More Reasons Why We are Reaching Limits to Growth

In a recent post, I talked about why we may be reaching Limits to Growth of the type foretold in the 1972 book Limits to Growth. I would like to explain some additional reasons now.

Figure 1. Base scenario from 1972 Limits to Growth, printed using today's graphics by Charles Hall and John Day in "Revisiting Limits to Growth After Peak Oil"

In my earlier post, I talked about how rising oil prices are associated with rising food prices, and how these high prices can make it harder for borrowers to repay their loans, as is now happening in Europe. These same problems can lead to a contraction of credit availability. A contraction in credit availability can be doubly problematic: it can lead to a cutback in demand because buyers cannot afford goods using oil, such as new cars, and it can lead to a drop in financing for industrial uses, including expanded oil drilling. All of these issues may lead to contraction of the type expected in Limits to Growth. US governmental debt limit problems and European debt defaults are also outcomes of the type expected with rising oil prices.

In this post, I would like to discuss some other basic issues that seem to be associated with Limits to Growth, and that may eventually lead to an abrupt downturn or collapse.

Limits to Growth: More Basic Issues

1. The over-use of resources by humans seems to be of very-long standing origin, datingĀ to the time-period 100,000 BC when there were fewer than 100,000 people on earth. Capitalism today is an extension of this long-term pattern.

2. World systems often seem to work as a gradual build-up of forces followed by a cataclysmic release. Examples include earthquakes and hurricanes. Even getting hungry, and then eating, follows this pattern. A similar pattern may happen with the Limits to Growth that we seem to be reaching.

3. The extent to which humans can gather resources for their own use depends on their geographical reach. As hunter-gatherers, our reach was quite limited. This reach has gradually grown through inventions such as ships, through the settling of new lands and colonialism, and most recently through international globalization. Globalization is necessarily the end of this growth.

4. Globalization sows the seeds of its own demise because factory workers are effectively forced to compete for wages with workers from around the world. Workers in the Global South can get along with lower wages for a number of reasons, including the fact that they tend to live in warmer areas, so do not need to build as sturdy homes and have less need to heat them. With fewer jobs and less investment in the Global North, demand falls and debt defaults become more of a problem.

5. In the normal scheme of things, world systems would rest and regroup once resources reach some sort of crisis point, defined by Liebig’s Law of the Minimum. Soils would build up again; aquifers would refresh; climate would reach a new equilibrium; and a different group of plants and animals would become dominant. Oil and gas supplies might even be rebuilt, over millions of years. It is not clear that humans will be part of the new world order, however.

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