At the launch of his book The Third Curve, filmaker Mansoor Khan cautioned that unbelievable growth comes with ‘crazy risk’

At the Chennai launch of Mansoor Khan’s book, The Third Curve — The end of growth as we know it, the author’s introduction was impressive:

Khan was a successful Bollywood filmmaker, who, incidentally launched (his cousin) Aamir Khan in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak. He had studied at IIT Mumbai, Cornell University, and M.I.T, Boston. Later, he retreated to Coonoor, where he created Acres Wild, an organic farm and farm-stay. And now, he’s written a book, questioning our concept of quantitative and perpetual growth.

Khan, however, began by saying that what was said about him is unrelated to what he was going to talk about. “The book is about possibility; it’s not about morality, guilt, environment or blame.”

In 1850, oil, he said, made growth possible. And since then, growth became more plentiful, and we believed it would go on forever. In fact, “the biggest religion in the planet is growth”, Khan said, and explained how the ‘paradise times’ lasted till the 1960s. “And then came the ecological collapse,” when the life signs of the planet withered. But, “we thought money could control it!” he said, pointing out that, shortly, money too collapsed.

Laws of money

Next, Khan explained the laws of money we have built into the system. “The stock market is institutionalised gambling. Every time we’re in trouble, we add a new concept of money. Each is more powerful, more complex. And this is the growth trap — the ‘unbelievable growth’ that you seek comes with ‘crazy risk’.”

Ably supported with an interesting Power-Point presentation, Khan showed his audience at Landmark, Citi Centre, how money can double every 10 years, provided there is energy. “But the earth is finite, all resources come from here.”

Rapid exploitation

Khan then went back to the oil example — which the Red Indians knew about long before it was discovered — and which has now been rapidly exploited by civilisation. “Civilisation always talks about exploitation. But do we do it in our families? Do we say, ‘let’s exploit our aunty? No!” Then why the earth and its resources? Exploiting oil — or forcing oil-wells to pump out faster — actually backfires, because once the well reaches its peak, production only drops. “But ‘peak oil’ has not come into our parlance. In 2005, when oil peaked, and production dropped, prices shot up. The global meltdown of 2008 came as a huge surprise to economists,” he said, adding that it had not surprised him. Because, when the concept of growth (an exponential graph), and the reality (a bell-shaped graph) separate at one point, growth becomes false.

“Growth, according to me, is a disease,” said Khan, quoting Edward Abbey’s famous statement ‘growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell’. “We have bred cancerous ideology into our economy.” And with growth demanding more and more energy — and given that half that energy (oil reserves) has been used up in just 150 years — we’re heading towards a crash if we go into denial. “But there’s a better way — acceptance, and then a controlled energy descent.” And that, he said, was the third curve — transition. “But it’s not just about putting CFC bulbs, or putting off all the lights for two hours and holding hands. That is fun, but it won’t stop anything. We need to talk not just about economics, but also energetics, because we are addicted to cheap energy, and we need to get over that.” In the last 150 years, every single thing we have made is more efficient. “So how come we need more energy? That is because we are only looking at growth.” Deal with reality, the author advised. Or else, “reality will deal with you”.