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The recent study found a “decline” in living standards could begin in 2040 – before reaching an historic low as early as 2050. As the world looks poised to bounce back from the Covid-crisis, the research causes concern for many about the risks of returning to pre-pandemic normality.
Gaya Herrington conducted the research as a part of her thesis at Harvard in November 2020 – and looked at ten factors to calculate if society appeared set to collapse in the next few decades.
The ten factors were: population growth, fertility rates, mortality rates, industrial output, food production, services, non-renewable resources, persistent pollution, human welfare and ecological footprint.
Ms Herrington noted that “[This] does not mean that humanity will cease to exist” but said the theory would indicate “economic and industrial growth will stop, and then decline, which will hurt food production and standards of living”.
The so-called “limits to growth” theory has its origins at the prestigious university Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where the initial report was published in 1972.
The group of MIT scientists used a system dynamics model published in the Club of Rome – an organisation which discusses “multiple crises facing humanity and the planet”.
They sought to identify potential “limits to growth” due to overexploitation of planetary resources.
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Herrington’s paper, published in the Yale Journal of Industrial Ecology, concluded by claiming “continuing business as usual, that is, pursuing growth,” would lead to a decline in living standards across the West, even if technological adaptations followed.
The analyst, who spent a year at the London School of Economics in 2011 according to her LinkedIn profile, suggested reducing consumption and waste, investing in infrastructure and limiting population growth were desirable alternatives which could halt society’s collapse.
A segment reads: “Given the unappealing prospect of collapse, I was curious to see which scenarios were aligning most closely with empirical data today. After all, the book that featured this world model was a bestseller in the 70s, and by now we’d have several decades of empirical data which would make a comparison meaningful. But to my surprise I could not find recent attempts for this. So I decided to do it myself.”
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Herrington has argued the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines demonstrates how capable the world is in responding to the apocalyptic direction society is said to be heading in.
However, Herrington did concede “the necessary changes will not be easy and pose transition challenges” but suggested “a sustainable and inclusive future is still possible”.
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