Image (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Dalio Photo / Flickr

Image (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Dalio Photo / Flickr

Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, Jørgen Randers and William Behrens (1972). The Limits to Growth. New York: Universe Books.
This was the Club of Rome’s landmark report, published almost forty-five years ago. The book caused a storm of controversy and has been fiercely debated ever since. The authors used a system dynamics model (World3) to explore changes in population, industrialisation, pollution, food production and resource depletion. They produced three scenarios involving different assumptions about the growth trends for these variables. Two of the scenarios led to ‘overshoot and collapse’. A third scenario resulted in a ‘stabilised world’. The authors always insisted that these scenarios were predictions ‘only in the most limited sense of the word’ and were just indications of the potential behavioural tendencies of the economy.

Bardi, U. (2014). Extracted – How the Quest for Mineral Wealth Is Plundering the Planet. Vermont, USA: Chelsea Green Publishing.
Ugo Bardi delivers a sweeping history of the mining industry, “starting with its humble beginning when our early ancestors started digging underground to find the stones they needed for their tools.” His book traces the links between mineral riches and empires, wars, and civilizations, and shows how mining in its various forms came to be one of the largest global industries. Ugo Bardi illustrates how the gigantic mining machine is starting to reach its limits.

Blewitt, J. and R. Cunningham, Eds. (2014). The Post-Growth Project: how the end of economic growth could bring a fairer, happier society.  London: London Publishing Partnership.
This edited collection of essays from think-tank Green House challenges the assumption that it is bad news when the economy doesn’t grow. The authors demonstrate why our economic system demands ecologically unsustainable growth and the pursuit of more ‘stuff’. They believe that what matters is quality, not quantity – a better life based on having fewer material possessions, less production and less work.

D’Alisa, G., Demaria, F. & G. Kallis (2014). Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era. London: Routledge.
“Degrowth”, as understood by the editors of this collection, is a rejection of “the illusion of growth” and a call to repoliticize the public debate dominated by the paradigm of “economism”. It is a project advocating the democratically-led shrinking of production and consumption with the aim of achieving social justice and ecological sustainability. The book provides an overview of the degrowth thinking and offers a comprehensive coverage of its main topics and major challenges. Contributing authors include inter alia David Bollier and Silke Helfrich, Tim Jackson, Serge Latouche, Joan Martinez-Alier, Daniel O’Neil, Juliet Schor and Peter Victor.

Daly, H. (1977/1991). Steady-State Economics. Washington, DC: Island Press.
Former World Bank Economist Herman Daly is one of the world’s leading proponents of a steady-state economy. Throughout his career, Daly has published several books and articles on the subject. First published in 1977, his volume on the steady-state economics caused a sensation because of his radical view that enough is best. Today, his ideas are recognized as the key to sustainable development, and Steady-State Economics is universally acknowledged as one of the leading books on the economics of sustainability.

Dietz, R. and D. O’Neill (2013). Enough is enough – Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources. London: Routledge.
In Enough Is Enough, Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill urge us “to shift our focus from the symptoms to the cause: the pursuit of never-ending economic growth.” While it is widely accepted that we live in a world of finite resources, we still need to change our economic goal “from the madness of more to the wisdom of enough”.

Jackson, T. (2009/2016). Prosperity Without Growth – Foundations for the Economy of Tomorrow. London: Routledge.
Prosperity without Growth examines both the dynamics of crisis and the true meaning of prosperity. Originally written as a report for the UK Government, the book was subsequently translated into seventeen languages and achieved wide acclaim. Acknowledging at the outset that poorer nations stand in urgent need of economic development, the book nonetheless questions whether ever-rising incomes for the already-rich are an appropriate goal for policy in a world constrained by ecological limits.  It explores the intriguing possibility that humans can flourish – and in particular participate meaningfully and creatively in the life of society – in less materialistic ways.

Jackson, T. and P. Victor (2015). Does credit create a growth imperative? A quasi-steady state economy with interest-bearing debt. Ecological Economics, 120: 32–48.
This paper addresses the question of whether a capitalist economy can ever sustain a ‘stationary’ (or non-growing) state, or whether, as often claimed, capitalism has an inherent ‘growth imperative’ arising from the charging of interest on debt. Contrary to claims in the literature, this paper find that neither credit creation nor the charging of interest on debt creates a ‘growth imperative’ in and of themselves.

Jones, A. et al (2013). 1pdfthumbnailResource constraints: sharing a finite world – Implications of Limits to Growth for the Actuarial Profession. The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, January 2013.
The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries have conducted a series of literature reviews to explore the current evidence for resource constraints and climate change. To build on this work the Global Sustainability Institute was commissioned to undertake further research and modelling of the possible impacts of resource constraints limiting economic growth on actuarial advice. The report brings together the latest information and research on resource constraints. It examines the current situation and projections for a range of resources including oil, coal, natural gas, uranium, land, food, water and metals as well as considering the environmental loading of the planet in terms of climate change and planetary limits.

Jones, A. (2014). 1pdfthumbnailClimate change and limits on natural resources – projections and impacts. Report from the International Social Security Association (ISSA).
The International Social Security Association Megatrends reports examine how different global issues could constrain the provision of social security services around the world. This report brings together thoughts on resource scarcity using data gathered as part of the GRO project.

Lloyd’s of London (2015). 1pdfthumbnail‘Food system shock: the insurance impacts of acute disruption to global food supply’.
This report, published by Lloyd‘s of London, explores how a global shock in food production may impact the insurance sector. By exploring plausible scenarios it outlines particular insurance classes and how they may be effected.

Randers, J. (2012). 2052 – A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years. Vermont, USA: Chelsea Green Publishing.
2052 – A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years is a 2012 publication written by Jørgen Randers, a founding member of the Club of Rome. Drawing on his experience in the sustainability area, with global forecasting tools, and the predictions of more than thirty leading scientists, economists, futurists, and other thinkers, the book is calculating trends in global development. It is a follow-up to The Limits to Growth, the first worldwide report by the Club of Rome. Interested readers should visit the website, a supplement to the book, containing the quantitative basis of his research.

Rockström, J. et al (2009). 1pdfthumbnailPlanetary boundaries: exploring the safe operating space for humanity. Ecology and Society, 14(2): 32.
A large cross-disciplinary team led by Dr Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Centre identified a set of nine processes that regulate the land, ocean and atmosphere. For each process they identified a boundary beyond which humans would cause unacceptable environmental change – the world’s ‘critical biophysical boundaries’.

Pasqualino, R. et al (2015). 1pdfthumbnailUnderstanding Global Systems Today – A Calibration of the World3 Model between 1995 and 2012Sustainability, 2015 (7): 9864-9889.
The latest academic paper to explore the dynamics presented in the original Limits to Growth scenarios finds that human society has invested more to abate persistent pollution, to increase food productivity and have a more productive service sector and therefore the large scale economic impacts are delayed.

Salleh, A. (Ed.) (2009). Eco-Sufficiency & Global Justice: women write political ecology. London: Pluto Press and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
This book introduces theoretical concepts for talking about humanity-nature links and is considered to be a challenging read for activists and for students of political economy, environmental ethics, global studies, sociology, women’s studies, and critical geography.

Turner, G. 2014. 1pdfthumbnailIs Global Collapse Imminent? An Updated Comparison of The Limits to Growth with Historical Data. MSSI Research Paper No. 4, Aug 2014.
A recent re-examination of the scenarios explored in the World3 model. The author concludes that the world has more or less followed the ‘standard run’ in the Limits to Growth report. In other words society is still heading for one of the two collapse scenarios predicted in the original model.

WEF (2014). 1pdfthumbnailThe Future Availability of Natural Resources: A New Paradigm for Global Resource Availability. World Economic Forum, Nov 2014.
A recent survey of 800 experts convened by the World Economic Forum (WEF), resource scarcity was identified as the second most underestimated global issue, second only to financial inequality.

Please note that the reading list above is a work in progress and will be further developed over the coming weeks. You are invited to submit further suggestions in the comments section below or join the conversation on Twitter or Facebook.

Comments (2)

  1. Reply

    Excellent stuff!
    You might like to add an ecologists perspective on growth to your reading list:
    Paul Colinvaux 1980 The Fates of Nations: a biological theory of history.
    Colinvaux uses the science of ecology to show how continued population growth is corrosive to freedom and is a major factor causing poverty. He also shows how continued population growth is related to aggressive warfare. (The relationship is nontrivial but is consistent with the work of Ember and Ember: .)

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