Predicting the Future MIT Grads and Profs Helped Invent

July 19, 2021

Good news Monday!

MIT, the outfit that found Jeffrey Epstein—a wonderful human and inspiration to students and scholars, shares its brilliant insights into the future of humankind. Motherboard reports, “MIT Predicted in 1972 that Society Will Collapse This Century. New Research Shows We’re on Schedule.” Oh goodie. Reporter Nafeez Ahmed begins with a little background:

“In 1972, a team of MIT scientists got together to study the risks of civilizational collapse. Their system dynamics model published by the Club of Rome identified impending ‘limits to growth’ (LtG) that meant industrial civilization was on track to collapse sometime within the 21st century, due to overexploitation of planetary resources. The controversial MIT analysis generated heated debate, and was widely derided at the time by pundits who misrepresented its findings and methods. … The [new] study was published in the Yale Journal of Industrial Ecology in November 2020 and is available on the KPMG website. It concludes that the current business-as-usual trajectory of global civilization is heading toward the terminal decline of economic growth within the coming decade—and at worst, could trigger societal collapse by around 2040.”

The study’s author, Gaya Herrington, serves as Sustainability and Dynamic System Analysis Lead at accounting giant KPMG but makes clear she pursued this on her own as part of her Harvard University Masters thesis. The study examines data across 10 key variables: population, fertility rates, mortality rates, industrial output, food production, services, non-renewable resources, persistent pollution, human welfare, and ecological footprint. Herrington found recent data aligns most closely with two scenarios she calls “business-as-usual” and “comprehensive technology.” The most desirable outcome, “stabilized world,” is unfortunately the least likely. See the article for its explanation of each of these, including the related graphs.

The upshot: If we keep doing what we have been doing, we are in for dire food shortages, drastically reduced standards of living, and more chaos by 2040. There is hope, however, if we take drastic action within the next decade. Take one look at today’s Congress and assess the likelihood of that. Ahmed concludes:

“The best available data suggests that what we decide over the next 10 years will determine the long-term fate of human civilization. Although the odds are on a knife-edge, Herrington pointed to a ‘rapid rise’ in environmental, social and good governance priorities as a basis for optimism, signaling the change in thinking taking place in both governments and businesses. She told me that perhaps the most important implication of her research is that it’s not too late to create a truly sustainable civilization that works for all.”

Ah, optimism. Let us enjoy a sliver of it while we can.

Cynthia Murrell, July 19, 2021

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