The Influence of Limits to Growth and Global 2000 on U.S. Environmental Governance

Michael Lerner, Ryo Fujikura, Mikiyasu Nakayama, Manami Fujikura


This paper assesses the influence of two reports, “The Limits to Growth” and “The Global 2000 Report to the President—Entering the Twenty-First Century,” on environmental governance in the United States. Published in 1972 and 1980, respectively, both reports used different methodologies to project changes to the global environment, but reached similar conclusions: business-as-usual economic growth was unsustainable and would lead to the collapse Earth’s life-support systems in the 21st century. Relying on eight oral interviews conducted with experienced and influential persons from environmental NGOs, academia, and the U.S. government, supplemented by a systematic literature review, this analysis finds Limits and Global 2000 had a limited influence on U.S. environmental governance. The reports contributed to greater awareness of the need for sustainable growth, especially among environmentalists, the U.S. government, and the business community; introduced system dynamics and computer modeling to the environmental policymaking process; and directly catalyzed some policy development, particularly in the context of international environmental negotiations. Despite these achievements, Limits and Global 2000 could not catalyze movement toward sustainable development at sufficient scale. The reports’ recommendations were rebuffed by the hostile political agenda of the Reagan Administration, their proponents frustrated by policymaking tools ill-suited to long-term system-level decisionmaking, and their message subsumed by the drive for short-term economic growth. The reports’ projections remain largely valid, but decisionmakers have long dismissed them as irrelevant.

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International Journal of Social Science Studies   ISSN 2324-8033 (Print)   ISSN 2324-8041 (Online)

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