Archive for March, 2010

The Spirit in the Future

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

While everyday life continually presses upon us, there’s an over shadow of death that permeates down to our soul. We’re still waiting for verifiable proof that our earthly body has any value after our last breath gently escapes from our chest. Tutankhamun played the odds and aimed for a burial plan that would maintain his body for a very long time. Today, his remains tour the world and we see no evidence of his soul any place nearby.

Tutankhamun had the riches of an empire to apply to his burial. Not all of us are so lucky. But, we still have choices. There’s cremation at about 275 kWh (about 1e9 Joules) per body. Resomation requires about a third or 3.3e8 Joules. Woodland burial sites can be as low as simple transportation costs. They all consume much less energy than a pyramid or even a mausoleum.

Earth’s human population stands at 6.8 billion and grows exponentially. If cremation were the norm then we would have to apportion 6.7e18 Joules to accomodate this. Humanity’s annual energy consumption is 474e18 Joules. The space shuttle consumes about 2e13 Joules per mission. While cremation may assuage the spirits of the living, how does it benefit civilization’s future?

Tut

Rolling Down the Highway

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

Paved highways facilitate the trade of goods and the journeying of travellers. With little physical effort people in a day can move themselves and large quantities of material along a distance farther than many creatures migrate. Given the ease of transport, often then the goal is simply for pleasure or personal gain.

India has a road network extending over 3.4 million kilometres. They plan on adding 20 kilometres a day for five years to improve their infrastructure. India is also home to the cheapest car, Tata’s Nano. This represents a serious investment by a nation that hopes this leads to economic growth and a lessening of poverty.

Where might this endeavour lead? Roads are only good for transport; they won’t nurture plants or animals. Cars age and fail thus adding greatly to a waste problem. How will this infrastructure avail as the supplies of petroleum inexorably shrink?

tata

Disasters

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

This weekend, the ground underneath Chile shook and buildings came crashing while waves pummelled shorelines. The same happened recently in Haiti. Also this weekend a severe weather front blew into Western Europe’s coastline leaving structures ruined and many lives lost. All these events exhibit a natural, significant release of energy.

Investing effort and material into erecting long term structures seems futile. However, the pharaohs of ancient Egypt thought differently when building the great Giza pyramids. While the pharaoh might have hoped for an eternal building, we know that plate tectonics will eventually erase it and every other man-made or natural structure.

With a limited supply of quality energy available, how much of it should we invest in building structures that are, at best, temporary. Should we look for a more permanent structure on another planet or floating in space? Or, should we look at investing energy and effort in nurturing cultural mores and progressing societal values?

Turtle