KEY POINTS

  • Scientists at MIT had released research on how the world would fare between 1972 and 2060
  • The model considered factors like pollution, food production and population
  • A new study has now evaluated the findings of the 1972 MIT research

A team of scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) had predicted in 1972 that humanity's current civilization is likely to end in the mid-21st century. While the report was heavily criticized at the time, new research reveals that the predictions have been eerily correct so far, forecasting that the collapse of society is on track to happen by 2040.

New research published in the Yale Journal of Industrial Ecology evaluated how things have progressed since the initial report was published in 1972, Motherboard reported. The new study concluded that the world could indeed witness the collapse of society as early as 2040. However, this will only happen if we continue the business-as-usual approach to overexploitation, overpopulation and resource extraction.

The new research, authored by Gaya Herrington, the Sustainability and Dynamic System Analysis lead at the KPMG accounting firm, seemingly suggests there is still hope for society as long as we can change our ways. Using ten variables, Herrington checked and analyzed the MIT model  (MIT used a world simulation model to determine how this world would fare between 1972 and 2060) to see how accurately predictive it has been.  

Scientists have warned that the pace of global warming is outstripping humanity's best plan to cut carbon emissions Scientists have warned that the pace of global warming is outstripping humanity's best plan to cut carbon emissions Photo: AFP / GREG BAKER

The variables include fertility rates, population, mortality rates, industrial output, services, food production, persistent pollution, non-renewable resources, ecological footprint and human welfare. 

The new study takes the model's predictions on these markers and compares them to the empirical data. As a result, Herrington was able to identify how close the scientists' prediction is to reality. Moreover, she figured out the position the world is currently in, based on the model. The study found we are treading along in line with a couple of scenarios, neither of which is good.

These scenarios are the comprehensive technology (CT) and the business-as-usual (BAU2). The Comprehensive Technology scenario predicts economic decline begins right now. It notes several negative outcomes, including the short-term decline in food production and wild swings across various categories like industrial output. 

In this scenario, however, society does not collapse and humanity's bad habit of draining resources will come to an end with the development of new sustainable technologies. Food production will also recover eventually.

Meanwhile, the business-as-usual scenario assumes that humans will not make any changes to their current behavior. This scenario predicts that economic growth would begin to sputter very soon and hit a wall around 2030. However, instead of stagnation, the scenario foresees things would start to collapse. Toward the year 2040, food production, population, industrial output and all other categories would take a steep decline while pollution skyrockets.

To clear things up, Herrington told Motherboard that this predicted collapse "does not mean that humanity will cease to exist." However, it will destroy the way of life as we know it. "Economic and industrial growth will stop, and then decline, which will hurt food production and standards of living. In terms of timing, the BAU2 scenario shows a steep decline to set in around 2040," she explained to the outlet.

In her research, Herrington concluded, "Both scenarios thus indicate that 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 modeled by [Limits to Growth] would inevitably lead to declines in industrial capital, agricultural output, and welfare levels within this century," she added.