Examine Our Addiction to Growth

Is it legal to distribute condoms on the streets of Colorado Springs? Is it wise to question growth as the basis of the US economy? A recent visitor to Durango has done both.
Dave Gardner grew up in Colorado Springs, but went to college in Dallas. He built a reputation producing videos, including the PBS show “Here’s To Your Health.” After twenty years in Dallas he longed for the simple life of a smaller town and moved his family back to Colorado Springs.
Gradually Dave became aware that his hometown was changing—it was growing larger. Then he had an epiphany—people were giving up quality of life because of the assumption that growth is necessary for a healthy economy. He found that this assumption was false. Indeed, the community-wide benefits of growth were not materializing, thus there was no reason to give up quality of life for growth. This realization turned Dave from being an accepting citizen into an activist.
What happens when a videographer turns activist? He makes videos, of course! Dave made a short showing him passing out Endangered Species condoms on the streets of conservative Colorado Springs. You can see it and several others on YouTube by searching “GrowthBusters”.
This coming spring Dave will finish his full-length film “GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth”. It will be more serious than his condom short, but (if I know Dave) it will still have lots of humor. Dave has been traveling the country filming experts on growth and especially on human population growth.
Earlier this month Dave was here in Durango. He spoke to a large, attentive audience at a Life-Long Learning lecture series at Fort Lewis College. A few days later he addressed the FLC class “People and the Planet”. The students had already learned that humans are using fifty percent more of the planet’s resources than would be sustainable. Dave helped them understand why we have overshot our planet’s resources so significantly but are not changing our ways.
Dave also has a serious side. His website,, presents a wealth of information on the pros and cons of growth. He divides the subject into four areas—population, urban and economic growth, and overconsumption. In the eight years since he first recognized the problem of growth, he has become a scholar in the field, as is reflected in the website.
Another Coloradan is also a scholar on growth. “GrowthBusters” the video is dedicated to Al Bartlett, a retired professor at CU in Boulder. Al has given his talk on growth over 1600 times! He was in Durango recently, again haranguing us to understand that growth cannot go on without end. He claims “the greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function”. Compound interest is a good example of an exponential function. With this, interest is calculated on both the principal and the accrued interest so growth is much faster than if it were just calculated on the principal. Growth can be very rapid with compound interest. Al’s famous talk can be viewed on YouTube.
What both Dave and Al are trying to tell us is that population growth cannot go on forever. Even a seemingly low rate of growth, say 2 %, will add up rapidly. Indeed, all it takes is 35 years for a population to double if the growth rate is 2 %. At that rate in just a century the population will have increased almost eight times!
People point out that there are problems when growth slows or stops. That is obvious with our current economic decline. But the alternative, continued growth, will use up irreplaceable resources, leaving our progeny a deeply scarred planet.
Are we addicted to growth? I think so, because we depend on growth for economic wellbeing. We assume that the faster growth is, the better, and when growth slows (as in our current recession) we suffer withdrawal. To see what the alternative might look like go to
Back to the beginning. Yes, it is legal to pass out condoms, even in Colorado Springs—but it wasn’t in 1967. Another activist, Bill Baird, was arrested when he gave a condom to an unmarried 19-year-old woman. He challenged the “Crimes against Chastity” law, which he finally overthrew with a Supreme Court decision in 1972.
I am happy that there are still crusaders striving to help us understand the perils of growth. Dave Gardner and Al Bartlett are two. I look forward to more adventures of GrowthBusters!

© Richard Grossman MD, 2010
This article may be copied or published but must remain intact, with attribution to the author. I also request that the words “First published in the Durango Herald” accompany any publication. For more information, please write the author at:

By Richard

I am a retired obstetrician-gynecologist who has been fortunate to live and work in the wonderful community of Durango, Colorado for 40 years.

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