Scum on a Pond

In 1880 the Sisters of Saint Joseph, Perthville, NSW, sent a tiny group of Sisters to make a new foundation in Whanganui, Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Around then, there were only about 1 billion people living on Earth. During the intervening years the human population has increased by a factor of six, six times! This September, 2017, we have reached 7.6billion.

‘Exponential Growth’ of the human population looks more or less like a curve on a graph that rises slowly then shoots up sharply. The more people there are in one generation, the faster the rate of population growth. A hypothetical bloom of pond scum begins small and slowly. The pond looks nice and the fish are happy, until the second to last day when the pond is half full of scum. On the last day, the scum chokes the whole pond and everything dies.

Earth cannot support the predicted doubling of population and a limit will soon be reached. Experts agree that the exponential growth of natural resource use will reach a tipping point sooner according to the calculations below:

  • Human population increased to 6X
  • Carbon dioxide emission increased to 20X
  • Energy use increased to 30X.
  • World gross domestic product to 100X
  • The mobility of each person 1000X

We have been witnessing, worldwide, catastrophic climate change effects.
We see all the big events on TV. Even at the local level, I have noticed, with the increase of rainfall in Whanganui this year and less sunlight, our citrus fruit have not ripened during August as usual. I picked the “Ugly Fruit” (a cross between oranges and grapefruit) and they were still so sour I tried to make them into marmalade – Ugly Marmalade!

An increasing proportion of biological productivity across the whole planet is used by humankind with entire forests and marginal lands forced to produce, at the expense of eco-systems and the majority of Earth’s species. There is no special dispensation for our branch of the primates.

What the Big Bang Can Teach Us about Exponential Expansion

Just before the “Big Bang” there was a “very short time,” less than a trillionth of a second, during which the universe expanded exponentially i.e. in each successive unit of time it doubled in size, then ended abruptly in what is called the “Big Bang”. During that period, the ‘skeleton’ upon which the universe would later form; the ‘blue print’ of the distributions of galaxies and clusters of galaxies and so forth was laid down by quantum fluctuation. Then, the process ended abruptly. The universe kept expanding, but much more slowly than the explosive expansion of the exponential inflationary start to the “Big Bang”.

How is this relevant for us? Well, as I said, we are undergoing an exponential expansion in our numbers and even more rapidly in our use of resources on planet Earth. This process has to end extremely rapidly over the next generation or so or else the effects on Earth are going to be disastrous.

All the great things that make the universe so interesting and Earth such a wonderful place for us to live developed during this rather slow period of growth .Today’s actions or failures to act, may reverberate into the distant future far out of proportion to the thought we are putting into this now.

Are we smarter than the scum on a pond? Time will tell.
Will we transform our human consciousness quickly enough? I hope so.
Will human wisdom and creativity stay ahead of our physical impact on Earth? It’s possible.
Will we slow down our heavy resource use? We have to.

What is unlimited is our drive for meaning, our spiritual connections, our personal artistic expressions and the cultural change longed for by Earth.

Noelene Landrigan rsj