Sunday, June 6, 2010

Changing the world's economic model

While BP and the oil companies are being blamed - as they should - for the oil-drenched pelicans that are dying the Gulf of Mexico, we need once and for all to understand the root causes of the environmental dead-end we've created for ourselves: It's not global warming or lack of resources per se, it's overcrowding our beautiful planet. We must start the process of downshifting now, and begin sooner than later by reforming the way we look at growth. You often hear me talk about shifting from quantitative to qualitative growth as a way to discourage runaway birthrate (and overpopulation, its corollary).

The problem in my communication style is the improper choice of words. In fact, there are just two and only two ways to grow any economy. We can either increase the population or increase productivity, and productivity is therefore what I meant by “qualitative growth;” so please correct my record on that count. The symbol “delta” means difference or change, so if we want to change a country or the world's GDP, we should consider the following equation:

Δ GDP = Δ Population + Δ Productivity

This places the challenge squarely where it ought to be, namely that if we understand the root cause of our environmental problems, we first want to stabilize the earth population instead of accepting willy-nilly that it will top 9 billion in 2025 and keep running away past that date. That would mean that if our population suddenly plateaued and then decreased, like this is currently the case for Japan, we need to increase our productivity even more and this is the type challenging stuff that seats in the realm of scientific innovation and can only push our civilization forward instead of trapping it into the hands of conservatism and creationism. But like the chronic alcoholic, we first need to admit to ourselves that we have a big overpopulation problem and that its time we did something about it!

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