Sunday, August 7, 2011
Richard Heinberg and the limits to growth
A recent video, scripted and narrated by Richard Heinberg and based on his book "The End of Growth"
Heinberg's thesis is that the end of growth has started in 2008 and that the so called "recovery" is only a sleight of hand to mask, for a while, the unavoidable decline. Among many interesting considerations, the video contains a reference to the 1972 book "The Limits to Growth" (see it at minute 2.10) which is described as having been "attacked by mainstream economists using nasty rhetorical tricks."
It seems that we are seeing, finally, the gradual death of the old legend that has that "The Limits to Growth" was just a set of "wrong predictions" invented by a group of lunatic scientists. We are beginning to understand that the study never made the mistakes that critics attributed to it; it is only the result of those "nasty rhetorical tricks" played out in the 1970s and 1980s.
Now, if the end of growth started in 2008, as Heinberg says, it is a stunning success for "The Limits to Growth" study and, in particular, for the "base case" scenario that generated the start of the decline of the industrial system within the first two decades of the 21st century. Exact "predictions" never were the objective of the study and the ongoing crisis may not necessarily be the end of the cycle that started with the industrial revolution, more than two centuries ago. Nevertheless, it is impressive that the authors of the study had understood, already in 1972, how a combination of resource depletion and accumulation of persistent pollution was going to slow down, and then reverse, the growth of the world's economy. It is, clearly, the phenomenon that we are seeing today and that Heinberg describes.
On this point, you may also see my book "The Limits to Growth Revisited".