This article initially appeared on Nov 19, 2014 and was only available to Peak Prosperity’s enrolled users. Many of them thought it important enough that it should be made available to the general public, which we are now doing here.
At the essential center of the framework of the Crash Course is the almost insultingly simple idea that endless growth on a finite planet is an impossibility.
It is so simple it could be worked out by a clever 4 year-old. And yet it must not be so simple because the main narrative of every economy in every corner of the globe rests on the idea of endless, infinite growth.
Various rationalizations and mental dodges are made in people’s minds to accommodate the principle of endless growth. Some avoid thinking of it all together. Some think that perhaps we will escape into space, and continue our growthful ways on some other yet-to-be named planet(s). Most simply assume that some new wondrous technology will arise that can allow us to avoid pesky limits.
Whatever the rationalization, none stand up well to simple math and cold logic.
At the very heart of endless growth lies the matter of energy. To grow forever requires infinite amounts of energy. Growth and energy are linked in a causal way.
If you want mountains to grow higher you need tectonic forces to push them there. If you want a child to grow taller, food energy is absolutely required. If you want more people building more houses, driving more cars, and wearing more clothes, you need energy, energy and more energy.
Perhaps because long-term thinking is not one of humanity’s greatest gifts, very few can appreciate just how we’ve fashioned an entire economy and related set of belief systems around fossil fuel energy that has only been with us for a scant few hundred years.
Even more importantly, because we are consuming a few percent more of it with every passing year, 75% of all fossil fuel energy has been consumed in just the past 50 years. And we’ve been burning coal and drilling for oil for well over 150 years…boy, those stadiums fill up quick towards the end, don’t they?
The mistake is to think that those past 50 years are just the new normal and the even bigger mistake is to overlook the central and essential role of fossil fuel energy in creating the world we see around us.
This post was published at PeakProsperity on December 31, 2014.