The Best of Creative Computing Volume 1 (published 1976)

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Doomsday, Says MIT Computer, May Be Just 100 Years Away

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biological effects of pollutants.

Critics say this is perhaps the weakest part of the study because the equations
are based in large part on opinion rather than proved fact, unavailable in most
cases. Dr. Meadows counters that the numbers are good because the model fits the
actual trends from 1900 to 1970.

The model was used to test the impact of various alternative future policies
designed to ward off the world collapse envisioned if no action is taken.

For example, it is often argued that continuing technological advances, such as
nuclear power, will keep pushing back the limits of economic and population

Little Benefit

To test this argument, the MIT team assumed that resources were doubled and that
recycling reduced demand for them to one-fourth. The computer run found little
in this since pollution became overwhelming and caused collapse.

Adding pollution control to the assumptions was no better; food production
dropped. Even assuming "unlimited” resources, pollution control, better
agricultural productivity and effective birth control, the world system
eventually grinds to a halt with rise in pollution, falling food output and
falling population.

“Our attempts to use even the most optimistic estimates of the benefits of
technology,” the report said, "did not, in any case postpone the collapse
beyond the year 2100.”

Skeptics argue that there is no way to imagine what kind of spectacular new
technologies are over the horizon.

"If we were building and making cars the way we did 30 years ago we would have
run out of steel before now, I imagine, but you get substitution of materials,"
said Robert M. Solow, an MIT economist not connected with the Club of Rome

Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell – Ed Abbey

At any rate, the MIT group went on to test the impact of other approaches, such
as stabilizing population and industrial capacity.

Zero population growth alone did very little, since industrial output continued
to grow, it was found. If both population and industrial growth are stabilized
by 1985, then world stability is achieved for a time, but sooner or later
resource shortages develop, the study said.

Ultimately, by testing different variations, the team came up with a system that
they believe capable of satisfying the basic material requirements of mankind
yet sustainable without sudden collapse. They said such a world would require
the following:

•	Stabilization of population and industrial capacity.

•	Sharp reduction in pollution and in resource consumption per unit of
industrial output.

•	Introduction of efficient technological methods-recycling of resources,
pollution control, restoration of eroded land and prolonged use of capital.

•	Shift in emphasis away from factory-produced goods toward food and
nonmaterial services, such as education and health.

The report is vague about how all this is to be achieved in a world in which
leaders often disagree even over the shape of a conference table.

Even so, critics are not sanguine about what kind of a world it would be. Dr.
Meadows agrees it would not be a Utopia, but nevertheless does not foresee

“A society released from struggling with the many problems caused by growth
may have more energy and ingenuity available for solving other problems,” he
says, citing such pursuits as education, arts, music and religion.

Many economists doubt that a no-growth world is possible. Given human
motivations and diversity, they say, there will always be instability.

“The only way to make it stable is to assume that people will become very
routine-minded, with no independent thought and very little freedom, each
generation doing exactly what the last did,” says Dr. Wallich. “I can't say
I'm enamored with that vision."

What of Africa?

“Can you expect billions of Asians and Africans to live forever at roughly
their standard of living while we go on forever at ours?" asked Dr. Solow.

Dr. Wallich terms no-growth "an upper-income baby," adding: “They've got
enough money, and now they want a world fit for them to travel in and look at
the poor."

The MIT team agrees that there is no assurance that “humanity’s moral
resources would be sufficient to solve the problem of income distribution.”
But, it contends, "there is even less assurance that such social problems will
be solved in the present state of growth, which is straining both the moral and
physical resources of the world’s people.”

The report ends hopefully, stating that man has what is physically needed to
create a lasting society.

“The two missing ingredients are a realistic long-term goal that can guide
mankind to the equilibrium society and the human will to achieve that goal," it

Collaborating with Dr. Meadows in writing “The Limits to Growth,”-were his
wife, Donella, a biophysicist; Jorgen Renders, a physicist, and William W.
Behrens 3d, an engineer. They were part of a 17-member international team
working with more than $200,000 in grants from the Volkswagen Foundation in

All animals, except man adapt according to their environment. Man changes his
environment, making it adapt to him – R. Buckminster Fuller

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