Civilization is a long game
There are only two real currencies in the world: energy and material. Conservation efforts are laudable, but it is literally impossible to conserve to zero. The old ways of collecting energy in the form of carboniferous fuels has proven unsustainable – if not for finite supply, for climatological side effects. If we can’t conserve to zero, we have to work out a way to replace our use of carboniferous fuels.
Renewables are a nice thought here – the disc of the earth receives on the order of 175 petawatts of power from the sun on a reasonably constant basis. This largely goes to maintaining earth’s thermal equilibrium – about 122.5 PW are absorbed into the atmosphere and ground, which re-radiates about 122 PW back. (Incidentally, there’s a slight energy excess that’s been growing – about 500 TW – which is the drive of our current climate change. Lower our atmospheric carbon, and the atmosphere insulates less well, allowing us to re-radiate that half a petawatt). This energy not only warms us all, but drives wind currents, evaporates rain to be redeposited to higher elevations, creates waves and wind currents – all renewable energy is ultimately powered by the sun.
This seems like it’d be a nice, consistent flow of energy we could use – except it isn’t. The rotation of the earth, the irregular terrain, and the sheer scale of the system compared to our scales, means that the fluctuations you’d expect to be small turn out to be huge.
This is a problem: mankind’s energy use variation is not so diurnal, nor so chaotic. We require a baseline level of energy to run our streetlights, our trains, our factories, our security systems, our computers, fridges and freezers, climate control systems, and a thousand other Continue reading