The Club of Rome and the Smithsonian Institution’s Consortium for Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet hosted a one-day symposium on March 1, 2012 celebrating the 40th anniversary of Limits to Growth.

Dennis Meadows

The first report to the Club of Rome was published in 1972, and it was followed with vilification. By 2012, the scenarios offered proved correct, and two truths have become evident. First, there will be a managed solution by putting a price on GHGs and creating new energy solutions. Second, this is a bet made with one assumption.

There will be a series of catastrophic resolutions with severe social, economic and environmental “chaos costs” in the world to create needed change. Whether it is small or big business or national or local politics that provides the urgent action needed is of little consequence because it is too late to achieve sustainable development for five main reasons.

  1. Public discourse has difficulty with subtle, conditional messages.

  2. Growth advocates change the justification for their paradigm rather than changing the paradigm itself.

  3. The global system is now far above its carrying capacity.

  4. We act as if technological change can substitute for social change.

  5. The time horizon of our current system is too short.

The term resilience is more common than sustainable for these reasons. The actions called for fit into what business and governance believe they can implement in their self-interest. Dennis Meadows’ investment in getting us to accept “resilience first,” like “fix it first” gets our ducks in order.

The estimates for a stabilized and sustainable world called for about 3% of the world’s GDP. Resilience will cost more than that, but now there is no choice.  Resilience is a metaphorical “wall” that organizations such as Global Footprint and the Club of Rome define as the overshoot problem. This assessment only began one generation ago, and the ability to get traction on change or the least purchase of the metaphor requires a new growth paradigm, instead of a limit on it. A dramatic term for drawing a line around a place could describe the whole earth or a small town.  Nevertheless, once done it becomes possible to construct an earnest per capita analysis inside that line into form the urban sphere. Per capita analysis is an excellent measure for compare the needs and behavior of individuals, groups, and societies that create demands on natural resources. From our personal social, economic and cultural place, we learn to develop in extraordinary new ways. As a friend says on this, you can “parse that to the bank.”


Chart Sources: Meadows, D.H., Meadows, D.L., Randers, J. and Behrens III, W.W.(1972) (Linda Eckstein)

How does density fit in?

  • Density reduces the cost of essential resource delivery
    • water, food, energy, and material goods
    • resource transit from places to place
  • Pollution and toxic waste functions
    • are reduced per capita and
    • high volumes are contained for advanced treatment.
  • Density reduces “chaos costs” and increases resilience
    • it integrates renewable energy structures/systems
    • sustains natural habitats and can stop open space fragmentation.

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