2017 – A sea of exponentials

Categories: Big picture
Published on: January 1, 2017

Peak Prosperity / Chris Martenson / 31 December 2016

“The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” ~ Al Bartlett

Perhaps the most vexing challenge remains how to more effectively communicate the various predicaments and problems we face.

It’s not having more numbers, or more data, that’s for sure. If numbers and data worked then we’d have taken a very different path sometime back in the 1950’s.

As Admiral Hyman Rickover said in a speech to a group of doctors in 1957:

“I think no further elaboration is needed to demonstrate the significance of energy resources for our own future. Our civilization rests upon a technological base which requires enormous quantities of fossil fuels. What assurance do we then have that our energy needs will continue to be supplied by fossil fuels: The answer is – in the long run – none.

The earth is finite. Fossil fuels are not renewable. In this respect our energy base differs from that of all earlier civilizations. They could have maintained their energy supply by careful cultivation. We cannot.

Fuel that has been burned is gone forever. Fuel is even more evanescent than metals. Metals, too, are non-renewable resources threatened with ultimate extinction, but something can be salvaged from scrap. Fuel leaves no scrap and there is nothing man can do to rebuild exhausted fossil fuel reserves. They were created by solar energy 500 million years ago and took eons to grow to their present volume.

In the face of the basic fact that fossil fuel reserves are finite, the exact length of time these reserves will last is important in only one respect: the longer they last, the more time do we have, to invent ways of living off renewable or substitute energy sources and to adjust our economy to the vast changes which we can expect from such a shift. Fossil fuels resemble capital in the bank.

A prudent and responsible parent will use his capital sparingly in order to pass on to his children as much as possible of his inheritance. A selfish and irresponsible parent will squander it in riotous living and care not one whit how his offspring will fare.

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