In 1972, a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology released a study exploring societal collapse. The Limits of Growth report predicted that the 21st Century would see a large-scale industrial collapse as natural resource availability decline undermines economic growth.
The original study predicted that the collapse would occur “by around the second decade of the 21st century". While initially ridiculed in the 70s, continued modern studies are continuing to find evidence that the 21st Century will falter.
2020 study of industrial collapse
Reported by Vice, one of the world's largest accounting firms KPMG conducted a study into societal collapse. Published in the Yale Journal of Industrial Ecology, the report echoes the results of the 1972 study.
KPMG’s report claims that the trajectory of global civilization will soon see the grim reality that MiT predicted. In four different models tracking would resources, population, food, pollution and industrial output, resources always fall drastically around 2040.
The company's study was conducted by Sustainability and Dynamic System Analysis Lead, Gaya Herrington. The author worked on the paper as an extension of her Harvard Masters thesis to see if the original study held up.
The author said:
“Given the unappealing prospect of collapse, I was curious to see which scenarios were aligning most closely with empirical data today. After all, the book that featured this world model was a bestseller in the 70s, and by now we’d have several decades of empirical data which would make a comparison meaningful. To my surprise I could not find recent attempts for this. So I decided to do it myself.”
How the world can counter this
Herrington’s study doesn’t always result in doom and gloom. One “stabilised world" scenario sees Earth avoiding societal and industrial collapse by investing in two factors. By improving technological progress and investing in public services, there's a chance of improvement. However, world improvement must be a key focus for the next decade.
Herrington writes that the scenario requires humanity to take a deliberate change, stating:
“At this point therefore, the data most aligns with the CT and BAU2 scenarios which indicate a slowdown and eventual halt in growth within the next decade or so, but World3 leaves open whether the subsequent decline will constitute a collapse.”
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. In fact, we are seeing examples of that happening right now. Expanding those efforts now creates a world full of opportunity that is also sustainable.”
Herrington's stable world comes after a tough year-and-a-half for Earth. While many joked that the pandemic would cause societal and industrial collapse, it might just save it. The rapid turnaround on vaccines prove that humanity can beat the odds when everyone is on the same page. However, that change must come around for everything to succeed.
“The necessary changes will not be easy and pose transition challenges but a sustainable and inclusive future is still possible.”