3rd March 2012 05:24
Link to Post #1621
Re: WADE FRAZIER : A Healed Planet
I am currently reading The Upside of Down by Thomas Homer-Dixon. It is a rather establishment-ish effort, taking at face value the 9/11 events, completely ignorant of Godzilla’s existence, and quoting Lovins instead of O’Leary on energy matters, but it is a fairly good effort, as far as describing the problems in somewhat multidisciplinary fashion.
Homer-Dixon outlines five “tectonic stresses” underlying industrialized civilization, and they are:
1. Population stress arising from differences in the population rates between rich and poor societies, and the spiraling growth of megacities in poor countries;
2. Energy stress – above all from the increasing scarcity of conventional oil;
3. Environmental stress from worsening damage to our land, water, forests, and fisheries;
4. Climate stress from changes in the makeup of our atmosphere;
5. And, finally, economic stress resulting from instabilities in the global economic system and ever-widening income gaps between rich and poor people.
Homer-Dixon acknowledges that energy is the centerpiece issue. His book studies the fall of Rome in particular, but is about the collapse of all civilizations as they run out of energy (a la Tainter, Heinberg, etc. http://www.ahealedplanet.net/hooked.htm). Like so many similar efforts, he is capable of describing the issues, in a kind of white bread way that accepts too many establishment presumptions, but even with his rather run-of-the-mill understanding, the problems that he describes above are very real and looming.
FE can make all of them go away, almost overnight. This weekend, I will get into how FE makes them all go away. One of the most incredible aspects of my journey is seeing learned people like Homer-Dixon capably describing our civilization-threatening problems that hinge on energy, and yet be totally ignorant of the solution to all of it that is here, today.
More this weekend.
Last edited by Wade Frazier; 4th March 2012 at 00:54.
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3rd March 2012 18:12
Link to Post #1622
Re: WADE FRAZIER : A Healed Planet
Here is the rest of that post. Thomas Homer-Dixon, as with other writers on this subject, calls energy the “master resource.” That is because when energy is scarce and costly, in Homer-Dixon’s words, “everything we try to do, including growing our food, obtaining resources like fresh water, transmitting and processing information, and defending ourselves, becomes far harder.” Homer-Dixon further says that, “most of the five stresses spring from our troubled relationship with nature.”
In a brief prelude to my energy essay, all life on Earth is primarily concerned with the acquisition, preservation, and use of energy. The earliest life forms were aquatic and chemosynthetic:
and some eventually “learned” how to capture sunlight. The early life forms were all unicellular. The primary waste product of photosynthesis is oxygen, and a billion years or so of photosynthesis oxidized Earth’s surface. Oxygen is highly reactive and won’t float around intact for long. Photosynthesis made oxygen plentiful, and after everything was oxidized that could be on the surface and in the oceans, oxygen rose to the high atmospheric levels that we take for granted today. That atmospheric oxygen prevented hydrogen from escaping to space through the atmosphere. Otherwise, Earth would look like Mars, with evidence of oceans that long ago evaporated to space.
Oxygen is generally deadly to life forms, but those that adapted to oxygen eventually also “learned” to take advantage of oxygen to “invent” cellular respiration that was nearly twenty times as efficient as anaerobic (oxygen-free) means of generating energy. That great increase in energy output made multicellular life possible.
Today, it is thought that bacteria were enveloped into other unicellular organisms known today as archaeans, and that is where the two primary energy generators in cells came from: mitochondria and chloroplasts:
Those organisms with chloroplasts did not need to move to find their energy; they just had to be in the sunlight. Those organisms became plants. Those without chloroplasts had to move around to get their energy, and they developed muscles to move and became animals.
While the sun’s output is thought to have slowly increased over the billions of years, the energy available to Earth’s life forms has varied widely primarily because of the dynamics of the tectonic plates of Earth’s crust and the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide content. Earth has had hot periods and ice ages, as the energy content of Earth’s surface fluctuated.
Several hundred million years ago, which is a recent event on the geological time scale, multi-cellular life forms began to colonize land. It is now thought that the effects of the colonizing life forms actually led to the appearance of rivers, and life terraformed Earth’s land. Those chloroplast-bearing life forms led to the colonization of land, and they eventually learned to grow above the surface. It is thought today that they originally learned to grow upward to spread their seeds, but it also became a way to outcompete other plants for sunlight. Plants eventually “learned” how to grow the polymer lignin and grow taller and not be dependent on water pressure to keep them upright, and trees were born. As trees grew, they created a still-air boundary layer between the atmosphere and the land, which became the haven for Earth’s land-based ecosystems. Captured sunlight powers all land-based ecosystems, and the run-off of organic matter via the rivers is also what provides a significant proportion of the nutrients for ocean-based life.
Land-based ecosystems host nearly 100% of Earth’s biomass today. The life forms that developed muscles because they did not have chloroplasts ate the plants, which is called grazing. The ones with muscles learned to eat each other, too, which is called predation. Some plants “learned” to develop a symbiosis with animals that has yet to be exceeded; flowering plants provide energy to animals via their fruit, and the animals spread the seeds without harming the host plant.
Over the eons, land-based ecosystems have gone through several phases, as different life forms dominated. About 65 million years ago, an asteroid impact killed off the dominant animal class, dinosaurs, and a previously marginal animal class, mammals, came to dominate. Some tree-dwelling mammals developed paws that could grip tree limbs, and primates were born.
When some primates learned to harness fire, they began the path to humanity:
Their brains grew, they walked upright, and they eventually attained the social organization and technological prowess to become the planet’s most fearsome predator, and they expanded their range across the planet.
They quickly killed off all the easy meat, and when that was gone, they domesticated plants, animals, and each other. The local and stable energy supply provided by domestication led to social hierarchies and what we call civilization.
But that entire journey rode atop the energy situation. Humans learned to concentrate energy in fires to smelt metal. Before humans learned to smelt metal, the only non-life-form tools that they used were stones and ice. Smelting metal enabled humans to easily deforest the land and plow the soil to produce plants that provided human-digestible energy. Such practices wreck the ecosystems, however. A short-term energy gain resulted in a long-term ecological disaster. A forest used to run virtually unbroken from Morocco to Afghanistan, but it is long gone, largely replaced by desert, as Fertile Crescent humans removed the forests and kept the land denuded, which even changed the climate in those deforested lands. Most of the Amazon’s rainfall, for instance, is recycled from the rain forest largely via plant transpiration, and does not come from the oceans. Deforestation, plow agriculture, and grazing ungulates created positive feedbacks that exacerbated the dynamics, creating the arid conditions that we see in many places around the world today. The “solution” has been to pump water from below the land. That level of water extraction is only possible today by using the energy provided by fossil fuels.
With civilization came economic hierarchies, which resulted in political and social hierarchies, because there was not enough to go around. In an agriculturally-based economy, people are primary assets, especially for those further down the hierarchies, and women’s status universally declined with the advent of civilization (they were good at breeding workers, which became an enforced status, similar in ways to slavery). Being a great ape, men have always dominated the species due to their superiority in inflicting violence, but it is not a universal condition. The bonobos found themselves in an economy that allowed for different social organization that overcame the male penchant for violence, and bonobo social life revolves around sex and cooperation, not violence:
Humans are between bonobos and chimpanzees, as far as the relations between the sexes goes. Becoming sentient has been a mixed bag, however. Monkeys and apes are social animals. Social behaviors are largely survival-oriented, and that social heritage deeply influences humans today, as herd behaviors predominate in many ways. From way back in humanity’s past, it was fleetingly realized that physical reality is only part of creation, but as humans were domesticated and elites appeared as they clawed their way to the top of the hierarchies, they invented organized religion, which always justified the status of the elites, who always engaged in conspicuous economic consumption as a mark of their status (harems, palaces, bejeweled crowns, corpulence, spectacular grave goods). Just like all ecosystems ride atop the energy situation, so do all economic systems. The problems of elites are as old as civilization.
However, the increasing energy use of industrialized societies made many oppressive institutions obsolete, such as slavery and the systematic subjugation of women.
All people desire freedom, happiness, sex, full bellies and the like, but in a world of scarcity, there is only so much to go around, so while many institutions and ideologies that justified economic hierarchies have vanished into history, others are still around:
The hyper-elites know the game they are playing, and they have been managing the scarcity game on a global scale for long, long time. It has become a science at their levels, and I have run into them and borne the brunt of their antics:
They are real, but they really are a symptom of humanity’s condition, not a cause, even though when they focus on taking out individuals, the individuals do not really stand a chance. They are well-heeled parasites, for the most part, and really do not know how else to be. Their primary goal is keeping the Great Herd asleep and easily manipulated, and, so far, humanity has obliged them. While they can keep the lid on disruptive technologies, FE chief among them, that make the very idea of elites obsolete, they will stay in their position, although their position is becoming increasingly untenable, partly because of the vast damage that humanity is doing to the very ecosystems that support them. It is reaching runaway conditions, and it is possible that without those suppressed technologies coming forward, humanity is going to fall off the rails soon, wiping itself out and taking a much larger fraction of the ecosystem with it than it has already.
But to return to Homer-Dixon’s list in my previous post:
How could FE impact those tectonic stresses? First and foremost, energy stress would disappear, and all the other stresses are directly dependent on the energy situation, which I will briefly summarize here. The ecosystems damage is entirely related to how we derive our energy, from “harvesting” the oceans and forests of their energy-driven bounty to razing the forests to plant crops, to grazing animals, to the damage that mining does (with FE, there would not be any mining waste, as all elements are useful, and mining waste directly reflects the point where the returns on energy use diminish to where it is not worth it to further refine the mined material). All fresh water exists due to the solar-powered hydrological cycle:
Humans, like our great ape cousins, are designed to eat fruit. It is our ideal food, but as we migrated beyond our natural range, we engaged in many practices that led to sufficient calories (at an awesome price to the ecosystems) but was not really what humans were designed to eat. The root and seed crops that provide most of humanity’s dietary energy are far from ideal foods, and have led to a great deal of human health problems. Also, the crowding and filth of cities has bred disease since the dawn of civilization.
The global variation of energy availability that we call “seasons” is why humans have such impoverished diets. With FE, fruit and any plant food imaginable can be grown in indoor environments, anywhere people want them, such as on Mars, if they wish. The thin layer of the ecosphere would no longer need to be commandeered in the service of the human lifestyle.
Solve the energy scarcity problem, and the problems of ecological damage, economic scarcity and the resultant hierarchies, even the very idea of rich and poor, would quickly vanish. Urban environments exist primarily due to energy scarcity. Cities are really energy-concentrating devices. With FE, as abundant energy is locally produced, anywhere anybody wants it, the perceived need for cities will largely vanish. The urban phase of humanity will be seen like the hunter-gatherer phase or the phase where slavery and the subjugation of women was seen as “natural.”
With FE, the world can look like this before long:
I am shooting to raise enough awareness in enough people to catalyze the transition to a world where realities like that become feasible. It can only happen if energy is abundant, and energy abundance has proven to be a virtually unimaginable idea to the vast majority of humanity (and the global elites actively foster that blindness), and I am just trying to make the idea thinkable.
I just sketched a tale that my upcoming energy essay with plumb in some depth. What I wrote above is about how I see the situation, in its broad strokes. The advent of FE would be the biggest event in the human journey so far, by far:
Everything else that is happening on the human scene right now is just noise, and little of it is pleasant noise.
I have a busy weekend ahead of me, but wanted to get this post launched.
Last edited by Wade Frazier; 4th March 2012 at 14:11.
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3rd March 2012 20:08
Link to Post #1623