Cassandra in Greek mythology was the Trojan priestess who was cursed to utter prophecies that were true but never believed. Ideological environmentalism presents a cohort of inverted Cassandras: they make widely believed false prophecies. Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich in his 1968 classic The Population Bomb prophesied, “The battle to feed all mankind is over. Ehrlich goes on to predict an impending overpopulation catastrophe.
The Limits to Growth is still “as wrongheaded as it is possible to be.”
Another reversed Cassandra was Rachel Carson, who warned in her Silent Spring of 1962 of impending cancer epidemics caused by mankind's reckless use of synthetic pesticides. In fact, even though pesticide use has increased, cancer incidence and death rates have declined over the past 30 years.
On Earth Day 53, let's take a look at the prophecies of another Cassandra reversed, the 1972 Club of Rome report The Limits to Growth by Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, Jorgen Randers and William Behrens. The book and its dire predictions were introduced to the world at a March 1972 conference at the Smithsonian Institution. Let's focus mainly on the non-renewable resource depletion calculations in the report. The 1973 oil crisis was seen as confirming the book's dire scenarios of impending depletion of non-renewable resources.
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In 1989, I spent the day at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) talking to some of the people who had developed Limits to Growth, especially Jay Forrester, who had designed the World 2 computer model of system dynamics. a modified version of the Forrester model they called World 3, which the report relied primarily on for its findings. In the first chapter of the book, researchers were particularly interested and concerned with the nature of exponential growth. "Nearly all of humanity's current activities," they wrote, "can be represented by exponential growth." Exponential growth occurs when something increases or expands rapidly due to a constant rate of growth applied to it. Compound interest is an example of exponential growth.
In the second chapter on the limits of exponential growth, the researchers asked, "What will it take to sustain global economic and population growth to the year 2000, and perhaps even beyond?" "Physical needs" included food, raw materials, and fossil and nuclear fuels. The researchers aimed to "assess the global stock of these physical resources, as they are the ultimate determinants of the limits of growth on this earth."
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On October 16, 1989, Forbes published my article "Dr. Doom". Using data from Table 4 of the 1972 World Non-Renewable Resource Reserves Report and projected future consumption rates, I calculated the duration of the world reserves estimated by the MIT team. "The limits to growth predicted that at 1972 growth rates, the world would run out of gold in 1981, mercury in 1985, tin in 1987, zinc in 1990, oil in 1992, copper , lead and natural gas in 1993," I wrote. . .
The exhaustion dates I quoted are simply from reading this data directly from its exponential rate of years listed in column 5 of table 4. As they explained in a footnote of Table 4, their calculations in column 5 represent "the number of years known for world reserves". ." to last with exponentially growing consumption at the average annual growth rate." As an example, the authors calculated that at current consumption rates, global copper supply would last 36 years, but applying the average annual copper consumption growth rate of 4.6%, the result would be that the world's known copper reserves would be depleted in just 21 years.
Thus, at the exponentially increasing consumption rates that the researchers expected, the gold reserves known in 1972 would be depleted in nine years; mercury in 13 years; tin in 15 years; zinc in 18 years; oil in 20 years; and copper, lead and natural gas in 22 years