Mathematically speaking, the world could very well end in our lifetime. According to a study that surfaced in the early 1970s, we may have only 20 years left.

Sound crazy?

The research began with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s innovative methods and blended with, according to the Mother Nature Network, a computer model commissioned by a group of scientists, industrialists, and government officials focused on solving the world’s problems.

The year 2040 sounded like a long way off back when MIT’s research into sustainability first went viral – well, okay, an early 1970s version of viral – when ABC featured a report back in 1973 that revealed findings from Australia’s largest computer. The program was originally devised by MIT scientist Jay Forrester.

Forrester, who died in 2016 at the age of 98, was a pioneer in computer models. His MIT Digital Computer Lab first developed system dynamics in a project for General Electric, and later applied it to global problems, according to MIT archives.

While at MIT “in the 1950s (Forrester) developed the field of system dynamics modeling to help corporations understand the long-term impact of management policies,” a New York Times article wrote after his death. System dynamics, he once wrote, “uses computer simulation to take the knowledge we already have about details in the world around us and to show why our social and physical systems behave the way they do.”

All told, “It shows,” the 1973 video said then, “that Earth cannot sustain the present population and industrial growth for much more than a few decades.”

After the ABC report, the world went on with living. There were gas crises, Watergate, Americans trying to scrape together $175 for the average monthly rent, and having some fun going to see “American Graffiti.”

Now, we’re at the prediction point.

The research program back then, called World1, was admittedly not a precise forecast.

“What it does for the first time in man’s history on the planet,” the 1973 video explained, “is to look at the world as one system … It shows that simply cleaning our car exhaust and making some small effort to limit our families simply isn’t enough.”

The computer simulation examined global behavior since 1900 and where it will lead Earthlings into the future through projections based on behaviors. In the 1973 analysis, “the Q curve,” which marks quality of life, is “represented by the amount of space people have, the amount of money that they have to spend, the amount of food they have to eat. (The Q curve) increases rapidly up to 1940, but from 1940 on the quality of life diminishes, and here we are about the turn of the century, and we come up to the year 2020, and it’s really come right back (to pre-1940 levels).”

Combine this then with diminishing natural resources – the simulation forecasted in 1973 – population increases, and an increase in pollution.

“From 1980 through the year 2020, pollution really takes off,” the 1973 video shows among the data. “This is assuming of course that we don’t do anything about it. So the year 2020, the condition of the planet starts to become highly critical.”


— Evidence shows that 2000 to 2009 was hotter than any other decade in at least the past 1,300 years, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). This warming is altering the earth’s climate system, including its land, atmosphere, oceans, and ice, in far-reaching ways, the NRDC concludes.
— Every year since 2000, U.S. wildfires burned an average of 6.9 million acres, according to the Center for Homeland Defense and Security. This figure is nearly double the average annual acreage burned in the 1990s (3.3 million acres).
— 91 percent of the world’s population lives in places where air quality exceeds guideline limits put forth by the World Health Organization (WHO), which reports that 4.2 million deaths occur every year as a result of exposure to ambient (outdoor) air pollution.
— The United Nations reports that while it took hundreds of thousands of years for the world population to grow to 1 billion – in just another 200 years, it grew sevenfold to today’s mark of 7.6 billion.

“If we don’t do anything about it … the quality of life is going to go right back practically to zero,” the 1973 report concluded through its scientific trends analysis then. “Round about the year 2040 or 2050, civilized life as we know it on this planet will cease to exist.”

MIT has been awarded 89 Nobel Prizes to date, and Forrester himself in his lifetime received numerous awards for his research, nine honorary degrees from universities around the world, and the National Medal of Technology,

“Jay developed the first model that treated interactions of population, the economy, natural resources, food, and pollution in the context of the world as a whole,” John Sterman, the Jay W. Forrester professor of management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, said in an interview with The New York Times after the passing of Forrester. “The work was counterintuitive and controversial, and it launched the field of global modeling.”