Shelter

Our wonderful Earth provides environments of great variety and extent. We’ve made our homes nearly everywhere with research stations in the Antarctic, shelters in the high north and hotels underwater. We’ve even built accommodations well above Earth’s surface with Tiangong and the ISS. What is special about all these? We have ensured that their temperature and humidity remain amenable to us, i.e. controlled environments.

What do we mean by controlled? It means we negate weather’s discomfort whether rain, snow, heat or cold. With it, we can focus upon contrived activities, e.g. designing or shopping. However, we need energy to maintain the artificial environment. Without it, the weather directly affects us and we cannot focus on our contrived activities, e.g Arsal. We could say that losing climate control would diminish the gross domestic product (GDP).

Is there a limit to the area with controlled environment? We now maintain about 178 billion square meters, larger than the area of Cambodia. Energy for this artificial environment accounts for nearly 50% of annual global CO2 emissions. We expect to add 230 billion square metres of floor area by the year 2060. Is this enough or too much? When constructing, should we account for energy usage and emissions? Do we reduce the area as our population diminishes? Do you see a future for yourself living in nature or living in a controlled environment?

 Cave

Energy to Survive

We’ve already noted that we live on a finite world. When people use its resources, regardless of whether renewable, the resources are not available for anything else. Our current use of energy enables both our numbers and our technology to flourish. A growth economy assumes this approach is without end. It assumes we live on an infinite world.

As you can well imagine, eventually the energy supply will not meet the energy demand, as our world is finite. How do we address this? In a market economy, if a product or technology is unsustainable, then it disappears. Will we hold the same principle to life? When the energy supply to support life proves inadequate, then people disappear. Perhaps we let people choose for themselves. They may choose between either technology such as a cellphone or food such as bread. Those who choose badly will disappear and, eventually, energy demand will equal supply.

Should we extend this same logic to all life? Wildlife needs both energy / food and space to flourish. Sometimes numbers explode as for mammals after the Cretaceous-tertiary extinction event. And we see numbers crash as with reindeer on St Matthew Island. Logically, if people consume most of Earth’s energy resources then wildlife numbers will crash. With the continual rise in our energy consumption, are we unknowingly planning a future Earth that will sustain life only for some humans together with their chosen support creatures?
Lichen

The Dollar

We assign a dollar value to show worth. For example, a coat costing $100 should be more capable than one worth $10 and less than one worth $1000. Further, calling something priceless hasn’t stopped us from putting a value to it. We’ve set $18,000 for the loss of a finger or $7.5M for the loss of a human life. But not all lives have equal value. In Afghanistan, a life equates to $9000. In sum, we run our economy based upon worth.

We’ve extended this notion to living creatures. A pet dog costs $2000. But if you lost your pet, you might offer a $500,000 reward, being much more than the value of many human lives. We value cattle at $3000 per head, the value of its meat at market. Or, we could consider black market trade such as pangolins with a value of $350 per kilogram in a restaurant. The challenge with this economics is that the living creature is only worth what the market will bear. The worth has no relevance to the creature’s ecological value and presumably its value is nil if it doesn’t provide direct benefit to people.

Why don’t we value Earth’s ecosystems? We’ve tried to put a number to it; 33T $US. Yet, we again are trying to put a value to something that is priceless. Life requires water, energy, and air in the right amounts to support the mix of flora and fauna. Without these amounts, all life ends. As humans continually degrade the ecosystem to support our market economy, can we see the impact of the ecosystem’s value? Can we see our future?
future

Peak Population

We’ve all seen the curve showing human population growth over time. Some suggest it looks like a hockey stick. Pundits say the population will exceed 8 billion by the end of this year. But they say also that we are approaching peak population. With this, the population will peak near about 10billion people some time later this century and decline. This population decline may be the first in over 10,000 years.

I don’t expect to be around to see this decline, but it is relatively soon. In fewer than 80 years or within the lifetime of a human in developed countries, this decline will occur.

What does this decline say about world economics? Perhaps with the shrinking population, we will have less need to add infrastructure. Though perhaps there will be a greater need to maintain existing infrastructure. And, with less emphasis on production, then there will be a greater emphasis on the service economy. In any case, we can expect and probably demand a change in the world economics of the future.

As 80 years is not that far away, what type of Earth do you plan for your children and grandchildren? Or, what will remain of Earth for them to enjoy?
Ponder

Heat

We describe planet Earth as being in the ‘Goldilocks Zone’ for life. What does this mean? It means that Earth’s orbit about the sun is at just the correct distance for life to exist. In particular, Earth’s surface maintains water in a liquid state. If the Earth were colder, the water would be solid, i.e. a snowball Earth. If the Earth were warmer, the water would quickly vaporize, making Earth unsuitable for life. Today, neither of these conditions exists, so life on Earth flourishes.

However, the Earth’s surface is a system that balances heat. Heat comes from the Sun and from the Earth’s core. Heat gets emitted as radiation. If these balance, then the Earth’s temperature remains constant. Obviously, if it doesn’t balance, then the Earth’s surface gets either hotter or cooler. We are now seeing an imbalance as temperatures are increasing.

The Earth’s oceans have heated by 337 zettajoules (3.37×1023 J) since 1955. The Arctic ice and mountain glaciers are melting. Indications are that human actions have caused this change; this imbalance. In corollary, we are changing the temperature of our bowl of porridge. Goldilocks will no longer be content with it. Nor will life flourish with it. Is this our future?
Desert Sky