Global Voices: Luigi Piccioni and The Limits to Growth

Published: July 3rd, 2012

By Sarah Parkinson

July 3, 2012

Dr. Luigi Piccioni describes The Limits to Growth as “a seminal lecture in [his] life.” Last year, he wrote the essay “Forty Years Later. The Reception of the Limits to Growth in Italy, 1971-1974“. In it, Dr. Piccioni, a research fellow in the Department of Economy and Statistics at the University of Calabria, Italy, describes the roots of The Limits study and the debates it stirred up upon its release. In Italy, as elsewhere, The Limits‘ cautionary tale of “overshoot and collapse” found supporters in some sectors of society and opponents in others. What all these groups shared was a strong reaction to its message. This strong reaction helped catapult The Limits to Growth to the forefront of environmental discussions, and its deep impact on its readers has helped to keep it relevant all these years later.

Below, Dr. Piccioni describes his own reactions to The Limits to Growth and how the work has affected him since he first discovered it as a young boy.

“I was raised in a small town in Central Italy, and my parents were not intellectuals at all. When my friends and I were about ten – it was at the end of 1970 – we discovered the existence of the World Wildlife Fund, and we created the first WWF section for our region. At that time, the Italian WWF was very young and just beginning to expand. My friends and I created little library reading reviews here and there. In 1972 the bulletin of WWF Italy reviewed The Limits to Growth, which had been translated and published in Italian immediately after the original version. A few months later we bought a copy of the book. I still have it in my personal library.

At the time I was not yet fourteen, but the book had a very charming appearance and I decided to read it. It was a very positive shock: I did understand absolutely everything, and I learned in that moment to think about the world as a system and to consider ecological problems as global threats. We were already engaged as ecologists; we loved the nature of the surrounding mountains, its animals, its forests, its landscapes. We were used to thinking that social problems should be addressed collectively, but The Limits to Growth taught us to see all these dimensions in terms of planet Earth and in terms of a future that was not a generic future anymore, but a “concrete” one encompassing only a few decades.

Thereafter, the lesson of the Limits to Growth – I mean the general lesson, not the individual, specific provisions – has been at the center of my individual engagement and my vision of the world and the future. When someone, last year, proposed that I write an article about a topic in environmental history for a scientific review, I said to myself that it was time to tell the story of how The Limits to Growth arrived in Italy.

This is the story at the root of my essay.

In writing it, I discovered that the basic ideas of the book came from Aurelio Peccei, the method came from Jay Forrester, and the equipment came from MIT. But all its merits as a beautiful book – appealing even for a boy of the remote Italian mountains – came from the pen and the sensibility of Donella Meadows.

This has been one of the best discoveries of my research.”

–Dr. Luigi Piccioni, June 29, 2012

Do you share any of Dr. Piccioni’s sentiments? What was your reaction when you first read The Limits to Growth? How has the book or its message affected your life? If you have your own Limits to Growth story, we would love to hear it–please share it with us!

Read Dr. Piccioni’s essay here.

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About The Donella Meadows Project

The mission of the Donella Meadows Project is to preserve Donella (Dana) H. Meadows’s legacy as an inspiring leader, scholar, writer, and teacher; to manage the intellectual property rights related to Dana’s published work; to provide and maintain a comprehensive and easily accessible archive of her work online, including articles, columns, and letters; to develop new resources and programs that apply her ideas to current issues and make them available to an ever-larger network of students, practitioners, and leaders in social change.  Read More

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