How you think is more important than how you breed

Doc points out the pestilent nature of mankind in a post today. A commenter criticized the video pointed to for being passe on the issue of population.
The lecture was in 2002, and while he uses population and oil use as the prime examples, his thesis, stated in part 1 is “The Greatest Shortcoming of the Human Race is our Inability to Understand the Exponetial Function”

Yes, the experts of population have demonstrated that if we sufficiently develop the third world, we can level off population at less than 10 billion. It was people’s ignorant statements about population growth that led to his mathematical example of the thesis.

But exponential function applies to our use of resources on a per capita basis as well, and the optimism you hear about oil reserves ignores the rate of increase of use required for ‘economic stability’ otherwise known as ‘growth’ of at least 3% annually. And even this fantasy language was used by the speaker to support his thesis. Just because the species might not breed a gigantic disaster is no reason not to fully embrace an understanding of exponential function and start pointing out how many ‘experts’ continue to spew about how long coal supplies will hold out or how much petroleum the earth might contain.

The same lack of understanding applies to the changes that can improve the societies sustainability. When you have people saying that getting off foreign oil is a fantasy, or that carbon credits will cost too much, underpinning those statements are equations that ignore exponential function. Conversion from fossil fuel will ultimately happen because it serves economic interests, and like many other conversions, it will happen faster than thought possible once individuals see benefit in it. Big changes can happen if they exploit the exponential function, and programs that apply it strategically can have huge results.

Ultimately, in everyday life, as well as collectively, best practices and smart thinking need to be applied for better results. Who defines those terms (‘better’ and ‘results’) will often determine what is decided to be ‘smart’. Today in Santa Barbara, at a WSJ sponsored event, lots of business leaders will extend that conversation.

One Response to “How you think is more important than how you breed”

  1. Patrick,

    Is population growth a geometric function, that is doubling (2+2=4, 4+4=8, 8+8=16) to a quick rise OR exponential as in a number squared or to the third power? I usually hear population growth described as exponential growth but once read in Alan AtKisson’s Believing Cassandra that population growth is geometric. Either way, it’s scary.

    Werner Fournos suggests that if 350 million women worldwide who want to be able to plan their family size could, the world could stabilize its population at 8 billion.

    -Justine

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