The UN’s 7 billion day this week was reported with much hand wringing about the unsustainability of the dramatic, and continuing, growth of the world’s population. The assertion is that we are depleting the planet’s non-renewable resources too fast and it will likely end badly at some point in the future.
But I was in the UK this past week and read a column in the Guardian newspaper that reported on some very detailed statistics associated with the UK economy. In a very counter intuitive analysis it turns out that over the last twenty years the UK consumption of everything has declined. And that is over the period when the population grew and GDP grew (other than very recently) faster than it has for decades before that. And this data adjusted for the fact that the UK now imports much of what is consumed – the study simply added up all stuff the UK consumes wherever it was actually produced. And to confirm the data they even looked at the volume of waste, including everything that is recycled. That was down too.
The rather positive spin on all this was that the UK had found the mythical solution to rampant capitalism, that they have managed to decouple economic growth from growing resource consumption.
I suspect a lot more study is needed to know if that’s true and I suspect that it isn’t. But why on earth am I talking about this in a blog called Beyond Bandwidth?
Six years ago I started a blog inside Level 3 called Disruption. My premise was that the Internet was the most disruptive technology the world had so far produced. That it was transforming (and in many cases disrupting) many, many forms of business. I wrote about all sorts of things that were done better, faster, and cheaper – in short much more efficiently.
Well it turns out that one of the reasons given for that possible change to the UK economy was digitisation and the Internet. Just a few simple examples make the point.
How much media is now consumed using bandwidth rather than on a physical device? A physical device that not only has to be made but then shipped around.How much paper is no longer used because many companies and many individuals have moved to managing accounts and paying invoices online?
How many letters have been replaced by emails? I think the dramatic decline in profitability of both the US and UK’s post offices is directly linked to this one change.
I’m sure you can think of a lot more examples.
But it’s nice to think that as we move Beyond Bandwidth we may actually be saving the world and allowing the world’s population to add the next billion people without some form of resource crunch.