An MIT model published in 1972 predicted that our civilization would end by the mid-21st century. Now, a recent paper has shown that the current data fits the model with chilling precision, reinforcing the idea that, if we do not stop the overexploitation of planetary resources, we may face a global crisis that will change our world forever and for the worse.
The science and other stuff to know
In 1972, a team of MIT researchers gathered to assess possible future global collapse scenarios. Using computer modeling, the researchers created ‘World3’, and this model, described in their book titled “The Limits to Growth“, gave them an alarming answer:
“If the present growth trends in world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probable result will be a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity.”
Now, a study published in Yale Journal of Industrial Ecology in November 2020, has found that the World3 model was strikingly aligned with modern data, which means we are unfortunately right on schedule.
The latest study focused on current data on population, industrial output, food production, non-renewable resources, persistent pollution, and ecological footprint, among others.
Gaya Herrington, the author of the study, discovered that the current rate of economic growth cannot be sustained without destroying the quality of life on Earth. The exploitation of minerals, fossil fuels, and energy demand would result in the industry’s productivity collapsing around 2040, causing shortages and, in the worst-case scenario, triggering an unrelenting global social crisis.
The data shows that unless we change our extraction, production, and consumption models, we will continue to produce wealth at the rates that imperialism has accustomed us to. However, this boon will not last more than a decade because the resources that enable it are rapidly depleting.
The most optimistic model proposed by the author proposes that stable economic growth would be the result of a combination between technological innovation and broad investment in public health and education. Unfortunately, current data does not point in this direction. Other models fit the empirical data better, and their predictions for the global economy are not as encouraging.
Despite everything, the study’s author remains optimistic. As she put it in her speech at the World Economic Forum in 2020: “Changing our societal priorities hardly needs to be a capitulation to grim necessity. Human activity can be regenerative, and our productive capacities can be transformed.”
While we have a remarkably short window to implement the necessary changes to avoid the worst-case scenario, it is not too late to reverse our civilization’s fatal course. If we take measures to address the current environmental, energy, and social crises within the next ten years, the horizon will hopefully no longer be so dark.