The World Model Controversy
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In 1971 Jay Forrester published his book World Dynamics, where he presented a high-level simulation model of the socio-economic-environmental world system. The main purpose of the model and the accompanying book was to encourage an open debate about the long-term future on our planet. The World Model was created in a time where pollution and other negative effects of industrialization and economic growth started to become recognized. Forrester made the assumption that life on earth is bounded within certain limits, such as available space and resources. Based on this he concluded that exponential economic growth cannot continue forever; sooner or later one or more limits will be reached. The question, then, is how mankind can manage its own future in ways that can avoid an unpleasant encounter with the limits to growth. The Club of Rome, a non-profit research organization, appointed Dennis Meadows, Donella Meadows and others to elaborate on the work initiated by Forrester. The resulting report, Limits to Growth, became a bestseller almost over night. Large parts of the established economic community reacted with massive criticism towards the limits to growth ideas, and characterized the work as dooms day prophecies with no basis in observed data and established theories. In this essay I describe System Dynamics and econometrics; the scientific home bases of the two sides in the controversy. Based on a theoretical framework developed by Ernan McMullin, I try to categorize the issues that were discussed in the context of the World Model. My findings are that the World Model debate is a mixed controversy, involving different views on facts, theories, principles and values. The controversy has evolved over three decades, and has not ended. The main questions are still relevant and subject to discussion among scientists, politicians, environmentalists, and ordinary people.