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2009 Japan prize honors lead author of ‘"The Limits to Growth"

From Chelsea Green:

Dr. Dennis Meadows wins prestigious Japan Prize

Dr. Dennis Meadows, lead scientist and co-author of The Limits to Growth (1972) and its subsequent updates, is the winner of this year’s Japan Prize from the Science and Technology Foundation of Japan for “Transformation towards a sustainable society in harmony with nature.” This prestigious award is given once a year to people from all parts of the world whose original and outstanding achievements in science and technology are recognized as having advanced the frontiers of knowledge and served the cause of peace and prosperity for humankind. It carries a cash award of 50 million yen (about $500,000) and will be awarded during a Japan Prize Awards week in April 2009.

In 1972, three young scientists from MIT used systems dynamic theory to create a computer model (“World3”) that analyzed global resource consumption and production. Their report, funded by the Club of Rome and published as The Limits to Growth, created an international sensation and acquainted millions with the fact that large-scale industrial activities and population growth could destroy their own foundations—confronting global society with the very real prospects of self-inflicted collapse. It was an international bestseller, with over 30 million copies sold worldwide.

Later voted to be one of the 20th century’s ten most-influential environmental books, the text was the object of intense criticism by economists of the time. They dismissed it as Malthusian hyperbole. But events over the past three decades have generally been consistent with the book’s scenarios. The Limits to Growth later served as the foundation for “The Global 2000 Report to the President” as well as UN’s Brundlandt Commission.

Matthew Simmons, economist and founder of the world’s largest private energy investment banking practice, recently wrote, “The most amazing aspect of the book is how accurate many of the basic trend extrapolations . . . still are some 30 years later.”

Since its initial publication, Meadows, along with the late Dr. Donella Meadows and Dr. Jorgen Randers, has twice authored updates published by Chelsea Green: Beyond the Limits in 1992, and Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update in 2004. In these updates, an improved world model was used to point out that the limiting features of the earth’s physical capacity, about which The Limits to Growth had sounded a warning, have continued to deteriorate, and that the time left for solving the problem is growing short; the authors urged that mankind not delay in taking the measures necessary to address the situation.

At the time of publication of Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update, Lester Brown, Director of the Earth Policy Institute said, “Reading the 30th-year update reminds me of why the systems approach to thinking about our future is not only valuable, but indispensable. Thirty years ago, it was easy for the critics to dismiss the limits to growth. But in today’s world, with its collapsing fisheries, shrinking forests, falling water tables, dying coral reefs, expanding deserts, eroding soils, rising temperatures, and disappearing species, it is not so easy to do so. We are all indebted to the ‘Limits’ team for reminding us again that time is running out.”

Since the initial publication of The Limits to Growth, Dr. Meadows has continued to study the causes and consequences of physical growth on a finite planet. Among his numerous endeavors, he co-founded the Balaton Group, a famous environmental research network, and he has published many educational games and books about sustainable development that are used around the world.

“We are honored that Dennis Meadows is a Chelsea Green author and applaud his lifetime of work as an environmental leader, his groundbreaking research, and his dedication to forming a sustainable society,” says Margo Baldwin, president and publisher of Chelsea Green. “Working with Dennis and other Limits to Growth coauthors spurred our decades-long commitment to publishing foundational books the environment and sustainability, including our recently released Thinking in Systems by the late Dr. Donella Meadows.”

Dennis Meadows is Professor Emeritus of Systems Management, University of New Hampshire, and President, Laboratory for Interactive Learning. He lives in Durham, New Hampshire.



Chelsea Green is the preeminent publisher of books on the practice and politics of sustainable living. Founded in 1984, and with a backlist of more than 300 active titles, it is based in White River Junction, Vermont. Read more at http://www.chelseagreen.com.


Excerpt from the full article on the Japan Prize by The Science and Technology Foundation of Japan

The Science and Technology Foundation of Japan decided to award the 2009 Japan Prize, one of the world’s most prestigious awards in science and technology, to Dennis L. Meadows, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Systems Policy, University of New Hampshire, and David E. Kuhl, M.D., Professor of Radiology, University of Michigan Medical School.

The “2009 Japan Prize – Transformation towards a sustainable society in harmony with nature” award was given to Dr. Meadows, 66, for his contribution towards a sustainable world continuing from his seminal 1972 report “The Limits to Growth” that founded a new way of scientific paradigm on the globe’s limited resources. Dr. Meadows led the team of scientists to produce the report.

The “2009 Japan Prize – Technological integration of medical science and engineering” award was given to Dr. Kuhl, 79, known as the “Father of Emission Tomography,” in recognition of his contribution to tomographic imaging in nuclear medicine.

The Foundation Selection Committee selected two American scientists out of the candidates nominated by prominent scientists and researchers worldwide.


The Japan Prize is awarded to world-class scientists and technologists who were credited with original and outstanding achievements and contributed to the advancement of science and technology, thereby furthering the cause of peace and the prosperity of mankind. No distinction is made as to nationality, occupation, race, or gender. Only living persons may be named.

Fields of study for the prize encompass all categories of science and technology, with two fields designated for the prize each year in consideration of developments in science and technology. Each Japan Prize Laureate receives a certificate of merit and a commemorative medal. A cash award of 50 million yen is also presented for each prize field.


Field: Transformation towards a sustainable society in harmony with nature

Achievement: Contribution towards a sustainable world as founded in the 1972 Report titled “The Limits to Growth”

Dr. Dennis L. Meadows
Born : June 7, 1942 (Age 66)
Professor Emeritus of Systems Policy, University of New Hampshire
President, Laboratory for Interactive Learning

Summary

For humanity, the Earth is both irreplaceable and finite. The continued survival of humanity on Earth depends on its success in creating a "sustainable society." More than 30 years ago, Dr. Dennis Meadows was at the center of a research group that used scientific analysis to make this point. "The Limits to Growth" shocked the world when first published in 1972, and it continues even today to illuminate the way forward.

37 year-old warning increasingly relevant today

In an era of depleting oil reserves and growing concern about global warming, people today realize that, after all, the Earth is not unlimited, and that it is indeed finite. Efforts have also begun around the world to create a sustainable society.

It was a research team led by Dr. Dennis Meadows—at the time an associate professor of the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—that released this warning 37 years ago about the Earth’s limits, even in the midst of rapid economic growth after World War II.

On request from the Club of Rome, a non-profit organization with an international membership that asked what would happen to the future of the planet if the human beings continued its growth at the current rate, Dr. Meadows and his team conducted an analysis using the latest economic theory and simulation models. In 1972, the Club of Rome released the resulting report, "The Limits to Growth."

The report’s message was an enormous shock to a world in the midst of economic growth. It said that there are certain constraints on the Earth's physical capacity—including resources, environment, soil and so on—and if populations and economies were allowed to continue growing without restraint, humanity would face a crisis. It also said that in order to mitigate these risks, it would be necessary to aim at zero growth for population and the economy. Released during a period that was even more growth-oriented than today, the report had many detractors.

Nevertheless, reality has unfolded as Dr. Meadows and his team predicted, with oil crises in 1973 and 1978, rapid global population growth, the emergence of the problem global warming, and so on. Indeed, the message of "The Limits to Growth" is still valid today for worldwide efforts to deal with global environmental problems.

World model predicted conditions 100 years hence

The Club of Rome is launched in 1970 by Dr. Aurelio Peccei (at the time vice president of the Italian firm Olivetti), in order to address global issues such as resources, population, military expansion and environmental destruction. Over the years it has released many reports, but its first was “The Limits to Growth,” by Dr. Meadows and his colleagues.

The Club of Rome created the “Human Risk Project” and asked Dr. Meadows to lead research on this topic, for which he assembled a research team with his late wife Donella and other young researchers. They used systems dynamics theory to create a world-scale computer model of economic activity—a simulation of the world situation 100 years hence.

The report portrayed near-future scenarios based on five variables that grew exponentially : population, food consumption, industrialization, environmental pollution and resource depletion.

The analysis showed that physical constraints would make it impossible for growth to continue at the pace being experienced at the time. In particular, economic growth from industrialization and world population had a multiplier effect, resulting in negatives such as pollution, resource depletion, hunger, and so on. The pronouncement that the existing world system would eventually lead to catastrophe shocked people worldwide.

In other words, this was a “global crisis report” based on a world model that used all the scientific data available at the time. Once the report was released, in effect, the world began to test the model. In Japan, a Tokyo office of the Club of Rome and a Japan Research Team were established.

Evidence continues to grow

One could say that the real world began to move faster than the simulated world model. In October 1973, just a year after the report came out, the world was hit by an oil crisis triggered by the Fourth Arab-Islaeli War. In Japan, many people were unsettled when the consumer price index rose by 23 percent in 1974.

Then global environmental problems began to surface. Efforts to better understand the desertification of agricultural land and forest destruction caused by acid rain led to advances in the natural sciences, which accelerated progress in analysis of the global environment, then it became known the human economic activity could cause global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established in 1988, and it has continued to conduct scientific assessments to this day.

As the world continued to change, Dr. Meadows and his colleagues continued their work of verifying "The Limits to Growth." Twenty years after their groundbreaking report, they released their second work in 1992, titled "Beyond the Limits."

Using newly-compiled data, it showed that humanity had already exceeded the Earth’s carrying capacity. With 14 scenarios, Dr. Meadows’ team called for a transformation into a “sustainable society.” Next came "Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update," in 2004. In it, the authors added fresh data from the previous ten years. They showed that since 1990 gross domestic product had declined in 54 countries, and that humanity was exceeding the Earth’s carrying capacity by 20 percent in the year 2000.

With his conceptual foundations based on "The Limits to Growth", for the past 37 years Dr. Meadows has consistently called for the creation of a sustainable society. The reports never fail to offer prescriptions for the transformation into a “sustainable society.” The closing commentary of the original report says that “Humanity should not lose hope in the future; the only way forward is through international debate among statesmen, policymakers and scientists about the dangers and hopes of the future governmental and human systems.” This message from Dr. Meadows and the Club of Rome may well be their greatest contribution to the world.

Editorial Notes: THe "Limits to Growth" is one of the underpinnings of the peak oil and sustainability movements. -BA

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