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Víctor M. Toledo: “The limits of growth”, 50 years later

Victor M. Toledo


five decades have passed since study publication The limits of growth, which the more time passes, the more it is recognized as the work that shook with great intensity the economic foundations and the worldview of the modern world. Remembering its origins is worthwhile, because it allows us to identify unusual phenomena. The research was requested by the Club of Rome from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The Club of Rome is a consortium of European scientists, businessmen, politicians and thinkers founded by Aurelio Peccei, Italian industrialist, and Alexander King, director of science in the European Community, which is still in force and has published 45 reports on the world situation. Today the Club of Rome has about 100 members, has a presence in 30 countries and its headquarters are in Switzerland.

The study, published in 1972, by the MIT system dynamics group, is based on a global model that incorporated five critical variables or factors: population growth, food production, industrialization, depletion of natural resources, and pollution. This model tried to unveil the trends for 100 years. The research reached three main conclusions: a) if the current trends of the factors included are followed, the planet would reach the limits of growth in the next 100 years. The most likely result: a sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity; b) these trends must be modified in order to achieve an ecological and economic balance; c) the sooner you start working on option b, the greater the chances of success. The global model created managed to jointly analyze all five factors in terms of interlocking feedback loops. Fifty years later, there is no doubt that humanity’s ecological footprint substantially exceeds its natural limits every year.

The impact of this book was many times greater, because it came not from dissident or alternative intellectuals but from the very bowels of the normal or dominant scientific system. His greatest contribution is that he showed for the first time the consequences of uncontrolled growth on a planet of finite resources. The main author of the report, in which 17 professionals collaborated, was Donella Meadows, a biophysicist and environmental scientist, specializing in system dynamics. The Club of Rome has published three other updated versions of the original report in 1992, 2004 and 2012.

We can distinguish several events around this report. First, the events that accompanied the publication of this work in the 1970s. Around the same time, another key work appeared that called into question the foundations of economic theory: the book by N. Georgescu-Roegen (1971). The Entropy Law and the Economic Process, forerunner of ecological economics and thermoeconomics. In 1973, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm, Sweden, was the first world conference to make the environment a major issue.

The enormous disturbing effect caused by the book had to be confronted and then neutralized by the defenders of the book. establishment, and this was achieved by introducing a concept that hid the approval of continuing to grow: that of sustainable (or sustainable) development. This concept was introduced by Brundtland Report (1987), reconciling environmentalism and developmentalism and was imposed to support the idolatry of growth and/or economic development. Its spectacular launch occurred at the Rio de Janeiro Summit in 1992. Almost without exception, those of us who have been permanently concerned about the future of humanity and the planet uncritically accept and adopt the concept of sustainable development and its naive triad (environmentally correct , socially fair and economically viable). The concept is still valid, marking international policies with the so-called Sustainable Development Goals with the goals set in 2030.

Against the above, a whole avalanche of works, reports, positions and statements have emerged that make it increasingly clear that we are facing a crisis of civilization, where corporate capital is really the main cause of the ecological and social crisis in the world today. The texts and the social movement on decreasethe theory of the capitalocene, the positions of unions of scientists and, of course, the political ecology movements that exist today throughout the world questioning the worldview of modernity and its main battering ram: the economic system and its unstoppable obsession with growth .

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