Revisiting the Limits to Growth After Peak Oil
In the 1970s a rising world population and the finite resources available to support it were hot topics. Interest faded—but it’s time to take another look
Thomas Mathus was perhaps the first economist to indicate that there were limits to the human population that could be sustained by the Earth’s resources. The 1970s were also a period when such limits on growth were widely discussed in research circles. In both cases, an increase in energy use, particularly of fossil fuels, has lead to greater food production, forestalling crisis. As a result, such arguments have largely been silenced in current-day academia, to the point where researchers interested in such topics cannot find a department to work in, let alone funding. Hall and Day argue that this is a mistake, that the problem has not gone away and will only take the world population by surprise if it is ignored. They have re-examined some of the data that led to the discrediting of the “limits to growth” theory and have shown that both resource use and costs have only risen, and are no longer being mitigated by market forces. Although new sources of energy have been found, they are much more expensive to extract, a declining return on investment that Hall and Day think could lead to large societal problems in the near future.
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