This phenomenal rise in wealth, assets, and well-being has occurred for a number of factors, with access to cheap fossil fuels being a primary driver this past century. Fossil fuels have admirably served humanity in this capacity, fueling the engine of economic activity, especially access to cheap oil over the past century. Cheap energy, in turn, made access to water and natural resources cheaper, resulting in an 8-fold increase in materials use this past century.
Most economists assume global average annual per
capita growth rates of 2 to 3% in the 21st century. This
implies a nearly 10- to 20-fold increase in world GDP over a century.
Earth scientists, however, are far less sanguine. A prodigious accumulation of scientific observations, measurements, gathered evidence and findings indicate serious instabilities
throughout the biosphere. These intensifying risks pose cataclysmic threats
to undermine, disrupt, and collapse humanity’s vulnerable socioeconomic systems in the years, decades, centuries, and millennium ahead.
Until very recently, with the quick succession of mega weather disasters - hurricanes, floods, severe droughts, prolonged wildfires, spread of deadly infectious diseases -- most people simply did not reflect on or take heed of even more frequent and severe catastrophes projected for the decades ahead.
In deriving and consuming multi-trillion dollar quantities of fossil energy resources, their use have unwittingly become a primary driver of most of the global risks and threats confronting humanity:
✖ Fossil fuels are the primary driver of climate destabilization.
✖ Fossil fuels are the primary driver of marine acidification.
✖ Fossil fuels are the primary driver of acid rain.
✖ Fossil fuels are the primary driver of smog, particulates, and air pollution.
✖ Fossil fuels (oil) are a primary driver of international wars and conflicts, which are contributing to ethnocide and genocide.
✖ Fossil fuels are a primary driver of water and land contamination.
✖ Fossil fuels are responsible for large releases of mercury, heavy metals and toxic chemicals.
✖ Fossil fuels are a major contributor to illness, premature morbidity and mortality.
✖ Fossil fuels are major extractors of freshwater for their operations.
Taxpayers pay good money for accelerating all of this destruction of the planet -- a staggering $700 billion to $1 trillion per year in subsidies. These debilitating impacts are quite like that of humans paying good money to ingest enormous quantities of solids and liquids known to trigger debilitating and deadly diseases. The diagnosis and prognosis from humanity’s “medical community” of planetary physicians-- earth scientists -- is a wake-up call for humanity to change its consumption habits.
Just one assessment among a number profiled in succeeding chapters reveals this in damning details. According to a comprehensive analysis by Harvard Medical School, the externality costs of coal use in the U.S. amounts to upwards of $500 billion per year. If these costs were factored into the delivered price of electricity consumers would be paying upwards of 37 cents per kWh. That is 12 to 40 times more expensive than end-use efficiency improvements, six times more costly than wind power, and more than two to three times the price of solar PV delivered electricity.
A recent global analysis prepared for large-scale institutional investors estimates economic losses from environmental externalities exceed $6 trillion per year, of which fossil fuel consumption accounts for a majority of the costs.
Revealingly, more than 50% of company earnings could be at risk from environmental costs in an equity portfolio weighted according to the MSCI All Country World Index.
Such bold claims demand substantiation and compelling evidence, which are presented in other sections of this web site. But the more commanding question, of far greater importance, is whether there are more benign ways to deliver humanity's gargantuan appetite for energy and materials for delivering a virtually infinite diversity of goods and services?
Addressing that complex question is the focus of ASSETs for Life, which is now under development and not yet launched. The site's purpose is to provide a platform for catalyzing a results-driven collaboration innovation network (COIN). ASSETs is an acronym standing for "Apps for Spurring Solar and Efficiency Tech-knowledgies."
Free (open source) COIN ASSETs is self-organized, grown and maintained by an ad hoc group of users in localities worldwide. The content and activity is focused on promoting acceleration of communities and cities becoming highly energy, water and resource efficient as well as 100% solar powered. There is abundant evidence and accumulated experience showing immense win-win-win benefits, value and accruing assets from such a transformation process.
As with the bold claims regarding the unprecedented challenges of global and historial magnitude confronting humanity that demand substantiation and compelling evidence, so are the bold claims on efficiency and solar technologies are substantiated in other sections of this web site.
To put these massive figures into understandable context, these efficiency savings would displace the need for ALL OF THE FOLLOWING SUPPLY (illustrative purposes only, not in these exact quantities):
| 18 million rail cars per year carrying 2 billion tons of coal
For comparison: 17.4 million China rail cars carrying 2 billion tons and 7 million U.S. rail cars carrying 810 million tons in 2011, with the two nations consuming more than half of global production
| 24 million barrels per day
For comparison: 30 million barrels/day (from 4,000-plus offshore oil rigs worldwide in 2011)
| 5 million LNG supertanker shipments (200,000 m3 per shipment)
For comparison: 1.7 million LNG shipments worldwide in 2011
| 44 million hectares of oil palm plantations for diesel fuel
For comparison: 15 million hectares total global oil palm production in 2011
| 50 mega-sized hydrodams each equivalent to 3 Gorges Dam (total of 910,000 MW)
For comparison: 1 million MW of global installed hydroelectric capacity in 2010
| 68 million hectares of sugar cane for ethanol
For comparison: 24 million hectares total global sugar cane production in 2010
| 82 million hectares of corn for ethanol
For comparison: 162 million hectares total global corn production in 2011
| 640 nuclear power plants each 1000 MW in size (total 640,000 MW)
For comparison: 372,000 MW of global installed nuclear capacity in 2012
The sun is the largest, and only, nuclear fusion reactor operating in the solar system. Every day, without fail or interruption, the sun delivers in 5 minutes the amount of energy the world economy consumes in a month. The Earth receives from the Sun 3.8 billion trillion photons per second per square meter of reception area. This is about 1350 Joules per second per m2 or 1350 watts per m2 of area. This amounts to the staggering sum of 120,000 trillion Watt-years per year. For comparison, world energy consumption is 15 TWy/yr -- equal to about an hour of sunlight.
As Caltech Professor Nathan Lewis has articulated,
“The sun is simply the champion of all energy sources. When talking about solar energy, I like to cite what I call the ‘Willie Sutton principle’ of materials science and energy. Willie Sutton was a bank robber who robbed many banks and managed to elude the law for years before he was finally caught. When asked why he robbed banks, he replied, ‘Because that’s where the money is.’ If Sutton were presented with our energy problem, he would obviously say that we should use the sun because, quite simply, that’s where the energy is. Solar energy is, in fact, the only renewable resource that has enough terrestrial energy potential to satisfy alone, with room to spare, the 10–20 TW carbon-free supply constraint in 2050. No other source comes even close.”
source: Professor Richard Perez, Atmospheric Sciences Research Center, University at Albany, State University of New York, http://www.asrc.cestm.albany.edu/perez/
As a rough approximation, solar photovoltaic (PV) power systems installed on 20% of urban area rooftops and available ground areas could deliver 100% of total utility and mobility services.
Conceivably this could occur before 2050, or it may take the rest of this century to achieve. The time it takes turns on annual growth rates. Global Solar PV has been growing at an annual compounded rate of 30% between 2000 and 2011. Installed costs of solar PV systems have steadily fallen (to below $2 per Watt for Germany's rooftop systems), while the efficiency output of solar cells continues to rise. The wildcard in sustaining high rates of solar PV growth turns on public policies -- simply providing the same level of robust support governments have provided this past half century to the fossil and nuclear industries would ensure maintaining high growth rates.
In recent proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Stanford Professor Marc Jacobson and Univ. of Delaware Professor Cristina Archer reported estimates of maximum available wind power at 100 meters height of 250 terawatts (TW) globally, and approximately 80 TW at 100 meters over land plus coastal ocean outside Antarctica.
Wind power has become spectacularly successful, technologically, economically and financially, and solar power is repeating wind’s success in the recent decade. In 2006, for example, China had only 3,000 MW of installed capacity, and was a tiny global player. By late 2012 China surpassed 70,000 MW, reaching nearly one-third of installed global capacity – a 25-fold increase in six years while the rest of the world only expanded by a factor of 2.6.
A 2009 joint assessment by Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Science and Tsinghua University’s Department of Environmental Science and Engineering concluded that China’s favorable onshore wind resources could provide nearly 25 trillion kWh of electricity annually, more than five times national consumption in 2012. The team also made a key point, that assuming a 10-year feed-in tariff payment per kWh comparable to what is currently being offered, “wind could accommodate all the demand for electricity projected for 2030, about twice current consumption.”
The Harvard team estimates wind power can supply 40 times world consumption of electricity, and more than five times total global use of all energy. Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Professor Michael McElroy et al conclude, “that a network of land-based 2.5 MW turbines restricted to non-forested, ice-free, non-urban areas operating at as little as 20% of their rated capacity could supply more than 40 times current worldwide consumption of electricity, [and] more than 5 times total global use of energy in all forms.”
Available wind resources on the U.S. Great Plains were estimated to be as much as 16 times total current U.S. power consumption. The land footprint of wind farms are remarkably small. Analysis indicate the several million wind turbines that could produce as much power as the U.S. currently consumes would take up less than three percent of the Great Plains region. The wind royalties paid to site the wind farms would generate twice as much revenues for the region than farming and ranching currently generate occupying 75 percent of the Great Plains!
Wind power is an established least-cost-and-risk power supply. Both the United States and China could steadily displace all their current and proposed coal power plants, and most natural gas power, with their wind resources. China has current plans to construct 558,000 MW of coal plants (the US 17,000 MW), and the US projects building 141,000 MW of natural gas plants . When wind (and solar) are phased in with utility bill-reducing efficiency opportunities, the system costs and risks of delivering electricity should be comparable to or less than continuing dependence on coal or natural gas plants powering inefficient devices. This transformational action would also position the two wind-giant nations to seize a substantial share of the multi-trillion dollar wind export market opportunity worldwide.
The explosive growth of the Internet and near-ubiquitous access to laptops and hand-held smart phones and tablets is radically re-imagining daily activities, services and products. This is fully revealed in Mary Meeker's most recent annual presentation on the accelerating pace of this incredible tech revolution.
Less than 7000 days ago, the World Wide Web
was virtually nonexistent, then it exploded, growing
nearly 500% between 2000 and 2010, with one out of
three people now having Internet access.
‘The World Wide Web was developed to be a pool of
human knowledge, and human culture, which would
allow collaborators in remote sites to share their ideas
and all aspects of a common project.’
Information technology (IT) experts anticipate it will take less than 5000 days before most of humanity will be connected globally to a ubiquitous semantic Web network. The emergent phenomenon of new value creation and social engagement opportunities occurring through self-organizing web collaboration networks are being examined in countless publications (e.g., Benkler, Gloor, Jarvis, Nielsen, Shirky, Tapscott & Williamson).
One of the most promising, productive Internet tools to emerge are Collaboration INovation Networks (COINs). Witness the self-organizing open source COIN initiatives, as evidenced by the
breathtaking formation of Wikipedia, daily growing
and error correcting the world’s largest publicly accessible pool of accumulated knowledge and learning
resources. In the decade since it was launched, Wikipedia
has swiftly established itself as the world’s largest
encyclopedia. Within 60 months and six employees,
Wikipedia grew to 10 times the size of the largest encyclopedia.
Size of English Wikipedia as of August 2010 (2647 Encyclopedia Britannica volumes)
As of August 2010, the size of just the English version of Wikipedia amounted to nearly 2700 volumes the size of the Encyclopedia Britannica. This phenomenal growth has been accomplished with relatively few paid employees (still less than 100). Daily additions, updates, edits, and error corrections are carried out by several hundred thousand volunteers, with content being translated into 285 languages. An IBM research team estimated that it took around 100 million hours to self-organize and maintain this open source public knowledge asset. For comparison, Americans watch 100 million hours of television ads every weekend.
New York University Professor Clay Shirky makes a compelling case that there are more than 1 trillion hours of television viewed each year by people with Internet access, representing an immense pool of ‘cognitive surplus’ that could be harnessed to create other open source public collaboration assets like Wikipedia.