Published Somedays

Humans in a Petri Dish - The Unsustainable States of America Part II

(updated: Jun 18, 2007)

What is it going to take for people to understand that we have a serious problem? I don't know, but what I have to show you might shed some light on it. I obtained these charts from someone who attended a lecture but unfortunately I don't have a source. I put them together as an animated gif file. These images show historical and projected housing density for the South from 1940 through 2030. What is shocking to me is the growth that's occurring along a very environmentally sensitive area in the mountains. This bodes ill for mountain biking because of increased use of existing resources, loss of territory, and increased conflict.

Personally, I know a lot of people that are retiring or buying second homes in the mountains. I regularly see the area being promoted in ads in the Wall Street Journal. There are lots of new golf course communities in the mountains underway. I think the area's resources are being exploited.

Source: unknown. Note you can save this sequence and open it in an image viewer to view the individual frames separately.

So if you take the US overall average population growth rate, which is now about 1%, that gives a doubling time of 70 years. So if the US population hit 300 million just before 2007, then by 2077 we'll have 600 million living in the US. These charts project through 2030. Given that seemingly small 1% growth rate, by the year 2100, all the red area you see would double again, pretty much completely covering everything.

The 1990s saw the biggest U.S. population boom in U.S. history. What you are about to witness in the remainder of your lifetime will make that seem like a hill of beans.

Clearly this will have serious implications in terms of deteriorating quality of life due to sprawl, congestion, overcrowded schools, lost open spaces, and more restrictive laws, not to mention impact on the environment, energy demands, and water and waste disposal.

So when I tell people there's not enough oil left to support this sprawling lifestyle we got going here in the US, given that we are at peak oil right now, invariably the answer I get is "we'll come up with some new technology". That's it. Ok, so go about your daily travails because the smart people out there will solve every problem with technology so we can keep growing exponentially.

Let's say that somehow we figure out a way to double our energy production, double our food supply, and double everything else to support 600 million people living in the US by 2100. How long before we need to double it again? Only 70 years to double it again. Given that it took 55 years to double energy and food production to support 100 million more people, now we have to do it again in roughly the same amount of time. Only this time it's for 600 million more people!

You know what they call this in biology? Overshoot and collapse. We are headed on this path. Technology is no solution for exponential growth.

Before the 1970s it was easy for the US to double energy and food production. We had plenty of land to grow crops and plenty of oil that all you had to do was pump out of the ground. Now, we import most of our oil and the easy oil has now reached peak production. We have to look to oil sands like in Alberta, Canada to sustain our unhealthy consumptive habits, which looks like a future environmental disaster (see Tar Sands). By the way, do you know where the US gets most of its oil from? Answer: Canada.

If the government, the corporations (but I repeat myself), and advertisers (again I repeat myself) lead us to believe that we can have it all and buy big houses in the suburbs and drive cars everywhere, then we have an unbounded solution on our hands, which is not a solution. Unfortunately, they don't even believe we have a problem. And that's kinda key to coming up with a solution.

So what would be a solution? If any politician mentioned aggressive birth control it would be the end of their career. But what about an anti-conservation movement - an increased effort to use up the rest of the oil in an effort to cause the collapse sooner than it normally would? After all, conservation only delays the inevitable, and the longer it goes on, the worse it will be. By causing the collapse sooner, we would actually be sparing lives and suffering. So everyone should go out and buy big gas guzzlers, drive them everywhere and fast. Make sure you hit the accelerator hard at lights. Do every little errand in your large vehicle, even if you have to go to the neighbors. Leave your car running all the time. It's the humane thing to do.

More on exponential growth: Are Humans Smarter Than Yeast?



Filed Under: General Entries


1. Sir Bikes said...

Comments are now fixed. Thanks Brad for reporting it. I apologize for the inconvenience.


Jun 19, 2007 @ 10:06 AM

2. Sean said...

Just got back from Alaska. I noticed people there for the most part are pretty creative and thrifty. Especially out from the city where supplies aren't easy to come across. Maybe it's our distance from the natural world that makes this population boom and dependence on technology seem natural. After coming from Alaska though, Wilmington seems almost unbearable. The self absorbed society is abundant and well here. May God bless urban sprawl and the Ford Mastadon. I rode my bike through Denali too, beautiful area. I encourage you to go.

Jun 25, 2007 @ 10:46 PM

3. Sir Bikes said...

The development machine is now a runaway train, accelerating faster and faster. It can't be stopped. Too many people's livelihoods depend on it. Real estate has got to represent at least 30% of our total economic activity. Transportation is another 30%.

Last week I drove through Brunswick County and couldn't believe the changes that have happened in just a few months. Look at all the available land further down 17, and you may think that's a lot of land, but realize that as far as you can see it could all be gone in a matter of months. And in ten years it will be all but unrecognizable. They are just priming the pump with Leland.

Leland has an opportunity, however. The shops and businesses border the housing developments such that it is possible to get there by bike. You don't have to ride on major roads. If they were smart they would put in wide sidewalks up and down 17 on either side. But I bet there isn't, and I bet there are no bike racks either.

Jun 26, 2007 @ 3:13 PM

4. Bart said...

Hi-- just saw your comment on the population explosion and I want to say thanks. Not too many people get it, do they? I was shocked that the Economist doesn't get it either-- once they were as alarmed about population as I am; this week's cover says different. "How to deal with a shrinking population". Indeed.

Jul 30, 2007 @ 10:20 AM


Comments are closed.

Back To Top