What is the Perfume Project?

This blog is a constantly evolving forum for thoughts on perfume, perfume-making, plants (especially orchids and flora of the Pacific Northwest) and life in general. It started out chronicling the adventures of Olympic Orchids Perfumes, established in July 2010, and has expanded in other directions. A big part of the blog is thinking about the ongoing process of learning and experimentation that leads to new perfumes, the exploration of perfumery materials, the theory and practice of perfume making, the challenges of marketing perfumes and other fragrance products, and random observations on philosophy and society. Spam comments will be marked as such and deleted; any comments that go beyond the boundaries of civil discourse will also be deleted. I am grateful to all of you, the readers, who contribute to the blog by commenting and making this a truly interactive perfume project.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


This morning I was reading a news article bemoaning the fact that the US economy is not growing fast enough. According to this report, the annual growth rate was “only” 5% last year, and is less this year. Pardon me if I think like a biologist, but why should anything, including the economy, be expected to grow indefinitely? Why not try to attain a state of stability in which individuals or individual enterprises can grow (and eventually go to the great perfume shop in the sky), but the whole stays the same size? Isn’t that how living organisms and ecosystems work? Once we are adults, our skin keeps growing new cells as old ones die and are washed down the drain, but the size of our skin doesn’t increase (unless, of course, the goal is to become morbidly obese, in which case the skin must expand to cover the excess flesh). What happens if cells in any part of our body grow unchecked? I think everyone knows the answer to that question. It’s called cancer.

Do we really want an economy that grows according to the cancer model? It may be a healthy model from the tumor’s point of view, but eventually it will end up killing its host. The current economic woes may well be society’s way of trying to find a state of equilibrium in a world where growth cannot continue unchecked. I think of it in terms of human society finally having reached adulthood (or at least adolescence), a state in which additional growth is counterproductive. If that is the case, then the main activity should be maintenance, improvement in the quality of what exists, and replacement of whatever elements are lost through normal attrition, not unchecked growth.

Of course, it could be argued that increasing the world’s population would increase consumption and lead to economic growth. However, unless we intend to expand our economy to new planets, we are dealing with limited resources. This world can only sustain a limited number of people in the style to which they are accustomed. Another way to increase consumption is to destroy existing goods and make new ones to replace them. Wars and natural disasters are one way to accomplish this, production of shoddy goods and planned obsolescence another. I don’t think any of these solutions are very palatable to the people who have to suffer their consequences. It seems to me that it’s time for some of the economists and politicians to take a look at designing a zero-net growth policy that would obviously still allow for growth and decline within the system.

I know, I’m on my curmudgeonly soapbox again, but this whole obsession with the sacred cow of economic growth and complete disregard for alternative models is something that I find deeply troubling. What does this have to do with perfume? Not much really, but anything can be related to anything else if you try hard enough. When I first started making perfume, I bought materials at a fast rate, stocking my perfume organ with all manner of goodies and some not-so-goodies. I’ve now reached a point where the acquisition has slowed down considerably (an economic downturn, if you will), but I still have a wonderful and highly functional perfume-making setup that is far better than it was during its rapid growth phase. I use the existing materials in making perfumes, gradually deplete my supply, and replace that particular item. Zero net growth. Some materials I discover to be of poor quality and pour them into my millefleurs jar (aka waste jar) or give them away. I then replace them with a better version, or with something else entirely. Zero net growth. I have only so much room in my work area, so continuing to grow my “perfume-materials economy” indefinitely would quickly become counterproductive since I wouldn’t even be able to get into the space. Given my current “world” and its resources, the zero-growth (or minimal-growth) model works just fine. I just wish someone would consider it as a model for local, national, and world economies.


  1. Kudos to you for writing this, Doc Elly!
    You stated my own sentiments succinctly.
    Why is it that no one seems to either 1) "get" this or 2) buries their head in the sand about it?
    Halting our mindless system of prosperity via perpetual population and GNP increase is the ONLY viable way.

    As you say, otherwise we are doomed to being out-of-control consumptive conquerors and will eventually self-destruct short of Nature providing us with the, yes, 'miracle' of a global scourge to prune us way back. In past eons, every great human civilization bloom has consumed the wood and water around it due to an explosive population swell until the whole civilization collapsed and starved itself under its own weight because it could no longer travel far enough to muster sufficient resources to plunder. This will very soon occur species-wide on a global scale. Sadly, mankind isn't prepared as an entity to change its paradigm which, as Number One Priority, MUST HALT and even reverse its population growth.

    We are as ignorant as a mold culture busily outgrowing its Petri dish and its given supply of nutrient broth with no alternative plan even under consideration. So much for intelligence and brain power.
    Microbes and insects shall prevail yet again unless we can adapt in some major way -and quickly.

    Michael Storer.. another indie perfumer

  2. Mike, thanks for the perceptive comments. It's sad that we, as humans, seem to be the only organisms endowed with the brain power and self-awareness to potentially avert the disasters caused by overpopulation and overconsumption, but are unwilling to take the necessary steps. I'm not sure why, but I think the tiny tempest that we stirred up on the Yahoo group provides some insight into the role of raw hindbrain emotions and religion in promoting the primitive organism's "reproduce as much as possible at all costs" philosophy that eventually leads to self-destruction as in the case of the mold in the petri dish, or the major disasters that periodically thin the herd. It is ironic that those people who have been "saved" through the well-meaning humanitarian miracles of modern medicine will probably be the first to perish in the miracle of a natural disaster, reversing all of mankind's heroic efforts to overcome the forces of natural selection.

  3. I realize this is an old post, but I have some thoughts anyway.

    Our world is constantly improving and modernizing. This increased efficiency makes us all richer (we can all have and use more things for less resources) but if it isn't met with an increased overall economy then the bulk of the wealth goes to fewer and fewer people.

    This is what is happening now, our corporations are making record profits but have not hired back the record number of employees that were fired the past couple of years.

    A micro example of this would be if a car company this year sells 25% more cars and does so with 30% fewer employees. The company would be able to drastically lower the cost of the car (good for everyone) but 30% of the old company is out of work. In the long run it is for the best, but you can see that if it doesn't go along with an increased economy that we would be in trouble.

    The issue you guys are hung up on, I think, is that an increased economy means increased resource devouring. In reality, because of population growth and fewer poor farm dwellers (outskirts in China, etc..) I'm sure we are always using more resources, but an increased GDP is probably more of a sign that we are using LESS resources per output.

    I've often wondered what our economy will look like when we have robots and computers that do everything for us.

  4. Maybe it is "human?" nature that prompts us to be forever building, producing, publishing, creating and procreating. We just can't stop! If anyone suggests we stop, that person is perceived as infringing on our rights to overbuild, overproduce and overpopulate.

    Having or creating lots of "stuff" (or living longer) isn't always a better way to live. Too many notes, too much information, that one unnecessary brushstroke unbalance the composition, confuse the student and destroy the painting. When more and more people are created to consume more and more products that make it possible for even more people to have more and more products...is this creativity, compulsion or just plain greed and ignorance?

    Perhaps our current economic downturn was engineered to redistribute more wealth to the wealthy. That's not good, but I don't believe that to be the real issue. What matters is if we, as individuals, make the decision to participate in our own destruction or find a balance in our lives between creation, consumption and quiescence.


  5. To HauteH: Thanks for commenting on an old post! You have a point, to a certain extent. By your reasoning, if the world is constantly producing more "stuff" with fewer people, that means that production needs to increase even more to keep everyone employed. Thus, the car company would have to increase production by more than 30% above and beyond the original 25% to hire back the 30% of employees that they laid off. Who would buy all those cars even at a cheap price? To consume at that level, either the population would have to increase or the number of cars per household would have to increase. There are natural limits to such increases.

    If the economy were ever completely manned by computers and robots, which seems unlikely, presumably humans would still have to design, maintain, and manage them, and people would still have to eat, creating employment, albeit of a different sort. That doesn't change the fact that resources and space are finite, and that you cannot have infinite growth using finite resources.

  6. Issaquah, thanks for your comments, too, even though this is an old post. You are absolutely right that unbridled greed will eventually lead to destruction.