In 1972 a group of world and business leaders, economists, political thinkers and academics called the Club of Rome commissioned the publication of the Limits To Growth. The paper was based on the World3 computational global model consisting of 5 interacting parts and around 1000 equations for predicting future resource models. As a think-tank, the Club of Rome went on to publish other papers, revising it's predictions in Beyond the Limits: The 20-Year Update and Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update as well as later making several notably accurate projections about the need for a common enemy among developed nations.
Fundamentally the model argued, perhaps for the first time, that continuous growth was unsustainable and that the upper limit on growth would be reached with diminishing resources, resulting in a near total collapse of society and economy. The authors heavily ciriticised growth models that failed to take into account the increasingly exponential use of resources and took static values to make utopic predictions. For instance:
Under the standard static model of consumption of Chromium which estimates a total of 775 million tonnes of raw material and 1.85 million tonnes a year being consumed the resource will last for 418 years.
But, taking into account the 2.6% growth in the use of Chromium...
The authors in turn were criticised almost straight away for creating what many viewed as a bleak doomsday scenario and some critics pointed out that with continuing growth, technology would be developed that would allow resource scarcity issues to be overcome. As time progressed, more recent reviews of the last decade have begun to show correlation with the predictions made. A 2008 comparison paper showed that the predictions made were largely accurate and on schedule particularly in respect of peak oil and environmental problems.
But Limits to Growth went up against another paper for publication and syndication by the Club in 1972 - The Predicament of Mankind. This paper outlined 49 key Continuous Critical Problems that were at the root of humanity's problems:
1) Explosive population growth with consequent escalation of social, economic, and other problems.Further, it organised these problems into a tier system of interaction that showed root causes and connections between them. A 2004 retrospective paper of Predicament went on to visually represent this:
2) Widespread poverty throughout the world.
3) Increase in the production, destructive capacity, and accessibility of all weapons
4) Uncontrolled urban spread.
5) Generalized and growing malnutrition.
6) Persistence of widespread illiteracy.
7) Expanding mechanization and bureaucratization of almost all human activity.
8) Growing inequalities in the distribution of wealth throughout the world.
9) Insufficient and irrationally organized medical care.
10) Hardening discrimination against minorities.
11) Hardening prejudices against differing cultures.
12) Affluence and its unknown consequences.
13) Anachronistic and irrelevant education.
14) Generalized environmental deterioration.
15) Generalized lack of agreed-on alternatives to present trends.
16) Widespread failure to stimulate man's creative capacity to confront the future.
17) Continuing deterioration of inner-cities or slums.
18) Growing irrelevance of traditional values and continuing failure to evolve new
19) Inadequate shelter and transportation.
20) Obsolete and discriminatory income distribution system(s).
21) Accelerating wastage and exhaustion of natural resources.
22) Growing environmental pollution.
23) Generalized alienation of youth.
24) Major disturbances of the world's physical ecology.
25) Generally inadequate and obsolete institutional arrangements.
26) Limited understanding of what is "feasible" in the way of corrective measures.
27) Unbalanced population distribution.
28) Ideological fragmentation and semantic barriers to communication between
individuals, groups, and nations.
29) Increasing a-social and anti-social behavior and consequent rise in criminality.
30) Inadequate and obsolete law enforcement and correctional practices.
31) Widespread unemployment and generalized under-employment.
32) Spreading "discontent" throughout most classes of society.
33) Polarization of military power and psychological impacts of the policy of
34) Fast obsolescing political structures and processes.
35) Irrational agricultural practices.
36) Irresponsible use of pesticides, chemical additives, insufficiently tested drugs,
37) Growing use of distorted information to influence and manipulate people.
38) Fragmented international monetary system.
39) Growing technological gaps and lags between developed and developing areas.
40) New modes of localized warfare.
41) Inadequate participation of people at large in public decisions.
42) Unimaginative conceptions of world-order and of the rule of law.
43) Irrational distribution of industry supported by policies that will strengthen the
44) Growing tendency to be satisfied with technological solutions for every kind of
45) Obsolete system of world trade.
46) Ill-conceived use of international agencies for national or sectoral ends.
47) Insufficient authority of international agencies.
48) Irrational practices in resource investment.
49) Insufficient understanding of Continuous Critical Problems, of their nature, their
interactions and of the future consequences both they and current solutions to them are generating.
The paper also talks about how the growth of individual problems would mean that they become overlapped and indistinguishable from each other such that a model like the one used by World3 was far too simplistic to take into account the myriad complications and interactions between individual actors.
Despite the accuracy of Limits to Growth it's still important to bear in mind how much the confirmation bias holds sway over these models. Even the most holistic but thoughtful predictions can tell that the competitiveness and individuality fostered by Cold War consumerism would not be able to continue without resistance from mother Earth. As the authors of Limits to Growth note, what is important is not the validity of the prediction but the recognition that a larger system of interaction is at play beyond the individual or corporate consumer and that these things effect a system that plays out over decades, perhaps even hundreds of years on a global scale.