With his book Civilization’s Future, Mark Mortimer shines a beacon. Though uncertainty shrouds humanity’s progress into tomorrow, we have confidence based upon our achievements of the past. Mortimer shows that energy was and is a critical parameter that defines what we’ve done and what we can do. In his book, Mortimer quantifies this and demonstrates how we can assign energy to define and attain a future that provides for people, their dreams and the survival of our fellow residents on Earth.
By focusing upon energy in Civilization’s Future, Mortimer connects humanity’s earliest civilizations to the extinction of dinosaurs and the Apollo space program. Further, in comparing our energy needs with the provisions of renewable energy sources he shows how we can achieve the future of our choice. In counterpoint though, he also considers possible consequences should we forego planning for the future.
From the Back Cover;
My greatest concern is that our actions today are so contrary to a better future. We have gone from living off the interest to rapaciously consuming all the natural ‘capital’ of the Earth. We are preventing nature from maintaining or rebuilding. Thus future generations will have both much less energy and also a much poorer Earth from which to eke out a living. Our actions today are in the name of civilization but may be the death of civilization.”
Our genus Homo Sapiens Sapiens has basic energy requirements to stay alive. Any dieter could easily recite the necessary minimum. We can also estimate energy needs for typical lifestyles. Table 10 lists the average energy needs for today’s humans according to the British Nutrition Foundation. Appendix A provides more estimates on energy requirements.
Table 1 : Energy Needs for Humans
|Human Stage||Energy Needs
|Base metabolic rate for an adult
|Typical daily requirements for an
|1 year old baby boy||5.15|
|60 year old male||9.93|
|Extreme activity||4 600 Joules/minute|
The values in Table 10 are the basis for calculating the needs for Magellan’s crew. They are also the values used for most of the remainder of this text.
|Magellan’s food requirements:
= number of people by number of days,= 270×3 of 5 ships x 4 months x 30 days per month,= 19,440 person days of food and fresh water.
An active adult male requires 10.5 MJ each day. The total biological energy needs for the trip would be 2 x 1011 Joules. This is a very small amount of energy as compared to an asteroid strike or an earthquake but it all had to be of a special type. All of it had to be edible by humans.
On the first island that Magellan found in the Pacific, his crew feasted on crabs, birds and sea turtle eggs. The sailors were satiated but the indigenous wildlife took a great, atypical loss.
In all, Sargon held sway over most of Mesopotamia and adjacent regions for a total area of direct control of about 800 by 400 km or 320,000 square kilometres. Traders extended this sphere of influence as far east as the Indus valley and west to the Mediterranean, including Crete. We can estimate the overall energy expenditure for this group of people by determining their average energy needs and then multiplying by the number of people as shown in Table 24.
Table 24: Energy Expenditure for Sargon’s empire
|Land area (ha)||32,000,000|
|Viable land (%)||100|
|Number of people||1,000,000|
|Total energy consumption (J/a)||1.92 x 1016|
|Energy consumption per unit area
|6.0 x 108|
|Total autotroph production (J/a)||2.89 x 1018|
|Ratio human consumption :
|1 : 150|
The value for the total autotroph production in Table 24 is an estimate. It was derived by assigning today’s land cover values as shown in Appendix B with the extent of Sargon’s empire. This estimate results in the addition of 2.89×1018 Joules annually of energy content in plants in Sargon’s empire.
Data for personal use of energy or personal expenditures are not given by the OECD. We can assume that all the remaining GDP must fall into personal expenditure. In so doing, personal expenditure accounts for 47%. As this is reasonably close to the Canadian value, this assumption will do for our considerations. The complete allocation of relative amounts of energy for Information Man as typified by OECD countries is shown in Table 49.
Table 49: Energy Allocation for OECD Countries
|Agriculture and infrastructure
(urban and regional)
|Little to nil||Very small|
|Defence and security||2.36||Small|
|Education (research, knowledge and
|Health and welfare||30||Medium|
|Legislation and tradition||
|Religion||Little to nil||Very small|
From Future Energy Allocation;
Any given choice for the future relies on a supply of energy. Purely staying alive requires energy. We have consumed about half the known supply of petroleum that it is economically viable to extract. Let’s consider allocating the remnants. For convenience we will use a value of 1,000 billion barrels of oil or 5.72 x 1021 Joules remaining. The British Petroleum Annual Review states a value of 1,188 billion barrels for the end of 2003 but this value fluctuates from finding new reservoirs and recalculating old ones. Let’s consider allocations for this remaining petroleum.
Assuming everyone wants to maintain energy allocations as for an average person in the OCED, we would expect the energy to be divided as shown in Table 61. This indicates where we would allot energy in the future were we to maintain today’s divisions.
61: Allocation of Remaining Energy
|Agriculture and infrastructure
(urban and regional)
|Defence and security||2.36||13.50|
|Education (research, knowledge and retention)||11.3||64.60|
|Health and welfare||30||171.60|
|Legislation and tradition||9.29||53.10|
There is more energy available on Earth than that shown in Table 61. However, none has the utility of petroleum. Therefore, in planning for the future we will focus only on petroleum. This assumption in no way invalidates the following discussion as the main point is solely that there is a finite amount remaining.
The percentages in Table 61 are the same as for Table 49 with two exceptions. Religion and infrastructure development are each given 0.5% while personal use is less by 1% to accommodate their values.
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It was a relaxed reading, which I enjoyed a lot. I like numbers and I like defending ideas also with numbers (not only, of course). Your book is a very strong but not aggressive defense of the need for a different lifestyle for a better future…you support your interesting concepts without falling into a desperate feeling, without being gloomy and terrifying…Only one criticism…: I was very disappointed for not finding any calculation about Rome and the Roman Empire. Mesopotamia, Sumerians, Rapanui, the Ottomans, the Incas and the Chinese, and finally the Canadians are all there, but the Romans? – Dr. Sergio Ulgiati, University of Naples
Hidden behind the curtains of the world is energy, its availability defining and restricting what we can and cannot do. A lot of information about energy was discussed in this book, but, being a history buff, what I found the most interesting was how Mortimer marched through history showing how cultures accessed and used energy, and how its supply affected their nature and survival. A really good read! – Jeff Janoda
Wonderfully well-written, “Civilization’s Future” presents the reader with a thorough and pointed view of the future, showing the inter-relationships between energy and life on earth. Indeed, the author, Mark Mortimer, takes us on an evolutionary journey which is both revealing and exciting. Even if you already know much of the science and history discussed, our earth is revealed as an easily readable map, which makes us appreciate just how important the use of energy is to our future. – Anne Lenehan