Monday, September 5, 2011

Club of Rome

Back when I first got to University, back in the bleak year of 1972, the smart guys at MIT tossed out a little computer simulation called World3 and a little book called the limits of growth.  I was forced by one of my professors to read the damn thing (while an excellent book by my current "old geezer" status, it did not at all fit the worldview of the cocky young jock that inhabited this body in that time frame).

I really can't say that too much of it stuck from that first reading, other than the general idea that things were going to get screwed up sooner or later so I had better do some reaping.  Forty years later, I now find that the book is prescient  to an alarming degree and that it has been widely ignored all the while.

I still remember the Professor who forced me to read it.  He spent the whole time berating the feudal nature of the Mormon church (this was Utah) and letting everyone know that in the new world he envisioned, he would be quite the mover and shaker.  Well, it would appear that the Mormons may have been right in ways that he did not seem possible.  The semi-feudal nature of their faith and culture will probably do pretty well, though the population growth rates that they espouse will probably test those systems sorely.

Anyway, back to the meander.  One of the main methods that folks like us denizens of doomerland use to support our e-Rantings is the liberal use of "scientific" or "academic" studies to support our proposals for fixing the damn mess.   But we rarely dig at the research we so freely bandy about.   If it supports us and if it has a name with a couple of letters and periods following it, in it goes.

I have, over the years, finished the process of joining that professor with the church he so hated.  They are of the same cloth, people who are certain of the rightness of their beliefs and more than willing to go to any length to grab the power needed to make the world aright.   The folks at the Club of Rome weren't all that dissimilar from the folks who hung out in Temple Square.

I have watched to many intellectual fads come and go to take any of the science (especially economics) seriously.   There are just too many variables for a human brain to keep track of.  Models are useful in the sense that they allow "what if's" to be explored.  But for the most part, science is a discipline that serves the highest bidder.  Just ask the folks who ran around setting up an alternate America in the seventies what they thought when Reagan and the conservatives pulled the rug from under their funding and started funding other "scientists" who agreed with him.


russell1200 said...

The key to proving a thesis is to to try and disprove it. Cherry picking reinforcing data is only useful as a debating technique. But life is not a high school debate.

The general premis of the book was wrong in its timing. They just underestimated how effective future inputs into food production would be. When those inputs falter (fortunately only in local setting so far) they will then be correct.

There are possible ways that we could work our way out of our situation. But given that most world leadership is in denial about the problem, we don't seem to be making much progress.

NoHype said...

I'm quite familiar with this book and its author.

It neither professes to know exact timing, nor does it espouse any specific course of action. In fact, they looked at several different scenarios with a wide variety of inputs and assumptions (i.e.: a variety of "solutions" implemented at random future dates). The only difference was the time scale in which the world would hit hard limits to exponential growth.

The big takeaway is that we will hit the limits -- whenever they occur quite quickly and with little warning. The example used is lilly pads in a pond doubling their coverage once a day. Everything seems fine until the last day.