Twenty years after The Limits to Growth comes the sequel. It's a hard act to follow: the original sold nine million copies and made its authors and backers, the so-called Club of Rome, famous with its prophecy that the comfortable optimism of the Sixties was threatened by a combination of population growth, resource exhaustion and the effluents produced by affluence. The authors used a large computer model to project economic and demographic trends, and predicted a collapse of living standards by the middle of the 21st century unless dramatic changes were made. A decade after the Cuba missile crisis, a world that was learning to live with the superpower confrontation reacted in alarm to the warning that a population explosion would be no less deadly than that of the ICBMs, and much harder to control. Some pessimists even derived a certain lugubrious pleasure from thinking the baby boom more inevitable and more damaging than the atomic kind. Demographic warfare differs from the traditional sort in that going nuclear usually signals de-escalation. But the authors warned that slowing the birth rate (did they choose the title Club of Rome deliberately?) would be nothing like enough to avoid calamity. At any foreseeable stable population level, even existing consumption trends would exhaust the world's resources and pollute its environment beyond repair.
LRB 23 July 1992 | PDF Download