By Ross McCluney
In an amazing one-two punch of scientific understanding, the University of Georgia and Arizona State University have, independently, brought new insights into the root causes of accelerated climatic disruption, unprecedented species extinctions, resource depletions—all at the hands of humanity—plus a dramatic spurt of population growth in the last couple of centuries and the resulting threat of human self-extinction.
“You can think of the Earth like a battery that has been charged very slowly over billions of years. The sun’s energy is stored in plants and fossil fuels, but humans are draining energy much faster than it can be replenished.”
In just the last few hundred years, humans extracted exploitable energy from these living and fossilized biomass fuels to build the modern industrial-technological-informational economy, to grow our population to more than 7 billion, and to transform the biogeochemical cycles and biodiversity of the earth.
This rapid discharge of the earth’s store of organic energy is what fuels the human domination of the biosphere, including conversion of natural habitats to agricultural fields and the resulting loss of native species, emission of carbon dioxide and the resulting climate and sea level change, and use of supplemental nuclear, hydro, wind, and solar energy sources.
The laws of thermodynamics, part of physics, govern the trickle-charge and rapid discharge of the earth’s battery and are therefore universal and absolute. In the long span of universe history, Earth is only temporarily poised on its outpost, some distance away from the thermodynamic equilibrium of outer space.
With the rapid depletion of the chemical energy stored in planetary biomass, however, the earth is shifting back toward the inhospitable equilibrium of outer space—with fundamental ramifications for the biosphere and humanity. Because there is no substitute or replacement energy for living biomass, the remaining distance from equilibrium that will be required to support human life is unknown.
When I awoke this morning, something simple popped into my head. It was this brief explanation of what Alan Weissman’s book Countdown is all about: How humanity went wrong with the Earth and what we’ve learned to do about it.
As is my want, I decided to elaborate a little.
When humanity first arrived as a distinct species, we were like infants, having to explore our world and learn how to get along in it. This took a very long time, but was successful. We became hunters and gatherers, roaming the countryside, mostly looking for food, and learning how best to find, prepare, and eat it. Life was not that easy for humans and our numbers remained quite low for a long long time.
About 10,000 to 15,000 years ago some of us first learned how to plant seeds, water them once in a while, and actively grow crops to feed ourselves. We found out which species in different climates were relatively easy to grow, tasted pretty good, and satisfied our hunger. Along the way we learned how to cook our food to make it more delicious, easier to eat, and have greater shelf life. Our numbers started to grow a little more rapidly, but still there were very few of us. Continue reading
In honor of Earth Day 2013, the award winning film, Mother: Caring for 7 Billion is available for free internet viewing from now until the end of May. Some of you may be familiar with this film, but the current temporarily free streaming offers a golden opportunity to see it and to urge your friends and colleagues to watch a remarkable, modern engagement with the global population issue. I strongly urge you to see this film. –RM
News Release from “Mother: Caring for 7 Billion”
Denver, CO – Even though sex and global warming are rarely discussed in the same sentence, much less in the same film, the long ignored connection was recently explored in the award-winning environmental documentary Mother: Caring for 7 Billion.
In celebration of Earth Day, the filmmakers of Mother announced the Internet release of their “Director’s Cut” that will stream online for free from April 19 until the end of May. To view the free online streaming of Mother go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdEspxlq3bo
Christophe Fauchere, director and co-producer of Mother stated, “We want Mother to be viewed by as many people as possible for Earth Day because Mother holds up a mirror and shows people a very different way to look at their role on this planet.”
Lisa Hymas, co-founder of Grist.org says “This is not your father’s population documentary… Mother takes a feminist/humanist view as it explores the issues of our exploding numbers.”