General / Off-Topic Recycle or Die! (the elite environmental thread)

During my work on my master thesis, I have among others been dealing with energy. On the way it has been difficult not to wonder if I had become too "alarmist". From what I calculated, up until the industrial revolution the system that we call Earth was a delicate equilibrium of energy passing through the biosphere. That energy is what any human, again among others, need to keep the organism alive. It all enters the system via photosynthesis, passes through one of several food chains before we eat it.

Recently I found this article from PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America). That is a peer reviewed widely respected journal.


I have generally come to the same results as the article describes, with minor differences because I used different calculations and data. However, as the article states, these results are build upon thermodynamics, and there is no way of changing that. Let me quote:

"The logic presented above is indisputable, because the laws of thermodynamics are absolute and inviolate. Unless phytomass stores stabilize, human civilization is unsustainable."

"If H. sapiens does not go extinct, the human population will decline drastically as we will be forced to return to making a living as hunter‐ gatherers or simple horticulturalists."

If I combine the findings in the article with other factors I have used, such as climate, lack of unused agricultural land, a fossil fueled agriculture, lack of sustainable energy and energy storage capabilities, lack of fresh water, running out of phosphate rock and other depletable resources, growth economy and most importantly population growth, I come to the conclusion that we will be unrealistically lucky if there are any humans left on this planet by the end if this century. If we continue as we do now we won't survive the next 20-30 years.

Wake up and smell the coffee...
 
In New Delhi, a mountain of garbage, high as the Taj Mahal. :oops:
One of the things thermodynamics shows us is that whenever we do work, we spend energy and we create entropy. Entropy is a difficult term to comprehend, but one way of seeing it is that entropy is disorder. When you pour milk in your coffee the entropy of the system (the cup, coffee and the milk) is low. The milk and the coffee is still roughly separated. After stirring with a spoon they become mixed, and thereby the entropy increases.

To separate them again you need work and therefore energy. According to thermodynamics, this creates even more entropy. The 2. law of thermodynamics states that the total amount of entropy in a closed system will either stay constant or increase. Every time we manufacture something, it causes more entropy, and since the process of manufacturing the product basically is a matter of lowering entropy locally (in the product), this entropy must be dumped somewhere else. Simplified, that is what you see in the image.

Some entropy is dumped into space through IR, which has higher entropy than the sunlight hitting the planet, but since we can't dump 100% of the disorder we create, it will build up in the system. With a planet where humans generally cause exponential growth in almost any subsystem, that entropy buildup is a serious issue nobody really talks about. For billions of years the system has been able to dump entropy into space, creating an equilibrium, but today we burn fossil fuels creating energy (and entropy) that roughly resembles 1/4 of the total energy flow in the biosphere. This number is quickly increasing, and considering all the energy we need to change the system to a more sustainable one, that in itself shows that we are up the alley with absolutely no paddle.
 
One of the things thermodynamics shows us is that whenever we do work, we spend energy and we create entropy. Entropy is a difficult term to comprehend, but one way of seeing it is that entropy is disorder. When you pour milk in your coffee the entropy of the system (the cup, coffee and the milk) is low. The milk and the coffee is still roughly separated. After stirring with a spoon they become mixed, and thereby the entropy increases.

To separate them again you need work and therefore energy. According to thermodynamics, this creates even more entropy. The 2. law of thermodynamics states that the total amount of entropy in a closed system will either stay constant or increase. Every time we manufacture something, it causes more entropy, and since the process of manufacturing the product basically is a matter of lowering entropy locally (in the product), this entropy must be dumped somewhere else. Simplified, that is what you see in the image.

Some entropy is dumped into space through IR, which has higher entropy than the sunlight hitting the planet, but since we can't dump 100% of the disorder we create, it will build up in the system. With a planet where humans generally cause exponential growth in almost any subsystem, that entropy buildup is a serious issue nobody really talks about. For billions of years the system has been able to dump entropy into space, creating an equilibrium, but today we burn fossil fuels creating energy (and entropy) that roughly resembles 1/4 of the total energy flow in the biosphere. This number is quickly increasing, and considering all the energy we need to change the system to a more sustainable one, that in itself shows that we are up the alley with absolutely no paddle.
Thanks for this very interesting demonstration.

When ice cubes melt in a glass, there is increased disorder in the water molecules. And as a result, increased entropy.

Hmm! We can see that the global warming creates a lot of disorder.

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Global warming and the created mess are both results of spending energy. You can't spend energy without creating entropy.

When we dig ore out of the crust and refine it, the rest of the ore becomes waste. Most of the energy used becomes heat and sinks entropy into space, but not all of it. The pile of crap in the image can't just turn into IR and escape through the atmosphere.

Until we started burning fossil fuels, all the energy we had available came from photosynthesis. Even when we heated iron to cast a sword, it was using chemical energy stored by the plants we were burning to create heat. When burning fossil fuels that obviously disrupts this fine tuned balance. Especially when we consider the amount of energy we use compared to the amount of energy going though the biosphere.

Since 0 AD, in two millenniums, we have removed 1/2 of the plant biomass. 11% in the last century. Mostly because of deforestation to create room for agriculture. This reduces the energy flow in the biosphere. Combined with the increasing population the end result is famine on a scale we have never seen before. The only solutions are bad. We can continue burning fossil fuels as long as they last, and we probably will, but that will cause massive changes to the climate, further reducing the food production. We can also reduce the population until the planet can sustain it via the biosphere. That means reducing the number of people down to roughly one million, living as hunter gatherers.

It's that bad!
 
That means reducing the number of people down to roughly one million, living as hunter gatherers.

It's that bad!
No, it's probably a lot worse than that. It's not like they'll be living in pristine environments with pre holocene levels of animal numbers and diversity - but a severely polluted and denuded landscape and ocean that's going to take a very, very long time to recover. A world wide population of a million seems somewhat optimistic .

What a world we're creating.
 
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No, it's probably a lot worse than that. It's not like they'll be living in pristine environments with pre holocene levels of animal numbers and diversity - but a severely polluted and denuded landscape and ocean that's going to take a very, very long time to recover. A world wide population of a million seems somewhat optimistic .

What a world we're creating.
Yes, an equally probable outcome might be that there literally is no one left at 2100. It is difficult to combine all this into a model, because some things depend on our behavior, but as I wrote earlier, we have no realistic plan for replacing fossil fuels. We will also need to spend a lot of work and energy to build a replacement, and we do not have the necessary resources for that, including elements. Solar panels use phosphorus to name one.

Wind and hydrogen is probably our best chance, but with the current population growth, according to the article I linked to, and my own models, the system may collapse in anywhere from 15-50 years, but it will collapse. Most likely it won't come as one big catastrophe but a steep downhill. Whether it will be hunger, social unrest, collapse of the growth economy or a giant asteroid that gets us first is difficult to predict accurately, but it probably won't be the asteroid. The collapse of the economy can't be far away. Economists know that it will come sooner or later when the system reaches the ceiling. They just seem to have no idea about when, a very little understanding of biophysics.

Saving the economy does not matter, considering that without humans there won't be any economy left. Also we tend to forget that economy is quite simple. We have an amount of resources, and we are 7.8 billion people. Economy is the rule set we have set up for how we split that pile of resources. Of course some feel that they have right to more than others. Whether one consider that fair doesn't matter. We can't change that. Economy is an emergent property in the system, and almost every set of historical data I look at shows that the way the World evolves, is like a supertanker on rails. We did fix lead and CFC though. Sort of.

It's absurd.
 
Yes, an equally probable outcome might be that there literally is no one left at 2100. It is difficult to combine all this into a model, because some things depend on our behavior, but as I wrote earlier, we have no realistic plan for replacing fossil fuels. We will also need to spend a lot of work and energy to build a replacement, and we do not have the necessary resources for that, including elements. Solar panels use phosphorus to name one.

Wind and hydrogen is probably our best chance, but with the current population growth, according to the article I linked to, and my own models, the system may collapse in anywhere from 15-50 years, but it will collapse. Most likely it won't come as one big catastrophe but a steep downhill. Whether it will be hunger, social unrest, collapse of the growth economy or a giant asteroid that gets us first is difficult to predict accurately, but it probably won't be the asteroid. The collapse of the economy can't be far away. Economists know that it will come sooner or later when the system reaches the ceiling. They just seem to have no idea about when, a very little understanding of biophysics.

Saving the economy does not matter, considering that without humans there won't be any economy left. Also we tend to forget that economy is quite simple. We have an amount of resources, and we are 7.8 billion people. Economy is the rule set we have set up for how we split that pile of resources. Of course some feel that they have right to more than others. Whether one consider that fair doesn't matter. We can't change that. Economy is an emergent property in the system, and almost every set of historical data I look at shows that the way the World evolves, is like a supertanker on rails. We did fix lead and CFC though. Sort of.

It's absurd.
The human race will survive, unless it is something like a big dinosaur rock, situation. Civilisations on the other hand; rise and fall; all of the time. Even if the Earth's atmosphere become toxic; the rich etc, will just live underground, using filtered or manufactured air.
 
The human race will survive, unless it is something like a big dinosaur rock, situation. Civilisations on the other hand; rise and fall; all of the time. Even if the Earth's atmosphere become toxic; the rich etc, will just live underground, using filtered or manufactured air.
Puts me in mind of an old classic:
 
The human race will survive, unless it is something like a big dinosaur rock, situation. Civilisations on the other hand; rise and fall; all of the time. Even if the Earth's atmosphere become toxic; the rich etc, will just live underground, using filtered or manufactured air.
No they won't. Earth is a planet like in ED. It is totally isolated. The only thing that it receives is energy from the sun. The only thing leaving the planet is that same energy. Before I started studying this I honestly thought that it was tree hugging hippie nonsense, but the thing we call the biosphere is what out survival depend upon. You need food to survive. That's because the food contains energy. That energy can't be created otherwise, not even with solar power or windmills. It comes from the Sun, is stored in a plant and then a cow, pig, chicken or human eats the plant to get the energy. We humans can't store energy through photosynthesis, and we can't reproduce the proces artificially.

When we change the biosphere the system will try to get back to equilibrium. Not that the system "thinks" it's a good idea, it's just the way the laws of nature makes it work, like the code that makes ED run. When the system gets too far away from equilibrium it collapses.

When you put bacteria in a Petri Dish they will reproduce and eat until there is nothing left to eat. Then they all die. I was naive back when I thought that humans were more advanced and therefore could act more responsively with our frontal lobe and all that. No we can't, or at least, no we don't.

134215


"Puts me in mind of an old classic: "

134216
 
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No they won't. Earth is a planet like in ED. It is totally isolated. The only thing that it receives is energy from the sun. The only thing leaving the planet is that same energy. Before I started studying this I honestly thought that it was tree hugging hippie nonsense, but the thing we call the biosphere is what out survival depend upon. You need food to survive. That's because the food contains energy. That energy can't be created otherwise, not even with solar power or windmills. It comes from the Sun, is stored in a plant and then a cow, pig, chicken or human eats the plant to get the energy. We humans can't store energy through photosynthesis, and we can't reproduce the proces artificially.

When we change the biosphere the system will try to get back to equilibrium. Not that the system "thinks" it's a good idea, it's just the way the laws of nature makes it work, like the code that makes ED run. When the system gets too far away from equilibrium it collapses.

When you put bacteria in a Petri Dish they will reproduce and eat until there is nothing left to eat. Then they all die. I was naive back when I thought that humans were more advanced and therefore could act more responsively with our frontal lobe and all that. No we can't, or at least, no we don't.

View attachment 134215

"Puts me in mind of an old classic: "

View attachment 134216
On a positive note the death phase will be extended quite a lot with the introduction of soylent green
 
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"An array of movies and TV shows have assured us the apocalypse is pretty cool. The life of survivors is hard, but in an uber cool and sexy way. Men become men and women become bad- warrior queens, everyone wears leather and gets a Clint Eastwood glint in their eyes and there’s no shortage of quality hair dressers and fashionable clothes. I mean the way they sell it, you would fantasize about living in such a world. "

134219


"Every scene communicates one thing and one thing only- desperation. When the man and his son aren’t searching for food, they are worrying about shoes. The only time they get a haircut is when they find a bunker of sorts, and it is portrayed as a luxury he can hardly believe. Father and son are both skin and bones, with every rib showing. They don’t have access to the high protein food everyone is every other post apocalyptic movie or series seems to have. When the Man spends quality time with his son, he makes him practice putting the gun in his own mouth and blowing his own brains out in case he is dead and the bad men catch him."

 
We can continue burning fossil fuels as long as they last, and we probably will, but that will cause massive changes to the climate, further reducing the food production. We can also reduce the population until the planet can sustain it via the biosphere. That means reducing the number of people down to roughly one million, living as hunter gatherers.

It's that bad!
This is one of the issues of the problems at hand, it is very easy to see no solution, and you are not the first scientist/analyist using data to come to the rather depressing conclusion 'we are doomed!'. You won't be the last.

The thing is you have to fully take into account the organic nature of all our (living things on this world) interlocking existence on planet earth, and you just can't compute that, no-one can, even with the most sophisticated computations we can make (currently). So really there is no point in actually believing there is no point. All that matters now is we act to reduce our net negative effects on the worlds natural finite systems and keeping our fingers crossed hop that 'nature' is strong enough to endure (i believe she is). As long as nature endures on this planet, there will be life, as there has been since it kicked off here billions of years ago.

As for future human civilizations, well we are certainly in an interesting period that is going to determine if things like the Stock Exchange and Global Markets actually survive in the long run (over the next 100-200 years). We are that poised on the knife edge right now in terms of what we take for granted as everyday human life. Still with the right changes to how we run the world all that can survive the next 100 years, but really it is a 50/50 split on if that will be the case or not, as greed (the fuel of our current system) is simply dictating our actions.

This world is increbibly fertile and with the right management can sustain lots of people indefinately, but we are certainly going to see disruption in society as we (i hope) shift the way our economy destroys the world we rely on. So even following all the stories that a thread like this contains, i have hope we can come through this, as 'better' humans also and look forward to a future our potential and smarts can give us, if we let them. Still the 'normal' problems as below need addressing:

'BP chief urges Cambridge University to keep fossil fuel investments':


BP’s chief executive has come under fire from campaigners after he urged Cambridge University not to drop its fossil fuel investments.

Bob Dudley was greeted with laughter when he told an industry conference on Tuesday: “We donate and do lots of research at Cambridge so I hope they come to their senses on this.”

His comments came a week after he launched BP’s climate change strategy, which involves expanding into clean energy and capping carbon emissions.

“These [divestment] efforts are coming out of the US, the east coast and west coast, and New York, and it is generally the simplified idea that we turn everything into renewables – that climate change will be solved by renewables,” he said.

“When you dig into it and look into the numbers, of course, it can’t work. You’ve got to get more sophisticated about it.”

Divestment campaigners reacted angrily and said Cambridge’s academic freedom was at risk.

Cambridge Zero Carbon Society, which is lobbying the university to ditch its estimated £377m investment in fossil fuels, said: “BP’s mask slipped to reveal the ugliness lying beneath.

“Mr Dudley’s outrageous threat is just another sign of an industry desperately clinging on to power, knowing its only chance for survival is to subvert democracy at universities like Cambridge and leech off their reputation.”
There is still a lot of destructive 'old world' thinking out there driving our human journey.
 
@Zak Gordon
Did you read the article I linked to? This one:

https://www.pnas.org/content/pnas/112/31/9511.full.pdf

It's thermodynamics, but it's really not that complicated. Until we started doing agriculture, the planet was in a delicate equilibrium. Energy was stored chemically over many millions of years. 12,000 years ago we reached the carrying capacity of the human population, estimated to roughly one million. Then we started manipulating the biosphere, reducing the biomass, because a forest has larger biomass per area than even modern agriculture. Modern agriculture is "turbocharged" by NPK fertilizers, irrigation and a lot of fossil energy.

A simple calculation:

We can't increase the amount of cultivated land.
We already use too much water for irrigation.
We need to stop using fossil fuels, and however much I want to believe so, we have NO realistic alternative.
We are near a peak in phosphate rock extraction.

Without fossil fuels, we can't make fertilizers, we can't irrigate and we can't use tractors and harvesters. Basically that leaves us with agriculture like around 1900. Back then we could roughly keep 1.5 billion people alive, but more people were starving. Since then we have doubled the cultivated land area. When is it that we need to stop using fossil fuels to avoid catastrophic tipping points in the climate? 2050? 2030? Now?

There is no plan. Look it up, but be skeptical. A lot of companies have interests in boosting the "ideas" to get investors. I repeat: There is no global plan of how it can and should be done. It's smoke and mirrors, and honestly I don't blame anyone in particular. I just start to realize that there is no solution. You will never get elected as a politician if you say that out loud, and you won't find investors for your business.

The Earth system will snap in a few decades. Then it's a steep downhill from there. You can't solve anything when your only thought is how to get enough food to survive today. Whether there will be a few million alive at the end of the century means less, compared to the future billions of people are facing. Sorry.
 
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