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


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?


Did You Look Up?

Weather forecasts enable us to choose appropriate clothes for the day or to optimize activities for the upcoming weekend. Smart people make financial plans for their retirement. Robust organizations establish risk strategies to ensure continued operations. Each of these show planning for an optimal future based upon today’s knowledge.

Similarly, our species can plan and progress on a global scale. For example, under the Montreal Protocol, we protect the Earth’s ozone layer by managing chlorofluorocarbon emissions. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons aims to prevent worldwide nuclear holocaust. And, the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals serve as signposts to continually guide actions toward a mutually prosperous future.

The recent film Don’t Look Up adds to the urgency of planning and activities. In the film, a mass-extinction-level asteroid will strike Earth. Yet, warnings are ignored or dismissed. The obvious question arises as to its allegory to the current crises of climate change and biodiversity. Have you watched the film? What was your response? Did you make plans or take actions?

Ignorance is an option. As much as we can wear a bathing suite for a walk in the rain, we can have a world without wild flora and fauna. But is this future we want? Or, will we plan and work toward better?
Looking Up

Future Population

Have you ever wondered how many people could fit on Earth? Likely there’s more now than at any other time in Earth’s history, almost 8 billion. Yet what of the future? The World Bank predicts a peak of about 11 billion sometime this century. Or, there’s talk of a human population crash with the total dropping greatly. Yet, the population might just keep climbing to some, eventual maximum. That is, we don’t yet know how many people could possibly fit.

Let’s say the population remains the same as today. If so, then we certainly know the problems and for the most part the solutions. Such as, we’re on track to addressing climate change. We understand the importance of biodiversity and the value in preserving it. And, we realize that finite fossil fuels need be replaced by renewable energy sources. That is, the Earth might sustain the current population.

However, what of a population that continues to climb? A consequence is increasing pressures on Earth systems as people demand more energy, more food, more resources. That is, instead of solving problems, we’re exacerbating them. Climate change is quicker and greater. People use more land for themselves thus allocating less for biodiversity. And, we need all sources of energy even those not sustainable. This lack of sustainability means that Earth systems fail and eventually fewer people could fit on Earth.

Is there value in setting a maximum to the number of people on Earth? How would you calculate this value? And more important, how would you enforce this value?
Great Bear Lake