Chris Martenson and Exponential Growth

Video:  Chris Martenson's presentation to Gold and Silver Mining conference in Madrid.   This is fascinating... the metals companies know that recycling and sustainability are not the enemy.  The challenge is reality.  I respect metal mining companies, even if everthing I do is done to stop them...

This is not going to be an entertaining or pithy scrap blog.  I need to write about this video for some personal reasons... it is revisiting, in much more sophisticated way ..

My career as an environmentalist and my choice of recycling was cast in high school, in the late 1970s.

I won the NFL (national forensics league) "double ruby" for public speaking with the points earned from a 1980 speech to a Northwest Arkansas Garden Club conference... with a speech about exponential growth and consumption, comparing resource and energy consumption to a closed ecosystem petri dish experiment.  No one but me recalls it.  But while it was amateurish redneck attempt by a teenager, it was basically the same speech as Martensen gives above.

My call to action worked... perhaps not on the Garden Club, but on myself.  I went to college and ran recycling programs, I studied international relations based on the mining and oil extraction which was headed for rain forests and coral mines, I saw recycling as the most efficient way to save both land resources and energy and to reduce the mining and logging roads that brought humans into rain forests in proximity to bushmeat and species extinction points.   I underestimated how much rain forest was falling from meat consumption, but I did understand that human population growth, and consumption per capita, was heading the direction that Chris Martensen describes in his book, and in this Youtube video presented at the Gold and Silver mining conference in Madrid.

Martensen seems to still hold my teenage skepticism and alarm.

On the one hand, I still agree.  I'm witnessing a disaster. On the other hand, some of this consumption is accounted for by bringing resources to people who never had them.  80 percent of households today have electricity, worldwide.  Cell phones are in use across Africa.  The rate of consumption per capita has been expanding, and that consumption per capita accounts for much of the consumptive growth.  If the per capita consumption rate of the early adapter consumer drops, it means the size of drops of water in Martensen's eyedropper become smaller with each drop.

The rate of consumption, in other words, is not just people being born, but consumption being offered to more people who never aspired to it.  While the population of the USA tripled (from 93 Million) since 1910, the access to things like electricity, refrigeration, and running water also expanded.  So 2/3 of the next century's consumption came from increased population, but another 25% came from offering that consumption to the 1/3 of the population which was already here.  So the rate of increase in consumption is not going to continue at the same pace... the rest of the world is catching up 4 times as fast as the USA did, and much of the "new" consumption is going to "old" population numbers.  That means the rate will slow.

This is only going to soften the blow somewhat, kind of like reaching a level rate of speed before a car crash ( refers to it as a "Crash Course").  But it buys time, and technology solutions are time sensitive.   As the water reaches us in the top row of bleachers in Martensen's flooding stadium, it rises less and less quickly.

Bad news for the species on the ball field, or the people living in the dugout.

For me, the indicator of our generation's success at environmental sustainability is not a degree of Fahrenheit or Celsius on a calendar.   It is the rate of species extinction.  In that way, I feel total failure, even if I no longer believe as certainly in a doomsday consequence.

My hopeful solutions, though, are sad ones.   They are not about saving the Great Barrier Reef, or restoring the OK Tedi River in Borneo.   Now I imagine that DNA may get sequestered, and can we sample and save and sequester species rapidly enough to create a lifeboat, a modern Noah's Ark.  The rate at which we are learning about DNA is also exponential, and if we are learning about species loss at a rate faster than species decline, there may be hope in 30,000 years that we'll figure out how to repopulate the desert planet we are creating.

At 32 minutes Martensen describes the diminishing resources for ores, how copper becomes more expensive to extract from the ground each year.  But the percentage of households with electricity - worldwide - is 80% today, something unimaginable to me in the 1979 speechwriting time period.  As copper gets more expensive, people move to slums which are closer to the source of energy, economizing the copper use.

Must grow, can't grow... I basically agree with much of Martensen's presentation.  But I think that what he misses is the rate of credit card consumption (I'm still listening, he may come round to it).  The percentage of American's future income which we borrow against has been growing, which actually depletes that future income through compound interest, and believe we have reached an economic tipping point where incomes will not continue to grow.  Well in fact incomes stopped growing awhile ago, but the amount of the future income we can borrow is going to stop.

More has been written than I can edit.  In fact this isn't worth reading or posting if I don't get around to part 2 or 3... but the lecture by Martenson is worth posting.   I have more to say in regards to how economies do grow, in an adolescence which hit the Asian Tigers and BRIC nations.   Their rate of consumption, and how it occurs, is now the key task.  And we white people look like the Oncler, offering them a truffula seed.

Perhaps I'll get around to editing the second half of this post, in a Part II and III.  But there is so, so much recycling work to do around me.  The scrap waits.

More at CNN Global Public Square (Fareed Zakaria)

And is Rwanda Africa's Signapore?  Have to stop writing and listen... 

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