Humans utilize natural resources in myriads of beneficial ways. For example, we see a swamp or bog and, instead of avoiding it, we learn to use its contents for agriculture, pharmaceuticals and even energy production. In particular, we’ve learned to use the peat that’s typically found in bogs.

Peat bogs exist throughout the world, though principally in the north of the northern hemisphere. Peat accumulates but at the very slow rate of about 1 mm depth per year; and only when conditions are perfect. If we leave the peat undisturbed, then it would transition to coal, but over a time of perhaps millions of years. We aren’t that patient. Today, we directly or indirectly consume peat at a much faster rate than its accumulation.

For simplicity, let’s say peat is a fossil fuel. That is, it’s non-renewable and to access its energy, we release its carbon into the atmosphere. We’ve discovered that the world’s peat reserves hold more carbon than all the land vegetation. If we burn all the peat, all its 24×1021Joules of stored energy, we’d also release vast quantities of carbon as greenhouse gases.

Instead, we have promulgated a Wise Use of Mires and Peatlands “to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. The aim is to sustain the benefits of peat. Any chance we could do the same for all fossil fuels?

Forecasting GDP

We have developed a measure of our productivity that we call the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). By this measure, we can estimate the totality of what we do. Historically, with an agrarian lifestyle, the GDP related primarily to two factors being the quantity and quality of farmland. With mechanization, the GDP also related to access to machinery and energy to power it. On viewing the world GDP over the millennia, we see its steady increase.

Notably, the GDP relies upon our access to resources, whether pastures to grow food or deposits to mine ores. Equally, we need energy to power our machines. If we assume a boundless world, then we could continually farm new pastures, dig new mines and burn fossil fuels. In consequence, the world’s GDP would continually increase. Obviously this assumption errs on a finite Earth as we will eventually have put all available land under pasture, have dug up all accessible ores and have burnt all fossil fuels. Equally, this assumption does not consider potential negative feedback such as today’s climate change as caused by burning fossil fuels. Thus, while GDP will continually rely upon our access to resources, we cannot assume that our access to resources will continue.

So how will the GDP change? According to models, GDP will steadily increase for the duration of this century and result in an overall increase from year 2020 by 3 to 10 times. On an infinite world, without negative feedback, this is possible. But what if the negative feedback has a significant impact? Should we plan to decrease GDP or do we simply react as need? If you foresee the need for a decrease, how do you ensure it occurs long into the future?

Further, what will happen to the Earth’s wildlife? Note that the GDP does not include wildlife, even if it’s a fundamental basis for life. Do we assume it will mostly disappear as our GDP grows? To what effect?
Life Cycle

Rebuilding After COVID-19

Through the ages, lethal viruses continually attacked homo sapiens. While at personal levels the attacks can be devastating, they’ve not slowed human population growth. For instance, the Spanish Epidemic of 1918 killed about 2% of the global human population, a horribly huge number. Yet, on looking solely at population growth rate, this pandemic had no visible effect.

Currently our species is being attacked by another virus, COVID-19. Through great determination and effort we seem to be slowly countering its deadly effect. In consequence, we see many leaders setting post pandemic return-to-work targets. Often, they borrow now to pay later to keep our population busily consuming resources as demanded by the markets. In consequence, as COVID-19 surrenders, we expect to see our species return to business as usual meaning more people and higher consumption, especially energy consumption.

In 2019, our primary energy consumption exceeded 583 exajoules annually; sourced mostly from non-renewable sources. On average, each person’s annual energy consumption exceeded 75 gigajoules. This is a huge amount, being over 1.5 times greater than the average in 1965 and obviously a huge increase over preindustrial times. But the supply of fossil fuels will end. So, when we build back better after COVID-19, wouldn’t we be wise to enable lifestyles for the future 10 billion inhabitants that doesn’t rely upon fossil fuels?
Tree recycling

Electric Vehicles

Going green is our new mantra. This mantra espouses sustainability. While a clear definition of sustainability awaits, we do know that some things seem more sustainable than others. For example, electric vehicles get proclaimed as the new, sustainable transportation, i.e. they don’t emit green house gases. Let’s see if this satisfies our mantra.

Humans are enamored by vehicles. We have over 1.2billion in operation today. But transportation needs energy, about 1.1×1020Joules annually, much of which is for vehicles. Further, we should surpass 2billion vehicles by the year 2035 hence more energy is needed. As transportation is key to our GDP, then human prosperity may well depend upon continued infatuation.

Today, we produce 1×1020Joules of electricity. Fossil fuels generate about 63% of this. Fossil fuels are not sustainable. Currently, electric vehicles consume an insignificant amount of electricity. But, to meet our mantra, we need to remove fossil fuels from electrical production. And to meet future energy demand for vehicles, we need to at least double electricity production. This future for electricity isn’t sustainable.

From the above, can you see whether electric vehicles satisfy the mantra? Going green by replacing petrol burning cars with electric vehicles wouldn’t reduce energy consumption. It may sustain the GDP, at least temporarily. We ask, “Can we maintain personal transportation in our mantra and still go green?”