Limits Revisited

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Four and a half decades after the Club of Rome published its landmark report on Limits to Growth, the study remains critical to our understanding of economic prosperity. This new review of the Limits debate has been written to mark the launch of the UK All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Limits to Growth. It outlines the contents of the Club of Rome’s report, traces the history of responses to it and dispels some of the myths surrounding it. As Prof Tim Jackson summarises the report in his recent CUSP blog, if the Club of Rome is right, the next few decades are decisive: One of the most important lessons from the study is that early responses are absolutely vital as limits are approached. Faced with these challenges, there is also clearly a premium on creating political space for change and developing positive narratives of progress. A part of the aim of the APPG is create that space.

Launch event

Many thanks to all those who supported our launch event Limits to Growth or Opportunities for Prosperity?. It was wonderful to see so many people keen to participate in the debate. You can listen to the audio recording here:

CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 :: Davide Natalini, Aaron Vantsintjan, Linda Gessner (from left)
CC-BY-NC-ND :: Davide Natalini, Aaron Vantsintjan, Linda Geßner (from left)


The cross-party group was formed to create the space for cross-party dialogue on environmental and social limits to growth; to assess the evidence for such limits, identify the risks and build support for appropriate responses. Background information on the political functions of APPGs can be found on the Parliament’s website.

What do you think are issues we should consider, what should our next steps as APPG be? Please submit your ideas below, or join the conversation on Twitter or Facebook.

28 Replies to “Limits Revisited”

  1. Can I suggest that the missing link in our response to the many threats facing us is the psychological dimension. Since most people see their own happiness and the progress of society in general mainly in material terms asking them to make sacrifices in this respect for the sake of man’s long term future on this planet is an almost impossible task in my opinion.

    I would therefore argue that the only way to persuade the mass of people to change direction on this matter is to convince them that such a change would make for a happier and more flourishing life in the here and now.

    Fortunately we now have a science of happiness ( going under the name of positive psychology) which clearly shows that a less materialistic life-style is more conducive to true contentment. Action for Happiness founded by Lord Layard, Geoff Mulgan and Sir Anthony Seldon is a world-wide movement devoted to bringing these ideas into the mainstream.

    I would suggest that our psychological well-being be added to to our environmental, economic and social wellbeing as the goal we should be aiming for and that this dimension should be brought into the deliberations of this APPG.. I am sure that the founders of Action for Happiness would be happy to oblige in this connection.

  2. All parties said the current economic model wasn’t working for everyone, so could the committee consider HOW the shift could be made to a new model based on a fewer-people-consuming-less-stuff logic as something that would work not only for everyone but for sustainability too.

  3. My suggestion is to food production. Government policy is directed at Agro Framing based on Chemicals and oil. Let’s have support to decentralise food production and encourage local production to prioritise food security. There is some interesting opportunity for aquaculture the combination of fish and food production in a closed system. Insect farming as a source of animal and fish feed. All of these opportunities need support. We need massive support to decarbonise with alternative energy, Remove all subsidy from carbon. Overall we need to build a country that can sustain the people from within our resources.

    On a wider economic track AI is around the corner and will hit the economies of the world within ten years it will see the decimation of the jobs market. In my opinion, it will be the start of the full decline and the move to a two-tier society.

    I do wonder how the current elites of society will react to the idea of change that will make business as usual no longer possible. The money system only works with growth and more importantly debt.

    Am I paranoid or is it possible the most wealthy with the most to loose could seek to break the system with a view to survive the chaos. We need to be mindful of this possibility ( trump)

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  5. If ever an organization made an impression on public opinion with system dynamics it was the Club of Rome with Limits of Growth, which sold 12 million copies since its publication in 1972. Last week, Jorgen Randers, who has been with the Club of Rome ever since, launched a new book “2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years“. According to Randers we are still headed for disaster and even if we are not, things look pretty gloomy anyway. For those of you who don’t know: overshoot and collapse means global societal disorder and large-scale migration. See also my blog post at

  6. A very stimulating and sense-of-urgency-evoking event, thank you.

    I am an environmental scientist and psychologist with a research interest in measuring the rate of societal expansion of moral concern (historically and experimentally). My suggestion for the APPG is as follows:

    The latest data, illustrations and expert opinions all lead to the clear conclusion that “the next few decades are decisive” (Limits Revisited, p. 17). The latest AR5 synthesis report of the IPCC (2014) also repeatedly calls for “substantial emissions reductions over the next few decades” (SPM 3, p. 17; and SPM 3.4,p. 20).

    Therefore, my suggestion would be to frame a campaign/debate around This Generation’s unique position in human history. After 2050 is too late. It is This Generation that has the power to save human civilisation and bring about a sustainable prosperity. A small number of studies suggest that people could rise to the challenge of being empowered with this level of responsibility. The focus on This Generation would appeal to other motivators too, such as legacy and generative concern.

  7. As someone who spends a good deal of their time trying to produce food on a small plot of land in southern England, it made me chuckle to hear that there is a new debate on limits to growth, in a country which has been living beyond its means, in terms of the capacity of our land to feed us, for around 200 years. Nevertheless I am very supportive of what you are doing.
    The problems are:
    1. The UK currently relies on imports for over 40% of its food and is making a monumental bet on having an endlessly secure supply of other people’s food.
    2. Our food is produced under a system of industrial-chemical agriculture whose unsustainability is becoming ever-more apparent.
    3. There is a sustainable alternative for agriculture: organic, decentralised and democratised. However, this type of farming is marginalised, undervalued and underfunded. Crucially there are wide ranges in estimates for whether such farming can feed a population of 65 million or more from 17 million hectares of agricultural land.
    My proposal for your committee is therefore that you commission detailed research into the productivity of organic or agro-ecological farming systems, scaled up to address the question of whether they can feed the UK.
    For a fuller version of this response please see:

  8. Great event, well done. My suggestion is that there needs to be a clear thread/focus on the demand side of all this – there has hitherto been too much focus on the supply side of the post-growth/de-growth/circular economy. (My phrasing – if the economy’s circular, what shape is the consumer?). Best of luck. David

  9. I have written a blog post following the inaugural meeting. Although I understand necessity for keeping within political feasibility, is really possible to argue that climate can be saved without degrowth ? Some easy calculations we have not the time within the remaining carbon budget(s) to decarbonise fast enough without a fall in world GDP. The blog post is “Green growth or degrowth” at

  10. The constraints envisaged (including materials, energy) will impact society via the very complex ENGINEERED systems (transport, food production, buildings, manufacturing, healthcare, education, entertainment) on which society absolutely depends.
    I and many other engineers have realised that existing engineering disciplines have not delivered the significant change needed – that a new way of thinking is needed that is based on understanding the forward operating environment and how to adapt to it.
    We have developed this and launched TRANSITION ENGINEERING a robust engineering-based framework for decision making and adaptation – it exactly delivers what Limits to Growth says needs delivering. – and we have just launched the Global Association for Transition Engineering, a new learned society to develop and educate about this approach – based in UK and NZ and the World. I hope to be able to share this with your group.
    Daniel Kenning CEng CEnv FIMechE MEI
    Global Association for Transition Engineering

    1. Dear Daniel,
      a Spanish civil engineer here!
      I will take a look at your website and proceed to learn!

      Nevertheless, let me also suggest to open a branch in the association for Low Tech Engineering, which may be really helpful in a future world with low energy availability.

  11. Suggestions for APPG:
    *economists do growth, investors do investment returns. So increase the linkage between the two in the APPG narrative (even if the formal “correlation link” is pretty weak). Where can capital best be deployed?
    *interpose “hardworking savings for hardworking savers” in the political narrative which focuses at pressent on the short term and only promotes “hardworking families” (e.g. in the “costs” of renewable energy)
    *research political systems (esp. the governance structures of government) outside the UK where Finance Ministry power is more curtailed, and discern where interventions in the UK might effectively be made. e.g. accelerate acceptance of the wider perspective of fiduciary duty (though even DWP might need to be subject to some advocacy).
    *MP’s pension scheme to lead the way!
    *A climate change/climate asset risk meme will engage me!
    *Increase engagement with asset owners (e.g. pension fund trustees) and actuaries; both are groups who have greater potential to take long term view than some other system participants

  12. Top four priorities would be to focus on the role of TNC’s , creating ‘closed loop’ circular economies, engaging people with nature at a personal level, and prioritising sustainable economies in Asian and African continents.

  13. Just want to add a historical note, since it may not be familiar to many here. Almost exactly 150 years ago, the economist William Stanley Jevons published a small book, The Coal Question, in which he assessed the problem of dwindling coal supplies. His calculations about coal were way off, but he nonetheless eloquently posed what may be seen as the central question for this group: “If we lavishly and boldly push forward in the creation and distribution of our riches, it is hard to over-estimate the pitch of beneficial influence to which we may attain in the present. But the maintenance of such a position is physically impossible. We have to make the momentous choice between brief greatness and longer continued mediocrity.”

  14. In order to make relevant and appropriate suggestions about tactical and strategic interventions, it would be very helpful to know what the scope, powers and resources of the APPG are. Could you set this out in a clear, concise way on the website?


  15. I think from it’s 1970’s perspective the limits to growth report underestimated the impacts of environmental damage, as you indicate, but also computer technology, in particular how widespread and pervasive it has become, and maybe how wasteful, and the huge wealth disparity we now have. Would anyone then have predicted so much wealth in the hands of 62 individuals, I think most would have gone the other way towards more equality. Financial inequality makes sustainability and long term stability difficult, it may be number one on the economists issues list and resource limits number two, but really they are inseparable.

    Is it possible that we have achieved the “BAU scenario” trajectory only by employing the “comprehensive technology scenario” methods, and as a consequence the down slope will be much steeper than expected? For example the introduction of IT in the 90’s may have given a short uptick to productivity but the decline after the dot-com crash was then just made steeper, as shown in Figure 3.

    I think in particular of the oil and gas industries. They have some of the most sophisticated IT methods for reservoir and seismic visualization, are at the cutting edge for heavy engineering and often employ these methods to accelerate production (i.e. for fast tracking projects and debottlenecking existing operations). The consequence is faster declines once a field comes off plateau.

    Any downslope will not be smooth. I think in terms a pulling and pushing on a string. In growth an optimistic view of the future acts as a pull, in terms of entrepreneurship, risk appetite, debt acceptance, population growth, aspirations and ambition. This keeps the string of society and the economy reasonably taught. In a decline the view of the future will be pessimistic and act as an impediment, the string will tend to concertina and volatility will dominate.

    We may be seeing the start of this now in oil and gas. High prices led to over production, which in turn led to a glut, a price collapse and an effective halt to new investment in development of new sources. There are some projects being completed through 2017, but then very little new oil will be available, probably between 2018 and 2022, just at a time when some of the largest oil fields might start serious decline.

    It typically takes 3 to 7 years to develop a new oil field, and up to 10 if exploration and appraisal drilling is needed. The theory seems to be that USA shale oil will suddenly ramp up to fill the gap, but really it only added enough to compensate for one year’s worth of normal worldwide decline over the period 2009 to 2014, and this was while the sweet spots were all available. It certainly hasn’t shown much flexibility in reducing overproduction over the last 18 months so might be equally sluggish to respond to a price spike.

    If there is sufficient new oil available then we may have another boom bust cycle over ten years, but recent lack of exploration success militates strongly against this. Or gas may be able to replace much of oil shortages for some years. Or we go back to coal – I can hear the excuses now “We need to get back to growth and full employment, and then we can worry about the environment” etc.

    What happens to the oil and gas companies if they fail continually, as has just started, to replace their reserves? Over time price rises will not compensate for declining assets, they get hit by yearly impairment charges, stockholders will sell up, share buy back schemes will not be able to compensate and the companies will cease to function. Their existing operations will continue to flow but new exploration and development will stop completely, existing oil shortages will suddenly get worse.

    The downslope with all it’s volatility, foreseen and managed. The necessary social and life style changes with renewables build out are not going to be able to work in a short enough time frame, they need to be promoted now. Unfortunately I think there is almost zero chance of this, more likely any government will not be able imagine, or sell to the electorate, anything but a BAU growth based future, and will act accordingly, which will tend to exacerbate rather than mitigate all the problems.

    1. The answer to your explanation of the O&G industry turmoil is called Demand Destruction (when high prices) – Offer Destruction (when low prices) Cycle. It becomes more and more extreme as you go down the decreasing slope.
      It is related to the [economic] inelasticity of a declining supply.

  16. Improving resource utilization is important, Part of the conversation is of course how to reduce and reverse current global human population growth of 80 million annually. Encouraging people to limit or reduce their standard of living is challenging, particularly in an increasingly unequal world, where many are very poor. By contrast, most people are content with having a smaller family. For many, their family size is larger than they wished, due to inadequate family planning provision or a lack of empowerment. For others, their attitudes are based on historical norms which are open to change through social marketing.

  17. To create a low impact living license.

    The license would permit people to be able to occupy land with a mobile structure of less than 100m2. The license would be retained as long as the household lives a low impact lifestyle.

    Why should this policy be tabled for debate?

    Low impact living provides an essential counterbalance to medium and high impact living. As a result, low impact living provides a highly sustainable solution (which we feel is of national importance) with regards satisfying UK’s green and grey assessed infrastructural needs. Consequently, low impact living satisfies the sustainable development (SD) objectives of the NPPF to a very high degree.

    It does this because siting transportable low impact dwellings on greenfield sites fulfills the need for sustainable housing which satisfies the criteria of social inclusion. It satisfies the need for environmental protection since by nature Low Impact dwellings are low impact and it satisfies the need to decouple economic growth from ecological degradation.

    Additional to these SD objectives, low impact living helps to reduce UK’s carbon footprint in terms of international obligations to reduce carbon emissions.

    As a result of meeting to a very high degree these policy obligations, low impact dwellings should also be able to pass the greenbelt exceptional circumstances criteria too. Similarly there is also potential for a low impact license to permit the construction of temporary low impact dwellings of less than 100m2 on designated allotment sites especially where sites are under-tenanted. Bordesley Green allotment site in Birmingham is a case in point.

    In conclusion, as a reward for living low impact lifestyles, people should be given the opportunity to obtain a low impact living license. This will in turn encourage low impact living initiatives that facilitate the fulfillment of both sustainable development goals and the SD criteria of the NPPF. Additionally, those living a low impact lifestyle, which is verified by the license, could be issued with carbon credits and so help contribute towards the purchase of a low impact living license, hence creating a positive feedback mechanism within our ecological system.

    1. Interesting. I’m keen on a something similar: “Sustainable plotland development”. It could also cool the housing market, particularly near London. See “Plotlands: A shock for the housing market” and “The Sustainable Plotlands Association – a proposal” on

      As far as I can find out there are no “sustainable” developments where the buildings plus residents’ lifestyles are anywhere near sustainable

      You cancontact me on Twitter @GeoffBeacon

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