Logo IMG

Revisiting the Limits to Growth After Peak Oil


Charles Hall and John Day Jr. argue that the Club of Rome was right all along about the dire consequences of resource scarcity. Limits to Growth (1972) only failed to specify when the dramatic failure would occur.

Paul Ehrlich's bet with Julian Brands shows that the Club believed disaster was imminent, not just a distant danger; but resource scarcity did not cause global economic catastrophe after 1972. Instead, real annual incomes increased dramatically, especially in developing countries where 300-500 hundred million escaped poverty. Improvements in measures of the physical quality of life have been even more dramatic. Life expectancy increased in developing countries from 43 years in 1960 to 64 in 2000. The child mortality rate among families with servants in York, England in 1900 was ten times that in less developed countries in 2000. Mindful of how far there is yet to go to reduce global poverty, the United Nations, nevertheless, concluded in 1996 that developing countries had achieved in thirty years what took industrial countries more than a hundred.

Hall and Day say that the day of reckoning is coming, however, due to the peaking of petroleum production. There were undoubtedly those in the nineteenth century who predicted, correctly, that travel by horse would become unsustainable as humans and animals competed for food. By 2050, it will be apparent, the authors claim, that the Club of Rome was right after all.

Stock brokers are advised never to put a price and a date in the same sentence. Hall and Day ignore this caution, but safely: we won't know if they are right for forty years.

posted by John Oneal
November 20, 2009


Read Past Issues on JSTOR

JSTOR, the online academic archive, contains complete back issues of American Scientist from 1913 (known then as the Sigma Xi Quarterly) through 2005.

The table of contents for each issue is freely available to all users; those with institutional access can read each complete issue.

View the full collection here.


Year-end indexes in PDF format:






Subscribe to Free eNewsletters!

  • American Scientist Update

  • An early peek at each new issue, with descriptions of feature articles, columns, and more. Every other issue contains links to everything in the latest issue's table of contents.

  • Scientists' Nightstand: Holiday Special!

  • News of book reviews published in American Scientist and around the web, as well as other noteworthy happenings in the world of science books.

    To sign up for automatic emails of the American Scientist Update and Scientists' Nightstand issues, create an online profile, then sign up in the My AmSci area.

Write for American Scientist

Review our submission guidelines.

Subscribe to American Scientist