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USU physicist explains how understanding simple math can affect Earth's future

A picture of Robert Davies, a white man with an intense gaze, with the text, "Science Unwrapped."
USU Science Unwrapped public science outreach program
Utah State College of Science
Robert Davies' research focuses on critical-science communication focused around global climate change and sustainable human systems.

Did you know that an understanding of simple math can have a direct impact on the future of planet Earth? At this month’s Science Unwrapped speaker series, a Utah State University physicisttalks about the implications of growth and why science communication is key to human survival.

“We need 1.7 planets worth of resources to continue our consumption at the scale that it is today. But our plan is not to continue at the scale that it is today, our plan is to grow. Our plan is to grow at 3% per year," Robert Davies explained.

Davies is a USU professor and physicist who specializes in critical science communication and global change. A simple universal math equation predicts that if you have a 3% yearly growth rate of anything, it will double in approximately 23 years. Davies says that means our planet will need over three Earths' worth of resources to sustain this growth rate by 2045, or over seven Earths by 2070.

He predicts that if humans sustain this growth rate, our systems of food, energy and economy will begin to fall apart in the next several decades.

“Critical science — things like climate change, artificial intelligence, public health, such as pandemics — is science that maybe the public isn't fully understanding, because it can be complex. But it's important for us as a democratic society to have the public understanding because we're making important decisions," Davies explained.

For Science Unwrapped on Nov. 4, Davies will be presenting on the mysteries of exponential growth and how this concept can determine the future of our planet.

“It's been said that the single largest danger to our world is our inability to understand some very simple math," Davies said. "Once we understand that, the very real dangers in front of us from climate change, from biodiversity collapse, from social disruption due to extreme inequity — those things become much easier to solve if you understand the simple math that I'm going to talk about on Friday."

Davies will also be including fun activities and exercises about exponential growth that child attendees are encouraged to participate in.

Colleen Meidt is a science reporter at UPR as well as a PhD student at Utah State University. She studies native bees in the Mojave Desert and is particularly interested studying the conservation status of the Mojave Poppy Bee. In her free time, Colleen enjoys photography and rock climbing in the canyons.