Energy, Environment and an Economy of Words

I’ve been reading about the global economy, energy and the environment.

The U.S.- and much of the world’s- economy is built upon a model of continuing, compounding growth.

Growth is dependent on availability and use of energy.  Currently, availability is declining and use is increasing.

As a result, our efforts to extract ever-more energy from our finite earth is despoiling the environment, diminishing resource availability and even destroying certain forms of life.

Exponential growth is unsustainable.

To illustrate, I quote an interesting analogy from Chris Martenson’s book, Crash Course:

Suppose I had a magic eyedropper and I placed a single drop of water in the middle of your left hand.  The magic part is that this drop of water will double in size every minute.  At first, nothing seems to be happening, but by the end of a minute, that tiny drop is now the size of two tiny drops.  After another minute, you now have a little pool of water sitting in your hand that is slightly smaller in diameter than a dime.  After six minutes, you have a blob of water that would fill a thimble.  

Now imagine that you’re in the largest stadium you’ve ever seen or been in- perhaps Fenway Park, the Astrodome or Wembley Stadium.  Suppose we take our magic eyedropper to that enormous structure, and right at 12:00 PM in the afternoon, we place a magic drop way down in the middle of the field.

To make this even more interesting, suppose that the park is watertight and that you’re handcuffed to one of the very highest bleacher seats.  My question to you is this: How long do you have to escape from the handcuffs?  When would the park be completely filled?  Do you have days?  Weeks?  Months?  Years?  How long before the park is overflowing?

The answer is this: you have until exactly 12:50 PM on that same day- just fifty minutes- to figure out how you’re going to escape from your handcuffs…

Now let me ask you a far more important question: At what time of the day would your stadium still be 97% empty space (and how many of you would realize the severity of your predicament)?  Take a guess.

The answer is that at 12:45 PM- only five minutes earlier- your park is only 3% full of water and 97% remains free of water.  If at 12:45 you were still handcuffed to your bleacher seat patiently waiting for help to arrive, confident that plenty of time remained because the field was only covered with about five feet of water, you would actually have been in a very dire situation…

With exponential growth in a fixed container, events progress much more rapidly toward the end than they do at the beginning.  We sat in our seats for 45 minutes and nothing much seemed to be happening.  But then, over the course of five minutes- whoosh!- the whole place was full of water.  Forty-five minutes to fill 3%; only five more minutes to fill the remaining 97%.  

With this understanding, you will begin to understand the urgency I feel….

I understand the urgency.  Do you?….



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