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