11 January 2012

Finance and Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam recently warned of "Sub-par global growth for at least 2 years" (References: Reuters, Straits Times). I think he is being optimistic. The Singapore government is underestimating or ignorant of how peak oil and a planet with finite natural resources can and will limit our industrial production and severely disrupt our modern way of living. Unfortunately, discussions of the "Limits to Growth" notion has not made its way into Singapore politics and the local media. The warning from the Singapore government now is prepare for slow growth. I reckon that sometime between 2015-2020, they will lower their growth expectations and tell us that zero or negative economic growth will be the "new normal". The next question, what then? Are we prepared for a multi-decade long economic contraction?

New Scientist has published a very interesting article about the work of a group of scientists who in the 1970s attempted to model where unrestrained economic and population growth will lead us to and the conclusion was civilizational collapse.

Forty years ago, a highly controversial study warned that we had to curb growth or risk global meltdown. Was it right?
AT THE beginning of the 1970s, a group of young scientists set out to explore our future. Their findings shook a generation and may be even more relevant than ever today.
The question the group set out to answer was: what would happen if the world's population and industry continued to grow rapidly? Could growth continue indefinitely or would we start to hit limits at some point? In those days, few believed that there were any limits to growth - some economists still don't. Even those who accepted that on a finite planet there must be some limits usually assumed that growth would merely level off as we approached them.
These notions, however, were based on little more than speculation and ideology. The young scientists tried to take a more rigorous approach: using a computer model to explore possible futures. What was shocking was that their simulations, far from showing growth continuing forever, or even levelling out, suggested that it was most likely that boom would be followed by bust: a sharp decline in industrial output, food production and population. In other words, the collapse of global civilisation.
These explosive conclusions were published in 1972 in a slim paperback called The Limits to Growth. It became a bestseller - and provoked a furious backlash that has obscured what it actually said. For instance, it is widely believed that Limits predicted collapse by 2000, yet in fact it made no such claim. So what did it say? And 40 years on, how do its projections compare with reality so far?
Full Article: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21328462.100-boom-and-doom-revisiting-prophecies-of-collapse.html?full=true

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John said...

There are further charts of the predictions of the model and links to other articles on "The Limits to Growth" at The Limits to Growth - the end of our world as we know it?.