Thursday, August 6, 2009

The joys and horrors of understanding exponential function

Not worried enough yet? Brace yourself for the lecture "Arithmetic, Population and Energy" by Dr. Albert A. Bartlett. He starts out by claiming that "The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand exponential function", and after heard him prattle on, you will agree.
I normally have a problem with those who, for environmental causes, ridicule the idea of continued economical growth. A society without growth, I feel, is a society where the only way for an individual to improve his or her lot is to take something from someone else. So there has to be some kind of growth or society will disintegrate completely.
After listening to Bartlett, however, it does seem as if "no economic growth" is pretty much around the corner anyway. So it's time to prepare oneself.


Jaysen said...

Wow. Thanks for pointing this out. I had always suspected that even a modest constant growth rate was unsustainable over time, but never expected to be able to prove it that conclusively.

BTW thanks for posting your experiences. While I am never likely to live as independently as you, I have been giving some thought to further reducing my dependance on outside supply. Your real world examples have help keep me moving.

Northmark said...

Thanks! An interesting effect of trying to live independently is realizing how completely dependent one is on others. I feel less independent than ever, because I imagine I now have a better grasp of the immensity of the system we are now so completely at the mercy of.
I quite like the idea of "Transition Towns" which seems to address the question of growth and sustainability, while retaining, and even enforcing, concepts of democracy.