Limits to Growth – Club of Rome

In 1972, the famous report Limits to Growth got published, causing a worldwide shock. Some 13 million copies were sold in 52 languages, 800,000 articles and studies followed and numerous quotes and references by politics, science, NGOs and industry can be found. The LtG focus is not on environment, as many think, but on Resources. The resource focus then was oil, gas, coal, phosphorus and a few other materials, forecasting their depletion before 2050. The underlying calculations were done using the so called World 3 Model (MIT Boston, 1970). In 2022, the next Review will be launched in a Vatican based event. Rome meets Rome.

The overall conclusion was that resource scarcity and pollution of ground, water and air will begin to have serious consequences for industrial output, food production and life expectation at the beginning of this century.

Current Status

The current World 7 Model is the latest advanced tool, enabling us to include most of the elements of the periodic system. It tells us that a long list of materials, all needed to mobilise the economy, are getting ever closer to their limits (see enclosed picture of estimated peak-production dates). A reality with serious consequences, that is not yet well understood by society, politicians, and leaders from companies and financial institutions.

World 7 is the baseline for the Resource Wende programme, named after the famous Energy Wende in Germany. Wende meaning: turn around. Not only the model’s materials, but the very physical environment is included in the Resource Wende, such as water, nature, space, health and the many conditions which mankind needs to survive. It is clear that all is meeting it’s zenith now. Reviews of all kind reveal that the limits are here and now.

CUTEC – Remondis

Based on a study by the ‘Clausthaler Umwelttechnik-Institut (CUTEC)’, Remondis has produced an infographic that shows for 14 raw materials:

  • Until which year it is technically and economically feasible to explore the resources. Due to the remaining lower quality grades and as a consequence higher energy and financial requirements related to exploration, the economic lifetime of a reservoir is way shorter than the technical lifetime.
  • To what extend these materials can be substituted or recycled. Due specific qualities of the original material and also scarcity of the alternatives, the opportunities for substitution are limited. Recycling opportunities are also limited due to the natural degradation of materials and costs involved in recycling.

Forreign Affairs

On the website of Forreign Affairs the relation between climate change, the energy transition, resource scarcity and geopolitics was described in a reveiling article:

  • Cleaner and greener energy has been positioned as the panacea to reduce climate change and put an end to geopolitical tensions as caused by fossil fuels
  • The move to these sources will, at least on the short term increase the dependency on more concentrated producers of scarce raw-material and as a consequence also increase geopolitical tensions and the likelihood of a war for resources.
  • The growing reliance on and demand for energy, combined with the fluctuations of renewable energy sources, put secure energy supply at risk.

Given the above, it is not hard to imagine a situation where the current economic and welfare growth will outpace the energy and raw materials supply volumes. Current integrated assessment models show that this will cause an overshoot & collapse scenario: The more production volumes exceed planetery boundaries, the steeper the decline after peak production is reached.

Harald Sverdrup

Harald Sverdrup is a professor at Norwegian and Iceland universities. He and his colleagues have devoted their life on scientifically calculating the scarcity of resources and modelling the consequences for economic growth, industry dynamics, energy- and food-production, society, population, health and wellbeing. The complex interrelations (illustratively shown here) are visualised using World 7 as a modelling tool. If you would like to know more about the outcome of the various studies, your really need to read his article in Geochemical Perspectives, volume 3, number 2, as published in October 2014. An draft update called the Final Countdown is recently published. A shorter Dutch article from the P+ magazine (May 2020) is available here.

During one of the dialogues as conducted in November 2019, Sverdrup presented his work during a presentation. Below his final conclusions:

  • A systemic approach is a condition for resolving the challenges:
    • Sectoral approaches and tweaking the present system is insufficient;
    • When society is materially circular, that creates a circular economy;
  • Systemic changes need to be multi-sectorial, causally linked and pervasive:
    • Energie-wende is linked to Resource-wende, which is linked to Social-wende;
    • Rearranging the structure of the systems and resetting parameters, imply transformative changes to existing society and power-structures;
    • Involve all fundamental systems; industrial-, economic- and social dynamics;
    • Unresolvable goal conflicts will lead to challenging choices citizen must be prepared for;
  • Transformative changes take time:
    • Plan with at least 20 years from start to implementation. Decisive action is required now.