Limits to Growth (Ecological)


By Michael J. Lynch, University of South Florida, FL


Limits to growth discussions involve one of several approaches for addressing the connection between human development and economic growth and the limits to human development and economic growth imposed by the ecosystem. The ecosystem limits are defined by carrying capacity (i.e, the amount of resources available to support human life) and biocapacity measures (e.g., see, the entry on the ecological footprint).

Traditional classical and neoclassical economic models suggest that there are no limits to economic growth, and fail to address the ways in which ecological biocapacity restrains economic growth. This issue is addressed by ecological Marxism, by Herman Daly in his “Steady state economics” approach, by Hawkins, Lovins and Lovins in their approach, natural capitalism (for further discussion of Herman’s view, and Hawkins, Lovin and Lovin, see the sustainable development entry).

The limits to growth argument emerge from the 1972 book, The Limits to Growth (for an updated view see this video by “The Club of Rome,” the name of the group engaged in the original limits to growth research, LINK). Using statistical predictions models, the original study examined the effect of five variables on ecological sustainability over time: industrialization, pollution, resource depletion, food production and world population. While the predictions made in this study have generally been confirmed by real world conditions, it was widely criticized upon its release, but over time has achieved greater acceptance.

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