Monday, January 7, 2019

Limits To Growth - What did it Really say? (Ugo Bardi)

A couple days ago I stumbled on AEI’s Mark J. Perry’s April 21st article (yet another regurgitation of Ronald Bailey’s imaginative 2000 Political PR con job) titled: 18 spectacularly wrong predictions made around the time of first Earth Day in 1970, expect more this year.”  This “18” attack campaign is related to malicious attacks on the book The Limits of Growth.  Ugo Bardi who has spent many years studying "The Limits to Growth” points out Bailey ignored the facts of the matter:
“In 1993 Bailey reiterated his accusations in the book titled “Ecoscam.” This time, he could state that none of the predictions of the 1972 Limits study had turned out to be correct.  Of course, Bailey’s accusations are just plain wrong. …”
“Reducing The Limits of Growth, a book of more than a hundred pages, to a few numbers is not the only fault of Bailey's criticism. The fact is that none of the numbers he had selected was a prediction and nowhere in the book was it stated that these numbers were supposed to be read as such. Table 4 was there only to illustrate the effect of a hypothetical continued exponential growth on the exploitation of mineral resources. Even without bothering to read the whole book, the text of chapter 2 clearly stated that continued exponential growth was not to be expected
The rest of the book, then, showed various scenarios of economic collapse that in no case took place before the first decades of 21st century.
Below I share links and quotes from Ugo Bardi’s series looking at the Limits To Growth book and project.  Here you’ll find the other side of the malicious bullshit the right wing PR monster has plastered all over the internet about LTG.
Bailey and Perry provide textbook examples of how ridicule, deception and fraud are the basic tools of choice in the GOP’s propaganda war against learning about our planet’s physical reality, I am working on a dissection and commentary, but it seems important to start with the facts.
Please understand, since I took part in the first Earth Day events as a high school freshman and I'm among those who love Earth sciences, I read Limits To Growth, now I’ve watched a half century get squandered, so it’s personal.  Admittedly, I skipped much in LTG that was over my head, but lets face it, you don’t need to understand the modeling and statistical minutia to appreciate the fundamental unavoidable situation being explained.  It was reducible to simple real life budgeting dilemmas and made all the sense in the world.  If you read it with good faith curiosity.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGzahJxZBoY
To me it didn’t matter if D-day was 40 or 60 or 100 years aways, it was obvious that we were heading toward destroying the biosphere we depend on for everything. 
The Writing was being written on our wall, loud and clear and all thinking people alive at that time learned about that new reality.  We learned that the only control humanity and society possessed, was over the speed of the changes and how much time we could buy ourselves for mitigation and adaptation before impacts became overwhelmingly catastrophic.  Then most forgot it and returned to 'Hollyworld' and business as usual.  That will have real world consequences.
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Cassandras
Ugo Bardi's blog

What is most impressive in the recent world events is not so much that the authors of "The Limits to Growth" may have predicted with incredible accuracy in 1972 the start of the decline of the world's economic system, evidenced today by the financial crisis. After all, they presented several scenarios with different results. That the "base case" scenario, the one they deemed the most likely on the basis of the available data, may turn out to be right is impressive, yes, but it may have been also a bit of luck.
It is not even so impressive that "The Limits to Growth" was criticized, demonized and ridiculed in every possible way before being consigned to the dustbin of the wrong scientific theories. After all, in 1972 it was difficult to believe that it could be possible to foresee a crisis that was to occur 40 years in the future.
No, what is really impressive is that in the newspapers, in TV, or in the speeches of those who can take decisions, no one is asking what is happening and why.  (August 14, 2011)
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A Case Study in the Demonization of Inconvenient Truths
September 16, 2011 | FinancialSense.com
By Ugo Bardi | Professor of Chemistry, Analyst, University of Florence, Italy


As part of a mini-series on "The Limits to Growth" (earlier posts here, here, and here)

In 1972, "The Limits to Growth" study arrived in a world that had known more than two decades of unabated growth after the end of the Second World War. …

Against that general feeling, the results of "The Limits to Growth" were a shock. …

There is a legend lingering around the first "Limits" book that says that it was laughed off as an obvious quackery immediately after it was published. It is not true. … it raised enormous interest and millions of copies were sold. Evidently, despite the general optimism of the time, the study had given visibility to a feeling that wasn't often expressed but that was in everybody's minds. Can we really grow forever? …

The Limits to Growth study had everything that was needed to become a major advance in science.  …

The reversal of fortunes of "The Limits to Growth" was gradual and involved a debate that lasted for decades. At first, critics reacted with little more than a series of statements of disbelief. Just a few early papers carried a more in-depth criticism, notably by William Nordhaus (1973) and … the "Sussex Group" (Cole 1973).  …

With time, the debate on the Limits book veered more and more on the political side. 

In 1997, the Italian economist Giorgio Nebbia noted that the reaction against the study had arrived from at least four different fronts: 

*  One was from those who saw the book as a threat to the growth of their businesses and industries. 
*  A second set was that of professional economists, who saw it as a threat to their dominance in advising on economic matters. 
*  The Catholic Church provided further ammunition for the critics, being piqued at the suggestion that overpopulation was one of the major causes of the problems.
* Then, the political left in the Western World saw the study as a scam of the ruling class, designed to trick workers into believing that the proletarian paradise was not a practical goal.

And this is a clearly incomplete list; 
*  the political right, 
*  the believers in infinite growth, 
*  politicians seeking for easy solutions to all problems, 
* and many others. 

All together, these groups formed a formidable coalition that guaranteed a strong reaction against the Limits to Growth study. This reaction eventually succeeded in demolishing the study in the eyes of the majority of the public and of specialists at the same time. …

At this point, a perverse effect started to act on people's minds. In the late 1980s, all what was remembered of the Limits to Growth book, published almost two decades before, was that it had predicted some kind of catastrophe at some moment in the future. …

In 1993 Bailey reiterated his accusations in the book titled “Ecoscam.” This time, he could state that none of the predictions of the 1972 Limits study had turned out to be correct.  Of course, Bailey’s accusations are just plain wrong. 

What he had done was to extract a fragment of the text of the book and criticizing it out of context. …

Reducing a book of more than a hundred pages to a few numbers is not the only fault of Bailey's criticism. The fact is that none of the numbers he had selected was a prediction and nowhere in the book was it stated that these numbers were supposed to be read as such. Table 4 was there only to illustrate the effect of a hypothetical continued exponential growth on the exploitation of mineral resources. Even without bothering to read the whole book, the text of chapter 2 clearly stated that continued exponential growth was not to be expected. 

The rest of the book, then, showed various scenarios of economic collapse that in no case took place before the first decades of 21st century.

It would have taken little effort to debunk Bailey's claims. 

But it seemed that, despite the millions of copies sold, all the "Limits to Growth" books had ended in the garbage bin. Bailey's criticism had success and it started behaving with all the characteristics of what we call today “urban legends.” …

At this point, we may ask ourselves if this wave of slander had arisen by itself, as the result of the normal mechanism of urban legends, or if it had been masterminded by someone. Can we think of a conspiracy organized against the authors of the Limits book or against their sponsors, the Club of Rome? On this point …

But it is not at all obvious that a certain view of the world, one that takes into account the finite amount of resources, is going to become prevalent, or even just respectable.

The success of the smear campaign of the 1980s shows the power of propaganda and of urban legends in shaping the public perception of the world, exploiting our innate tendency of rejecting bad news. Because of our tendency of disbelieving bad news, we chose to ignore the warning of impending collapse that came from the Limits study. In so doing, we have lost more than 30 years. …

To know more on this subject, you can see my book "The Limits to Growth Revisited"

References
1 Bailey, Ronald 1989, “Dr. Doom” Forbes, Oct 16, p. 45
2 Bardi, U. 2008, "Peak oil and the Limits to Growth: two parallel stories", The Oil Drum. https://europe.theoildrum.com/node/3550
3 Cole H.S.D., Freeman C., Jahoda M., Pavitt K.L.R., 1973, “Models of Doom” Universe Books, New York
4 Golub R., Townsend J., 1977, “Malthus, Multinationals and the Club of Rome” vol 7, p 201-222
5 Groshong, K. 2002, "The Noisy Response to Silent Spring: Placing Rachel Carson’s Work in Context!, Pomona College, Science, Technology, and Society Department Senior Thesis
6 Hoggan, James; Littlemore, Richard (2009). Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming. Vancouver: Greystone Books. ISBN 978-1553654858.
7 Nebbia, G. 1997, Futuribili, New Series, Gorizia (Italy) 4(3) 149-82
8 Nordhaus W., 1973 “Word Dynamics: Measurements without Data“, The Economic Journal n. 332.
9 Nordhaus W. D., 1992, “Lethal Models” Brookings Papers on Economic Activity 2, 1 Passel, P., Roberts, M., Ross L., 1972, New York Times, April 2
10 Oreskes, Naomi and Conway, Erik, 2010, "Merchants of Doubt", Bloomsbury, US
11 Simmons, M., 2000, “Revisiting The Limits to Growth: Could The Club of Rome Have Been Correct, After All?” https://www.simmonsco-intl.com/files/172.pdf
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Cassandra and the limits to growth
Ugo Bardi's blog, September 6, 2011

In 1992, William Nordhaus wrote an article (1) where he strongly criticized "The Limits to Growth" (LTG) study. Referring to the 1972 version of LTG, he said that,
"....it seems apparent that the dynamic behavior of the enormously complicated Limits I model was not fully understood (or even understandable) by anyone, either authors or critics." 
Which we may take as correct at least in one respect; that is, if Nordhaus meant to include himself among these "critics". Indeed, with this sentence, Nordhaus may have been admitting that his 1973 paper (2), where he had even more strongly criticized world modelling, was completely wrong. Simply, in 1973 he hadn't understood how the model worked, and not even in 1992. (I discuss in detail these papers by Nordhaus in my book "LTG Revisited" (3).)
It is also true that the large majority of those who criticized the first LTG study after its publication, in 1972, did so without really understanding world modelling. But is it true that the "world3" model at the basis of the study was not "understandable," as Nordhaus maintains? …
The Limits To Growth model was not impossible to understand, either. If you look at the text of the original 1972 LTG book, you'll see that the figure shown above came only after several pages that described in detail how the model worked. The authors made a thorough job in showing diagrams of the various subsets of the model. That made the model understandable even by economists. …
Unfortunately, that was not enough. No matter how well the model was explained, understanding “Limits to Growth” required an effort that most people were not willing to expend. It is difficult to fight against the human tendency of disbelieving bad news - the Cassandra effect, in short.
But we can learn something from the Limits To Growth experience. …
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biopilz  |  Date 25.11.2015  |  Duration 42:30 mins. 

In 1972, the study ‘Limits to Growth’ warned against the impact of capitalism.   

Did anyone act on it? It shows that Capitalism lies at the root of problems such as overpopulation and environmental pollution, yet few seem to be aware of the connection.

Atter its publication in 1972, the Club of Rome's study, "Limits to Growth," came to epitomize a historical turning point. The book calls into question the fundamental principle of the American economic ideology of capitalism, with its insatiable pursuit of growth. However, the work did not just pillory contemporary practices. It also warned of the extremely diverse and massive consequences for all of humanity. 



Although there is scarcely any doubt as to the validity of the study and its 1992 successor, "Beyond the Limits," governments worldwide have done very little to solve the major problems. Topics such as overpopulation, environmental pollution, depletion of resources, and consumption are now familiar to everyone, but few people are aware of the impact they can have in the context of exponential growth on Earth, and therefore on all of humanity. This documentary sheds light on the effect the work has had on public perceptions in the past four decades.

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