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Limits to Growth – Dennis Meadows Reflects

This is day three of our exponential growth experiment/demonstration. It’s not too late to jump into this little adventure – and bring your kids, your class or your co-workers along for the fun. You can catch up quite quickly. We began with an empty beaker (you can substitute a jar, pitcher, test tube, etc.) and a large bag of wheat, barley, rice, cheerios, marbles, or…you get the picture.

On day one we simply placed one grain of wheat in our beaker. On each successive day we double the number that were in the beaker the day before. So… on day one we had one, on day two we were at two, and today we double that for four grains in the beaker:

LTG-Experiment_day31 I want to thank photographer Rick DeHoff and our editor/graphic artist Adrienne Boese for putting these photos together for us. This is steady growth, at a rate of 2.9% per hour. Think of it as bacteria, only tastier (unless you’re using marbles). Retired physics professor Al Bartlett demonstrated the concept in this excerpt from the GrowthBusters film.

If you’re a mathematician or statistician, perhaps you could graph our progress for us. In a few days I’d love to share your graph. I also encourage you to share your reactions as you conduct your own demonstration. Post a note to the comments below, or post a video to YouTube and share it on our facebook page. Also, please share it on our new event page on facebook, honoring the 40th anniversary of the landmark Limits to Growth study.

While we’re on the subject of Limits to Growth, today I’m sharing a very brief moment from my interview with the study’s lead scientist, Dennis Meadows. Some of this interview appears in GrowthBusters, but while we’re honoring the 40th anniversary I will be sharing portions of the film’s interviews that did not make it into the film.

I filmed this interview late in 2009. I caught up with Dennis last November at the GrowthBusters World Premiere, and again a few weeks ago at the Club of Rome/Smithsonian Perspectives on Limits to Growth symposium. While Dennis has had a varied career, not always focused on Limits to Growth, he did co-author the original book and follow-up books every decade.

He has spent much of his life speaking and consulting on the subject, and he has hoped we would collectively take note of the rough trajectories portrayed in the business-as-usual scenarios. It’s obvious we have not, and it’s fair to say Dennis Meadows no longer holds out hope we will act with the swiftness and intensity now required to avoid the rocky path dictated by having overshot sustainable equilibrium. While it’s highly likely he is right, we cannot give up trying to effect the needed change (and I don’t believe Dennis would advise us to).

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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