So, is a population of humans smarter than a population of bacteria? I really hope so because, if not, humanity is doomed to follow the bacterial growth curve shown below.
The bacterial growth curve shows what happens when a small population of bacteria is introduced into a Petri dish with a fixed amount of food. First, the population goes through a lag phase as it adapts to its new environment. Then comes the exponential growth phase where the population doubles time and time again. Eventually, however, the fixed supply of food begins to dwindle and the wastes excreted by the population begin to accumulate within the finite environment, bringing an end to the exponential expansion (stagnation phase). And finally, the lack of food and the high concentration of poisonous waste products lead to a catastrophic death phase.
This simple analogy is surprisingly applicable to our global civilization. Humanity had a very long lag phase spanning many millennia before we discovered the best “food” on our finite planet: fossil fuels. Today, we still rely on fossil fuels for almost 90% of our energy needs. Virtually everything you see around you was made through or with fossil fuels. Even the actual food you eat every day is heavily dependent on fossil fuels with 1 calorie of food requiring about 10 calories of oil to produce.
Just like the bacteria in a Petri dish convert their finite store of food (energy) to waste products in order to fuel an extended exponential expansion with no regard for the future, so has humanity converted its primary energy source (fossil fuels) to waste products (primarily the greenhouse gas CO2). Within only 150 years – about 0.075% of human history – human population exploded by 500% and per capita consumption by 800%, causing the total rate of resource consumption and waste excretion of the human race to increase by a factor of 50.
Now, after almost 2 centuries of unchecked exponential growth, we are entering the stagnation phase of the human growth curve. The plateauing of our primary fossil fuel, oil, has led to a permanent quadrupling in price, causing a seemingly never-ending economic stagnation in all oil-importing developed nations. Concerns about climate change, primarily caused by CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion, are increasing year by year. We therefore seem to be adhering perfectly to bacterial growth theory.
The obvious next question then becomes: how do we avert the death phase of the bacterial growth curve? Some people maintain that we are so smart that we can find the technology to replace fossil fuels and grant the Western consumerist lifestyle to 10 billion people. As will be discussed in the next post, however, this is essentially impossible.
No, the one and only way in which we can avert the death phase of the bacterial growth curve is by exercising mental control as discussed in this chapter of the One in a Billion project. If we keep on following our basic instincts, consuming more and more every year, there is absolutely no reason for us to deviate significantly from bacterial growth theory. However, that which makes us different from bacteria is our ability to control our basic instincts, willingly decrease our consumption and, in so doing greatly increase our health, wealth and happiness. This is what this blog is about.
Published under: Crisis analysis – Mental control