The Fantasy Of Infinite Growth On A Finite Planet

If you like this essay, share it with others

You cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet.


This blog essay is the first in a six part series that is based on the premise that:

  • A crisis within the human population could destroy our race by the year 2050.
  • We humans are engaging in a behavior of infinite growth on a planet with limited resources.
  • Our children and their children have the power to save the human race from destruction.

The six blog essays are:


The true source and analogue of our economic life is the economy of plants, which never exceeds natural limits, never grows beyond the power of its place to support it, produces no waste, and enriches and preserves itself by death and decay. We must learn to grow like a tree, not like a fire
– Wendell Berry 


There is a growing consensus that the future of human race is in deep trouble because of unsustainable human population growth and an uninformed and irresponsible worldview about Nature. You cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet.  Indeed, it is the unsustainable human population growth and human apathy and arrogance about Nature that has prompted the writing of this blog essay.

The overview of author Kerryn Higgs’  book titled Collision Course :  Endless Growth on a Finite Planet (MIT Press) summarizes the problem:

The notion of ever-expanding economic growth has been promoted so relentlessly that “growth” is now entrenched as the natural objective of collective human effort. The public has been convinced that growth is the natural solution to virtually all social problems—poverty, debt, unemployment, and even the environmental degradation caused by the determined pursuit of growth. Meanwhile, warnings by scientists that we live on a finite planet that cannot sustain infinite economic expansion are ignored or even scornedThe idea that growth is essential continues to hold sway, despite the mounting evidence of its costs—climate destabilization, pollution, intensification of gross global inequalities, and depletion of the resources on which the modern economic edifice depends.”
Unless you live in the most remote and inhospitable reaches of this planet, I challenge you to find land or sea areas where there is no sign of mankind. Much is written about mankind’s huge negative impact on this planet. As noted in the prologue:


“By 2050, the human population will have grown from the present 6 billion people to 9 or 10 billion people. To feed 9 billion people, every acre of agricultural land in the world will be used to produce food. Wars will break out over the control of land. The structure of human societies will need to be altered. Survival strategies will replace the ethics of a civilized society.


Human population growth is not sustainable on a planet with finite resources. Scientist Joe Hutto, in his book “The Light In High Places“, offers his perspective:


It is not the greed of multinational corporations with their vicious bulldozers, chain saws, and oil rigs that consume resources, but rather individuals like you and me creating these insatiable demands. The real problem is our many nonnegotiable needs for fuel, transportation, our modest twelve-hundred-square-foot houses, and worse, the incessant demand for industrially grown food that requires the proliferation of strip mines, chemical companies, and the mind boggling complexity of the energy and transportation networks. Each of us standing on the brink of our own individual crisis fuels these insatiable demands


In addition to ignoring an exponential and unsustainable human population growth, humans have come to believe that they can predict and control Nature. With this belief comes the false idea that humans are not dependent upon anything. Sustainability guru Justin Mog says:


It may be that we live in an age of hyper-connectivity and “big data,” but I contend that the fundamental reason why we’ve managed to construct the most highly unsustainable culture the Earth has ever seen is precisely because we have not been taught to see the connections“.


In this essay, we will show the how and the why of the vital energy connections between all creatures on our planet. It is true that Nature can survive without humans, but humans cannot survive without Nature. The take-home message of this essay is :


Nothing In Nature Exists In Isolation !!!


The momentum of this unsustainable human population growth and a political will and human apathy that ignores Nature has produced an uninformed and irresponsible worldview about Nature. With time and despite our technology, this worldview could result in the destruction of our race. We must ask ourselves the question:


How do we prepare and protect ourselves, our families, and generations to come? In this first major section of this essay series, I offer some background information that defines man’s massive negative impact on Nature’s connections. These facts, and other facts that you will find during your research, offer justification for you being concerned about man’s negative impact on Earth.


One must first recognize that the perpetrators, the current population of adult humans, will not solve the problem. One contributing factor is the so-called “me” generation of humans who are disconnected from Nature and fail to look beyond their own problems and pleasures. In addition, modern conservation practices contribute to the problem because:
  • Current conservation practices are based upon outdated scientific information.
  • There is a failure to view Nature as a living system and an energy engine.
  • Conservation workers cannot predict or control Nature even though they think that they can.
  • There are many disagreements within the conservation community. There is no single consensus.


Here is a partial list of man’s negative impact on our planet that was extracted from the book Ten Billion, by Stephen Emmott:


  • In the last 100 years, the human population has increased from 1 billion people to 7 billion people. We are now the most numerous mammal species on Earth. As the population grows, we are taking more and more land to live and using more of the world’s natural resources. Many human activities also produce pollution, which is damaging the Earth’s environment.
  • Human cleverness and inventiveness have modified almost every part of our planet. Our cleverness, our inventiveness and our activities are now the drivers of every global problem we face. And every one of these problems is accelerating as we continue to grow towards a global population of 10 billion.
  • We currently have no known means of being able to feed a 10 billion human population at our current rate of consumption and with our current agricultural system. Simply to feed ourselves in the next 40 years, we will need to produce more food than the entire agricultural output of the past 10,000 years combined. Yet food productivity is set to decline, possibly very sharply, over the coming decades due to climate change, soil degradation, and desertification – all of which are increasing rapidly in many parts of the world. By the end of this century, large parts of the planet will not have any usable water.
  • Demand for land for food is going to double by 2050, and triple by the end of this century. This means that pressure to clear many of the world’s remaining tropical rainforests for human use is going to intensify every decade, because this is predominantly the only available land that is left for expanding agriculture at scale. But, trees are necessary for our survival. Through photosynthesis trees produce the gas that we cannot live without: oxygen. As we breathe in, our bodies take in oxygen and when we breathe out, we release carbon dioxide. Trees do the opposite. They take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. This cleans the air by removing harmful carbon dioxide so that people and animals can breathe.
  • 29% of our Earth is land mass. Of that 29%, humans physically occupy less than 1% of that area in mostly cities and towns. Of the remaining 28% about 40% is pure wilderness. 14% is true desert and 15% has desert like characteristics. 9% is Antarctica. Most of the remaining 22% are agricultural areas used by mankind and are subject to environmental degradation noted in the next item.
  •  Raising animals for human consumption accounts for approximately 40% of the total amount of agricultural output in industrialized countries. Grazing occupies 26% of the earth’s ice-free terrestrial surface, and feed crop production uses about one third of all arable land. Free-range animal production requires land for grazing. Deforestation, caused by ranching, is one of the main reason for the loss of some unique plant and animal species in the Earth’s forests as well as carbon release into the atmosphere. Land quality decline, including desertification, is caused by overgrazing. It is now known that farm animals are a major source of both land and air pollution.
  •  In the 1700s, the dawn of the industrial age revolutionized methods of manufacturing and made them more efficient. Since then, factories have been built all over the world. Factories consume huge amounts of natural resources and energy, and many give off chemical waste, which creates problems such as air and water pollution, and global warming.
  •  We are going to have to triple energy production by the end of this century to meet expected energy needs of humanity. To meet that demand, we will need to build 1,800 of the world’s largest dams, or 23,000 nuclear power stations, 14 million wind turbines, 36 billion solar panels, or just keep going with predominantly oil, coal and gas and build 36,000 new power stations.
  •  Global warming will melt some of the polar ice caps, bringing greater risk of floods to low-lying and coastal regions worldwide. Heat waves, droughts, hurricanes, and torrential rain will become more common.


In addition to this partial list, you might be interested in this video – Human Impact On This Earth 


One factor that is ignored in most discussions about mankind’s uncontrolled impact on Earth’s environment is the political will of mankind at various levels of human organization. No matter what science may reveal about care of our planet and our fate as humans, there are huge and powerful groups of people who will resist any change because the changes might affect their near term comfort or economic stability. One of the most powerful examples of political will versus the good of the environment is the agricultural community. Many agricultural practices, such as overgrazing or the eradication of key predators, are harmful to the environment. Yet, both overgrazing and predator culling are permitted by government bureaucracies like the US Department of Agriculture. In addition, these practices generate government subsidies to the farmer or rancher at the expense of the taxpayer. With economic growth and well-being as an important political priority, achieving ecological stability is pushed to the side as a secondary goal. Contained within the idea of an anthropocentric worldview, scientific fact is not the only issue to consider. One must include mankind’s political and economic motives.


In the end, sadly, political and economic motives may be the deciding factors in defining the future of mankind on this planet. That is, unless we take a closer examination of :


  • Nature as a living system.
  • The vital role of Nature’s energy flow in Her ecosystems.
  • Environmental ethics that are used as a guide to survival and are are based on good science .
  • Conservation practices that employ current scientific knowledge.
  • Embedding a strong and active consciousness for Nature within our  legacy through the teaching of our children.


Each one of these ideas is discussed in separate sections of this blog essay series.


Why Do I Write These Essays?

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself, or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.


If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.


Please Comment and Subscribe

I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter using the sign-up form provided at the upper right corner of this web page. As a subscriber you will receive regular email announcements of new essays that I publish or popular essays that i have previously published. In these essays you will have the opportunity to share comments and ideas about a topic. Your security is important to me. Please know that your email address is never distributed to anyone.


You are strongly encouraged to become one of my 11,000+ followers on Twitter. My Twitter ID is @ballenamar . With Twitter, in addition to receiving daily Tweets that announce my essays, you will see when I retweet something that I read and that I think is important.


My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.

13 thoughts on “The Fantasy Of Infinite Growth On A Finite Planet”

  1. I am looking forward to your presentation in San Carlos.

    I am somewhat of a contrarian though so I will do my best to keep my mouth shut there.

    However I have traveled. Not as extensively as you but I have seen wide open spaces all over the planet that only lack water to be perfectly sustainable. It’s about water. Las Vegas. San Antonio, Dallas, Austin , Phoenix, Tucson and almost all of New Mexico are just lacking water. Montana, Idaho, Wyoming? Thirty years ago the California Central Valley was desert and cotton fields. Today it’s thriving. Water! Water ! Water! Potable water. The biggest desalination plant of its kind in the world, capable of serving approximately 3.5 billion people in the city of Riyadh. The plant has a capacity to produce 228 million imperial gallons per day (MIGD) / 728 million litres per day.

    Desalination and distribution, When the need is there the answers will be there and like the cost of everything the cost will go down. In my humble opinion only.. The Romans and the Babylonians used aqueducts. Thanks. See you at Deportivo. 226-0785 Home

    1. Hi George: Thank you for your reply. While concerns about water have been expressed in some circles, those who have studied the issue of sustainability consistently say that we will run out of land suitable for agriculture, not water, between 2050 and 2100. The concern is that, even with a sufficient water supply, the human population will run out of food because of land availability EVEN AFTER clearing the rainforests.

  2. Great article, interesting bit that got me was we have a population growth of 6 billion in the last 100 years producing more carbon dioxide that the trees we need can consume, so surely the answer is plant more trees produce less offspring?

  3. I´m very happy that I read this, why? because it opened my eyes and now I’m more informed and have learned about the importance of our population in this world and how we destroy and create.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.