Exponential Growth

If you say We must sustain an annual growth rate in the economy of 5%. every politician, every economist and every man in the street will say Amen. However, if you ask a mathematician, he will say You can’t do that indefinitely. Further, it is suicidal to try. An exception was economist Kenneth Ewart Boulding (1910-01-18 1993-03-18 age:83) who noted Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.

What is the problem? We are already taking far more resources from the earth than it can sustain. If our economy grows by 5%, next year it will take 5% more than this year, increasing the strain. The next year we will take 10.25% more that the first year. The third year is 15% more. The fifth year is 28% more The tenth year is 63% more. The twentieth year is 2.6 times as much. The fiftieth year is 11.5 times as much The hundredth year is 131.5 times as much. The two hundredth year is 17,292 times as much. The resources of earth are finite. Exponential growth eventually overwhelms them no matter how massive they are to start. It works mathematically like the flip side of compound interest.

Consider a non-renewable resource like coal, oil, gas or gold. We really put a strain on the earth, first with the cumulative extraction of all previous years, then the ever growing per year demand. You might use a metaphor of not only ever-increasing cruelty in torture but also ever faster increasing cruelty. You exhaust the resources of the earth with ever increasing ferocity. If read Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed: Revised Edition, he will explain how world civilisation after civilisation went extinct from environmental collapse.

The bottom line is economic growth is something you can sustain only for a relatively short period. It is mathematically impossible to sustain indefinitely.

Economic growth is a dirty word also for a completely different reason. Our current economic system necessarily burns more fossil fuels when the economy expands. This means more CO₂ emissions. This means more climate change. We are gradually learning that climate change is absolutely unacceptable. It is tantamount to global suicide. If we want to live at the current level of energy consumption, we will have to retool to get our energy from clean sources — no more fossil fuels.

~ Roedy (1948-02-04 age:70)