Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Sustainability vs. the Law of Exponential Growth


What is it about our psyche that enables us to be in total denial of the reality that continual exponential growth in a finite system, such as our planet, is impossible - there will be an end!

What the heck is exponential growth anyway?  Simply put, it is a growth formula that is relative to the current value.  So instead of the human population growing by 100k a year which wold be a linear growth, it would grow exponentially relative to current size of the population.  For example, if the human population was growing at an annual rate of 7%, then it would double in only 10 years.  Pretty startling isn't it!

Now, if you think this just a mathematical theory that has no application in reality, think again.  Take a look at the following graph of the world population growth through history and then tell me if you honestly think the planet can continue to sustain us without some pretty substantial changes to our population growth rate and the even more explosive growth in the rate in which we consume our natural resources.

In the video shown below, Dean Carlson, an Economics major and MBA, once a derivatives and securities trader, now a sustainable farmer, applies his objective and mathematical pragmatism to the ongoing discussion regarding the necessity for sustainable farming practices, and indeed, a sustainability mindset towards everything we do.

Dean illustrates how we are truly on the precipice, without knowing it (or by being in denial), by using a simple example of bacterium growth.  If you have a bacterium that doubles every minute, and put it in a bottle such that in just 24 hours, the bottle is full, at what point would the bottle be only half full, giving the impression that there was still plenty of time to address the impending bacterium population crisis?  Answer - 11:59 with just 1 minute remaining! And what if through exploration and scientific advancements, the bacterium came up with 3 more bottles; how much time would they have bought?  Answer - only 2 more minutes! 

I hope you find this charming but poignant TED Talk informative if not startling.

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