On the technology front How utilities can save America from its oil addiction Utility companies which have traditionally viewed themselves as providers of "power" for lighting homes or powering computers, can now break the dominance of Big Oil in the transportation energy sector and introduce much needed competition in the transportation fuel market. Gal Luft explains how.
Please address correspondence to Dr. From Population and Environment: Life on Earth is driven by energy. Autotrophs take it from solar radiation and heterotrophs take it from autotrophs. Energy captured slowly by photosynthesis is stored up, and as denser reservoirs of energy have come into being over the course of Earth's history, heterotrophs that could use more energy evolved to exploit them, Homo sapiens is such a heterotroph; indeed, the ability to use energy extrasomatically outside the body enables human beings to use far more energy than any other heterotroph that has ever evolved.
The control of fire and the exploitation of fossil fuels have made it possible for Homo sapiens to release, in a short time, vast amounts of energy that accumulated long before the species appeared.
By using extrasomatic energy to modify more and more of its environment to suit human needs, the human population effectively expanded its resource base so that for long periods it has exceeded contemporary requirements. This allowed an expansion of population similar to that of species introduced into extremely, propitious new habitats, such as rabbits in Australia or Japanese beetles in the United States.
The world's present population of over 5. But the exhaustion of fossil fuels, which supply three quarters of this energy, is not far off, and no other energy source is abundant and cheap enough to take their place. A collapse of the earth's human population cannot be more than a few years away.
If there are survivors, they will not be able to carry on the cultural traditions of civilization, which require abundant, cheap energy. It is unlikely, however, that the species itself can long persist without the energy whose exploitation is so much a part of its modus vivendi.
The human species may be seen as having evolved in the service of entropy, and it cannot be expected to outlast the dense accumulations of energy that have helped define its niche.
Human beings like to believe they are in control of their destiny, but when the history of life on Earth is seen in perspective, the evolution of Homo sapiens is merely a transient episode that acts to redress the planet's energy balance. Ever since Malthus, at least, it has been clear that means of subsistence do not grow as fast as population.
No one has ever liked the idea that famine, plague, and war are nature's way of redressing the imbalance -- Malthus himself suggested that the operation of "preventive checks," which serve to reduce the birth rate, might help prolong the interval between such eventsvol.
But in the same two centuries world population has grown exponentially while irreplaceable resources were used up. Some kind of adjustment is inevitable. Today, many people who are concerned about overpopulation and environmental degradation believe that human actions can avert catastrophe.
The prevailing view holds that a stable population that does not tax the environment's "carrying capacity" would be sustainable indefinitely, and that this state of equilibrium can be achieved through a combination of birth control, conservation, and reliance on "renewable" resources.
Unfortunately, worldwide implementation of a rigorous program of birth control is politically impossible.
Conservation is futile as long as population continues to rise. And no resources are truly renewable. If all of nature were in perfect balance, every species would have a constant population, sustained indefinitely at carrying capacity.
But the history of life involves competition among species, with new species evolving and old ones dying out. In this context, one would expect populations to fluctuate, and for species that have been studied, they generally do ecology texts such as Odum, and Ricklefs, give examples.
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