Summary of Limits to Growth

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This book is neither easy nor pleasant reading. However, it is not the purely pessimistic voice of doom or the rabid environmentalist tract that many reviews described when the first edition came out 30 years ago. Rather, it is a sort of cross between a primer on budgeting and the warning a doctor might give to an overweight smoker. A good budget rests on a few simple assumptions: Resources are limited; you must plan for the future; and if you overspend now, you’ll run short later. A doctor’s report would say, “You may not have symptoms now, but your habits will eventually cause your body to break down.” Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers and Dennis Meadows present such a warning to all of human civilization. They analyze resource consumption, economic distribution, population growth and pollution. Their sobering conclusions amount to an attempt to start humanity on the road to a more equitable, sustainable society. The effort required to read this book comes in part from the writing, which varies drastically in style, tone and organizational choices, and in part from the innate challenges of the material. That said, getAbstract recommends it to anyone who wishes to plan realistically for the future, whether you’re a CEO who wants to do sustainable business, a national leader who wants to create thriving human institutions, a community member concerned about local pollution, or a parent who does not want his or her children to grow up in a wasteland.

About the Authors

Donella Meadows founded the Sustainability Institute. Jorgen Randers is president emeritus of the Norwegian School of Management. Dennis Meadows is director of the Institute for Policy and Social Science Research at the University of New Hampshire.



The Consequences of “Overshoot”

Humanity is in a condition of overshoot. Overshoot happens all the time in daily life, whenever you accidentally go beyond physical limitations: Standing up too fast, you lose your balance. Driving recklessly on an icy road, you slide past a red light. Whether on the personal or global level, the same three causes contribute to overshoot:

  1. “Growth, acceleration [and] rapid change” stress the system.
  2. Pushed beyond its natural limits, the system can’t remain intact.
  3. Delays in perceiving the problem may lengthen response time in reacting to or stopping the overshoot.

The most obvious signs of overshoot in today’s world are exploding population and massive pollution. Civilization’s addiction to growth is the underlying cause of both. Nearly everyone associates growth with progress. That may be true of individual wealth, but it is not the case with systems, which have inherent limits. Although some people warn that society must take action and correct the situation, knowing does not necessarily imply doing. Perhaps humanity will change its ways and create a sustainable civilization; perhaps it...

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