|Mon 9th Jun '08 5:21PM
|7th Apr '03
| A point that is often overlooked in the debate is the cumulative effects of the geometric progression in the increase in car ownership. We've all seen the old puzzle whereby we're supposed to be astounded at the resulting figure if you place 1 grain of chess on the first square of a chessboard, 2 on the second, and keep doubling it. You end up with... lots and lots of rice. The point is that each rise is bigger than the preceding one, leading to a snowball effect of spiralling (in this case) rice.
The same is true of car ownership. Although it doesn't double each decade the way the rice is doubled , it does increase geometrically, i.e. each time it rises the rise is bigger than the previous time. If we assume that car usage rises by a factor of 1.1 per decade (i.e. an increase of 10 per cent), we subconsciously imagine that in 100 years the price will have gone up 100%. Of course, that's not the case as a moment's thought will show. Take this example:
Year Car users
So after 100 years, a 10% year-on year expansion of car ownership would lead to a rise of almost 160% when subconsciously (or even consciously in the case of a lot of people!) we believe the increase would be nearer to 100%.
The point I am trying to make is that reducing car ownership not only has an immediate effect, but has a knock-on-effect echoing down through the generations which is amplified by the geometric (i.e. curved rather than linear) progression of the sequence. In other words, the effect of anything we can do to reduce car ownership now has an effect way out of proportion to today's impact on the environment, and the longer-term view we take the more dramatic the effect is.
After all, if we go back to the chessboard example, if we managed to simply halt the growth of rice on on of those earlier squares, if we put 4 grains on square four instead of 8, for example, how much rice would be saved?
In order to test my theory, make a guess at the answer before checking below. According to my theory on the non-intuitive nature of geometric progressions I believe your answer will be lower than the actual answer.
[[ By halting the increase for a single square of the chessboard, you would save
4,611,686,018,427,387,904, or 4.6x10^18
grains of rice! I make that 4.6 sextillion (ak 4.6 trilliard) grains of rice, or slightly more than the weight of the earth in tonnes!
What was your guess?
Well that turned into a lengthy ramble. Eggs are pricey these days too aren't they?