The idea that growth may be limited by natural resources and the environment was known throughout the first half of the 20th century but only serious addressed by mainstream economists after the pulbication of [Limits to Growth] in 1972. This report lost currency in the 1980s with the decline in prices of raw materials and agricultural products, and with continued major discoveries of oil and mineral deposits.
Limits today are defined more in terms of limits to the assimilative capacity of ecosystems. It is estimated that only a reduction of 70-90% of current material and energy throughput could allow for an economy which is both ecologically sustainable and internationally just.
It has been suggested that any argument regarding limits should concern itself with a limited timeframe of 100 years, since predicitons beyond this time are highly uncertain given the unknown potential of technological development.
Three major issues are: (1) the substitutability of anthropogenic capital for natural capital; (2) the limits to agricultural output; and (3) the capacity of the environment (atmosphere, oceans [etc]) to act as a sink for wastes, and the ability to reduce waste in the face of economic expansion.