A Plan

By now, you realize that non-renewable energy sources will be fully consumed. Some suggest that it might occur within 50 years; some sooner; some later. But it will occur and it will occur relatively soon. And yes, their burning will add to the existing noxious pollutants. After, we will have no more fossil fuels and a dirty atmosphere.

What then? We will gather energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar. But, these sources currently amount to less than 20% of global energy consumption. And there’s little to no chance that they can provide all of our desired energy. We suggest that there will never again be a source of energy as utile and promiscuous as today’s fossil fuels.

Let’s look to the future and consider the usage of the finite amount of fossil fuels remaining. Do we continue apportioning energy consumption to maximize the human population? Do we drastically limit the amount used to avoid pollutants and re-learn to live simply? Or do we flame-out and use the remaining stores in one last hurrah? We could settle humans on the Earth’s moon. We could battle each other into extermination. We could build fusion reactors. What is the plan for civilization?
Dead Man Finger Fungi


Success! A word with such wonderful connotations. Typically, we use this word to indicate the achievement of a sought-after goal, like marrying a spouse or possessing great amounts of money. Groups can also attain success, such as a team winning a gold medal. And what about classes of animals? Take the success of reptiles when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Or humans who now own the summit at the top of the food chain! These resoundingly exemplify success.

What would you do with success? Would you aim to sustain your achievement? Maybe you’d remain married or continue making more and even more money. Or would you simply remain at the top of the food chain? Certainly, if there’s no consequence, then these aims are reasonable. But what if they aren’t? What if being married prevents you from making even more money? Or, what if remaining at the top of the food chain destroys the chain? Should you learn of the causes and consequences of maintaining success? Or, is being successful the sole aim?

Over the last ten thousand years, there’s been very little apparent consequence to humans succeeding to the top of the food chain. Our aim now seems to be to heighten our dominance. But why and to what consequence? Is our current situation at the top of the food chain with all its consequences what you had in mind? Using a metric as simple as per capita energy consumption, we can quantify the effort needed to maintain success. Does this indicate that we will we succeed for another ten thousand years?


Let’s imagine how we’d plan land usage for the future. First, we’d set three simple land usages types; urban, agricultural and natural. Second, we assume we could readily change land usage type between the three, though each change requires energy. Third, let’s acknowledge that the Earth’s land surface is finite, so summing these three always results in 100%. With this, we can plan the future.

But before we plan for the future, let’s quickly consider the past. For around ten thousand years, we transformed natural forests and plains into croplands and houses. Effectively, we’ve reduced the amount of natural land cover to less than half of its original amount. And we continue this reduction. So, knowing this, let’s plan.

Assume a ‘business-as-usual’ approach where we continue to transfer the natural land to agricultural usage. With this, we can feed everyone. But, the reduction of natural land surface obviously means an equivalent reduction in nature, in wildlife. If we continue as usual, then do you foresee the eventual loss of all natural land?

Or, we can choose an approach to sustain the current ratios of land usage. But how do we accommodate the expected 2-4 billion additional people in the same urban area as today and with the same agricultural area as today?

Or, we can plan to increase the natural land surface area by re-wilding. But as the urban land area is so small, we could only effectively do this by decreasing the agricultural land usage. How do we feed a burgeoning population with a reduced agricultural area?

Some planners do have a vision. They aim to protect 30% of the land’s surface for nature. Perhaps this means that 30% of the wildlife from ten thousand years ago will survive. What do you think are optimal ratios? What are your plans for the future? And how are you getting them enacted? Is there enough energy available to achieve your plans?

A Home for Everyone

Sweet dreams are made with homes. Imagine your own space where you can live as you want, listen to your own music and make your own meals. All this without having others to provide a running commentary on your choices and actions. Making things our own turns houses into homes.

Understandably, houses come at a cost. Houses also come in a variety of sizes. Using reasonable metrics for these, and aligning them to typically energy rates, we can estimate an equivalent energy cost for building a house. For a smaller house with a less expensive energy cost, a new build is the equivalent of about 8.6×10^12 Joules. If we assume that all 8 billion people live in groups of 4, then we would need 3.9×10^22Joules to build a house for each group’s dreams.

Is this a lot of energy? The energy cost to build a house for each group is over 100 times humanity’s current annual primary energy consumption. If we set the annual house maintenance cost to the typical 1%, then the energy to maintain these homes becomes equivalent to our annual energy consumption. Further, we would need to allocate even more energy for rebuilding houses as they typically last for only 100 years. And, our population continues to grow. How will the Earth satisfy everyone’s dream for a home?
Bird song

A Hot Start to the Year

Forest fires are a natural process. Trees burn. The ensuing clearing allows new growth, which rebuilds into a vibrant ecosystem.

This year, however, things are out of whack. In Canada, already over 8 million hectares of forest have burnt. In a typical year, less than 10 million hectares of forest fires burns globally. This year’s global total will certainly be much, much greater given Canada’s current area lost as the fire season has just started in the northern hemisphere.

How can we scale 8 million hectares? The easiest is to use the element carbon as typically done for climate change calculations. Using standard values for Above Ground Biomass, the loss of the trees amounts to about 8.7×10^14 grams carbon. If it was totally burnt, there would be a subsequent release of about 3.5×10^19 Joules of energy. Recall that trees are autotrophs. Thus, their loss means that all creatures above them on the trophic pyramid also perish; the herbivores and the carnivores. This scales the immediate loss to forest fire.

There is also the loss of future photosynthesis. The burnt trees no longer remove carbon dioxide or add oxygen. Using the Net Primary Productivity for a temperate forest, the loss of the trees equates to about 1.2×10^14 grams of carbon dioxide not being removed. Trees will regrow, but many decades will pass before the burnt area absorbs the same amount of carbon dioxide.

To compensate for this loss of carbon dioxide removal, we could drive less. That is, we could remove 27 million vehicles from the roads. However, only time and a reasonable climate will replace all the lost living beings; the trees, the foxes, the owls.

We may think it better to not have forest fires. But remember, they are a natural process and they should continue to occur. While we can’t stop forest fires, we can reduce our carbon dioxide emissions and try to return the global temperature to that of pre-industrial times. Or, we can simply watch things burn. Which do you think is best for the future?
Blood red moon arising