MIT Predicted the Collapse of Today's Society in 1972. And We're Right On Track.

MIT's 1972 World3 model was strikingly accurate, based on modern data.
Chris Young

A new study by a director of one of the world's largest accounting firms, KPMG, reveals that a 1972 model by MIT researchers predicting the collapse of society in the 21st century looks to be worryingly on track, a report by Vice explains.

The 1972 model, called World3, was created in the '70s using empirical data, and it was published in a book called 'Limits to Growth'.

Essentially, the model aimed to answer the question of what would happen if humanity keeps pursuing economic growth, no matter the societal and environmental cost? It concluded that, without drastic change, industrial society was headed for collapse.

Decades of empirical data allow for meaningful comparison with 1972 MIT model

"Given the unappealing prospect of collapse, I was curious to see which scenarios were aligning most closely with empirical data today," said Gaya Herrington, Director Advisory, Internal Audit & Entrprse Risk, who wrote the new paper.

"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."

The KPMG study, published in Yale Journal of Industrial Ecology, concludes that the 1972 model was strikingly aligned with modern data. Without change, it says, global civilization is heading toward a freefalling economic decline in the coming decade, which could lead to societal collapse by around 2040. 

'Continuing business as usual is not possible'

Gaya Herrington's study is not affiliated by or conducted for KPMG, though the accounting firm did post the study on its website. The Director Advisory performed the research as part of her Master's thesis at Harvard University. 

The new analysis examined data related to population, fertility rates, mortality rates, industrial output, food production, services, non-renewable resources, persistent pollution, human welfare, and ecological footprint.

In her study, Herrington says "continuing business as usual, that is, pursuing continuous growth, is not possible. Even when paired with unprecedented technological development and adoption, business as usual as modelled by [limits to growth] LtG would inevitably lead to declines in industrial capital, agricultural output, and welfare levels within this century."

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Society's 'window of opportunity is closing fast'

However, not all hope is lost, the study says. Though we have a strikingly small window in which to make the necessary changes to avoid the worst-case scenario, according to the study.

"A deliberate trajectory change brought about by society turning toward another goal than growth is still possible. The LtG work implies that this window of opportunity is closing fast," Herrington's paper reads.

In his 2014 science fiction novel 'The Peripheral,' William Gibson, the godfather of the cyberpunk genre, predicted a future in which society slowly and knowingly ground its way towards a societal collapse, brought on by climate change, pandemics, and other factors.

That novel emphasizes the fact that its premise was not brought on by one cataclysmic event, but rather by a combination of factors slowly taking effect over decades.

A KPMG director signaling the end of times, barring vast changes to the socio-economic status quo, might feel like fiction, but such predictions have been hiding in plain sight for decades.

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