Reflecting on "The Limits to Growth"

Submitted by Arthur Dahl on 25. August 2013 - 23:06

Arthur Dahl's Blog at International Environment Forum

Future Scenarios and Bahá'í Solutions

Arthur Lyon Dahl

A recent question about the famous 1972 study for the Club of Rome on "The Limits to Growth" touches on the heart of our challenge today as Baha'is and others working to transform society. Baha'u'llah warned us about civilization carried to excess, and said that the old world order would be rolled up (like an old carpet) so that a new one could be laid out in its stead.

The Limits to Growth study and its updates (1992, 2004) and more recent confirmation of the essential accuracy of its projections so far, show us a scenario of the world without the Baha'i solution. The longer humanity ignores this solution today, the more likely that this scenario will come true.

I wrote a book review of "The Limits to Growth" in World Order magazine when it was first published (, worked with Donella Meadows on a consultative group on sustainable development indicators before her untimely passing, and have followed this work closely for 40 years. Donella was a very ethical person, and at the end of her books points in the direction of a solution without having anything specific to offer. This is what the Baha'is have, but is it beyond the perspective of most scientists.

The trouble with these negative scenarios (they are not predictions) is that they discourage rather than motivate to action. Perhaps they can at least help people to be more detached from their material lifestyle, and encourage young people to invest their energies elsewhere. We should always counterbalance these negative realities with our positive views of the future beyond the transition, and the possibility now for everyone to start building that future.

While the transition is increasingly likely to be traumatic, the longer we wait to start, it could have its beneficial dimensions. It can purify us from our rampant materialism, and even perhaps save us from accelerating climate change, say, if a financial collapse shuts down much of the fossil fuel industry. The best insurance is a strong and united local community life and spirit of solidarity, such as we should be building through the core activities.

It is the youth of today who will be in the forefront of this transition, and the more we support them, the more we can build the foundations for the "last refuge for a tottering civilization". I am still hopeful that the rising dynamic of a youth-led Baha'i community under the guidance of the Universal House of Justice may cushion a significant part of humanity from the worst implications of these scenarios. When we move in accordance with the Divine Plan, there will be some protection; if not, we bring the problems upon us.


Last updated 2013