Dennis Meadows Collapse inevitable 2015-2020

[Dennis Meadows spoke at the ASPO peak oil conference 2006 in Pisa Italy.  Many of the scientists and speakers said Meadows was right about Limits to Growth in their presentations — indeed, his model appeared to be ahead of schedule.  Meadows hates to give dates, but when pressed, did say that although he thought 2030 the most likely time-frame for collapse back in 1972 based on various model projections, the exponential use of resources and population growth appeared to have moved the time-frame forward to around 2020.  At the “Limits to Growth” conference in 2014 he said the time-frame appears to be 2015-2020].

Dennis Meadows is a co-author of The Limits to Growth.  In 1972, the team of 66 scientists he assembled for the original Limits to Growth study concluded the most probable result will be a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity.

Dmitry Orlov on Dennis Meadow’s presentation at the Age Of Limits conference 2014: “Dennis had agreed to present at this conference reluctantly. He has retired from Club of Rome discussions, and has found more cheerful uses for his time. But he seemed happy with the outcome, saying that this is the first time he faced an audience that did not need convincing. Instead, he took the time to add some details that I think are crucially important, among them the fact that his WORLD3 model is only accurate until the peaks are reached. Once the peaks occur (between 2015 and 2020) all bets are off: past that point, the model’s predictive ability is not to be relied on because the assumptions on which it relies will no longer be valid.”

At the 2014 Age of Limits conference he also said that in 1972 we had reached about 85% of Earth’s carrying capacity and today we are about 125%, and every month we delay in getting back within limits erodes Earth’s further ability to tolerate us. “The reason we don’t have a response to climate change,” he said, “is not because we don’t have better models. It’s because people don’t care about climate change.” That may be our epitaph.

“In 1972 there were two possible options provided for going forward — overshoot or sustainable development. Despite myriad conferences and commissions on sustainable development since then, the world opted for overshoot. The two-leggeds hairless apes did what they always have done. They dominated and subdued Earth. Faced with unequivocable evidence of an approaching existential threat, they equivocated and then attempted to muddle through.

Global civilization will only be the first of many casualties of the climate the Mother Nature now has coming our way at a rate of change exceeding any comparable shift in the past 3 million years, save perhaps the meteors or supervolcanoes that scattered our ancestors into barely enough breeding pairs to be able to revive. This change will be longer lived and more profound than many of those phenomena. We have fundamentally altered the nitrogen, carbon and potassium cycles of the planet. It may never go back to an ecosystem in which bipedal mammals with bicameral brains were possible. Or, not for millions of years”.

Video Presentation starts at 17:30, slides below

It Is Too Late For Sustainable Development

Smithsonian Institution Washington, DC; February 29, 2012

  • I will briefly describe what we did in 1970 – 1972 and summarize the main contributions of our study.
  • Then I will describe five reasons it is too late to achieve sustainable development.
  1. Public discourse has difficulty with subtle, conditional messages.
  2. Growth advocates change the justification for their paradigm rather than changing the paradigm itself.
  3. The global system is now far above its carrying capacity.
  4. We act as if technological change can substitute for social change.
  5. The time horizon of our current system is too short.
  • As a result, I will suggest that it is essential now to put more emphasis on raising the resilience of the system.

What we did

A team of 16 people worked under my direction to elaborate a computer model representing the causes and consequences of growth in the main physical factors characterizing global development over the period 1900 – 2100. The model was first conceived by Jay Forrester, who described it in his book, World Dynamics. My team wrote and published 3 additional books on the project, The Limits to Growth, Toward Global Equilibrium, and

Dynamics of Growth in a Finite World.

Our focus was on:

Population                             Nonrenewable resources

Industrial goods                   Persistent pollution



Our Main Contributions

  • We did NOT prove that there are limits to physical growth on a finite planet. We assumed it.
  • We did present information about a variety of physical limits- water, soils, metals, and other resources – in order to make the idea of limits plausible.
  • We described the reasons growth of population and industrial output is inherently exponential.
  • We showed that exponential growth quickly rises to any conceivable limit.
  • Our computer scenarios demonstrated that prevailing growth policies will lead to overshoot and collapse, not asymptotic approach to limits.
  • We suggested that changes in the policies could lead to a sustainable state, if the changes dealt with both cultural and technical issues and were implemented soon.


The Limits to Growth presented 12 scenarios. Four of them showed a relatively attractive global equilibrium without any collapse. However, it was written in the New York Times: It is no coincidence that all the simulations based on the Meadows world model invariably end in collapseThe Limits to Growth, Peter Passell, Marc Roberts, and Leonard Ross, New York Times, April 2, 1972

We said: “These graphs are not exact predictions of the values of the variables at any particular year in the future. They are indications of the system’s behavioral tendencies only. P. 93, The Limits to Growth

However a Google today search on “the Club of Rome predicted” yields 13,700 hits, for example: “In 1972 Limits to Growth, published by the Club of Rome, predicted that the world will run out of gold in 1981, mercury in 1985, tin by 1987, zinc by 1990, petroleum by 1992, and copper, lead and natural gas by 1993”.

Growth advocates change the justification for their paradigm rather than changing the paradigm itself. “At every single stage – from its biased arrival to its biased encoding, to organizing it around false logic, to misremembering and then misrepresenting it to others, the mind continually acts to distort information flow in favor of the usual good goal of appearing better than one really is“, Page 139, in The Folly of Fools; The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life, Robert Trivers, Basic Books, New York, NY 2011

Evolution of the criticisms

  • 1970s: There are no effective limits.
  • 1980s: There are limits, but they are far away.
  • 1990s: The limits are near, but technology and markets can evade them easily.
  • 2000s: Technology and markets do not always evade the limits, but the best policy is still to pursue GNP growth, so we will have more resources to solve problems.
  • 2010s: If we had been able to sustain economic growth, we would not have had trouble with the limits.


Given enough energy, minerals might be reclaimed from under the sea, or from seawater itself. A virtually infinite source of energy, the controlled nuclear fusion of hydrogen, will probably be tapped within 50 years. “The Limits to Growth”, by Peter Passell, Marc Roberts and Leonard Ross, New York Times, April 2, 1972.

“natural resources are not finite in any meaningful economic sense, mind-boggling though this assertion may be. The stocks of them are not fixed but rather are expanding through human ingenuity. p. 24, Julian L. Simon, The Ultimate Resource2, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1996


The global system is now far above its carrying capacity

Meadows GlobalEcoFootprint 1965-2007





Avoiding collapse will require a longer time horizon than our current system provides.


The Easy Oil is Gone

  • Oil discoveries peaked in 1960s.
  • Every year since 1984 oil consumption has exceeded oil discovery.
  • In 2009 discoveries were about 5 billion barrels (bb); consumption was about 31 bb.
  • Of the world’s 20 largest oil fields, 18 were discovered 1917 – 1968; 2 in the 1970s; 0 since

Global Oil Production is Nearing the End of its Plateau

  • 1995 – 1999     + 5.5%
  • 2000 – 2004     + 7.9 %
  • 2005 – 2009     + 0.4 %

– data from the International Statistical Supplement – 2010 edition, International Energy Agency, p. 18

• 2010 – 2030     – 50%*

* Projection from Crude Oil – The Supply Outlook, Energy Watch Group, Feb 2008, p. 12.

“By 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 MBD.” – U S Joint Forces Command, Joint Operating Environment Report, February, 2010

“Peak Oil Production May Already be Here,”  – Science, p. 1510, Vol 331, March 25, 2011

It is essential now to put more emphasis on raising the resilience of the system. It is essential now to start changing our behavior


Mukerjee, M. 23 May 2012. Apocalypse Soon: Has Civilization Passed the Environmental Point of No Return? Scientific American.

Meadows holds that collapse is now all but inevitable, but that its actual form will be too complex for any model to predict. “Collapse will not be driven by a single, identifiable cause simultaneously acting in all countries,” he observes. “It will come through a self-reinforcing complex of issues”—including climate change, resource constraints and socioeconomic inequality. When economies slow down, Meadows explains, fewer products are created relative to demand, and “when the rich can’t get more by producing real wealth they start to use their power to take from lower segments.” As scarcities mount and inequality increases, revolutions and socioeconomic movements like the Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street will become more widespread—as will their repression.

Many observers protest that such apocalyptic scenarios discount human ingenuity. Technology and markets will solve problems as they show up, they argue. But for that to happen, contends economist Partha Dasgupta of the University of Cambridge in the U.K., policymakers must guide technology with the right incentives. As long as natural resources are underpriced compared with their true environmental and social cost—as long as, for instance, automobile consumers do not pay for lives lost from extreme climatic conditions caused by warming from their vehicles’ carbon emissions—technology will continue to produce resource-intensive goods and worsen the burden on the ecosystem, Dasgupta argues. “You can’t expect markets to solve the problem,” he says. Randers goes further, asserting that the short-term focus of capitalism and of extant democratic systems makes it impossible not only for markets but also for most governments to deal effectively with long-term problems such as climate change.

“We’re in for a period of sustained chaos whose magnitude we are unable to foresee,” Meadows warns. He no longer spends time trying to persuade humanity of the limits to growth. Instead, he says, “I’m trying to understand how communities and cities can buffer themselves” against the inevitable hard landing.



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18 Responses to Dennis Meadows Collapse inevitable 2015-2020

  1. Thank you, Dennis Meadows. I appreciate your update. It feels correct and it’s a relief to have a realistic sense of how long we have to get ready (to let go of any expectations of “normalcy,” sanity in society, enough to eat, etc. I.e., get ready to die.) Not long at all! OK. My goal is to die sane (able to face and accept reality).

  2. Christopher Logan says:

    Thank you, Mr. Meadows!

    You state:
    “We’re in for a period of sustained chaos whose magnitude we are unable to foresee,” Meadows warns. He no longer spends time trying to persuade humanity of the limits to growth. Instead, he says, “I’m trying to understand how communities and cities can buffer themselves” against the inevitable hard landing.

    Yes, this is true. However, the inertia of governments more or less dampers the efforts to mitigate collapse. This inertia seems to increase from local, to state, to regional, national and to international government, being hopelessly ponderous at the national and international level. Though it’s an accepted truism that “We must all work together at all levels to respond to these multiple crises”, that’s an unrealistic expectation. The people are not going to “wake up and take back America”, or respond to climate change with a hands-across-the sea cooperation involving governments and grass-roots coalitions, to mend our gluttonous ways.

    While some policy change is possible at the local level, we should examine the “Transition Town” effort, and honestly assess, ten years on, the actual effect of this movement on community preparedness in the towns where it has members.

    If we conclude that local governments are unlikely to pick up the ball and run – and especially if we conclude (as I think is justified) that governments and those with the greatest economic power are in fact destined to block reasonable efforts at social change – we are left with the prospect of changing ourselves and those around us who will listen.
    This would suggest that personal resiliency should be the key focus of mitigation efforts.

    The survivalist-in-a-bunker meme, with its canned goods and ammunition, is comical at best. We need each other. But we, being the imperfect people we are, will have to cooperate with others, perhaps themselves imperfect in ways disagreeable to us. This in itself is a massive project.

    I suggest that families be strengthened, neighborhoods brought together, and that individuals look to their own sanity and their personal capacity to help themselves and others. Efforts to rein in industry and turn the wheel of government should be de-emphasized, if not abandoned. If some humans survive the collapse, and are able to preserve and extend at least some groundwork of gentle human society, it will be more to do with how individuals and small groups have responded, perhaps in isolation or even relative secrecy, than it will be the result of government, industry or NGO interventions in our current mess.

    • energyskeptic says:

      Yes, I do agree with you, we need each other and the survivalist bunker idea is nuts. I wish I had top secret clearance to find out what Homeland Security and other intelligence agencies are planning to do about the coming crises. I’m quite sure they must be thinking about it.

    • kathleen says:

      i have done much to engage people, then turned inward and created a small lifeboat with full food garden, now am fighting city codes to keep demolition away

  3. Risa Bear says:

    Much thanks. I read, and was convinced by, The Limits to Growth when it came out. Even so, even for me and my family, behaving differently from the herd has been difficult, let alone successfully saying or doing anything to help divert the herd from the cliff. We WILL go over; and I’m sure Homeland Security and their ilk will only manage to make matters worse.

  4. Fernando says:

    I wonder if you realize this quote “By 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 MBD.” was wrong?

    One reason why it was wrong was the nature of the approving authority. Given the degree of militarism and military-worship one sees in the American population is natural to see writers quite the U S Joint Forces Command as if they had the brainpower to understand much about this world. US generals, like all military officers tend to prepare to fight the last war, and to perfectly honest I didn’t see them perform too well in the last five wars they fought.

    We are running out of oil, that’s easy to see, but the dynamic system is incredibly complex, it’s subject to chaotic behavior by individuals, and therefore the time range to a crunch should be extended, it could be as far as 2075. And please stop deluding yourselves about the USA military. They are probably a bigger danger than help given the amount the resources they consume.

    • energyskeptic says:

      I think the surplus is gone, it shows up as demand destruction. Prices have quadrupled. Poorer nations can afford less than before, and people drive and shop a lot less. I think the problem will become more obvious as we near the net energy cliff. I can’t see how we could stretch oil out to 2075, a great many books have been written about this by petroleum engineers, we’ve drilled just about everywhere. Nor do I see where the new giant oilfields are – we get 80% of our oil from ancient fields discovered decades ago, and the remaining stuff is hard to get out and poor quality.

      • Maybe we see the problem in an identical fashion. I happen to be quite familiar with the oil supply demand dynamics, so I see two types of “crunch”.

        The first, less traumatic, is what we experienced from 1999 to 2008: the price climbed rather steeply, and we saw 4 large supply sources appear on the scene:

        1. Heavy oil (mostly from Canada and Venezuela)
        2. Deep water oil (USA, West Africa, Brazil)
        3. Condensate liquids produced with natural gas (USA, Qatar).
        4. Light oil from horizontal hydraulically fractured oil wells (USA).

        There was also a minor increase in Iraq, and some impact from biofuels.

        Because I lack a crystal ball, I can’t provide details as to which new sources will “pop up” as prices continue to climb as they will do for sure. But some additional sources may be out there (for example fracked wells in Western Siberia).

        The second type of crunch is a bit more serious, in such a case prices increase and nothing meaningful pops up. So imagine what happens if many years from now your grandson wakes up, takes his itty bitty super efficient plug in hybrid to the gas station to fill it with 20 liters, the priced jumped to $12 per liter and the station operator is only allowing customers to buy 10 liters at a time because the refineries don’t have much oil to refine.

        I think this second type of crunch could be delayed if indeed the market stops growing worldwide, and people learn to adapt without turning into cannibals.

        However, I think the problem is indeed very serious, and I suspect president Obama is being driven by this crisis in addition to the global warming issue, which is a bit more remote. I think he just doesn’t want people to panic.

        • energyskeptic says:

          The big question is how much wiggle room do we have, because this is a liquid oil TRANSPORTATION fuel crisis. Diesel engines do the work of society, and batteries and fuel cells are too heavy to be put into trucks, ships, trains, tractors — all of the equipment that grows, harvests, and delivers food can not be electrified. What you’d do to stretch out the petroleum is megacities where people don’t have to drive and give that fuel to tractors and trucks. Then there’d be Drill Baby Drill of all the oil off forbidden coasts, national parks, wilderness areas, the Arctic (though we don’t know how to do that). I’ve got a few articles speculating on this, the most recent is “Transportation: How long can we adapt before we fall off the Net Energy Cliff?”

          ASPO has been keeping track for a long time of the likely reserves of every country. Since you mention Western Siberia, see my book review of “Wheel of Fortune. The Battle for Oil and Power in Russia” and the “Peak Oil” section of my fossil fuels reading list at

          • I understand the current resource and reserves picture. I also now where there are resources we could tap at higher prices. And we also have potential for gas condensates as well as other liquids (biofuels in tropical areas are much more efficient than USA corn).

            If I had to bet on a single figure I would say 2035. However efficiency and human ingenuity have potential and I learned a lesson to never make my tails too narrow.

  5. Mike Stasse says:

    There’s an extensive interview translated from German on my blog about this…….

  6. kathleen says:

    ironically, to erase one’s footprint and live sustainably, has brought the city code enforcement to my door with an eviction. overcoming fear of authority and following my conscience have become vital

  7. I’m a professor of computational biology and bioinformatics (currently at the University of Washington, but moving soon) who has been doing research on the modelling of complex biological systems for a while.
    While biology is one of my passions, your initial work, done in the year I was born, I felt was ground breaking in terms of modelling complex systems. I felt the best feature of your initial work was that you were able to make the statement that sooner we reached sustainability, the greater the average standard of living for each person. Now that we have passed the point of no return, the average standard is going to decrease exponentially. I think now the issue is whether humanity itself will survive as a species within the next 100-200 years, or even sooner. Stable trajectories may still be achievable, but they are becoming less probable. I think in the end, it will just be one powerful military (and those associated with it) against the rest of the world. Both sides will have their flaws, so pick your poison or try to stay above the fray.

    • I’m pretty sure Papua New Guinea highlanders and Amazon jungle tribes will do fine. In 5000 years they may enter a new Renaissance, but at that time they’ll have to do it with biofuels, leather and wood.

      • energyskeptic says:

        They probably won’t have the ability to use biofuels for anything besides getting drunk since biofuels have a negative energy returned on energy invested. We are definitely going back to the age of wood. I hope that miners, oil drillers, roads, cattle, etc., don’t reach the last uncontacted tribes before civilization crashes. When I was in the Manu biosphere preserve, even the remote non-tribal people living along the river depended on oil to power their boat engines and other equipment, it’s very hard to find people who don’t depend on oil at all.

  8. unwillinglemming says:

    “Dennis Meadows Collapse inevitable 2015-2020”

    I’ve watched the video can someone point out where he makes the above statement. The implication is catastrophic collapse like some Mad Max scenario but what he seems to say is there’s likely to be a major discontinuity. DM clearly states he doesn’t make predictions.

    • energyskeptic says:

      You may well be right, I’m quoting Dmitry Orlov about what Meadows said. Can you post the link to his presentation at the 2014 “Age of Limits” conference?

      On the other hand, on June 12, 2014 the Club of Rome came out with a report vindicating the original Limits to Growth study and says that that collapse is likely, with reports from 15 “senior scientists and experts across the fields of geology, agriculture, energy, physics, economics, geography, transport, ecology, industrial ecology, and biology, among others”.

      Also see the Day & Hall 2008 paper at where they say:

      “There is a common perception, even among knowledgeable environmental scientists, that the limits-to-growth model was a colossal failure, since obviously its predictions of extreme pollution and population decline have not come true. But what is not well known is that the original output, based on the computer technology of the time, had a very misleading feature: There were no dates on the graph between the years 1900 and 2100. If one draws a timeline along the bottom of the graph for the halfway point of 2000, then the model results are almost exactly on course some 35 years later in 2008 (with a few appropriate assumptions). Of course, how well it will perform in the future when the model behavior gets more dynamic is not yet known. Although we do not necessarily advocate that the existing structure of the limits-to-growth model is adequate for the task to which it is put, it is important to recognize that its predictions have not been invalidated and in fact seem quite on target. We are not aware of any model made by economists that is as accurate over such a long time span.

      technology does not work for free. As originally pointed out in the early 1970s by Odum and Pimentel, increased agricultural yield is achieved principally through the greater use of fossil fuel for cultivation, fertilizers, pesticides, drying and so on, so that it takes some 10 calories of petroleum to generate each calorie of food that we eat. The fuel used is divided nearly equally between the farm, transport and processing, and preparation. The net effect is that roughly 19 percent of all of the energy used in the United States goes to our food system. Malthus could not have foreseen this enormous increase in food production through petroleum.

      Together oil and natural gas supply nearly two-thirds of the energy used in the world, and coal another 20 percent. We do not live in an information age, or a post-industrial age, or (yet) a solar age, but a petroleum age.

      Most environmental science textbooks focus far more on the adverse impacts of fossil fuels than on the implications of our overwhelming economic and even nutritional dependence on them. The failure today to bring the potential reality and implications of peak oil, indeed of peak everything, into scientific discourse and teaching is a grave threat to industrial society.

      The concept of the possibility of a huge, multifaceted failure of some substantial part of industrial civilization is so completely outside the understanding of our leaders that we are almost totally unprepared for it.

      There are virtually no extant forms of transportation, beyond shoe leather and bicycles, that are not based on oil, and even our shoes are now often made of oil. Food production is very energy intensive, clothes and furniture and most pharmaceuticals are made from and with petroleum, and most jobs would cease to exist without petroleum. But on our university campuses one would be hard pressed to have any sense of that beyond complaints about the increasing price of gasoline, even though a situation similar to the 1970s gas shortages seemed to be unfolding in the summer and fall of 2008 in response to three years of flat oil production, assuaged only when the financial collapse decreased demand for oil.

      No substitutes for oil have been developed on anything like the scale required, and most are very poor net energy performers. Despite considerable potential, renewable sources (other than hydropower or traditional wood currently provide less than 1 percent of the energy used in both the U.S. and the world, and the annual increase in the use of most fossil fuels is generally much greater than the total production (let alone increase) in electricity from wind turbines and photovoltaics. Our new sources of “green” energy are simply increasing along with (rather than displacing) all of the traditional ones.”

      • unwillinglemming says:

        Hi, thanks for the reply.
        This is the link to the Dennis Meadow’s Smithsonian but that’s the embedded link on this post.
        Minute 40 explains what may be possible even in 2012.

        To paraphrase what he says is that we’ve peaked on energy resources so assumptions for the rest of the model are invalidated.

        DM states “we’re going into a period of uncontrolled decline”. Therefore resilience is important. But overall, DM is not optimistic, I will grant that!