Why The Economy Can’t Grow

Exponential Growth

I have a magic drop of water. It is magic because it doubles in volume every one minute.

I have a container that is one mile high and as big around as multiple football stadiums. At the top of this container is a cage; its top is flush with the top of the container. There is a control panel in the cage that allows one to set a time for the floor of the cage to give way, thus spilling anything in the cage into whatever waits below in the container. The control panel takes five minutes to adjust each time it is reprogrammed.

I will put a single drop of my magic water in the empty container at 12:00:00 PM and set an alarm to go off when the container is 0.01% full.

Now imagine I put you in this cage and you wait and wait and wait and finally the 0.01% alarm goes off at 1:00:00 PM.

  1. At what time will the container be 100% full?
  2. How long do you have to calculate the time that you should input into the control panel once the alarm goes off?


















  1. At 1:13:18 PM the tank will be 100% full.
  2. You have 8 Minutes and 18 Seconds to figure it out and set the control panel.




The Scariest Story in the World

This is a story about an aquarium that is 512 feet tall and as big around as a football stadium. In this story, you and everybody you love is handcuffed to seats installed 12 feet below the top of this aquarium. The cuffs are programmed to release everybody at 1:00 pm just as the seats collapse a dump everybody into the aquarium.

At 12:00 noon the man you know only as The Invisible Hand places a single drop of magic water at the bottom of the aquarium. He explains that it is magic because it doubles in size every one minute.

He also explains that an alarm will go off when the aquarium is 0.75 inches (three fourths of an inch or 0.01%) full.

Now you are left wondering. Will there be enough water at the bottom of the aquarium to survive the fall when the cuffs and platform release an hour from now? Let’s see…

At 12:01 there are two tiny drops of water.

At 12:02 there are four tiny drops of water.

At 12:06 there is enough water to fill a thimble.

At 12:07 there is enough to fill two thimbles.

At 12:20 you can finally see a tiny puddle of water at the bottom of the aquarium.

At 12:21 you can’t really tell that it has changed much.

At 12:30 you can finally see a pool of water that seems to be growing very slightly.

At 12:31 you are positive that you can visually see it getting bigger.

At 12:38 the puddle takes up half of the bottom of the aquarium.

At 12:39 the puddle fills the entire bottom.

At 12:40 the Alarm goes off.

So here you sit 40 minutes into this horrible experiment and there are only three fourths of an inch of water at the bottom and you are 500 feet up.

Are you relieved that you have 20 more minutes in the handcuffs? What particular worries are going through your head right now? Should you be worried?

Well let’s count it down (or up).

At 12:41 there is 1.5 inches of standing water at the bottom of the aquarium.

At 12:42 there are 3 inches.

At 12:43 there is half a foot of water.

At 12:44 two halves of a foot (so one foot).

At 12:45 there are two feet of water sloshing the sides of the aquarium.

At 12:46 there are four feet.

At 12:47 there are eight feet.

At 12:48 there are 16 feet.

There are only twelve minutes left before you are released. Are you relieved or panicked? 16 feet of water will not break a fall from your height. Are you going to live?

At 12:49 there is 32 feet of water standing in the aquarium.

And at 12:50 it has risen to 64 feet.

You’re still 500 feet up but 64 feet of water should do the trick. Maybe panic isn’t necessary. Maybe…

At 12:51 there is 128 feet of rising water.

At 12:52 there is 256 feet of water.

At 12:53 the 512-foot aquarium is full and everybody is drowning.

Now why is this the scariest story in the world?

Because this story is about the exponential growth of our industrial economy.

The empty space in the aquarium represents the resources available for consumption on this planet.

The magic water represents our growth based economy and the limits of the aquarium represent the

Limits to Growth

One minute in the story represents 23 years for us, but where are we in this story?

It turns out our economy zoomed past the 12:50 mark sometime around 1940 which puts 12:51 at 1963.

This means that 12:52 passed by around 1986 and we hit the 12:53 mark around 2009.

2009 marked the halfway point of the Great Recession.  Since then we’ve seen resource wars, food price inflation, food riots, the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, The Bundy Ranch, the rise of Daesh (ISIS), the destruction of Syria, mass immigrations out of the middle east and now a return of nationalism. Growth is over.

Fun Fact: To make it alive to 1:00 the aquarium would have to be more than 12 miles tall.

This is an adaptation of a story told by Chris Martenson in The Crash Course

Why Science Matters

I’ve seen a lot of praise for science and technology lately and in my opinion, it deserves a lot more credit than it is already getting. But it is concerning that I’m seeing people misunderstanding the limitations of Science and Technology the same way a somebody unfamiliar with checking accounts might misunderstand the limitations of a check book or debit card.

A debit card is not a source of money. A debit card is a method by which you can convert existing resources (money) into various other resources you need or want to live your life.

Technology is not a source of energy. Technology is a method by which we can transform finite natural resources into various other resources we need or want to live our lives.

In my opinion, main reason #WhyScienceMatters today is that it is warning us that some of our current behaviors are unsustainable and are literally killing the living planet.

I’ve noticed that each side of the political spectrum tends to deal with this information differently.

Those who would be considered more conservative definitely accept some science but the conclusions that go against their own deeply held beliefs get labeled as some evil conspiracy being executed by the Commies or Globalists.

Those who consider themselves more liberal accept a bit more of the science than the other side but still end up dismissing the important parts as evil conspiracy if the conclusions contradict their own deeply held beliefs.

Science has conclusively proven three things about modern civilization given its current size, complexity and the comfortable way of life it provides. Referred to onward as simply Modern Civilization.

1) Modern Civilization’s reliance upon fossil fuels is destabilizing the climate which will eventually lead to planet-wide catastrophe.

2) Modern Civilization would not and cannot exist without the vast amounts of surplus energy provided by fossil fuels. It requires that energy to support its size and complexity.

3) Modern Civilization is temporary (finite) because its fuel source (fossil fuels) is also temporary (finite).

What this means is that Modern Civilization is unsustainable and will be diminishing in size and complexity as quickly as its fuel sources deplete.

This means that places that didn’t have electricity or drinkable running water 50 years ago probably won’t have these things 50 years from now.

This means that places that didn’t have internet 50 years ago probably won’t have internet 50 years from now.

This means that medical advances and technologies we didn’t have available to us 50 years ago will tend to be unavailable to us 50 years from now.

These things might be hard to believe here sitting close to the peak but the deterioration process has already begun.


The only alternative is continued and ever increasing energy consumption which is impossible because fossil fuels are finite and technology merely transforms the energy we have. It isn’t an energy source.

Now I predict I’m going to be bombarded with scientific breakthroughs brought up to contradict conclusions 2) and 3). These I warmly welcome as I’ve been looking feverishly for any and all valuable/valid responses to this predicament for some time. A name already exists for technologies that have proven valuable and valid. The term is, “Appropriate Technology.”

So I encourage you to take the time to evaluate the technology you’re praising to see if it actually is a valuable and valid response to these hard scientific facts.

For instance, there is a brilliant bit of technology that literally turns sunlight and freely available CO2 into fuel that is easily made compatible with most engines. This sounds miraculous but when one looks at the details it loses a bit of its shine. If an article fails to mention the efficiency of the technology being praised, it is probably not worth the time.

But I had some time so I dug into it. Turns out that if we can continue the development for another decade or two* and increase its efficiency by a factor of 10 we might end up with a solar panel that would produce a barrel of useful fuel over a period of a year. That is almost useless in a world that consumes 500,000 barrels every 10 minutes.

Given the conclusions above, that technology is obviously neither a valuable nor valid response to the predicament we face. A handful of acorns or black locust seeds planted in living soil would provide more of a benefit to us than that technology ever could.

Sadly, most of the large scale solutions we call, “renewable” are also considered outside the realm of, “Appropriate Technology,” for reasons similar to those that knocked the, “Artificial Leaf,” off its pedestal dozens of words ago.

Many in the millennial generation blame the boomers for trying to maintain their own wealth and lifestyles at the expense of future generations. There may or may not be some truth to this belief.

But if our generation continues to develop inappropriate technologies in a vain attempt to continue an unsustainable modern lifestyle there is NO doubt we will be doing a far worse disservice to our own grandchildren.

So if we think science matters the way we claim then we need to accept all of its conclusions with dignity (or at least investigate these technological claims with the skepticism they deserve).

*Science has also shown that its own progress/advancement is also highly dependent upon economic growth which is completely dependent upon increasing fossil fuel consumption. The globalized economy itself owes its existence to fossil fuels. Thus technology that requires rare minerals that only exist in a cave in China are by default, inappropriate as responses.

The Disconnected Checkbook Fallacy

This fallacy is named after the childish and incorrect belief that a check can be written for any amount that the check issuer desires, without consequences. It stems from a fundamental misunderstanding about the way in which checkbooks and checking accounts work.

The Question:

“How can we possibly keep a fossil-fuel-addicted industrial economy growing and functioning without fossil fuels?”

The Fallacious Answers:

“The Free Market can solve any problem so long as it has enough freedom.”
“Science & Technology will solve these problems if we just invest more in those fields.”
“The Human Mind is the most powerful resource there is. Ingenuity will solve these issues.”

Journal 1/8/2017

The more in the now you are the more powerful your magic will be.

There are other things that will make it more powerful too. Basically anything that supports your belief that the magic will work will help make your magic work.

Right now the Now is important because when I live outside of it I really can’t type that much of anything. Sitting here with my fingers flying is only possible because I’m in the now. If I go into the future or the past I’ll start editing what I wrote and the amount of writing will decrease.

Reading what I just wrote is going into the past. Imagining how an invisible audience will perceive my words is going into the future. I have to stay between them. That is where the power is. That is where the message can be modified. That is where the mind can have its greatest impact on reality. Right now.


My Uncle the Landlord

I have an uncle. His name is Sam.

Sam owned an amazing apartment building on a highly productive piece of property.

Thirty years ago the most wealthy residents convinced Sam that they could take better care of the property than he could if only he would reduce their rents by 50 to 110 percent.

Sam, in exchange for the rent reductions, agreed to hand over a lot of responsibility assuming it would be a win-win situation for everybody involved.


The roof is leaking.

The ground floor apartments are flooded.

The plumbing is so bad that some residents are poisoned by their tap water and some can light their tap water on fire.

The floors in the hallways are crumbling and often cause harm to the people moving along them. There are even large holes in places.

The security systems have all mostly failed or are inadequate so there are dozens of people living in apartments that aren’t on the lease and strangers seem to come and go as they please.

The building’s wiring is old, under-maintained and can barely support the load that the increased number of residents put on it. There are power outages often.

The productive property around the building that used to provide much of what the residents needed has been paved over for parking or taken over completely by the enterprises of the wealthy.

People live in the stair wells.

Screens are torn.

Carpets are stained.

Walls have angry holes in them.

The wealthy residents only spent the money to maintain their own apartments which are even more exquisite now than they were thirty years ago.

Sam has done what he could (sometimes some really shady shit) to keep things going but is struggling so much that he has to apply for low interest credit cards just to pay the interest on the building’s second mortgage.

Now, after having failed to follow through on their promises, the wealthy residents blame my uncle Sam for all of the problems. They spend a not-so-insignificant portion of their gigantic incomes convincing the not-so-intelligent portion of the residents that the lies about Sam are truth.

Some are even suggesting that the only way out of the mess is if Sam is fired completely so that the enterprises of the wealthy residents (the free market) can take on all of the responsibility.

What would you do if you were my uncle Sam?

Introduction To Nopotu

We begin from the stance that the atheists and skeptics are right. This is all based on the premise that everything that exists and occurs is a naturally occurring part of the universe. Nothing is supernatural. Nothing that exists or occurs breaks any law of nature. If it seems to do so then we simply haven’t understood the nature of that phenomenon yet.

Nothing can escape that description. See a rock? It is a naturally occurring part of the universe; also known as Nopotu*. That tree? Also Nopotu. Streams and lakes? Obviously Nopotu. Dogs, cats, cattle, mushrooms and fish? Must be Nopotu.

Are people Nopotu? It would be irrational to believe otherwise.

Even artificial sweetener is a naturally occurring part of the universe. Bricks, pistols and iPhones too.

Governments, ecologies and economies are all Nopotu.

But how about anger? How about hate? What about love or fear or anxiety? Technically all Nopotu.

Consciousness itself must be Nopotu as well along with the entity that experiences it; the self.

Anything in the universe, including the whole universe its self, is Nopotu.

This is the line of thinking that led Carl Sagan to write about the fact that we are conscious star dust.

But we’re more than that. The, “I,” reading this is also Nopotu. Since you’re reading this, Nopotu is aware that it is Nopotu. Beyond that, your understanding of these facts means that Nopotu is aware of its own self-awareness.

Nopotu is self aware.

*”Known where as that?” you might ask? “Known here as that,” is how I would respond.

Reason: An Ephemeral Luxury

Reason holds little social power or influence on its own. It becomes powerful amidst prosperity where well rested people with full bellies can use evidence and logic to settle disputes or invent the next best thing.

When civilization begins to crumble so too does the power of a well-reasoned argument.

Civilization is the only thing that grants the pen more power than the sword. When the dark age comes (and it always comes) the power increasingly lies with those skilled with a blade.

Crashing Down

Coal production in Britain peaked in 1913. World War I began the very next year. This is also when the Reserve Currency status of the British Pound Sterling began to fade as the world began to prefer the US Dollar. This is also around the time that the Federal Reserve was created and the US went mostly off the gold standard.

Coal production in Britain decreased rapidly again in the late 1920s after coal miners went on strikes due to long hours and brutal work conditions. Only a few years later the world was sliding towards economic depression and another world war.

In 1971 US oil production came to a peak and began to decline. The following decade saw two energy crises and extreme economic stagflation. This is also the time when the US went off the gold standard completely.

In 1985 US oil production saw another small peak. The Savings & Loan crisis soon followed.

In 1987 oil production in the Soviet Union peaked and began to decline. By 1991, after political and economic collapse, the country became the Former Soviet Union.

In 1998 Argentine oil production peaked and began to decline. In 1999 the country experienced a violent economic and political collapse.

In 1999 UK North Sea oil production peaked and began a sharp decline. This was followed closely by the popping of the tech bubble, 9/11, a massive war for resources (oil) in Iraq and lots of money printing.

In 2005 global conventional crude oil production peaked (led by Mexico) and began to plateau. Since then we’ve seen a great recession, more resource wars, food price inflation, food riots, the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, The Bundy Ranch, the rise of Daesh (ISIS) and unprecedented amounts of money printing. At the height of the money printing The Federal Reserved printed more US Dollars in a period of 45 days than existed in 1980.

In 2015 US oil and natural gas production peaked and began to decline. If you’ve been following along here you can hazard a pretty good guess at what is coming our way in very short order.

Some say that our industrial civilization would fail to function without oil and other fossil fuels. That is true as far as it goes but leaves out one vital piece of information. Not only are fossil fuels required but they must be available in increasing amounts for our economic, political systems to remain healthy. When the available amount of fossil fuel stops going up (a plateau) or worse yet begins going down (a decline) the systems that support us begin to fail.

Some say that renewable sources of power can replace the role of fossil fuels in our industrial civilization. They couldn’t be further from the truth. The world consumes 54,400 TWh worth of oil every year. A typical wind turbine produces 0.006 TWh every year. Even if we tripled the output of the average turbine we’d still have to create so many wind farms that we’d run out of viable steel, lithium and copper long before the task were complete.

The industrial and high tech parts of our civilization are in decline. We must learn how to have civilization without all of the wondrous things that cheap oil and automation can provide. The economy is running out of fuel. Where will you be when it all comes crashing down?

No Blame – The Mountain Above The Abysmal Water

Dear Humanity,

Your world is changing according to a specific law of physics. The thermodynamics of complex systems guarantees economic stress in the very near future*. Economic stress becomes psychic stress in short order. Psychic distress craves an outlet and more often than not that outlet will lead to pointed fingers.

Physics is the ultimate oppressor and it is doing a number on almost everybody. I’m not writing to tell you that your beliefs about social and economic justice are invalid nor that they’re non-issues.

I am writing to tell you that each of these valid issues is merely a symptom and not a root cause. They’re all a symptom of a civilization growing too big and having to deal with the consequences. The negatives of growth have outweighed the positives of progress.

Blame is a normal thing to encounter whenever a civilization undergoes the process of collapse. This blame leads to an acceleration of chaos, pain, injury and death. The larger the civilization, the longer this period lasts and the bloodier it is. This global civilization is the largest that has ever existed. This gigantic economy is larger than the Roman empire which collapsed for centuries into a very dark age. An age so dark we literally call it The Dark Ages.

A new dark age is upon us. I urge all of you to cast your blame aside. If you see the world crumbling around you and link that reality to the actions of a specific group of people you’re probably making things worse and obfuscating the responses that might actually do some good.

Gandhi was right when he implied, with his famous quote, that you can’t change the world unless you first master your self. If you want less hate in the world, become less hateful. If you want peace them become more peaceful.

No matter what your intentions are if you try to change the world with anger you’re only going to make the world an angrier place. If you try to change the world with disruption you’re going to make the world a more disruptive place. If you try to change the world with violence you’re going to make the world more violent. If you fail to empathize with and understand those you disagree with, it guarantees they’ll fail to empathize with and understand you. If you try to change the world while you harbor your own prejudices you’re going to make the world more prejudice in response.

These are the exact things we need less of right now!

Please go be the change but if you can’t do it with a cool head, empathy and a pile of understanding then you need to sit this one out and let the adults handle things. Your childish folly is not welcome nor productive.

*The stress is already here and will be worsening as time goes on. For exact details about why this is happening please see: http://www.paulchefurka.ca/ . For help dealing with these depressing facts please visit a Transition Town Meeting near you (Or seek out a local Green Wizard or Witch). You can think of their meetings like a collapse support group. They’re valuable. Go.