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Nature

IN BRIEF

May 31, 1992|DAVID GRABER

BEYOND THE LIMITS by Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows and Jorgen Randers (Chelsea Green Publishing: $19.95; 278 pp.) If I could, I would assign a reading of "Beyond the Limits" as homework to both houses of Congress, the President and the U.N. General Assembly. And you too: Read it. There will be a planetary discussion following.

Do you remember "The Limits to Growth"? Twenty years ago the Club of Rome commissioned a cabal of economic modelers to look at the principal factors that control human welfare and predict their behavior over the next century or so. The model they developed predicted disaster within a century if present accelerating trends of population growth, industrial production and resource consumption continue as they have. Conservatives denounced it, businessmen derided it, liberals were generally embarrassed by its gloomy outlook for the Third World (and everybody else), and politicians did their very best to ignore it. Many scientists, however, quietly observed that while the model was crude, it was basically sound, common sense.

Twenty years later the model has proven quite good at estimating actual changes in human welfare and resource availability. So the original authors have adapted the model to changes in planetary conditions, and run it again. Results haven't really changed much, except that the window of opportunity to stop population growth, reduce resource consumption and function more efficiently has narrowed. People object to this book because they say it is dismal. They miss the point. The model was developed to show how to build a sustainable (and quite pleasant!) human society. It is possible to do so, still, but not unless people look seriously at looking where we are heading. Yes, the Age of Endless Possibility is over. Finished. And no, we can't do a Fortress America any more either. Sorry about that, but wouldn't you prefer planning to hell?

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