To Infinity and Beyond

“Infinite growth in a finite world is an impossibility” goes a popular quote. It is usually rolled out to illustrate that sustainability requires humanity to impose limits. Sometimes people then point to a specific element that they argue we will run out of in relatively short order, for instance phosphorus. I believe that this view is fundamentally wrong and ultimately dangerous. Instead, I propose a different motto “A finite world requires infinite growth.”

To explain my disagreement let me go back to a pivotal early moment in my personal development. I was about 8 years old or so when I learned in school that the sun, like all stars, would eventually exhaust itself and in the process first expand and then collapse, likely destroying Earth in the process but certainly making it uninhabitable for humanity. This insight resulted in an existential crisis for me. What is the point of anything, if everything will eventually disappear?

This may strike people as comical, after all we are talking about billions of years from now and there are so many pressing problems in the here and now, so why waste one second on the ultimate fate of the planet? But just ask yourself whether anything would matter, if you knew that Earth was going to explode later tonight. Yes, you might want to spend time with loved ones for mutual comfort, but it ultimately wouldn’t matter. There would be nobody left to remember. The only difference between today and the cosmic fate (Read more...)