Monday, May 26, 2008

Photo-synthesis - the alpha and omega of human civilization

I heard a talk the other day from a biologist who thinks about how humanity can survive.

The problem challenging the race over the coming decades is access to earthy resources - especially energy. It is estimated by reasonably sober minds that when human population maxes out at roughly 9 billion people and if those 9 billion will attempt to enjoy current American standards of comfort and living, they will need 5 planet earths to support them with energy and raw materials.

Those additional 4 planet earths will not be there.

So, what is to be done?

This is the great challenge to sustainability of human civilization; global warming is just part of the problem.

Well, curiously enough, he said many of the most important natural inputs to human life come from photo-synthesis - from simple little plants absorbing solar energy and transmitting it to mother earth and all who live upon her.

Animal life traces its sustenance to plants. Something feeds on plants and other, usually bigger living things feed on plant eaters, and so on up the food chain.

Our main foods - vegetable, fruit, nuts, grains, meats - trace their origins to photo-synthesis.

Our natural fibers - cotton, wool, linen, silk - similarly come from energy provided by photo-synthesis. Our wood comes from photo-synthesis.

Our energy from hydro-carbons and most of our plastics come from photo-synthesis accomplished millions of years ago and kept in deposits of coal, oil and natural gas.

Thus, if we could but create our own massive processes of photo-synthesis to convert sunlight into the energy and substances we need for life, we could sustain foreseeable human civilization on just this single planet earth - perhaps.

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