Tim Garrett: On the Nature of Growth, and Our Special Place

This is a recent KKRN Community Radio interview with Tim Garrett, one of the scientists I respect the most.


Garrett again explains his thermodynamic modeling of civilization and his conclusion that collapse is inevitable regardless of what we do.

One comment in particular I found very insightful and I’ve not heard him make it in the past: There is no such thing as steady state in the universe. Thing always change. If that change happens to be growth then collapse is inevitable due to finite materials and energy. This means that a steady state economy is probably not feasible.

The interview reminded me of how fascinating denial is. The interviewer clearly understood Garrett’s theory but also refused to accept its implications, believing that if more people purchased solar panels and electric cars we could save ourselves. The denial filter in his logic was humorous to observe.

Denial is everywhere and deep when you watch for it.

Finally, the interview again got me thinking about the implications of the advanced technology we’ve created that enables abundant food, easy transportation, central heating, health care, and plentiful leisure time and toys.

The logic is as follows:

  • advanced technology requires up-front investment
  • up-front investment requires debt
  • debt requires growth
  • growth requires increasing energy and materials
  • growth must eventually stop on a finite planet
  • debt, which is the majority of wealth, becomes worthless without growth
  • complexity cannot be maintained without wealth
  • all advanced civilizations must therefore collapse
  • since the majority of energy and materials used were non-renewable, a collapsed civilization is unlikely to rebuild.

The conclusion to all of this is that advanced civilizations have short lifetimes in the universe and we should be grateful for being alive to enjoy one of the universe’s rarer and most interesting events.

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