We’ve known for some time that as cities get larger, they become more productive. The Kleiber effects hows that, with remarkable consistency, the number of patents, average pay, and a range of other factors increases by 15% per head of population if the city doubles in size. People also walk 15% faster too.
There is a limiting factor, though. Resources. All the energy to feed that activity has to come from somewhere. Cities, as yet, do not feed themselves, provide their own power, provide their water, make their own products, or even grow their own populations. Most of it is brought in from somewhere else. And over half of us live in cities now, with the percentage increasing.
We’ve had a slight indication, during Covid-19, as to the knock-on effect of extended supply chains, as things don’t get made, and basics like containers end up in the wrong place.
Today has seen the publication of a report in the UK saying we are “woefully unprepared” for the effects of climate change, as that interrupts our supply chains and infrastructure in ways that make what has happened so far a tiny blip. Whilst catastrophising makes for easy press coverage; the probabilities are that they have a point.
The same is true of us as individuals. Suppose we depend on lengthy commutes or are highly leveraged with debt and reliant on regular monthly income or rely on foreign breaks to maintain our sanity. In that case, the likelihood is we’re in for a difficult time in the next decade. We don’t know precisely how or when, but disruption when we least expect it is on the menu.
Complexity increases exponentially with growth. More moving parts, interacting in novel ways. Resilience, and its more assertive twin, antifragility, benefit from simplicity. I liked this post by Steve Marshall which expresses it beautifully.
We may not, at this point, be able to do much about the immediate effects of climate change, but if we know it’s coming, we can position ourselves better to cope with it rather than complain about it. We can simplify our lives by paying attention to what – and who – we depend upon. Most of us have got used to consuming as a habit, and just like a diet, we can cut back without radical changes to our lives. Just shed a few of those unnecessary items and take more pleasure from what we have. We can all see and hear the cracks widening if we pay attention, and we need to act accordingly. Our supply chains are very fragile.
I remain optimistic about the future, but only if we play our part.