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

Your Personal View

Let’s say that you become energy conscious. Or, rather, energy sustainable. In doing, you strive to reduce your energy consumption. Electrical power comes from local, renewable resources. Batteries keep energy ever present. You become a vegetarian and obtain all your food from local providers. Your home could be classified as tiny. Inside it, consumer durables are mostly absent. Such actions showcase you as a very energy conscious person.

How much benefit do these actions give to other life on this planet? Less oil consumption means more stays in the ground. And, if you stop eating meat at every meal, then there would be fewer domestic animals and thus more land for wildlife. Such feedback makes being energy conscious worthwhile.

The error in this is in believing that others will continue to consume the same amount as you decrease your consumption. Without feedback or a social prerogative, people continue on their journey of excess consumption. Only by convincing the vast majority of people to be energy conscious will consumption patterns change. If enough change then other living beings benefit. Can you think of a global method to begin this change? Some have suggested a global carbon tax. Or, do you think our children’s future will be better if we continue our instinctive goal to maximize personal consumption?

Us or Them?

Satellites can’t see national borders as they cruise silently through their orbit about Earth. Often, even on Earth, there’s little distinguishing one side of a national border from another. Sadly, there’s an ongoing tendency to erect barriers and fences to separate “us from them”. And so, with great expenditures of energy, we have divided up the Earth’s land surface into “mine and theirs”.

We use even more energy to maintain these artificial divisions. For one, sum the energy used to conscript armies, to purchase state-of-the-art equipment and to maintain militaries while waiting for “just in case“. For another, sum the net energy loss when we replace vegetation with physical barriers such as fences and walls all across the world’s continents. These show that the need to identify and maintain differing group identities is strong within us.

While it’s often been said and often sung, “why can’t we just get along?“ There is no simple answer. Likely, we will continue to expend great amounts of energy upon national defence. What will happen when we run out of energy? Will national borders become irrelevant and peace break out? Or will we consume every last joule of available energy to continually separate “us from them“? Do we wait and find out or do we challenge this portent by trying peace beforehand?



Spending more than you make leads to bankruptcy. What about energy expenditures? Today, the largest per capita energy consumers use over 160,000kWh/a in some nations. For all 8 billion of us on Earth to consume this amount, we need to produce over 1.28e15 kWh per year. Our current energy production is 627 exajoules; slightly less than a seventh of the desired. This deficit began with the industrial revolution as top consumers continually consumed ever more while every other tried to catch up. In effect, our continual energy deficit has us facing an energy bankruptcy.

Given the climate change challenge and other factors, we expect to never produce enough energy. So, how do we counter this energy bankruptcy? Let’s correlate actions of a business facing bankruptcy to our needs (in italics below):

1. Concentrate Efforts on Best Customers – nurture developed nations
2. Explore Funding Options – look for alternative energy sources such as solar, wind and fusion
3. Cut Costs and Repay Creditors – maximize energy efficiency and rebuild fossil fuel reserves
4. Offer Discounted Prices in Return for Immediate Payment – subsidize renewable energy production
5. Cut Non-Essential Costs That Don’t Contribute to ROI – use energy only where essential

Many of today’s global activities do correlate to an energy bankruptcy. This supports our conjecture that we’re facing an energy bankruptcy.

Can we consider grander actions, including:

6. Revise Business Plan and Budget – have an achievable plan for civilization
7. Evaluate if major stakeholders (nations) will support a restructure
8. Determine if the business (civilization) is worth saving

Is civilization like a business? Can we afford to let civilization go energy bankrupt? If not, how do we recover from our continual energy deficit? Do you agree that our civilization needs a plan? What do you want to see in the plan?


The Pyramid of Life

We dominate the animal kingdom. We are the apex predator on Earth. We control, eradicate, or nurture others, whether as large as a mammoth or small as bacteria.

The trophic pyramid is an illustrative segregation of Earth’s life into 4 levels. A lower level provides energy and nutrients to the higher level. Level 1, the lowest, includes all the autotrophs or plants. Level 2 has herbivores. Level 3 has carnivores. Level 4, the apex, contains the omnivores that consume almost anything. Most people live at Level 4 of the pyramid.

Assume everyone lives at Level 4. People require 12,500 Joules per day. As a rough metric, the ecological efficiency is 10% meaning that only a tenth from a lower level gets transferred to the higher level. Thus, 3.65e+19 Joules of energy from Level 1 supports the 8.012 billion people alive today. On average, Level 1 life annually stores about 2.3e7 Joules per sq.m. of energy. Thus, overall, we annually consume about 32% of energy that is captured by Level 1 life.

Being at the apex and in full control, we can form a future of our choice. So far, people have co-opted more than half the land surface for agriculture to support this consumption. We and our livestock outweigh all other wildlife 24 fold resulting in another mass extinction event. Our future could include wildlife or it will only include living creatures that directly support and maintain the human population? Which do you want and what will you do to achieve it?