Are Humans smarter than Yeast?

The following video by Dan Chay from Learning Communities is one of the reasons why I created this web site. In the upcoming Overshoot documentary, I would like to explore a bit further some of the topics raised in this video.

Like the huge majority of people in our modern society, I was accustomed to hearing in the media about economic growth (or lack thereof) in terms of percentage growth per year. Like everyone else, the subliminal message I got from those news reports was that more growth was better, that 6% growth is better than, say, 3% growth.

Dan Chay's video is one of a couple of videos that I saw and that explained the mathematical truth behind exponential growth, namely that any x % per year IS exponential growth. I found the video again recently and I kept coming back to it. I was shocked to realize how the media, the politicians and economist leaders implicitly lie to us by letting us believe that growth is a linear process that will nicely and gently lead us to a better and wealthier society.

The above video succeeded in teaching me about the mathematical truth of exponential growth. But then this is the mathematical, theoretical model. I asked myself how does this plays out in real life. Does human activity display signs of exponential growth. Well, looking at the curves of population growth, oil production, etc, quickly convinced me that, indeed, human may not be that much smarter than yeast!

So, I started showing this video to all my friends (well, anybody whose English was good enough to understand this video, as I don't live in an English speaking country, namely Taiwan). I was dismayed to notice that very few understood the implications. They would watch the video, we would discuss it in details... and the next week, they still believe that the president-elect Ma is doing the right thing by promising a 6% growth per year (less than 12 years doubling time). So, I have to spell it out to them: should the 6% growth be maintained over the next few decades, by 2020 everything would have doubled, by 2032 it will be 4 times what we have today, 8 times by 2044, 16 times by 2056, 32 times by 2068... I ask them: how old will your own children be by 2068? Your grand-children? Do you think it is really possible to have everything we have today multiplied by 4, 8... let alone 32? 32 times more cars? 32 times more/bigger housing buildings (in a country that is already over-crowded)? 32 times more population (because economic growth is largely driven by population growth... that's why western economies are all attracted by the Communist Chinese market)? 32 times more pollution?

Obviously it's not possible. Something must give. And one wonders how painful the giving will be. The point here is that the politician, in order to get elected, had to make the promise of a steady 6% economic growth, a promise that is now mathematically obvious cannot be kept over the long term. Only at best during the short term, but at what cost? So president-elect Ma was mostly elected because of an implicit lie. People voted with their uneducated wallets.

But I digress...

Watching Dan Chay's mathematical explanation of exponential growth, I was thinking about various examples in our society. Obviously, the reality does not exactly fit the mathematical formula. Even the population growth which has been more or less exponential, has not exhibited a constant doubling time, so it was not steady exponential growth. Besides, the growth rate is declining. The top of the curve is flattening out. And so does the curve for oil production. I wanted to explore a bit more both the causes of the slowdown, and the consequences. More specifically, I am thinking about the terrible human consequences, as we have recently been reminded in the media, because of the numerous food riots in many parts of the world.

In many ways, our pursuit of exponential economic growth as led us to overshoot the carrying capacity of our planet. The Footprint Network says we have been overshooting the Earth's carrying capacity since 1987.

The message is indeed urgent. Our situation is indeed very precarious. Humanity is, or should be, in a state of emergency. I wanted to help to spread the message. I wanted to expand Dan Chay's video and explore all the topics he couldn't explore in his short introduction. I had the idea to create a feature-length documentary called 'Overshoot', but I knew I didn't have the skills nor the resources to do it all myself. Anyway, we are all in the same planetary boat, and the solution would require a widespread cooperation.

Thus I stumbled upon the idea to have a web site called 'overshoot' where video would be a wiki. The components of the videos would be shared under a Free license (CC By-SA 3.0) so that anybody can improve on someone else's work to create an even better video, or simply to create a video more adapted to a specific audience. For example, most of the recent great activists' documentaries have all been targeted at the US population. But people here in Taiwan wouldn't get most of the cultural, historical and political references. It's not only a matter of translating and adding subtitles to a video. Under a Free, Open Source license, a Taiwanese activist could remix a video to cut down on the G. W. Bush regime references, and add some references to the criminal campaign promises of president-elect Ma.

This is a global crisis that requires a global solution and global cooperation. The same message should be tailored to each public, according to their own culture, language and history. The ability to do so easily is the key to reaching everybody, hence the absolute necessity to use the Creative Commons equivalent to the GPL license used for software.

Thus, this site is born, to facilitate the creation of such activists' videos.

A special Thank You and many Blessings to Dan Chay, and the countless other activists over the globe who already do their share in shaping a better future for ourselves.


Dan's personal web site

Dan also has a personal blog. You can visit it here:

It is funny how many websites

It is funny how many websites the internet has about this topic I dont know if Ill have to come back, but it is nice to know I found the one that has a lot of valuable information if this ever comes up for me again.