Saturday, February 16, 2008


Our species is now at a point where it cannot continue its historical consumption of resources. What for years has been known as a mathematical certainty is now becoming obvious in our daily lives: Exponential growth is inherently unsustainable. The huge amount of waste we are generating is verifiably influencing our planet’s climate in potentially cataclysmic ways. Because of our overuse of land and water, species are becoming extinct at rates comparable to what we would expect from an asteroid collision. Our energy supplies may soon (if not already) be unable to keep up with the rapid increase in demand.

We have become so accustomed to exponential growth that we view any decrease in its rate as a sign of weakness in our economy and our culture. If we “hope” for a continuation, if not an acceleration, of such growth, then we are bound to be disappointed because the most fundamental natural laws will stop us in our tracks: We will simply be unable to reach resources fast enough. If we try to force the issue, as appears to be the world’s current strategy, then we risk total population collapse.

A healthier approach is to hope for something more general, which can be defined as a goal. I recommend maximizing population size and individual happiness and longevity, as far into the future as physically possible. Such a goal is practical by definition, and progress toward it (the “change” we achieve) can be easily measured. Any one of us could identify and test our contribution to meeting the goal, and hold each other accountable for working against it. Because the goal would include and depend on all of us, there would be no one left to fear.

Hope starts out as idealistic, and change is what we do to make it realistic. If a growing fraction of our population subscribes to a hope that is general enough for the rest to respect, then perhaps we can come close to creating a world we and future generations will both be able to, and want to, live in.

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