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Rethinking innovation for changing worlds? Criticism of limits to growth at 50
In this Sussex Development Lecture, we use the fiftieth anniversary of the SPRU response to Limits to revisit the ensuing and continuing debate. We invite you to discuss the (problematic and promising) roles that innovation plays in pursuit of sustainability today, and to ask how might we rethink innovation for changing worlds?

Last year (2022) marked the fiftieth anniversary of the “Limits to Growth”. When the systems dynamic modellers at MIT were contracted by the Club of Rome to model ecological limits in the world economic system. One of the first things they did was to establish reference groups with access to the model and technical reports, who would discuss the work and offer comment. One of those groups was the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex. SPRU published its views early in 1973 in the book “Thinking about the Future” (published in the USA as “Models of Doom”).

SPRU was critical of the MIT analysis, and more hopeful that innovation could stretch and transcend limits to growth. Some of those criticisms have not aged well. Others remain as vital as ever - albeit playing out differently in light of experience and changed circumstances. Some of the debate back then anticipated the nascent politics of using economy-environment models in policy-making (encapsulated in the phrase ‘Malthus-in, Malthus-out’), other criticism marshalled arguments about the political economy of development and technology.

Adrian Smith, Research Fellow in Technology and Society, Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex
Adrian Ely, Reader in Technology and Sustainability, University of Sussex
Anabel Marin, Senior Lecturer, Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex 

Mar 23, 2023 04:00 PM in London

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