Monday, January 21, 2019

Let's Do the Math

A new report from the International Monetary Fund laments that growth this year may decline to just 3.5 per cent. How does that sound to you? How long does it take for the global economy to double at that rate?

Let's do the math. To determine the doubling time there's a simple formula. DT = 70/rate of growth. 70 divided by 3.5 is 20. Therefore even at the sluggish rate suggested by the IMF, today's record economy will double by 2049. GDP in 2049 is expected to be double GDP today. It will be the world economy of 2019 times two - twice.

You have to see GDP as a function of its components - resources, production, consumption and waste.

Look at it this way. We know that humankind is using the planet's resources at 1.7 times Earth's ability to replenish them. We're bleeding the planet dry, tapping into its reserves, leading it to exhaustion. It's called "overshoot." We're draining our essentially irreplacable groundwater, our aquifers, the source of much of our agricultural irrigation. We're exhausting some of our surface water - lakes drying up, rivers that no longer run to the sea. We're depleting global fish stocks, fishing down the food chain, species by species. We're degrading our farmland, exhausting the soil through excessively intensive farming and the application of increasing amounts of herbicides, pesticides and chemical fertilizers. It goes on and on.

We're also overwhelming nature's ability to cleanse our waste. Water can purify some pollutants, up to a point. We're past that point, especially with agricultural runoff that is producing toxic algae blooms in our lakes, our rivers and even along our coasts.  Our oceans are losing their capacity to absorb atmospheric CO2 and the heat from global warming. They're filling up. And, of course, we're steadily increasing the greenhouse gases we emit into the atmosphere and that doesn't include the carbon bomb we face from the thawing permafrost.

All of these things are like walls we've run into head first in our quest for perpetual exponential growth in GDP.  Even this growing degradation of Earth and its essential systems isn't going to change our minds about growth.

When I was born mankind was 2.5 billion strong. Today we're three times that. In a couple of decades, perhaps less, we'll be at 9 billion headed to what's predicted to be 11 billion or more.  These extra billions are going to need food, clothing and shelter and lots and lots of energy, cheap fossil energy.  The International Energy Agency foresees a 30 per cent increase in fossil fuel consumption by 2040.  Renewable energy will grow but not enough to halt the growth in fossil fuel consumption.

Our existing level of GDP is overtaxing our land, overtaxing our seas and overtaxing our atmosphere. And, despite the evidence of our excess - everywhere - our response is to double down, heedless of the consequences.

There aren't many areas of knowledge more inarguable than basic math. Exponential growth is basic math, nothing more. To dispute it is foolish. To ignore it is madness. That's pretty much where our leadership has us today - in the grip of madness. You don't think so? Fine, do the math.


Toby said...

"The news is best just before the news is catastrophic."


The Mound of Sound said...

I don't know how it is that our political leadership, with their legions of experts and advisors, can't figure out they're steering us straight for the cliff.

Hugh said...

3.5% per year may not seem like much but it's growth compounding on growth, resulting in the vertical line graph.

The Mound of Sound said...

Yes, Hugh, but those who wield the levers of power don't accept limits.