A thorough study of the thermodynamics of our planet, where the exchanges between heat and mechanical energy have been in the center of attention, gives us hard facts to rely upon for future decisions regarding how we care for our environment.
John Schramski, lead author of the study and also an associate professor in UGA’s College of Engineering, has run the numbers backwards and forwards: “I’ve gone through these numbers countless times looking for some kind of mitigating factor that suggests we’re wrong, but I haven’t found it.”
What he talks about, is how the deforestation, accompanied by large-scale, industrialized farming and a rapidly growing population and the lack of sensible and fair distribution of the food available, keep eating from the limited biomass of the Earth, and when we reach the tipping point, we have nothing left to replace it with.
As we use biomass, which is chemical energy currently stored in plants, for food and fuel, we also use up the energy that is stored on the planet, and the Earth needs that energy to maintain the highly complex biogeochemical balances and food webs.
Together with David Gattie, also an associate professor at the College of Engineering at the UGA, and James H. Brown from the University of New Mexico, Schramski hopes that the study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, will lead to a finite recognition of how utterly important the biomass of the Earth really is, and that we need to eliminate our destruction of it as well as increase our use of renewable energy quite quickly and drastically.
Schramski elaborates on the likely future events, unless we all act wisely today already: “As the planet becomes less hospitable and more people depend on fewer available energy options, their standard of living and very survival will become increasingly vulnerable to fluctuations, such as droughts, disease epidemics and social unrest.”
By looking back 2,000 years, scientists have found that the Earth housed somewhere around 1,000 billion tons of carbon in the form of living biomass. And ever since, humans have cut that amount in half. And for only the last hundred years, the estimation is that about 10 percent of that biomass has been destroyed.
By draining Earth’s resources faster than they can be replenished, the scientists fear that we are facing a point where the planet no longer can sustain us. “My training and scientific work are rooted in thermodynamics,” Schramski explains. “These laws are absolute and incontrovertible; we have a limited amount of biomass energy available on the planet, and once it’s exhausted, there is absolutely nothing to replace it.”
Taking into account that the planet has been storing the energy from the Sun for billions of years into biomass, it would be a no-brainer to see how humans need to act more carefully to not waste it on non-productive and environmentally harmful projects. Using more sensible approaches to food production and energy harvesting are huge areas of interest for many scientists, companies and individuals already, but more effort and a wider spread of day-to-day usage of these solutions are still much needed.
Image: NASA Earth Observatory