Revised 16 October 2023

Turner 2008

In 2008, Graham Turner focused on a comparison of recently collated historical data for 1970–2000 with scenarios presented in The Limits to Growth. His analysis showed that 30 years of historical data compared favourably 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 did not compare well with other scenarios involving comprehensive use of technology or stabilizing behaviour and policies. 

Bardi (2011

In his 134-page book The Limits to Growth Revisited (2011), Ugo Bardi wrote a comprehensive history and commentary of The Limits to Growth (1972). The following is a precis using a selection of Ugo Bardi’s own words: 


Much of the criticism of “Limits to Growth” was based on a misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of systems dynamics models. Some critiques were based on cherry-picking of the data and some were outright mistaken readings of the tables. The original authors were careful to note that their quantitative results for the future were not predictions, but simply the logical outcomes of their model and assumed inputs, what have come to be known as “scenarios.” The results were “robust” over a wide range of assumptions about such things as proven mineral reserves and technological progress. The qualitative result was always the same - the world system was heading for serious trouble and only the scale of the trouble and its timing were in doubt.

The Limits to Growth study was conceived and implemented in the early 1970s when computers and analytic software were still relatively new. It is not surprising if one could not find some flaws. Nonetheless, The Limit to Growth (1972) pioneered a new way of thinking that is sorely needed in our study of current problems. All of us, including key decision makers, work with models about how the world works. But these models are often poor models, typically static and linear, with vague and untested assumptions. The Limits to Growth (1972) was open and specific about its assumptions, and the model was available for all to see, in contrast to those of many of its critics. It was, in short, a good scientific first step and it is our loss that it was not treated as such, especially by economists and demographers.

The study first received much positive acclaim, and then was trashed - notably by economists - and largely ignored. More recently there has been renewed interest and a more sympathetic hearing, as the study is seen to have continuing relevance to current environmental, demographic, economic, and political instabilities. The core message that was contained in The Limits to Growth (1972), and reinforced in two later versions, most recently in 2004, was that in a finite world, material consumption and pollution cannot continue to grow forever. What was considered as futuristic 40 years ago has now become the reality of today. We are already in “overshoot” in a number of fields, and it is becoming obvious to more and more people that we have entered into a dangerous era: global warming, peak oil, biodiversity extinction, and reduced ecosystem resilience to name a few.


Jackson & Webster (2016)

According Tim Jackson and Robin Webster (2016): 

“There is unsettling evidence that society is still following the ‘standard run’ of the original study – in which overshoot leads to an eventual collapse of production and living standards. Detailed recent studies suggests that production of some key resources may only be decades away.


Certain other limits to growth – less visible in the 1972 report – present equally pressing challenges to modern society. We highlight, in particular, recent work on our proximity to ‘planetary boundaries’ and illustrate this through the challenge of meeting the Paris Agreement on climate change. We also explore the economic challenge of a ‘secular stagnation’. 


If the Club of Rome is right, the next few decades are decisive. One of the most important lessons from the study is that early responses are absolutely vital as limits are approached. Faced with these challenges, there is also clearly a premium on creating political space for change and developing positive narratives of progress.” 


Herrington (2021)

Gaya Herrington, a Dutch econometrician, was a Director of Sustainability Services for KPMG US when she published research in the Yale's Journal of Industrial Ecology comparing the World3 model created in the ‘70’s by MIT scientists with empirical data. According to Gaya Herrington: 

“Given the unappealing prospect of collapse, I was curious to see which scenarios were aligning most closely with empirical data today. After all, the book that featured this world model was a bestseller in the 70s, and by now we’d have several decades of empirical data which would make a comparison meaningful. But to my surprise I could not find recent attempts for this. So I decided to do it myself.” (Herrington, 2020)


Gaya Herrington stated:

“In the 1972 bestseller Limits to Growth (LtG), the authors concluded that, if global society kept pursuing economic growth, it would experience a decline in food production, industrial output, and ultimately population, within this century. …This research constitutes a data update to LtG, by examining to what extent empirical data aligned with four LtG scenarios spanning a range of technological, resource, and societal assumptions. The research benefited from improved data availability since the previous updates and included a scenario and two variables that had not been part of previous comparisons. The two scenarios aligning most closely with observed data indicate a halt in welfare, food, and industrial production over the next decade or so, which puts into question the suitability of continuous economic growth as humanity’s goal in the twenty-first century.“ (Herrington, 2020)


Herrington 2022


Gaya Herrington next wrote the 210-page book Five Insights for Avoiding Global Collapse: What a 50-Year-Old Model of the World Taught Me About a Way Forward for Us Today (2022), Gaya Herrington states in her Introduction:

“In this book, I will describe how I came to the conclusion that we live in a moment of extraordinary historical relevance. What a unique now-or-never moment we have to turn around humanity’s current trajectory towards something much better than the society we live in today. And why failure to make this turnaround will result in a significantly worse one.” (Herrington, 2022)


Gaya Herrington concludes as follows: 

“… my research shows that empirical data today align closely with some of the LtG scenarios. This close alignment implies that growth will halt within the next few decades one way or another, and the only choice we have left is its cause: social and environmental breakpoints, or our own conscious action to limit the ecological footprint of how we meet everyone’s needs.


… The transformational changes that are required for realignment onto a path towards a sustainable world can only be made in time by working at the generative level of our collective narrative.


… Now that we have reached global power, we have a choice to keep using it for an empty delusion of domination or to direct our might towards genuine happiness. If global society does not make the shift in mindset from a domination model to a partnership one, humans will not cease to exist. But it would result in a lot of unnecessary suffering, including early death for some, as well as massive biodiversity loss and possible ecosystem breakdown." (Herrington, 2022)