Dennis Meadows: The Limits To Growth

Fifty years ago, an international team of researchers was commissioned by the Club of Rome to build a computer simulation of exponential economic and population growth on a finite planet.

In 1971, its findings were first released in Moscow and Rio de Janeiro, and later published in 1972 under the title The Limits To Growth. The report concluded:

  1. Given business as usual, i.e., no changes to historical growth trends, the limits to growth on earth would become evident by 2072, leading to "sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity". This includes the following:
    • Global Industrial output per capita reaches a peak around 2008, followed by a rapid decline
    • Global Food per capita reaches a peak around 2020, followed by a rapid decline
    • Global Services per capita reaches a peak around 2020, followed by a rapid decline
    • Global population reaches a peak in 2030, followed by a rapid decline
  2. Growth trends existing in 1972 could be altered so that sustainable ecological and economic stability could be achieved.
  3. The sooner the world's people start striving for the second outcome above, the better the chance of achieving it.
Few reports have generated as much debate, discussion and disagreement. Though it's hard to argue that its forecasts made back in the early 1970s have proved eerily accurate over the ensuing decades.

But most of its warnings have been largely ignored by policymakers hoping (blindly?) for a rosier future.

One of the original seventeen researchers involved in The Limits To Growth study, Dennis Meadows, joins us for the podcast this week. Fifty years later, what does he foresee ahead?

Decline is now inevitable.

We’re without any question moving into the remainder of a century which is going to see, by the end of these decades, a much smaller population, much lower level of energy and material consumption and so forth.

Whether we retain equity amongst people and avoid the more violent forms of conflict remains to be seen. But sustainable development is no longer an option.

This is one of the most important discussions we’ve ever recorded among the hundreds produced over the past decade.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris’ interview with Dennis Meadows (55m:24s).

Other Ways To Listen: iTunes | Google Play | SoundCloud | Stitcher | YouTube | Download |

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Thank you Chris! Thank you Dennis!

I second that thank you. That is a great interview.

Thanks for the positive feedback on the interview - yes it was fantastic. I hope it goes far and wide.
Unfortunately, I doubt it will. It cuts against the current narratives and fantasies of the elites. So it won’t get picked up by any news outlets, and it won’t receive a fair shake on Twitter or Youtube or Facebook.
Because of that overt and covert system resistance, individuals will be inhibited to varying degrees from feeling comfortable sharing it. “If the herd isn’t doing it, I probably shouldn’t either” So more than a few fingers will hover over the share button and then back off to click something else. Virality doesn’t occur.
Without being able to look at the systemic issues there’s virtually zero chance of addressing anything ‘in time.’
For all the people hoping somewhere deep down that electing a different president or set of representatives will fix anything, well, thank you for being hopeful.
I have none. There’s practically a zero chance of anybody new making any sort of a difference at all.
I have decades of solid data to back that up.
This video explains it all - just five minutes that packs the same punch as Rules for Rulers.
The above video explains why Evie & I have bought a big chunk of land and I’m working hard to create a community center of some sort to live out the rest of our days. Nothing is going to be fixed. Not in time. The elites have a complete stranglehold on the system and they won’t let go in time.
That’s another history lesson, but it’s also personal experience from knowing people and how strongly they cling to their belief systems. It takes something of a personal catastrophe to budge the average person into a new orbit.
It takes something far stronger to knock a prevailing cultural belief system into a new orbit.
The former is like launching a satellite, the latter is like bumping the moon into a new orbit. It takes a lot.
In this story “a lot” is likely to be a collapse of some sort. Maybe ecological, maybe financial, maybe political in the form of a devastating war.
Until then, the system will continue to chug along as it has, doing what it does.
Which is why farmland figures so prominently in my future.

At the video’s end, the sponsoring organization, RepresentUs, pitches joining them to work on a solution. They have had some success at the local and state level. Their plan is to reform enough states to get enough support in the state legislative bodies to pass a constitutional amendment that will reform the Federal government. They have a pretty sophisticated grass-roots organizing campaign that recruits volunteers by text and other methods to do things like call voters in states or municipalities where anti-corruption or election reform measures are on the ballot. I’ve participated in a couple of them.
Apparently you don’t have much hope for their success. I must admit that in my heart, I feel that way too. Would you be willing to elaborate on why you aren’t expecting them to succeed?

Thanks so much, Chris and Adam, for this interview and once again raising the issue of where our pursuit of perpetual growth is likely taking us.
Limits to Growth would be one of my top recommendations for those exploring the existential issues facing humanity. I would add Joseph Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies (presentation on topic:; William Catton’s Overshoot (one of several interviews:; Dr. Albert Bartlett’s presentation entitled Arithmetic, Population, and Energy (; the documentary Collapse with Michael Ruppert (; Richard Heinberg’s The End of Growth (one of many interviews on the topic:; and, of course, The Crash Course by Peak Prosperity!
Other suggestions for me to read/view would be most appreciated.

Apparently you don’t have much hope for their success. I must admit that in my heart, I feel that way too. Would you be willing to elaborate on why you aren’t expecting them to succeed?
Certainly. Beyond the obvious and powerful resistance that they will face, which will be nearly impossible to overcome without a massive fight of some sort, there are two things that weigh on my mind. #1 Time: Oil production is going to peak in the US by 2025 according to the EIA, and I think a bit sooner. Global oil peaks thereabouts too. Maybe a few years later. Can the US system of government be entirely reformed by 2030? Not very likely is my estimation. The odds of being able to engage in a proper discussion of massive reform slinks towards zero during an emergency. Might even go negative. #2 Trends: How have things been going lately? Is the trend towards or away from citizen power? I would say the trends are entirely against the average citizen. Maybe even more forcefully than 10 years ago. For heaven's sake, we can't even get the power structure to call what the FBI did in the FISA situation by its proper terms; lying and illegal. Instead we get the FISA judge saying that “troubling instances in which FBI personnel provided information [to the court] which was unsupported or contradicted by information in their possession.” Oh, come on! You know what happens to you if you "provided information [to the court] which was unsupported or contradicted by information in their possession?" You get in trouble. You get charged with perjury or whatever the charge is. We're so far down the rabbit hole that the judge cannot even bring herself to say that the FBI lied and broke laws. Which shatters my trust in both the FBI and the FISA court system. It also dings my hope that we can possibly reform anything in time. Maybe we can, and god bless those who are trying, but in my heart of hearts I know it's just not going to happen in time. We can't even get the little things right like calling lying lying and charging responsible parties with their crimes. After all it wasn't "the FBI" that lied to the FISA court, it was specific FBI officials who showed up in court and lied. They have names. Ditto for JPM rigging the gold and silver markets, or the FX markets, or any of a dozen other crimes. It wasn't "JPM" that did it, it was specific individuals, with names. A system that is so far gone it cannot even be bothered to discover and publish the names of the statist criminals is pretty much going to be immune to grassroots efforts involving phone calls and text trees, is my thinking.  

There is a phrase that comes to mind: “Be fruitful and multiply.” That alone tells you there will be an ongoing problem with resources.

I think you’re saying the odds of sufficient reform aren’t that great and the odds of sufficient reform happening in time to matter (and before a crisis makes further reform near impossible) is more or less zero. Correct?
Their main wins have been through ballot initiatives for the obvious reason that they are citizen driven and provide and end run around corrupt state houses. The last big one in 2018 in South Dakota they lost due to a rather intense PR campaign from you-know-who. I imagine these opposition campaigns will only get bigger and more sophisticated if it looks like they’re getting enough traction to perhaps get that constitutional amendment passed by the states.
I haven’t volunteered since 2016 and have been instead working on resilience/regeneration.

It takes something of a personal catastrophe to budge the average person into a new orbit.
Then I must not be average.

I’ve got my cherished 4th edition of the LtG from a second hand book shop. It has hostile annotations in the margins from the original owner which stopped after chapter one. I wonder if they stopped reading soon after only for the book to gather dust in a book case somewhere before being tossed out many years later.
Anyway, to my point. Another, and simplier, way to look at future human evolution is to consider the following two questions. 1. What will life be like without fossil energy 2. When will we be deprived of fossil energy.
My answer to these is 1. An agarian life with food, wood, water wheels, wooden windmills and windsails as our only energy sources. 2. Within 80 years probably, within 150 years certainly.
It really is this simple.

Dennis said he thinks collapse is too strong of a word for what’s most likely to happen. He thinks decline is more likely to be the most accurate descriptor. That’s the most optimistic thing I’ve heard in a while from people of “our persuasion!” I hope he’s right because I think I’m well positioned to handle a decline, and I think the average Western person who’s not paying attention will be too. It’s the various collapse possibilities that make my blood run cold and cause me to be more pessimistic. He also said he thinks wealthy people will be able to buy resources during the decline that others will have to live without. I’m not part of the 1% but even if gasoline goes to $10 or $15/gallon I’ll be able to afford enough of it to make all the trips I’ll need to survive (for medical care, essential shopping, etc). He also said some young people may not experience much of a decline because most of the suffering will be far away. I can imagine scenarios where millions of people starve to death or die in wars that are far removed from the US or Europe for instance. I find that all very optimistic, and I really, really hope he’s right. (? That’s me NOT holding my breath for that happy possibility.)
OTOH I agree with both of you that there’s no realistic path out of the “decline” for the world as a whole. Sure, aliens from Alpha Centauri could visit and give us the gift of tabletop cold fusion, but that’s nothing we can count on. So, very big changes are coming no matter what. Here’s the $64,000 question: what would Chris, Adam and Peak Prosperity do differently in light of that truth, if anything? What would we as individuals and families do differently? Personally, I don’t think I’d be doing anything differently until what’s possibly going to happen becomes more certain, along with the timing becoming more certain. I’m certainly very unlikely to become more involved politically like I was in the late 70’s after reading “Limits to Growth” as a 20-something. (I will admit to small actions meant to disrupt “The System,” not fix it. Over the summer I sent Tulsi Gabbard a donation to help her qualify for the next debate and disrupt the proceedings with her anti-war message. As I said before, I held my nose and voted for The Bad Orange Man in the hopes he would break some or all of The System. I’ve been mostly disappointed on both counts, though with the Democrats’ help the Bad Orange Man may yet be the cause of major parts of the system breaking down, like the DOJ, the FIB and the Federal Reserve).
Oh, have you guys noticed how some of the most intelligent people who are most aware of our predicaments have chosen to live in New Hampshire?! ?

Interesting interview, probably reaffirmed everyone who’s a regular here at this sites view of reality, as it did mine. But I stopped reading once I hit the analogy about the two guys in the cave. The one who wanted to run away from the tiger passing his DNA down vs. the “long range planner” who didn’t.
Very disappointing, incoherent view of reality, from my point of view. As we are currently configured, even those who get it are as much of an issue as those don’t “get it”. Seems we’re insistent on using our small local drives only (small individual mind) vs the cloud (what some may call the intuitive mind) even though we’re already wired for it. We are certainly approaching an evolve or die scenario in the not to distant future, but that seems to be the only way consciousness evolves on earth.
There are conversations that need to happen that are not even possible yet, I guess they just need to be lived, and that is what is happening now. May we face the future with questions and not predictions, and hopefully living with those unanswered questions will transform us.

In my endeavor to stop sprawl in my adopted hometown of Boise in the early 90’s I started reading books* that I would have not normally read. One of them was Limits To Growth. In addition to the work of Lewis Mumford on power, it was a tremendous influence and set a course for my wife and I over the past 25 years or so. We no longer fly or drive and grow a significant amount of our food.
[Rant alert]
I wish that I could be hopey about the future, but I can’t. We have a former president that has apparently spent his “change” on a third home (credit to Aaron Mate). A DuckDuckGo search for Dennis gave me Rodman and Quaid – a guy who just married or is about to marry someone who is young enough to be his granddaughter. The neighbors across the street have seven vehicles for five people. Their trash literally overflows their bins on pickup day. Speaking of passive solar… These people heat their home 24/7 with wood due to having baseboard heat but never open the blinds on the south side of the house.
I’ve observed in my neighborhood that millennials are totally into having kids. So much for the population component of Limits to Growth. Thom Hartmann – someone who influenced me with his The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight – has a severe case of TDS and appears to be channeling Rush Limbaugh in his nastiness.
I edited a fiction book ten years ago that probably is a fairly accurate depiction of where we are going. If there is any interest, I’ll attempt to locate the pdf and send it to those who are interested without charge. Amazon got most of the money from sales anyway and I’m unhappy with their censoring of important works…

  • When you are in the “system” you tend to read books (and watch television) that permits you to escape and ignore reality. In the late 80’s I reported to someone who was extremely intelligent but read spy novels while traveling…)
    [End Rant]
    Thanks to Chris and Dennis for a very thoughtful and informed discussion.

This was one of the best interviews I’ve heard from Peak Prosperity. It was great to hear his perspective on things even though the outlook is not very good. Hope you get him on again to dig into things even deeper.

You got that right. The “system” truly is “so far gone” that voting or the like has no chance to fix it. Working as a lawyer in DC between 1995 and 2016 I witnessed the destruction of things that I held dear and had respected about America. I could not stand it anymore and walked away. Even the patent law was destroyed by the globalists, who systematically destroyed the rights of American inventors by legally tilting the playing field to allow international corporations to cheat and steal from the wealth creators, via constant alteration of the law to benefit the elite. All of the legal institutions are profoundly corrupt and rotten and the idea of “reform!” by voting is ludicrous. At the same time, the opposite was occurring (and still is occurring) in wealth creation countries of Asia of Japan (and now China) that have been strengthening their systems to encourage and protect wealth creators there.
The U.S system is riddled with procedural pitfalls and corruption, and is like a fallen log in the forest. Kick it and your foot goes through a rotten mass with worms and bugs feeding on it. You cant wish away or vote away this kind of profound and irreversible entropy. These include procedural rots that preclude positive change. Moreover, the rot is so set in that even if you made corruption illegal (good luck with that btw) it will not help because you will not undo the incredible systemic rot that has already occurred. The corruption has left us with laws that are already cooked for the elite and that is not addressed by “just make corruption illegal!”
A rotted out America (legally and culturally) may be an extremely natural and normal course of events of countries that temporarily turn into empires. I get that understanding from reading Charles Hugh Smith’s blogs… It would be wise to acknowledge that fact and move on. Cant fight nature. We need to build a new organization from the ground up. CM’s community in NH is a reasonable response because if you must stay in America, NH is probably the most libertarian environment with less rot to contend with.

To most of us this is nothing new. But it is still really sad stuff.

I shared the article on my Facebook page. I am not an American but I am a newly minted Citizen. I have spent many years characterizing Americans. Being herd-like and not wishing to step out of line is one of my characterizations. I’m glad you pointed to the same attribute. I see it as the biggest social downfall and it will prevent anything useful getting done. I heard a comment once that America is a culture needing a crisis before anybody will act. Even then the act will be short-lived and at the lowest cost. America is not going to survive.

In all those years spent characterizing Americans, did you ever wonder if those characteristics were uniquely American or if they were merely human traits? Have your studies discovered other cultures that don’t suffer from those same characteristics? What good example are they showing Americans right now about how to deal with those negative characteristics in the midst of our universal predicaments?
Congrats on your new citizenship! Of which country have you become a newly minted citizen?

My daughter is studying ancient world history as part of the 9th grade curriculum at the local public school. Recently the class focused on the Han (China), Gupta (India), Greek and Roman empires. They spent some time examining the common threads in the collapse of these empires and even looked for commonalities with the United States right now as a way of making it real. The conclusion is that we are heading for collapse. Quite daring for a 9th grade history teacher.