Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Timing is everything...

One of the most important events in humanity's brief history will be our transition to a space-faring species, this event will require daring, innovation and drive.  Another significant event will be the end of traditional economic growth.  The timing of these two events may be fundamental to determining our ability to continue the expansion of knowledge and the associated rapid growth in technology and human capabilities.

If you apply a logical mind to the realities of the physical planet we live on, its clear our growth based economic system cannot continue.

If we take the view shared by most Economists, there is a demand for continued economic growth, year-on-year percentage increases, it is a little scary to see where this will eventually lead us (its an exponential curve of never ending consumption).  Assuming we are able to continue economic growth at a rate of 2.3% per year, its possible to show that we have at most 275 years before things come to a screeching halt.  This is not due to some financial limitation, but due to real physical limits of life and the planet we live on.

Planet Earth
(PHOTO: courtesy Nasa)
If this statement seems absurd, read the links above (if maths and science are not your thing, you might need to find a maths geek to read them and then have a conversation about implications with respect to economic growth etc).  The reality is that it would be physically impossible for humanity to continue a 2.3% growth rate right up to this end point, but it does quite explicitly show that it cannot and will not continue forever.

There is only one inevitable conclusion.  i.e. that the pursuit of year on year growth will ultimately come to an end.   It seems clear to me we have three options from this point on:
  1. Chaotic collapse caused by over consumption, resource depletion and pollution with greatly reduced prosperity and the destruction of society as we know it (i.e. forced and uncontrolled transition away from growth caused by physical limits)
  2. Controlled transition to a steady state economy with opportunities for continued prosperity and the enrichment of human society and culture.
  3. Become a space-faring species and export our economy (and associated exponential growth) into the wider solar system and the universe beyond.
Choosing option 1 is likely to shut the door on options 2 and 3 for a very long time, if not forever.  Options 2 and 3 should be achievable either on their own or together.  If we can make our way to option 3, the wider human economy may continue to grow out into space with the unbounded limits that traditional Economists and their theories desire and require.

In my opinion, aiming for option 3 with an interim plan to transition smoothly to a steady state economy is a wise choice.  It buys us time to get things right.

Food for thought as we live our lives and make our decisions in the coming weeks, months and years...