on exponentiality and timing: why later is worse

on exponentiality

Say a balloon doubles in size every day, and you wish to be notified the day before it pops. You would get the news when it’s only half-way there.

This is the essence of an old French riddle about the lily pad that takes over a pond.

It's also the source of urgency regarding attempts to mitigate global warming.

And, it’s one focus of a new way of thinking we all need to learn (via small town project).

Why? Because we were all trained in linear thinking, and taught that things go up or down in a (more or less) straight line.

Yet, the drivers of global warming are not linear; they’re exponential. At some point, their growth or decline becomes explosive.

Say, you knew the lily would completely cover the pond in 30 days. On day 24, only a tiny part of the pond would be covered, and only one-fourth covered on day 28. Still, every day, the lily gets twice as big. Then, on day 30, the lily blocks the sunlight, causing a die-off of all life in the pond.

One point here is that there is no cause for alarm unless the lily’s growth has taken off like a rocket and now exceeds your ability to intervene in time to save the pond.

Another insight from this kind of non-linear thinking is that things don’t just go on as they always have. Things change. New things happen.

For example, we’re already seeing new weather patterns, and our best guess is that weather in the future will be “unusual.”

The only question is: which day is this?

Published by Ken on December 13th, 2006 tagged Systems Thinking

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