Are There Limits to Growth? Examining the Evidence

  • Charles A. S. Hall
  • Kent Klitgaard


In recent decades there has been considerable discussion in academia and the media about the environmental impacts of human activity, especially those related to climate change and biodiversity. Far less attention has been paid to the diminishing resource base for humans. Due to our inattention, resource depletion and population growth have been continuing relentlessly. The most immediate of these issues appears to be a decline in oil production, a phenomenon commonly referred to as «peak oil,» because global production of conventional oil appears to have reached a maximum and may now be declining. However, a set of related resource and economic issues are continuing to come home to roost in ever greater numbers and impacts—water, wood, soil, fish, gold, and copper—so much so that author Richard Heinberg [1, 2] speaks of «peak everything.» We believe that these issues were set out well and basically accurately by a series of scientists in the middle of the last century and that events are demonstrating that their original ideas were mostly sound. Many of these ideas were spelled out explicitly in a landmark book called The Limits to Growth, published in 1972 [3]. In the 1960s and 1970s, during our formative years in graduate school, our curricula and our thoughts were strongly influenced by the writings of ecologists and computer scientists who spoke clearly and eloquently about the growing collision between increasing numbers of people—and their enormously increasing material needs—and the finite resources of the planet. The oil-price shocks and long lines at gasoline stations in the 1970s confirmed in the minds of many that the basic arguments of these researchers were correct and that humans were facing some sort of limits to growth. It was extremely clear to us in 1970 that the growth culture of the American economy had limits imposed by nature, such that, for example, the first author made very conservative retirement plans based on his estimate that we would be experiencing the effects of peak oil just about the time of his expected retirement in 2008. In fact it was a wise decision, as many less conservative plans lost one third to one half of their value in the crash of 2008.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Charles A. S. Hall
    • 1
  • Kent Klitgaard
    • 2
  1. 1.College of Environmental Science & ForestryState University of New YorkSyracuseUSA
  2. 2.Wells CollegeAuroraUSA

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