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Brenna Copeland

World3 and Limits to Growth


Student Worksheet

Introduction

In 1972 a book, The Limits to Growth, was written and published by a team of
MIT analysts (Meadows et al., 1972). The authors used a systems analysis
approach using a computer model called World3 to examine the interactions of
five subsystems of the global economic system:

population
food production
industrial production
pollution
consumption of non-renewable natural resources.

The main findings of research using the World3 model was that continued global
population and the associated economic growth would exceed the available
resources of the planet, probably sometime in the 21st Century] most likely
leading to collapse of the population and economic system. By testing various
scenarios on World3, the authors also found that early action, particularly carefully
targeted policy and investment in technology, could avert this disaster.

Like, Paul Erlichs, The Population Bomb, the MIT teams book was immediate
sensation with many supporters and many detractors. It was probably the
earliest, and certainly the best-known effort to link the environment and global
economics.

Donella Meadows, one of the authors described the output graphs produced from
the World3 model as predictive

only in the most limited sense of the word. These graphs are not exact
predictions of the values of the variables at any particular year in the future. They
are indications of the systems behavioral tendencies only. (Meadows et al.,
The Limits to Growth, 1972. pp. 9293).

. There are four key elements in World3:

1. The model depends on the existence of feedback loops, both positive and
negative. When positive and negative feedback loops are balanced a steady
state outcome results; however, when one loop dominates an unstable state
is the result. This condition should be familiar to you from your study of
systems.

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2. The critical function of resources, such as agricultural land, may be eroded


as a result of the economic activity. This is similar to the reduction in
carrying capacity due to overshoot in many ecological models.

3. The third key element is the presence of delays in the signals from one part
of the world system to another. For instance, the impacts that result from
increasing pollution levels may not be affect life expectancy or agricultural
production for some decades. This is important because it means that policy
makers need to anticipate bad impacts far ahead of the time that those
effects show up in order to be effective.

4. The world economic system is treated as a sub-systems in World3. When


considering the challenges of an individual sector such as energy or
agriculture on its own it is relatively easy to propose solutions. However, as
we have seen elsewhere, changes in one part of the system lead to
unintended consequences elsewhere.

World3 scenarios generated in the 1970s have been compared to current


conditions by several researchers. Most, but not all, have found good agreement
with the scenarios that World3 produced.

Assignment

Go to this version of World3 at http://insightmaker.com/insight/1954

Use the slider bars (see red arrow on right of image below) to set the parameter
as shown on Table 1 on page 6 of this worksheet.

Figure 1. Controls for World3 Simulation. . Image is screenshot from


http://insightmaker.com/insight/1954

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Figure 2. Controls are circled in red to display graphs from model run and to download the image.
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Switch panes to show Demographics or Land use data by clicking on the named tabs shown within
the upper red circle. Image is screenshot from http://insightmaker.com/insight/1954

Questions

Record the results of your model runs in Table 1 on page 6 to record


results.

1. Set the Initial Non-renewable Resources slider at a low point near the left
hand side of the bar. Set the date for the Progressive Policy Adoption slider
to a time in 2015. Run the model and complete a row in Table 1 showing
the results.

This scenario imagines a world that already has very low resources, perhaps
from over use in the past or perhaps just because the population has
exceeded the carrying capacity provided by these resources.

a) Overview pane: Why is the curve for persistent pollution so low in this
scenario? The pollution curve followed the same curves as the
population. The population slowing increased, peaked, then slowly
decreased. The pollution followed this pattern resulting in no dramatic
increases or drops. The year of this scenario is in 2015 and by this time
many pollution is a widely-known idea and concern.

b) Demographics pane: What year does population peak in? Why does this
peak occur so early? The population peaks in 2029. This is likely because
the resources ran out at that time. The amount of resources was not very
high so the peak occurred fairly early.

c) Land use pane: Why does land fertility drop off so dramatically and then
recover by 2080 in this scenario? The population at this time is predicted
to the large. The land fertility likely dropped due to the overuse of land
do to the large population. The peaked population used a lot of the land,
which rapidly dropped the fertility. The population also started dropping
so the recovery of the fertile land came soon after.

2. Set the Initial Non-renewable Resources slider at a low point near the left
hand side of the bar. Set the date for the Progressive Policy Adoption slider
to a time in 1970. Run the model and complete a row in Table 1 showing
the results.

All the conditions in this scenario are the same as the scenario set in
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question 1 except that the start date for adopting Progressive Policies is set
moved back to 1970.

a) Compare the results that this change produces using all 3 results panes.
The amount of resources we lessen, resulting in the population to peak a
lot easier. The peak did not seem as dramatic as the previous test. This is
likely because the peak happened faster and more quickly. There was not
a lot of build up to the peak.

b) This is clearly not an accurate scenario but is there some information that
might be useful for policy makers from running this particular scenario?
If so describe the information and why it is useful. If not provide some
explanation of why you think that there is no useful information for
current policy-makers in the data from this scenario. Scenarios like these
should let policy maker see the dangers of letting resources run out.
Policy makes should do their best to preserve the precious resources we
have because if we fail to a significant population drop could be in our
future. Policy makes should be looking for renewable sources to replace
non-renewable sources. They should always look for improvements for
efficiency.

3. Choose 2 scenarios that you think might provide useful information to


policy makers. Run those scenarios and record the results in Table 1. Then
describe what the results mean and how those results might be useful to
inform policy. For my third scenario, I decided to do a present-day scenario
with the maximum amount of resources. I surprised to find that having
more resources did not affect the graphical pattern dramatically. The
recourses went down and the population peaked then went down. This
shows that the population increasing and decreasing cannot be avoided,
even with the maximum amount of resources we still will likely experience
a peak and drop in global population. The pollution was also high in this
scenario showing that if resources increase, stricter pollution laws are
needed. The last scenario I did was a futuristic scenario in the year 2070. I
gave the population a random amount of resources (on the lower side of
the scale). I was surprised to find that my demographic chart was almost
identical to the one found in the third scenario. This shows the population
basic patterns will likely be the same in the future/present and with more or
less resources.

Table 1. Results of Scenarios using World3 Model

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Initial Resource / Sketch of Results Sketch of Results -


Year of Overview Demographics
Policy Adoption
1000000000000

2015

48076923078

1970

5000000000000

2017

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1923076923078

2070

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