the hockey stick

canadians might not know exponential math, but we know hockey. however, ‘the hockey stick’ describes an exponential function, which in turn describes the impacts of population and consumption.

just cuz it’s math, don’t tune out. this could be the most important bit of math you’ll ever learn–more important even than your tv bill.

follow me. imagine the beginning of humanity. if you start out with two people,  and you double it, twenty years later you have four people, twenty years later eight, twenty years later sixteen, and so on. it takes a long time to reach a billion–which we did around 1800, even two billion, which we did around 1927.

so, graph-wise, with time on horizontal or y-axis and human population on the x-axis, things stay pretty flat, like the shaft of a horizontal hockey stick. even forty years ago, in 1972, the earth had room to spare.

or so it seemed.

oh, doomsayers like robert malthus started prophecizing the end in 1798, but it wasn’t until after ww2 that we started noticing: hibbert’s prediction of peak oil, in 1956, was bang on. the erlichs’ the population bomb came out in 1968, the club of rome’s the limits to growth in 1972, and more recently, al gore’s an inconvenient truth won an oscar in 2007 and a few months later, the ipcc won the nobel prize–all warning of danger if we don’t change our ways.

but instead of heeding the prophesies, our population in the last forty years has sky-rocketed. suddenly that flat, horizontal line–the shaft of the hockey stick–goes left, shooting almost straight up–the blade of the hockey stick. that’s how it is with exponential math–it’s NOT gradual; it’s flat, flat, flat, then boom! surprise!.

problem is, our consumption has kept pace with our population. almost everybody wants to live like an american–excessively. and so, population and consumption (also known as population, affluence, and technology, or IPAT) impact the earth. for all of us to live like americans it would take nine earths, but we only have one.

consumption takes energy. our energy is almost wholly dependent on oil, which is in decline and no longer cheap. we’re scrambling to develop renewable forms of energy, but they will take time to develop and will differ somewhat. and few are taking conservation–living more with less–seriously. what do we do in the meantime?

hockey sticks don’t go on forever, even zdeno chara’s. there are limits to growth. more and more of us see them, accept them.


2 thoughts on “the hockey stick

  1. Over population is a huge issue. I just finished writing a novel, The Malthus Conspiracy, and although fictional, it highlights some of the issues that Malthus outlined, and some of the issues today. I hope more attention is drawn to the issues overpopulation brings!

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