Growth #BAD09

There is one graph that the world loves to see. It’s the graph of growth. It means we are doing well and making progress.

A growth graph photographed on a computer screen

I’m sitting at my desk looking at a magazine spread full of graphs. All these graphs follow a trend of low to high – ie the line keeps moving upwards. Think about life, it’s full of climbing graphs:

  • Life expectancy — people are living longer, diagnosis and treatment of disease has improved
  • Temperature — warmer temperatures should lead to more vitamin D!
  • Wealth — we’re all getting richer which means we have the money available to consume more — holidays, food, property, clothing, cars, gadgets, fuel
  • Population — we find strength in numbers
  • Profits — more sales, more money, more staff, more offices, more investment, bigger bonuses, higher salary

If everything is on the up, this can only be a good thing, right?

The problem with this trend is that it’s not sustainable. What goes up must come down. By striving to be always on the up, we are setting ourselves up for an inevitable down. There will be a point where this line starts falling again.

Take population growth as an example. In the early stages of humans ‘arriving’ on earth, the best way to ensure survival was in numbers. In the early stages, humans were just a tiny spec on the planet. We dug wells, harvested small areas of vegetation, channelled rivers, dug mines and used the resources around us to build shelter. The more we reproduced, the more resources we needed to sustain ourselves. We started to turn meadows into fields to grow food. We chopped down areas of forest and mined raw materials to build homes. Over time, fields have been concreted over to build airports, housing and cities. And here we sit at the crest of a peak!

If we continue at our current rate of consumption, we are going to run out of land suitable for farming, land for building houses and vegetation to soak up carbon dioxide. But the problem is we can’t put any more ‘in’ and as a result we can’t get any more ‘out’.

So what should sustainability look like?

A straight line.

Why not a circle?

A circle in theory is the perfect image of sustainability. But, a circle assumes we can start again from the beginning. When we draw a circle, we are connecting one point to another, the end to the beginning. A straight line has a beginning and has the capacity to continue forever. In order for the line to stay straight, we must put in what we take out — this is truly sustainable.