Exponential growth drives resource usage for a very simple reason:

Human population increases exponentially:

Currently the world's population is growing at the rate of 1.25% per year, down significantly from the growth rate 30 years ago. But, small differences in growth rates make big differences in the ultimate population that appears

At the moment there seems to be very little that can be done about this and hence, this represents our fundamental problem. That is, you can't really stop it, only slow it down and plan accordingly.

Intelligent planning for exponential resource usage is directly related to environmental problem solving as follows:

- All resource usage and/or pollution will
grow exponentially but with different couplings to the population
growth this is extremely relevant to
greenhouse gas emissions
Run the Simulator
- In general, decision making is done at the self-interest level.
With exponential resource usage, such decision making is extremely
destructive. What we need is convergence on the least "bad" option.
## The ability to discern amoung the least bad alternatives is extremely difficult. Politics and pseudo-experts come into play. Science can help, but still the process is quite inexact.

- The self-interest decision making is encouraged because we do
a very bad job at "training" and educating people to look at the data.
We do an even worse job at presenting the raw data for objective
analysis. Instead, we are a nation and community of SPIN doctors.
This causes people to argue from a position of belief rather than
a position of knowledge.

Now, of course, the problem is made worse by the perception that we are all afraid of math and that "formulas" don't apply to real life.

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"Math, formulas and other things that don't apply to real life"
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This again is a recipe for disaster as it means the public can be sold most anything

An example:

A survey of Boulder Colorado residents about the optimal size for growth returned a result that most residents thought that a growth in population at the rate of 10% per year was desirable.

Well 10% a year may not seem innocuous but let's see how these numbers would add up?

- Year 1 60,000
- Year 2 66,000

- year 3 72,600

- Year 4 79860

- Year 5 87846

- Year 6 96630

- year 7 106294

- Year 8 116923

So in 7 years (year 2--7) the population has doubled and by then 10,000 new residents per year are moving to Boulder!

If one had asked the question on the survey: Is it desireable for the population of Boulder to double in 7 years, there would have been an overwhelming NO. Clearly, the general population can not equate 10% growth rate with 7 year doubling time.

Clearly, Exponential growth, in general, is not understood by the lay public. If exponential use of a resource is not accounted for in planning - disaster can happen.

The difference between linear growth and exponential growth is astonishing.

In this animation, one can clearly see that no matter what the growth rate is, exponential growth stars out being in a period of slow growth and then quickly changes over to rapid growth with a characteristic doubling time of

70/n years; n =% growth rate

So

- for n = 1% the doubling time is 70/1 = 70 years.
- for n =2% the doubling time is 70/2 = 35 years
- for n =5% the doubling time is 70/5 = 14 years
- for n = 35% the doubling time is 70/35 = 2 years

Its important to recognize that even in the slow growth period, the use of the resource is exponential. If you fail to realize that, you will run out of the resource pretty fast:

Material | Rate | Exhaustion Timescale |
---|---|---|

Aluminum | 6.4% | 2007 -- 2023 |

Coal | 4.1% | 2092 -- 2106 |

Cooper | 4.6% | 2001 -- 2020 |

Petroleum | 3.9% | 1997 -- 2017 |

Silver | 2.7% | 1989 -- 1997 |

Exponential growth means that some quantity grows by a fixed percentage rate from one year to the next. A handy formula for calculating the doubling time for exponential growth is:

## Doubling Time = 70/n years
## The math behind this |

where n is the percentage growth rate. Thus, if the growth rate is say 5%, the doubling time would be 14 years.

Try the Salmon Sustainability Applet

## In exponential growth, the rate of growth may well change, but the growth is still exponential! |

Note: There is some disagreement about the form of the population growth for the world. In population dynamics, most all species are subject to something called the logistic growth curve . It is unclear if that is the destined growth of human beings or not, as long as we are on the r-selected part of the logistic growth curve, population growth is exponential, characterized by a specific doubling time for that growth rate. There is no evidence in the data, yet, that we are on the flat portion of the logistic growth curve. Therefore it is most scientifically accurate to state that , in the year 2003, human population growth is exponential in nature, with a current growth rate of 1.35% per year.

## When considering growth over a period of years, it is important to note that taking the natural logarithm of the ratio of the final value to the initial value and dividing by the time period in years gives the average annual growth rate. |

Example:

Number of Building Permits in Pasco WA

Growth Rate:

- initial value (1992) = 400
- final value (2000) = 1600
- ratio of final/inital = 4
- natural log (ln) 4 = 1.39
- over 9 years, growth rate is then 1.39/9 = 15.4% per year
- doubling time is 70/15.4 = 4.5 years (and the sample has doubled twice from 400 to 1600 in 9 years self consistent

- Population
- Energy resource use
- Number of shopping malls
- Number of automobiles on the freeway
- Number of Xerox Machines
- Rate of deforestation
- amount of paper used
- Internet usage

Clearly exponential rates of growth are an integral part of the planning process. Different aspects of a growing population have different exponential growth rates and these need to be considered.

For instance, suppose your urban area is growing at the rate of 5% a year. How does this translate into the following:

- Number of extra road miles that need to be built?
- Number of extra schools that need to be built (currently a problem in the Eugene Area)
- Price of housing and affordability of housing.
- zoning regulations
- amount of wetland mitigation to be done in the future
- growth of fire, police, sanitary and hospital services?
- The need to make reservations for campgrounds at State Parks?

Whenever schools get crowded, freeways get jammed, airline hubs get crowded, oil gets used up, there are no more available phone numbers, the federal debt goes beyond recovery, etc, etc is an indication of poor planning and trend extrapolation.

In a nutshell: there is no reason that we should ever be surprised at the rate of resource utilization. If we simply pay attention to past history, in general, its a fairly good guide for future resource use.

The difference between linear growth (constant number of units growth per year) vs exponential growth (constant percentage increase) is difficult to see initially, if the exponential growth rate is small.

A good example of this is provided in the case of the population data for California .