From The Limits to Growth to Greenhouse Gas Emissions Pathways: Technological Change in Global Computer Models (1972–2007)
From the World2 and World3 models to contemporary Integrated Assessment Models (IAMs) that model carbon neutral emission pathways, global computer models have served as virtual laboratories for addressing economic, environmental and technological concerns together. Representing technological change has been a controversial element of global modelling efforts because, to a great extent, it sets the parameters on conceivable futures. To retrace this history, this article analyses four moments when modellers debated technological change: the controversy spurred by The Limits to Growth in the 1970s; subsequent global future studies during that decade; the IIASA Energy in a Finite World study in the 1980s; and the shift to endogenous technological change in IAMs in the 2000s. It shows that the notion of technological change as a predictable parameter affecting the future of society was not a given. Technological change progressively became a parameter in models as more elaborate methodologies were developed to simulate it. When modellers began to focus on climate action in the 1990s and 2000s, their interest in the relationship between technological change and social change dwindled. The increasing skill with which modellers formally represented technological dynamics was commensurate to the decline of heated discussions over how conflicting worldviews shaped simulations.
Citation: Cassen, C., & Cointe, B. (2022). From The Limits to Growth to Greenhouse Gas Emissions Pathways: Technological Change in Global Computer Models (1972–2007). Contemporary European History, 31(4), 610-626