The Debate

Economic growth is supposed to deliver rising prosperity. Higher incomes should mean better choices, richer lives, an improved quality of life for us all. That at least is the conventional wisdom. So the possibility that there may be limits to growth is clearly one that must be taken seriously.

In 1972 the Club of Rome published its landmark report, The Limits to Growth, which challenged this conventional wisdom. The report examined exponential trends in resource use and pollution since the Industrial Revolution, and in particular since 1950 – the start of what has been called ‘the great acceleration’ in development and human impacts on the Earth.

The Club of Rome’s model of industrial economies and their resource use indicated that ‘business-as-usual’ would lead inexorably to severe ecological, social and economic pressures, and eventually to the collapse of industrial systems.

Projection for Disaster, from Time Magazine 24 January 1972
Projection for Disaster, from Time Magazine 24 January 1972

Limits to Growth was fiercely contested from the moment it first appeared. Some regarded it as unduly alarmist. Others saw it as a wake-up call for the way we organise our economies. The findings of its underlying model were debated extensively – often without a full understanding of what the book actually said. For instance, the authors never at any point indicated that the economy would collapse before the end of the 20th Century. Recent reviews of the model suggest that the Limits to Growth analysis is essentially robust.

Emerging evidence also suggests that economic growth does not reliably deliver greater wellbeing or improve real standards of living. Deepening inequalities, competition for scarce goods, and the rise of status-driven consumerism generate social limits to growth as well as environmental ones.

How should governments, business, civil society and citizens respond to these challenges? The pursuit of economic growth is a fundamental goal of policymaking, a dominant theme in national election campaigns, and a priority for many businesses. It is widely assumed that growth means progress and that prosperity depends on growth. But what if these assumptions are false?

There is a fast-developing international debate about how we can rethink growth in an age of ecological risks, rising population and growing competition for resources.  The aim of the APPG on Limits to Growth is to contribute to this debate, challenging fixed assumptions and exploring new approaches to sustainable prosperity. We aim to contribute to a robust cross-party debate in Parliament and to stimulate a wider societal conversation about this momentous set of issues.

For background information and further insight on the Limits to Growth, please take a look at >> our reading list. You are invited to join the conversation on our Limits Revisited page, or via Twitter and Facebook.