Why Growth is a bad thing. Bad.

Quite often I am amazed at people’s ability to miss what looks obvious to me. Not only the small things like cleaning up when you spill coffee over the floor, or washing your hands when you get off the toilet, but also bigger things. Like the silly “solutions” to the world’s pollution problem for example.

Looking to solve our pollution problem by changing people’s behavior is one of the things which to me is obvious to fail. Although some behavior may speed up pollution, in the end we all pollute, wether we like it or not.

At the risk of writing a very unpopular blogpost, I’d like to share some thoughts on the ongoing and ever increasing pollution problem. In my eyes, there are 2 real causes of pollution, and ultimately these causes are even self-repairing although you may not like how that works out for you.

If you’ve watched “The Long Way Round” you’ve noticed that farmers in Mongolia have nothing but their animals and the land they live on. To them, there is a natural balance between people and nature. Having more of one thing (regardless which) disturbs the balance of things and renders pretty immediate problems.

In the “modern world” this balance is less obvious, and the urge to “want” something is not naturally stopped. People always to want have more. Bigger house, bigger car, more money, more kids. It is the constant urge for a “better life”. This urge, combined with the unimaginable stupidity of people in large groups have lead to a system which is based on “Growth”. If you don’t believe me, stare at the worldometers web site for a while.

Any rational thinking person must see that endless growth results in an infinitely large system. Since the earth has a fixed size, any system based on “Growth” is bound to hit the limits of what is physically possible.

Waste production
Every living thing on this planet produces waste. This can be in the form of breathing out co2, or taking a dump behind a tree. Nature has a way to deal with this. Waste is decomposed, and therefore part of the system. In fact, everything on this earth is part of “the system”.

According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, “pollution” is “the action of polluting especially by environmental contamination with man-made waste”. Oversimplified and on a (very) large scale, we can not produce stuff that’s not here. Everything is synthesized in some way from existing materials. In my mind, “pollution” is just “waste with a longer recycle time”. Even plastic eventually breaks down and re-enters the system.

According to Wikipedia, oils are “classified as mineral oils because they do not have an organic origin on human timescales”. So what it says is that Oil is in fact a natural product, but because it took so freakin’ long to become oil, we don’t recognize it as a natural product. What it says to me is, if we are able to find the balance, we may be able to keep using oil, as long as it’s in the same rate as it is reproduced. Mind you, that’s an incredibly slow rate, to “human timescales”.

If we want to keep the earth as “healthy” as it is now, we can introduce the following rule of thumb:

n x p = r

n = number of people on the planet
p = pollution per person per month
r = Earth’s natural pollution recycle rate, per month (constant)

So, if you want to have twice the people, you need to pollute half as much, on average, because the earth’s natural recycle rate is fixed. I’m sure this formula is nowhere near a realistic model, but it shows that both increasing consumption and increasing the world’s population is not going to work out in the long run. Even if  everybody “sees the light”, becomes an environmentalist, stops driving cars, and cuts down on consumption in general, we can’t continue to endlessly grow our population.

Spot the Similarities
So now we understand that this “Growth” system is resulting/has resulted in too many people on this planet, producing too much long lasting waste at a high rate.

In fact, it get’s scarier. Let’s look at the growth rate of the human population on this planet. Several graphs, including this one from wikipedia, will show relatively slow population growth until the 1920’s. Between 1920 and 2000 we see exponential growth. After that, it is expected that the growth will decline into a more “stationary” phase.

Hmmm now where did we see that before? Remember biology class, particularly the lessons about bacterial growth ? In this next graph, you can see the different phases of bacterial growth, resulting in certain death of the complete population, due to the depletion of resources.

Guess what we’re doing? By getting more and more kids, our population “eats” all the natural resources at a rate at which the earth can not match. It can not produce enough new resources to maintain the population, effectively resulting in a petri dish which also doesn’t “replenish” it’s resources.

Again, this painfully demonstrates that any system based on “Growth” is a system doomed to fail. Having kids to support your pension might seem like a good idea, but essentially you’re sacrificing the life of your kids (or theirs) for your comfortable retirement days. In my (unpopular) opinion, the only (and I mean *only*) way to reduce the whole pollution and economic problems is to have less people on this world. Much, much less. In fact, we would see quicker results if particularly modern “western” people shrunk in numbers first.

Unpopular measures are… unpopular
As mentioned before, people are loosing the ability to stop giving in to any urge they get. One of these urges (albeit strongly driven by nature itself) is having kids.

Please understand that I have nothing against kids, in fact I’m a grandfather myself. It’s just that I think it’s funny that we actively encourage having kids, while at the same time recognizing that people are the very cause of all these environmental problems in the world.

We continue to stick our heads in the sand and talk about *cough* “Co2 neutral flying”, *rhrmhhhrrm* “Bio degradable rubber” and last but not least, the hilarious *COUGHcoughcough* “Renewable energy”. What we should really think about is how to at least stop the world population from growing. This may result in imposing all kinds of unpopular/impossible worldwide measures I don’t care to get into right now, but killing is of course not one of them.

Since no politician is going to win voters by saying that he wants the whole country to be celibate (or worse), I realize that this will probably never happen, at least not in my lifetime.  The good thing is that our weak minds aren’t forced to make these choices, because the system will make the choice for us. Just like the petri dish does for bacteria.

No, I’m not the most environmental friendly freak you’d encounter, maybe even far from that with my motorcycle, car, computers, and airconditioner. My point is actually that we probably can keep enjoying a lot, if not all of these things, if we just stop putting more and more people on this world.

Maybe I can best put it like this:

“If you love kids, stop having them.”

Please note that nothing in this post is meant to be personal or offensive to anybody in any way. It’s just a silly blogpost in which I think aloud. Use it as food for thought, or discard it, but don’t let it spoil your day. Don’t worry, I don’t have the power to control my kids, or even my cat, let alone the world. I have no intentions to becoming a politician.


10 Responses to Why Growth is a bad thing. Bad.

  1. Amy says:

    My sentiments EXACTLY. I am a 40 year old woman who long ago decided to not have kids. The exponential impact that I am NOT having on the Earth’s resources makes me very carbon neutral!

  2. George K. says:

    My own ideas on this subject are somewhat similar. Enjoyed the blog very much, alas what is a foolish human to do. In the passing of humans the earth will itself survive. Such beauty and wonder, can evolve beyond are foolishness, eventually.

  3. Donald Proud says:

    I rarely read blogs, so I don’t know what lead me to yours; just now, I spotted your interesting name, “Rolfje”, in my browser’s History and wondered what the site was about and took a look.

    Anyway, this is not a commentary on the content of your blog, which I found interesting and accurate. This may bore you to death, but I’m pointing out an error in English usage. You used the word “celibate” to mean “chaste”. ‘Chaste’ is not a popular word to use these days, it seems, and ‘celibate’ is becoming misused more and more often in the place of ‘chase’. So, you are not alone.

    Your comments were so precise that I thought you might appreciate this input.

    • rolfje says:

      Hi Donald, thanks for reading and commenting. According to Wikipedia chastity is indeed what I mean, but “Celibacy” and “Abstinence” all seem to pretty much cut it in the context of this article. I think it gets the point across, so I’m not sure if I’m going to change it but your comment makes it very tempting 🙂

  4. Dominik Hoffmann says:

    Have you heard of Julian Simon’s wager against Paul Ehrlich? Have you seen documentaries like “The Demographic Winter?”

    • Rolf says:

      I’ve read the wikipedia page on the wager, and it’s about raw material prices and market mechanics. I still stand by my opinion that the world isn’t endless, and we need to stop the population growth.

      I haven’t seen “The Demographic Winter”, I’ll try to find a copy and have a look. From the trailer it seems that it’s made by people I don’t entirely agree with. Having a population of all ages is healthy, but there needs to be a balance between birth and death. I’ll have a look.

    • rolfje says:

      After having watched “The Demographic Winter”, I still stand by my viewpoints. The Demographic Winter is an interesting documentary, and advocates a steady “throughput” of people by promoting marriage, and having enough babies to compensate for deaths, thereby keeping the average population age the same. Amongst other things. Although the documentary speaks much of “decline”, it’s actually the variation of size, and as a result the varying average age which is a problem.

      Behaving as true bacteria, growth and decline is a local thing. All localities added up is the global population. So when one country grows, another country declines. All in all, current global population is growing, not declining. The Demographic Winter feels like it describes local decline problems rather than global population decline (or rather: variation) problems.

      One of the speakers advocates spending money in stead of saving to keep the system alive. To me this sounds silly. Saving is only so you can spend later, not never. It’s a buffer, or flywheel if you will. If people start saving this may impact economy in the short term, but I think it will stabilize it more and more in the long term. To keep it simple: If your healthcare money was used for YOUR own healthcare, the system wouldn’t be nearly as much affected by population variations.

      And even if we did this, it also seems to me that incentives or measures by governments to steer population size are “too local” to have effect globally. Local governments have “culture”, which gets in the way of truly thinking globally and readiness to make radical, possibly painful decisions.

      Whatever governments do, smart, rich people will have less kids. Poor, undereducated people have too many kids. Which means that we end up with overpopulation in underdeveloped areas, and the “smart” people aren’t around anymore to help them.

      We may not become totally extinct, but we’re sure going to be close. In the end, human kind as a large group is “too stupid” and individuals too self absorbed to keep itself alive.

  5. Rolf says:

    Interesting story on why increasing child survival decreases population growth:

  6. Alb says:

    Yeah China seems to be on-board with this. Of course it may be a problem that takes care of itself without an organised global solution. As food, water, energy or whatever resource become scarce their price will rise. It gets to the point where people can’t afford to have kids, or if they do they can’t afford stay alive. It may get very messy, result in (more) wars or force proper education and discipline about family planning but I think it’s most likely that the population is forced into natural decline before resources get too few to continue humanity.

  7. rolfje says:

    More examples of people thinking “locally”. More roads bring more cars? Really? Taken to the extreme, scientists must agree with me that at a certain point, you can not fill the roads anymore because there simply aren’t enough people left. 5 cars can not fill 5 miles of road.

    The article below is effectively saying “producing more food will cause more people wanting to eat”. Well duh! But then saying food is causing world hunger is simply one “Fox news” step too far. It’s the stupidity of the masses, causing growth. Without food people die. And eat less. It’s that simple.


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