an old, and unpublished (surprise, surprise) one of mine, on growth


While the lack of testicular fortitude demonstrated by our ‘big men of business’ is of passing interest, the first thing to impact us may not be carbon, climate change or Kyoto. If it were not so tragic, the watching of approaching threats to mankind, as they enter the home straight, would be an exciting thing. What’s your money on? Resource depletion? Resource wars? Pandemic? Mass starvation?

Actually, what will hit first (and we are seeing it now) is a concept you don’t hear much of: exponentiality. In simple terms, it is what happens when things multiply. You may know it as inflation, interest, or growth, but it has a sinister side, and even those who are aware, are in awe of its current pace.

Imagine a closed room, bare except for a massive block of cheese. Insert a couple of mice, and close the door. From their viewpoint, the cheese appears to go on forever, and they tuck in. They also breed, and here it gets interesting – numbers-wise! If we assume they are doubling (two – four – eight) each breeding cycle, then within 19 cycles, they are up to a million mice, more than the odd stranger across a crowded room! All of a sudden the cheese is half-gone, which Hubbert would have referred to as ‘Peak Cheese’. At this point, no living mouse has experienced starvation, but it is a mathematical certainty – they will!

The no-cheese state will arrive quickly, the last half gone in a flash. Why? Because even the next seven doublings (from breeding-round 19, to breeding-round 26) take them to over 100 million mice !!!

Back around the half-way mark, some of the more intelligent mice identified their problems, being the finite supply of cheese, the population issue, and the increasing pile of poo in the corner, the size of which they expressed thus: Pmass = cheese – (mice+corpses).

These mice may have been laughed at, ridiculed even, by those more intent on fromage-foraging, but they were spot-on. Malthus, Hubbert, Erlich and the Club of Rome were on to it too, despite subsequent propaganda and ridicule.

Away to the right we can see a circular table made entirely of cheese purloined from the big, public block. Seated around it are small male mice busily exhorting others to copy them – an impossibility, of course. If every mouse was this selfish, the block would have been finished long ago. Presumably their posturing is a mutated mate-finding tactic, as a verifying peek under the table for a Guinivere (or two) may verify. Clearly these lancealots have no applicable skills to help combat the pending challenges, and being thus irrelevant, their clamour should be ignored.

The furry folks’ poo problem equates to our climate-change, environmental degradation and pollution. For the mice to survive the poo is essential, but (unless it becomes the breeding-ground for a pandemic) it is not their most immediate threat. They are more likely to die fighting over remaining food, or later of starvation.

Obviously, percentage growth in population and/or economic development, cannot continue indefinitely, nor for much longer. This is why we see the credit-crunch – it was an attempt to sustain rates of growth beyond restraining limits. This is why we suddenly see food competing with biofuel competing with urban development, impacting on forestry. Why we are seeing food riots. We are at Peak Oil (half-way through, in crude terms) or very near it. Half-way through the cheese, and accelerating as forecast. 6.5 billion of us (there were 2 billion when I was born) relying on an oil-mechanised, oil-fertilised agriculture, served to us in oil-sourced plastic. The first half has gone since Wilbur Wright and Henry Ford started cranking, but don’t bargain on completely using the rest. Look for an all-in resource-war (America should go early, while she is powerful and lubricated, China as late as she can develop until throttled). Look for a pandemic, arising from undernourished, overpopulated areas. And you were worried about the colour of your ensuite? Get real!

Some would say this is not positive thinking, but it is important to differentiate between realism, and negativity. Also between positive (including blindly optimistic) and proactive. The smart mice, the ones who sussed their troubles early, went on to be proactive. They came up with solutions: population control, cheese rationing, mushroom growing. They had trouble getting the proposals accepted, and were hindered by those around the circular table, a pity as the later the problems are tackled, the worse they are.

The conga-line of bleating business bosses passing through the Select (carbon charges) Committee , looked just like all practiced poseurs do – pathetic. And the rest of us? We just look late, very late. Late in ignoring the obfuscators, late in becoming realistic, late in getting proactive.


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