The earth is a giant battery. With one charge.

Before the humans showed up, the earth was here soaking up sunlight. For hundreds of millions of years, the sun sent its energy to the earth where it turned into things like plants and trees and eventually animals.

All the trees and plants died and mushed into the ground and this went on for an absurdly long amount of time.

And then the people showed up and for the past 150 years or so began digging up all the oil which stored the energy from the sun, like a battery.

We are consuming the energy stored by the planet at a fairly quick rate, and the noise about “peak oil” has been around for a while. But there’s a much simpler way of thinking about energy consumption from the great earth battery.

If we are to go all in on green and get all of our daily energy needs from solar (directly from the sun) and wind (driven by weather changes caused by the sun) and hydro electric (which is where the energy from the sun evaporates water from the oceans and ground and carries it up to the clouds so we can draw the power from the falling water, noticing a theme here?), we have to consider that on any given day, our draw down of energy from these sources has to be less than that which is provided by the sun in a day.

My point is we’ve built up cities and cars and infrastructure by consuming the energy stored in the planet, and while there is still charge in the battery, that will continue to work, but in order for the system to function long term, it’s not a matter of where we draw the energy from but that the source of the energy (the sun in a lot of cases) has to provide more energy on average per day than how much we draw down in that same day.

If we draw down more, we will be consuming more of the stored energy from the great earthen battery, and plain and simple math, that is not sustainable. The battery will eventually run out.

So the question is: how much energy is provided by solar, wind, oxford comma, and hydro electric in a day, and how much do all the people consume in that same day. And if it’s more, long term, we’re in trouble.

One Response to “The earth is a giant battery. With one charge.”

  1. It’s a good way of looking at it. Leaves out a few things, though:

    1. If you include nuclear, that “one charge” will outlast humanity by a large margin.

    2. The old theory that oil and gas come from melted dinosaurs has largely been supplanted by two other theories. One is that the amount of biomass that has been converted into hydrocarbons (and continues to do so) is largely composed of microorganisms; the other is that hydrocarbons come from the decomposition of non-organic solids (i.e. rock). Whether either of those theories puts the replenishment rate higher than the consumption rate is arguable, possibly even dubious. But it is a factor.

    (Side note: speaking of microorganisms, did you know that the vast majority of the CO2-to-O2 side of the carbon cycle is performed by microorganisms in the ocean? There’s so much going on in the ocean that we don’t think about enough.)

    (Side side note: I see you’ve joined the camp of including the words “oxford comma” next to an oxford comma. Well played, captain.)

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