On May 20, as part of their annual general meeting, the North Toronto Chapter of the Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario (APEO) presented what was advertised as a “panel discussion” titled “Limits to Growth – An Update” in a suite at The Inn on the Park hotel in Toronto.  The advertisement further stated this would be a panel discussion “comparing predictions of 20 years ago with actual events and – looking forward to another 20 years.”  Organizers were surprised at the very poor turnout (less than 25 people stayed for the talks).

The “panel discussion” turned out to be but a forty minute question and answer period following lengthy monologues mostly about the Club of Rome and some of its lobbying and publishing activities by two “distinguished members of the Canadian Chapter of the Club of Rome” – Rene Whitehead and Ron Ritchie).

Rene Whitehead, a professional engineer and former Principal Science Advisor to the Privy Council of the Federal Cabinet and Ron Richie, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, The Canadian Depository for Securities Limited, both lauded Limits to Growth – a 1972 Club-funded book that promoted zero population growth through the use of false statistics related to energy, food production predictions and population growth.

Limits to Growth, the first ‘Report to the Club of Rome,’ wrongly claimed that it had enough scientific evidence in the form of a computer model to ‘prove’ that worldwide population control is necessary.  The book was immediately discovered to be inaccurate.  Computer World and Nature Magazine in 1973 pointed to an error in the decimal point of one of the factors used in the “computer model,” showing the Club wrong by 900 per cent.

The Club of Rome completely reversed its position in 1976 and called for more growth but not before 3 million copies of Limits was sold worldwide.  Aurelio Peccei, head of the Club of Rome, was unapologetic about publishing such spectacularly false information and indeed, in a Time article (April 26, 1976) claimed that printing the falsehoods in Limits was part of his “evolving strategy.”

Robert Sassone

Population expert Dr. Robert Sassone simply called “Limits to Growth a lie:

I think it is fair to infer from the Time article that Peccei knew that Limits to Growth was a lie, and that he intended it to be a lie in order to jolt people from ideas that they held that he did not think they should hold.  It is a fair inference that he used a lie because he did not believe that telling the truth would jolt people away from ideas that he did not want them to hold.”

On this evening at The Inn on the Park, Rene Whitehead spoke first giving a long reading list of books that he felt were influential to Club of Rome activities as well as books funded by the Club.  He spoke about Aurelio Peccei (the late founder and head of the Club) as having a great faith in mankind’s ability to “change for the better,” a faith he did not share, he added.  He noted that Mr. Peccei funded the Club of Rome with his own money (millions of dollars) and wondered if the Club of Rome would continue now that he is dead.

Ron Ritchie said that he was skeptical at first about the Club but implied he became a convinced member, partly through attending the meeting that led up to the publishing of Limits to Growth.

A former politician, he chuckled about removing his Club of Rome affiliation from campaign literature because some took it to mean Vatican credentials.  He was fascinated, he said, by the allegory of the choked lily pond found in Limits as it applied to world energy resources and consumption patterns and went on to discuss world energy.  But his conclusion was that we are all still “groping in the dark.”

During the question and answer period that followed one professional engineer in the audience noted that it was quite clear from the talk given by Mr. Whitehead that the Club of Rome had made their conclusions before doing the book’s computer model and did not use a true scientific approach.  He further noted that Mr. Whitehead even admitted that the purpose was not to be a scientific study (as claimed) but was only to attract attention to Club of Rome “conclusions.”  He went on to remind Mr. Whitehead that predictions of gloom and doom made in the late 60’s and early 70’s have since been proven totally false.

Financed by Volkswagen

Mr. Whitehead thought the questioner was “wrong” and weakly offered that the MIT computer study that Limits was based on was financed by Volkswagen, as if to somehow lend it credibility by invoking the name of a multi-national corporation.  He claimed the Club of Rome “never made any predictions.”

Mr. Ritchie (the former politician) offered the non-defence that “The Club of Rome is only to raise questions,” and not to make definite statements.

The gentleman who first questioned their credibility and that of the Club of Rome replied by noting the obvious contradiction in the Whitehead and Richie approach to the Club of Rome.  He reminded the audience that Mr. Whitehead presented the Club of Rome conclusions as absolute truth preaching that the only problem was getting governments to act on them, whereas Ron Ritchie admitted they were “groping in the dark,” adding that the Whitehead approach is not only wrong but dangerous.

Surprisingly Mr. Whitehead agreed, saying “I have a son who works with computer models and I tell him ‘Don’t get hung up on those computer models because you’re in trouble the moment you start believing them…’ “

Perhaps perpetrators of false propagandas will always back down and away from strong criticism, especially when confronted with the facts.  However, it is equally important to note, as happened here, that they will quickly revert to promoting the same old lies the moment they think they can get away with it again.  After all, is this not what Mr. Whitehead and Mr. Ritchie promised to deliver on this Spring evening in their attempt at a 1986 “update” on the 1970’s lie using the title “Limits to growth”?

Except for one knowledgeable member in a very small audience it might have worked.