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Exponential Growth

As our series honoring the 40th anniversary of The Limits to Growth study (and best-selling book) continues, I thought we should review our progress in the exponential growth demonstration experiment started with this post on March 11 . Please don’t forget to take the Pledge to Think Small, and to join our Worldwide GrowthBusters House Party on Earth Day weekend (April 20-22).

The exponential growth demonstration is very simple, something you should try at home with your family, or at work with your colleagues. It’s guaranteed to stimulate some interesting conversation. It’s based on this story:

In the GrowthBusters film, I share a few moments from retired physics professor Al Bartlett’s world famous lecture about exponential growth:

It’s great to see Al’s lecture illustrated by our animation, but there’s nothing like seeing it play out on your kitchen table. So, I suggested you get a bag of wheat, rice, cheerios, marbles or whatever you have handy, and a glass jar or pitcher, and try this yourself. That’s what we’ve been doing here at GrowthBusters World Headquarters. Each day we double the wheat in our beaker. Here’s our progress so far:

Day 1  –  1 grain
Day 2  –  2 grains
Day 3  –  4 grains
Day 4  –  8 grains
Day 5  –  16 grains
Day 6  –  32 grains
Day 7  –  64 grains
Day 8  –  128 grains
Day 9  –  256 grains
Day 10 – 512 grains
Day 11 – 1,024 grains

LTG-Experiment_day12-300x212 Now we’re ready for Day 12. Double the 1,024 and we now have 2,048 grains of wheat. Piece of cake! We can keep doing this forever, right?

Dave Gardner
Filmmaker

Dave Gardner is the director of the new documentary, GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth, which uncovers the cultural forces that keep us pursuing growth in the face of overwhelming evidence we’ve outgrown the planet.

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  • Avatar

    Jessie Henshaw

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    There’s only one stranger reality, to me, than our world economy being designed by a high paid world network of highly educated professionals, to require consuming ever increasing quantities of natural resources the more we consume, forever.

    That’s that the people who notice that as a problem, seem equally stubborn about not looking at how nature usually solves the very same growth problem. Nature creates and solves the exact same problem of starting new systems with an explosion of consumption, for EVERY sustainable system she builds. Culturally, the no-growth community seems as stuck dwelling on things like the prohibitive cost increases for depleting resources such as we’re now beginning to see, as the endless growth community is on ignoring them.

    I wish I really knew what is up with that. I’ve studied what nature seems to do to bring her growth explosions to a stable climax in some depth. I approach it as a necessary task to accomplish for producing vitally healthy and stable natural economies, like organisms, storms, currents, cultures and technologies, etc. What begins as explosions of consumption like “little cancers” then produce structures more like “endowment funds”. The start-up behavior, that would threaten the growth system’s host as well as itself, is turned into a practical method of internally sharing resources. It both serves to limit the growth and assures the maturing new system will climax at a peak of vitality (rather than exhaustion).

    I’ve tried describing it dozens of times, so if you look around my site you’ll find several variations. One new that seems good started as a blog comment like this, and turned into a short essay: “Cancers or Endowments” http://www.synapse9.com/signals/2012/04/12/cancers-or-endowments/

    Reply

    • Avatar

      Dave Gardner

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      Jessie, thanks for your thoughts. Sure, nature will take care of it, but that is not always elegant or kind. So forgive me for encouraging humankind to strive for a more compassionate and less destructive path.

      Reply

      • Avatar

        Jessie Henshaw

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        Oh, no… I’m not talking about “nature will take care of it”. I’m talking about how we can learn to do it ourselves by studying nature’s most beautiful ways letting things “take care of it” themselves.

        Successful growth systems are not externally controlled, but internally “inspired”, is what the empirical evidence quite clearly indicates, from numerous directions. Once you learn how to recognize them as self-organizing wholes, (that start with bursts of internal development in open environments), there are very many good examples people are all familiar enough with to be able to learn from themselves.

        Reply

        • Avatar

          Dave Gardner

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          Oh, I see. Sorry I misunderstood. Yes, I think you’re onto something there. Worth exploring!

          Reply

  • Avatar

    Doug Payne

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    Nature deals with seemingly out of control exponential growth by either a crash in population and from then on it goes up and down, or it levels off at a steady state equilibrium value. How will that affect us, namely humankind? Only time will tell

    Reply

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