Sometimes it’s good to be wrong.

And sometimes one man of integrity, in the right place at the right time, can change a whole nation, or even change the world, for the better. Thank you, Mr. Rudd, and thank you Mr. FOIA!

Ron Long
November 24, 2019 2:10 am

CSIRO supports the Club of Rome? Add that to their blunders and you have to wonder what they have become. I personally destroyed a geological study they completed for B…..k in the Carlin Gold Trend in Nevada. Their geologists had modelled the depth of formation based on there not being any preserved Eocene volcanics in contact with gold mineralization, when in fact, at Skarn Hill, there was. I cited the company and its manager, who drilled repeatedly through these volcanics, to them, they called someone, and retreated to an “enthusiastic” conversation amongst themselves. I still have faith in our down-under friends, but they seem to wander around a bit.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Ron Long
November 24, 2019 2:39 am

The CSIRO are trying to hide the fact they were once called the CSRO (IIRC) and was involved in the introduction of the cane toad in Queensland in 1935. Been downhill ever since.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Eric Worrall
November 24, 2019 3:53 am

Yes. They pick them up and flop them on their backs, and pick at the underbelly, which does not have the poisonous “zits”. Crows are very smart!

Just watched your liked video on YouTube from 3 years ago ABC Q&A with Brian Cox.

Reply to  Patrick MJD
November 25, 2019 1:35 am

Before mid 1950s I believe it was simply CSIR, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.
Geoff S

Andy Mansell
Reply to  Patrick MJD
November 27, 2019 12:11 am

Patrick, I have family in Aus and during a visit a few years ago I asked about the flattened toads all over the place and learnt about the cane toad saga and was encouraged to do my bit! I was amazed that so little thought appeared to have gone into this- it should be used everywhere as a shining example of academic and bureaucratic incompetence!

November 24, 2019 2:59 am

My biology teacher gave me LTG in 1974, and urged us all to store things like copper and lead because in ten years or so they would greatly increase in value. I don’t know how his investments panned out.

Gerry, England
Reply to  peterg
November 24, 2019 6:04 am

Two-thirds of the copper produced since 1900 is still in use due to its value and recycling. Copper piping and cables are stolen for a reason. Virtually all global warming or resources studies work on the basis that nothing will change or adapt. Like if somebody is punching you in the face you will just stand there and let them.

November 24, 2019 4:15 am

CSIRO is now a for profit setup
and since it got changed from govt funded purely research its gone to the pack

November 24, 2019 4:16 am

The referenced CSIRO study used 5 factors such as food productivity and human population. Only four factors were needed. The inclusion of ‘pollution’ was trendy but immature and non-scientific because its capacity for good or harm was orders of magnitude lower than the other four and relied more on guesswork than on observation. It gave the game away to show the real (watermelon) colours of the authors.

November 24, 2019 4:33 am

“Andrew Robb arrived at Parliament House intent upon an act of treachery.”

The man did what he thought was best for his country rather than fall in line behind Malcolm Turnbull a man who’s ego could power the world if it could be harnessed to provide beneficial energy rather than self aggrandizement.

Turnbull was always a leftist progressive that only picked the centrist Liberal party because the leftist Labor rank and file were repelled by his patrician background.

Reply to  Kazinski
November 24, 2019 5:45 am

And he did it to Turnbulls face in the chamber in a very public way … not thru some sleazy back deal like the most slime politicians do.

November 24, 2019 5:07 am

Generation Can-do: “We can get it done! Anything is possible if we put our minds to it!”
Generation Half-Baked: “OK Boomer.”

Generation Half-Baked: “Climate is going to kill us all if we don’t stop progress!”
Generation Can-do: “OK Doomer.”

Know your meme: OK Boomer

November 24, 2019 5:08 am

Generation Can-do: “We can get it done! Anything is possible if we put our minds to it!”
Generation Half-Baked: “OK Boomer.”

Generation Half-Baked: “Climate is going to k!ll us all if we don’t stop progress!”
Generation Can-do: “OK Doomer.”

Know your meme: OK Boomer

Reply to  icisil
November 24, 2019 5:32 am

OK Doomer

November 24, 2019 5:59 am

If we can keep the Socialists out of power long enough, future abundant cheaper energy will make many resource shortages go away. There is no shortage of carbon (the element) or sand or hydrogen. Using cheap energy and these 3 building blocks, a civilization based on materials for making everything will be possible (from building structures to low resistance wires) from graphene and glass to better biodegradable plastics. With cheap enough energy, reforming rocks would be possible (granite – to – quartz) to make strong erosion resistant building materials and machine parts.

Using microbes and garbage and cellulose from plants as feedstocks, we can already make virtually unlimited amounts of cheap proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Food shortages everywhere could be a thing of the past in the near future (after we make this stuff palatable).

Cheap future nuclear energy along with innovation will eliminate all Limits To Growth.

We just need to keep Authoritarian Socialists (under whom innovation dies) out of power long enough to allow Abundance to happen.

November 24, 2019 7:04 am

The assumption that uses of a particular resource will increase exponentially until suddenly they are all used up is the largest of the many fatal flaws in the LTG model.
The reality is (this has been seen many times through history), that as materials become scarce, the cost goes up. This causes an increased effort to find more sources, increased research into how to use less of the material, and increased research into how to use other materials to gain the same result.

The Club of Rome was searching for ways to support the conclusion that they had already reached.

John Endicott
Reply to  MarkW
November 26, 2019 8:31 am

Indeed. As material costs go up, opportunities for more efficient ways to use materials, alternative sources of materials, and alternative types of materials also go up. Funny that. people tend to look for cheaper alternatives when costs go up. who knew.

November 24, 2019 7:05 am

“I would love to know exactly what would constitute invalidation in the eyes of true believers in “The Limits to Growth”.”

Just like no amount of data will ever convince an alarmist that CO2 isn’t about to kill us.

Walter Sobchak
November 24, 2019 8:19 am

The problem with all resource constrained models of growth is that they always leave out the ultimate resource: human ingenuity and effort. Every mouth comes with two hands.

This systemic problem was diagnosed and explained by:
“The Ultimate Resource” (2nd ed., 1998) by Julian L. Simon

Hocus Locus
November 24, 2019 12:27 pm

Limits To Growth. LOL. “Com-pyooter-projections!”

Back in the day when a computer line printer plotting a exponential curve was cool.

When Snoopy Calendars were cool.

But Snoopy Calendars are still cool.

Craig from Oz
November 24, 2019 4:25 pm

Annabel casually ignores the fact that the rank and file of the Liberal party were openly fuming at Turnbull at this time.

The view was that that if they had wanted to support Labor policies they would have voted for Labor and if their local members wanted someone to help put up posters, walk the streets letterboxing and stand all day in the sun at the booths come election day then MAYBE they might like to remember that.

Crabbe is ignoring this, choosing instead to paint the occasion as selfish traitors overthrowing a beloved and wise figure.

Instead the removal of Turnbull and the rise of Abbott has always been seen by the actual Conservative base as a Grand Moment where the silent majority managed to take their party back from the elites of the MSM.

Abbott was and still is incredibly popular among CONSERVATIVES. The fact the MSM and the Left hate and fear him do not change that fact. Crabbe cannot accept that fact because Crabbe is Left. The Left cannot stand deviation from ‘What is Best’ and despise opposing views. They Know Best, the are correct and if you disagree you are clearly WRONG. To her version of history Turnbull knew best and it was only selfish disloyal people who betrayed him.

Fake News.

Reply to  Craig from Oz
November 25, 2019 6:07 pm

Annabel Crabbe also believes that wind turbines do not produce harmful infransonics. Plus she is one of the cohort of female ABC journalists who worshipped Malcolm Turncoat as the saviour of The Liberal Party from the conservatives (making Abbott the Devil).
She is thoroughly in the Green camp in pretty much every way.

November 24, 2019 5:17 pm

It is worth remembering that, in all this, the old centre-left has been sold down the river by an unholy alliance of hard left, celebrity journalists and dodgy academia.

Here, the second category fits. No longer satisfied by reporting news, the celebrity journalist must put a personal slant on proceedings, to the point where one no longer fulfills the role of journalist, rather that of activist and lobbyist. Whenever a celebrity journalist has been elevated to parliament via a democratic vote, the result has hardly been impressive. A bit of trite commentary does not a formidable politician make.

By contrast, the centre-left once drew formidable politicians from ordinary working lives. Being a celebrity journalist is not proper, ordinary work, however. Giving such people the power of state-broadcaster-sanctioned commentary on politics, with the hard left and its cloistered academia cheering on, is a recipe for political disaster for the cautious centre left as much as it is for the right.

November 24, 2019 7:17 pm

Every year I contribute to a Christian organization that sends people to some of the poorest countries in the world. They spend years teaching whole villages to become more self sufficient, more efficient, and more prosperous. This happens year by year, village by village. Do pessimistic studies about global limitations take such efforts into account?

November 24, 2019 8:27 pm

From the CSIRO conclusions:

As shown, the observed historical data for 1970–2000 most closely matches the simulated results of the LtG “standard run” scenario for almost all the outputs reported; this scenario results in global collapse before the middle of this century.


Let’s “go to the tape.” Let’s actually look at the “standard run” model. I used a wonderful online digitizing program, with the y-axis arbitrarily labeled as zero and 100 at the graph origin and maximum value.

Food per capita values:

1900 = 27.4
1951 = 40.4
1969 = 45.5
1988 = 48.7
2000 = 49.5
2014 = 49.9
2018 = 48.3
2023 = 44.0
2026 = 39.9
2031 = 35.5
2036 = 30.8
2042 = 26.9

In other words, Limits to Growth reference scenario predicted global food per capita would peak in 2014, and by 2023 would be below the global food per capita in 1969. (For a hint how ridiculous that is, think about what per-capita consumption of food was in India and China in 1969.) And by 2042, the Limits to Growth reference scenario predicts that global food per capita will be lower than it was in 1900. (What percentage of people in the world of 1900 were obese?)

I can see that Graham Turner and Cathy Alexander were just as incompetent and/or dishonest as late as 2014 (the “peak per capita food” year, per the Limits to Growth reference case).

Pathetic. Simply pathetic.

Reply to  Mark Bahner
November 28, 2019 5:29 pm

Bahner, I just skimmed the pdf of LTG and I don’t understand exactly where you are getting your numbers from. Can you provide a page number? What I did spot on page 94 of the original 1972 work (pdf version):

QUOTE: We cannot forecast the precise population of the United States nor the GNP
of Brazil nor even the total world food production for the year 2015. The data we have to work with are certainly not sufficient for such forecasts, even if it were our purpose to make them. On the other hand, it is vitally important to gain some understanding of the causes of growth in human society, the limits to growth, and the behavior of our socio-economic systems when the limits are reached. [end quote]

Obviously, projections for 2014 made way back in 1972 cannot be on the money, and the authors are clear that it is not their intent to call precise tops and bottoms in any given resource, including food, so your criticism appears to be directed at straw men. What I will say is that growth is only possible while positive feedbacks overpower negative feedbacks, and that positive feedbacks, if continued, are ultimately destabilizing for any system. Bottom line: physics trumps economics eventually. Why so few contemporary economists (in contrast to classical economists such as Ricardo) are willing to admit this puzzles me.

Reply to  mikesmith
November 30, 2019 2:24 pm

Bahner, I just skimmed the pdf of LTG and I don’t understand exactly where you are getting your numbers from. Can you provide a page number? What I did spot on page 94 of the original 1972 work (pdf version):

My numbers were taken from Graham Turner’s review of Limits to Growth versus actual data from 1972 to 2008:

Specifically, go to Figure 1(a) on page 42 of that analysis. It’s titled, “Standard Run.” If the y-axis is “zero” at the bottom, and “100” at the top, you’ll get the numbers I gave. For example, the value in 1900 (the far left side of the graph) is 27.4, i.e., about one-quarter of the way up the graph. And the value for food per capita peaks in 2014 at 39.9, i.e., about halfway up the graph.

Obviously, projections for 2014 made way back in 1972 cannot be on the money, and the authors are clear that it is not their intent to call precise tops and bottoms in any given resource, including food, so your criticism appears to be directed at straw men.

Calling Limits to Growth, and especially Graham Turner’s analysis of Limits to Growth, BS is not an attack on straw men, it’s properly characterizing the analyses. As I wrote, it was completely pathetic for Graham Turner not to mention in his analyses of 2008…and even his analysis of 2014!–that Limits to Growth predicted a *dramatic* decline in global per-capita food consumption, beginning in 2014. The predicted decline was so dramatic that the per-capita food consumption in 2042 is predicted to be *below* that of the year 1900!

Bottom line: physics trumps economics eventually. Why so few contemporary economists (in contrast to classical economists such as Ricardo) are willing to admit this puzzles me.

There is no conflict between economics and physics. Global economic growth (an increase in gross world product, or GWP) is an increase in the total *value* of goods and services in global economy. *Value* is not a physical parameter.

Reply to  Mark Bahner
December 1, 2019 8:00 pm

Correction: In Limits to Growth, the food per capita value peaks at 49.9 (i.e., about half way up the graph) in 2014. My previous comment which said the value was 39.9 was a typo.

November 25, 2019 7:52 pm

Some would suggest that sabotaging bipartisan climate policy was a successful outcome for some, and unclear how the then Australian politician Andrew Robb linked LTG one way or the other, let alone how he understood it.

The Club of Rome and LTG could be described as a ‘riddle wrapped up in an enigma’ while LTG ‘theories’ were debunked by The University of Sussex once working papers were released, seems more pseudoscience constructs cooked up by PR types masquerading as ‘liberal and environmental’ science.

What is more interesting is who applies the LTG, who participated in and who hosted the Club of Rome?

On example of application is Herman Daly’s Steady-State Economy theory promoting the primacy of national borders, anti-globalism, avoidance of trade agreements and potential immigrants from the less developed world, stay where you are; quite popular with white nationalists and global corporate entities with existing global footprints aka US fossil fuel and auto sector.

Another, in parallel with the Club of Rome and a participant, Paul ‘Population Bomb’ Ehrlich who through applying LTG to population and resources has been proven wrong, yet in Australia continues to be promoted along with Ehrlich’s former colleague’s application of LTG to ‘immigration’ i.e. recently deceased John Tanton whose network of white nationalists are now in the White House.

Tanton, Erhlich and Paul Watson (Sea Shepherd) were all colleagues at ZPG (and helped inform the Australian equivalent ‘Sustainable (population) Australia’ highlighting ‘runaway’ immigration and population growth degrading the environment vs. regulation on polluters and fossil fuels while splitting the centre vote), ‘green washing’.

The sponsors or supporters of ZPG were the Rockefeller Bros. Foundation (Standard Oil/Exxon), Ford and Carnegie Foundations. All had shown an interest in eugenics pre WWII in the US and Germany; by coincidence the Club of Rome was sponsored by Fiat and VW, and hosted on the Rockefeller estate.

Call me a cynic but I guess this is clever long game of astro turfing blaming others for environmental degradation while fossil fuel, auto and related corporate entities flew under the radar through manipulation of politics and social narratives.

By the time of the Club of Rome Exxon scientists were aware of climate change science and global warming, but the strategy seemed about avoiding environmental regulation and limits on fossil fuels by lobbying politicians, vs. dog whistling immigrants, greenies, the left etc.?

Reply to  Andrew J Smith
November 28, 2019 2:01 pm

Smith, Erlich’s _Population Bomb_ preceded _Limits To Growth_ by several years, four I think, and it was a vastly more near term forecast that LTG. LTG foresaw most of the pain coming 50 or more years into the future, whereas Erlich though mass famine was only a decade away. But more to the point, the big factor that nullified Erlich’s forecast was the Green Revolution, and although selective crop breeding (basically vegetable eugenics) received most of the media attention, the heavy lifting of the Green Revolution was done by the increased application of fossil fuels to the agricultural process.

You are correct that population control/ZPG was championed by eugenicists after WW2. With eugenics in political disrepute, many leading eugenics supporters seem to have thought, very naively IMO, that they could achieve the same thing through promoting birth control. In fact, it backfired on them, since birth control has been adopted more effectively by the educated classes than by the less educated, actually spreading dysgenic fertility patterns around the world. Policies that reduce childhood mortality are also dysgenic, for other reasons. Why the post-War eugenicists seem not to have foreseen these results baffles me, since even the earliest eugenicists such as Sir Francis Galton and Karl Pearson expressed awareness of these problems.

Reply to  mikesmith
November 28, 2019 2:14 pm

ADDENDUM: “the heavy lifting of the Green Revolution was done by the increased application of fossil fuels to the agricultural process.”–AND I meant to add that it was the availability of natural resources to enable innovations such as the Green Revolution that _Limits To Growth_ struck at the heart of. Ehrlich looked primarily at one factor, population growth, whereas LTG, relying on the expertise of systems dynamics pioneer Jay Forester, looked at how multiple factors would interact with one another in complex ways, although the bulk of the book’s attention centered on the depletion of mineral resources, including fossil fuels, and showed that, with continued but not extraordinary rates of economic growth, even reserves that were 10 times what was believed to exist in 1972 would not buy the world much more time, due to the nature of exponential curves.

November 27, 2019 6:35 pm

From the guest essay: ‘I would love to know exactly what would constitute invalidation in the eyes of true believers in “The Limits to Growth”.’

One of my pet peeves is people who review or critique books without reading them. Eric Worrall appears to have committed this cardinal sin. LTG forecasts a 100 year period from 1970 to 2070. If we get to 2070 without a population crash (and not just a gentle decline through voluntary birth control), then their “business as usual” or standard model scenario will clearly have been wrong. Although the authors did not set a specific date for the crash to begin because of the many unknowns, the shape of their graphs strongly suggested that the standard model crash should occur during the second half of their century long window, most likely starting a little after the year 2020–not their date, but what I inferred from their graphs when I read the book. It is a short and easy read, and you can view it online for free if you google the title. It is a serious work, not environmentalist hysteria, and still well worth reading. Although the authors considered the effects of various factors, I recall that their primary emphasis seemed to be on resource depletion. And one cannot wave off this concern by muttering something about “substitutes,” because substitutes deplete too. Technology refers to the many ingenious tricks which we apply to energy and minerals in order to raise our living standards, but it is much less useful when energy and minerals are rare and costly. Technology exploits raw materials, it is rarely a substitute for them.

Reply to  mikesmith
November 30, 2019 3:13 pm

LTG forecasts a 100 year period from 1970 to 2070.

You obviously have either not read the book, or don’t remember even the first thing about it. Look at Figures 35 to 42 in the book. The projections go to the year 2100, not 2070.

It is a serious work, not environmentalist hysteria, and still well worth reading.

It’s worth reading to mock. Check out Table 4 of non-renewable natural resources, starting on page 56. Look at how many of the resources should have been completely spent by now.

November 28, 2019 12:07 am

“The Limits to Growth” was written when growth was considered a good thing. Despite however wrong it was, they won. Growth is now considered a bad thing. It is time for the sequel, “The Limits to Progress”. The word ‘progress’ is ambiguous — I mean the kind of ‘progress’ that progressives want.

Reply to  Toto
November 28, 2019 1:36 pm

“Growth is now considered a bad thing”–On what planet??? Let any candidate for president in EITHER major political party replace his promises of continued or faster economic growth with promises of stagnation or economic contraction (ie, recession), and you will see very quickly that hardly anyone considers growth to be a bad thing. The surest and least painful way to reduce or terminate, not per capita, but at least aggregate economic growth is to stop driving population increase through immigration, yet both major parties, and the leading minor parties (Greens and Libertarians) and all the major environmentalist organizations support continued large scale immigration and announce their disdain for “Malthusianism.” Please observe that this constitutes an “about face” by the top environmentalist groups from the movements old positions in the 1970’s. So who has really won this debate? Remember, Marxism has traditionally been as pro-growth as any laissez-faire capitalist, just not as effective at making it happen. Now even the leading environmentalist organizations are on the pro-growth, anti=Malthusian train. So the Club of Rome has decisively lost the battle for public opinion, although that does not refute their forecast. The verdict will come in over the next 50 years.

December 2, 2019 11:15 am

Re: “Turnbull called Robb to speak soon after. He rose, and denounced the proposed scheme in forensic detail, his words carrying significant weight as the erstwhile bearer of the relevant portfolio.”

Is Andrew Robb’s speech recorded anywhere, either audio or a transcript? I’d love to see the forensic detail!

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