On our failure to understand steady growth

As a species we are blind to the concept of steady growth but it happens all around us. Look in your bank account and you should see that the interest is paid on the balance in your account, which has grown (unless it’s mine) by the interest paid. Watch vegetables growing and nothing seems to happen for ages, then suddenly they take off.

This is steady or ‘exponential’ growth.

Take a chessboard and put a post-it note on the first square, two on the second, four on the third and keep doubling up. If you do it steadily then the time to each doubling is 70 divided by the rate%. at 7% per annum, the doubling time is ten years.

Two mind boggling outcomes arise.

1. We find our pile of post-it notes is around 6mm high on the 7th square(64) and on the 64th square? – well if you climbed to the top and shone a torch down, the light would take 48 minutes to reach the ground, you would be 6 times further from the Earth than the Sun is!

2. If you count the post-it notes on any number of squares, their sum will always be less than those on the next square!

Now, if these were barrels of oil, you will be able to say that you will use more of them in the next doubling period than you have in all the doubling periods that have gone before.

Oil was first commercially exploited in 1859 and we are now about half way round the chessboard, having used a trillion barrels, with around, it is generally agreed, a trillion left.

At the present rate of growth of oil use, we are going to try to use them all in the next doubling period, around thirty years!

There are of course, myriad reasons why this not possible. That’s why we have to keep ahead of the oil curve.



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