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How screwed are we? This screwed.

Here’s a chart showing the Club of Rome’s 1972 predictions for the future, as given in Limits to Growth, and how things have worked out since then. Pretty accurately. Frighteningly accurately.

I’ll take the liberty of reprinting it, for those who don’t want to click on the link. It’s copyright etc. the Smithsonian magazine.

The Club of Rome was, notably, not Paul Ehrlich, who wrote The Population Bomb at around the same time.¬†Ehrlich said that the world was already in a crisis of scarcity brought on by population growth. He famously lost a bet to one Julian Simon, who believed the opposite–that more humans meant more chickens, not fewer, and that we would see abundance in the future, not scarcity. (Ehrlich bet on the prices of commodities going up, Simon bet they would go down; by the 1980s, they had gone down.)

Ehrlich’s lost bet became famous, and was used to discredit everyone who said, hey, maybe resources aren’t unlimited.

Which is a shame (using the definition of “a shame” that means “something that may very well kill most of us”). Unlike Ehrlich, the Club of Rome argued that, although growth could continue for some time longer, we would hit limits in the near-to-medium future. They predicted, among other things, an economic collapse followed by population decline in 2030.

As of 2000, as the link above shows, we were not exactly on schedule, but close.

I’m not sure why the chart in the link isn’t brought forward to 2010; the data must exist now.

EDIT: The data are old, it turns out, because the analysis is several years old. I violated my own principle of always going back to primary sources before giving an opinion.

Also, the Club of Rome gave several predictions based on different assumptions. The scenario that’s played out so far has been the “business as usual” scenario. As opposed to, say, the “everybody becomes sane and actually starts to deal with these problems” scenario, which must have seemed at least achievable in the 1970s.

Finally, this is testable: If the model is correct, we should be looking at a decline in industrial output within a few years, followed by a decline in global food per capita soon after.

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