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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33 No. 14. 1970

Crunch of the Exponential

page break

Crunch of the Exponential

Cartoon of city at different stages of building

The oil industry is a good example of what I call the technological exponential. To build cars you need steel and aluminium, plastics and rubber. Rubber-growing used up a lot of tropical wilderness, and now petroleum itself is needed as a raw material in the manufacture of synthetic rubber. The oil industry takes over from the older chemical industry and gives us many other things — detergents and plastics. The great assembly lines create aggregations of people, new towns, new roads, services, recreational facilities and so on. Technological growth as I say is exponential. People call this the expanding economy and feel pretty smug about it. The gross national product looks better every year, but what of the other side of the coin?

F. Fraser Darling.

The modern high-compression internal combustion engine causes smog and nitrate fall-out because it is technologically successful. The modern sewage-treatment plant causes algal overgrowth's and river pollution because it produces, as it is designed to produce, inorganic nitrate and phosphate. Modern farm fertilizers cause eutrophication (a process which leads to over-abundance of plant life), because they succeed in raising the level of free nutrients in the soil. Our pollution of the environment is the direct consequence, not the accidental result, of our massive technological effort.

Barry Commoner

World population graph

25 billion people by 2070