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Olduvai III: Catacylsm
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Unsustainable Goose Chases

Unsustainable Goose Chases

As we look toward the uncertain future, it may occur to some among us that we’ll need energy on Mars. How are we going to get it? Presumably Mars has no fossil fuels—although on the plus side its atmosphere is already 95% CO2, compared to Earth’s 0.04%, so they’re likely to be less uptight about carbon emissions on the red planet.

At this point, we could launch into an extensive discussion, full of quantitative detail and analysis about the solar potential: insolation, materials availability, dust storm mitigation, and on and on. But the real answer to how we will get energy on Mars is probably: we won’t. We’re extremely unlikely to set up a permanent presence on Mars, if humans ever even go there at all. So the exercise would be of questionable value.

I feel similarly about discussions of full-scale renewable energy and associated storage and grid shenanigans. How will we rise to the challenge to keep modernity powered into the future? In all likelihood, we won’t. Besides the misdirection of “inexhaustible flows,” keeping modernity powered by any means looks like game-over for ecological health, and therefore humans, if pursued at all costs. So, enough with the fantasy schemes.

Why so bold? Glad you asked.

Past posts of mine have dealt with the question of what sustainability means, and associated timescales:

  1. Ultimate Success: thinking 10,000 years ahead, what’s still possible?
  2. Can Modernity Last?: an attempt to synthesize why continuance is not in the cards
  3. Sustainable Timescales: the relevant scope is that of biological evolution
  4. Inexhaustible Flows: the dead end of materials-hungry “renewable” energy technology

Additionally, The Simple Story of Civilization frames the current epoch as so mind-numbingly new and rapid that it boggles the mind how we could ever think of modernity as a normal time that might have staying power, rather than a fireworks show. It’s only because that’s all our short lives have shown us.

…click on the above link to read the rest…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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