Vision Matters

Geoentropy ahead

The bulk of this article was written when the Kyoto protocol was proposed. From our point of view it was immediately clear, that even the full implementation of the Kyoto protocol will not turn the tide, that the root causes of climate change run much deeper than CO2 emissions. Neither will the Paris climate agreement, it is merely a smoke screen, based on a politically sanitized climate model.

Ultimately we believe in a constructive approach, and we have an offer for governments and non-government organisations.

This article first takes a short look at the challenge we face. It follows a short introduction of geoentropy and the dimension of the real threat.

The sections Looking for a balanced way and Understanding the keys explain how complex the challenge we face truly is and what the key elements are that we need to address. This is essentially an opportunity, because we have many more options to improve our situation than the proponents of CO2 swap schemes will have you believe.

Our offer and the technologies we can provide are detailed in What we can do. This article is concluded by a look at What you can do.

Table of contents:

Facing the challenge

Geoentropy

Looking for a balanced way

Understanding the keys

Clean energy

Sustainable use

Recycling

Towards a solution

What we can do — Our offer

What you can do

Facing the Challenge

Many environmentalists and leading scientists conclude that the resource consumption of humankind globally has reached a level that cannot be sustained. On the one hand the pollution of air and water, the production of highly toxic substances and other damage to the environment is continually increasing and on the other hand natural habitats, forest areas, biodiversity and the environment for microorganisms in the oceans that have a vital role for filtering water and air are being degraded constantly.

If you are living in a country like Canada with large areas of natural reserves you are probably not aware of the severity of the problem. In the G7 nations a cleanup of pollution has happened in the last decades. That gives people a false illusion, that matters are improving. But globally this is not true.

For example 70% of the rain forest that covered Borneo almost entirely, an island in Malaysia twice as large as Germany, has been destroyed in only a few decades. Much of the industry of the G7 nations has now been relocated to China, the world's new manufacturing hub, and other cheap labor regions.

Millions and millions of people in China, in eastern Europe and other parts of the world live now in regions that are deemed uninhabitable by UN standards because of their pollution. And with the fast developing population rich nations of India and China, together about 2.5 billion people, each year tens of millions of people are climbing up the social ladder into the middleclass with living standards on par with the G7 nations, which means more resources than ever are consumed.

One third of the world's wild nature has been lost within the last fourty years. There is a danger that, if this trend continues, the total capacity of the Earth's biosphere to filter and cleanse air and water and to regenerate itself will not be sufficient to offset human use of natural resources, with serious consequences for living standards in the not so distant future.

But despite these alarming signs, we are currently seeing that the year-on-year increase in human demand for our planet's resources is even gathering pace, driven by fast growing consumer markets and large scale industrial development in the most populous regions of Asia and other G20 nations. The number of power plants being build in China and India alone is staggering.

We should note that the most urgent threat to our environment does not come from climate change as Kyoto assumes but from humankind's relentless take of natural resources.

It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to preserve the natural ecosystems on land and in water and their biodiversity.

This is a critical issue for the health of entire populations. Many things we take for granted are not, whether it is the availability of pollinators or healthy environments that keep pests, fungi and diseases in check. These functions depend on complex interactions in highly developed ecosystems. There is a direct link between health and the environment. We don't have to go as far as claiming that there is a connection between all life on the planet. There are many more simple facts in plain sight.

Geoentropy

The threat we face is not so much global warming but geoentropy, an increasingly volatile and hostile environment. The civilizations that have thrived during the last millenia have mainly done so because of stable weather patterns. From the monsoon in India, over the regular flooding of the Nile valley and the steady water supply from the Euphrates and Tigris to the largely stable weather patterns in Europe and America.

We have learned that logging the forest on a mountainside can cause mudslides, we know that changing the flow of rivers and deforestation changes the microclimate. Though their cumulative impact on the global weather patterns has been seen as limited in the past. Traditionally scientists have maintained that the geophysics determine the weather, and that life just adapts to it. Logically they look for a geophysical cause to explain shifting weather patterns, for example a rise in the CO2 level and a projected rise of temperature.

We have at least to consider that the cause and effect are reversed in comparison to the traditional hypothesis, that in fact the state of the ecosystems determines the weather patterns. That there is an intricate feedback mechanism between geophysical causes and the biosphere. It also means that the cumulative change of the microclimates caused by human activities like urbanisation, deforestation and large scale pollution is the root cause for globally changed weather patterns.

Evidence indicates that the ecosystems that existed before massive intervention by humans maintained an equilibrium since before the rise of the civilizations in Mesopotamia. This equilibrium might have been strong enough to offset even the CO2 emissions today, i.e. that the capacity of a fully restored biosphere to maintain an equilibrium is stronger than the impact of CO2 levels.

More and more evidence indicates that the ecosystems and weather patterns are intricately intertwined, from Saharan dust storms fertilizing the Amazonas and Caribbean to the level of plankton in the sea that affects albedo and evaporation. Ecosystems have a major impact on how much water an environment can retain, and affect the water cycle and temperature regulation.

Counter to geoentropy

It is rarely a direct link that connects the species of an ecosystem with the climate. It is not that the plankton in the sea affects its albedo directly. Instead substances that are produced by planktonic algae oxidize in the atmosphere and form a major source of cloud-condensation nuclei, which in turn affects the cloud density and albedo. The potential for feedback mechanisms between the ecosystems and weather patterns is immense.

In general it is the metabolism of the flora that has an effect on the chemical composition of the environment. The fauna serves as a regulator, not primarily in quantitative terms but through its effect on the natural selection and composition of the genetic pool of an ecosystem. The high number of diverse insect species on Earth is an indicator how far the adaptability of ecosystems has evolved.

It is worth noting that one of the oldest cultures on Earth, the Aborigines in Australia have inherent knowledge of how certain signs in the flora or fauna are linked to phases of larger global weather patterns that can span decades. In the light of what has been discussed in the preceeding paragraphs, these skills naturally identify the adaptation of an ecosystem, and speak volumes about the Aborigines' insight.

If we consider the adaptability of ecosystems and the potential for feedback mechanisms with the climate, the logical conclusion is that the ecosystems have genetically evolved to offset geoentropy and to settle into an equilibrium. There are many reasons why ecosystems benefit from stable weather patterns. With other words, if it weren't for the biosphere we would see much more extreme and volatile weather.

The levels of energy efficiency and engineering feats that have evolved naturally are way beyond of what human engineers have achieved up to now. This is also true of the capability of the ecosystems. Any farmer knows how difficult it can be to grow a single crop and how many setbacks can occur. On the other hand a rainforest will grow very fast to cover suitable areas. Its biodiversity is its strength, it contains all the species it needs to adapt to different conditions and phases of growth. All species fulfil a function, and taking away even a single one impacts the ecosystem's potential.

The biodiversity and its genetic pool gives ecosystems the potential to adapt to different temperatures. The role genetics play in evolving and adapting ecosystems to maintain an equilibrium is not understood today. However, there are strong indicators that there is much more to it than we know, for example the forests in the area around Chernobyl have adapted in surprisingly new ways to the radioactivity, and plants have been found to adapt much faster to parasites or a lack thereof than random genetic selection could explain.

Connecting the dots

To put all these facts into perspective, we also need to understand that the key to overcome entropy in a system is efficiency. With other words, no technology humankind has developed is anywhere close to restore an equilibrium. This is why maintaining and restoring the natural ecosystems where we can is our best chance to avoid catastrophic levels of geoentropy. Ideally we should strive to replant forests and have the tropical forests reclaim their ground to a level seen last 1850.

Traditional theory that sees in geophysical phenomena the root cause projects only a gradual increase from the impact of global warming. If indeed the impairment of the natural ecosystems is the root cause of geoentropy, we face an exponentially growing threat, because the impairment of the biosphere through human expansion in the last decades has gathered pace significantly, and there is nothing to offset it.

That means the impact will hit much faster and harder than currently expected. The irregularities in the monsoon cycle on the Indian subcontinent in 2010 and the massive heat waves that caused the unprecendented forest fires in Russia point in this direction, as do the unprecedented alteration of the storm systems in North America. This is why the current trends and ecocide are such an alarming sign.

For instance, for decades there have been calls to halt the destruction of the Amazonas rainforest. In spite of this its destruction even gathered pace. Now, that the rate of deforestation is reduced, the international official response is, we are on the right track. This complacent lot doesn't deserve to be called a leader.

On the other hand understanding that the challenge we face is much more structured than a projected rise in global temperature, gives us many more opportunities to act. In particular the energy efficiency, but also all kinds of science and engineering related to the keys for a sustainable economy, which are explained in the following sections, requires our best effort, and ideally a concerted one. Our research think tank is in a unique position to offer advice and key technologies to make the level of progress required feasible. For our offer to governments and non-government organisations alike please read What we can do.

Looking for a Balanced Way

The obvious question is, what could be done to reverse the trend and to conserve the most valuable resource of all, the biosphere in which we all live.

The Earth seen from space; image
courtesy of Earth Sciences and Image Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center. A closer look at the problem reveals that consumption as such is not necessarily harmful, but the destructive exploitation of natural resources is. Or more precisely, only certain types of consumption are problematic, namely such which involve production processes that cannot be sustained in the long term and which deplete food stocks and strip land and water of productive and regenerative qualities.

Much of the problem stems from the predominant business rationale that favours short-term profit over long-term profitabilitiy. The unrestricted commercialization is at fault here because producers and consumers seek to exploit property, and responsibility is regarded as a liability at best. As a result the production of waste, inefficiencies in the manufacturing process and irreversible degradation of natural resources is measured from a commercial point of view, including only the immediate costs of resource processing, waste disposal etc.

The indirect costs associated with the loss of the biosphere's productive and regenerative capacity aren't accounted for yet. This is a severe flaw because if we realize that the biosphere's capacity is limited, it becomes the fundamental baseline of any sustainable economy.

Basically, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, even the products we manufacture and the buildings we construct are provided directly or indirectly by natural resources taken from the Earth's biosphere. Consequently, we could describe the whole economy in terms of the productive and regenerative capital of the biosphere. Human labor is just another input.

Understanding the Keys

We identify three key areas for establishing a sustainable economy with high living standards for all:

  1. Clean Energy: Energy is a crucial resource for any industrialized economy. From a physical point of view energy is abundantly available in the environment; a small fraction of the solar energy transmitted from the sun to the Earth or the thermal energy in the atmosphere that is responsible for wind, rain and replenishing freshwater reservoires would suffice to supply humankind's total demand for energy in perpetuum.

    However, tapping these resources in a commercially feasible way presents still a technological challenge. Industry and consumers typically require energy to be delivered reliably just-in-time in scalable quantities, suitable for manufacturing processes, utilities, heating, vehicles, appliances and other.

    The respective technologies are as diversified as the reasons for energy consumption and range from power plants for large scale energy supply, efficient transport and delivery of energy up to power storage solutions that enable wireless devices and vehicles to operate independently for an extended time.

    The term clean energy is equivalent to finding ways and means that satisfy the demand for energy and do not degrade the biosphere.

  2. Sustainable Use: If we recognize that we are inevitably dependent on the biosphere's capacity to provide us with food, fresh water, clean air and other resources for our economy interminably, it becomes mandatory to ensure that the consumption of natural resources is in line with the regenerative capacity of the biosphere.

    This cannot be delayed indefinitely because a continued degradation of the biosphere impairs also its ability to regenerate, which puts an equilibrium even further out of reach. On the other hand, the sooner we establish an equilibrium the larger the capacity of the biosphere that can be preserved and that will remain as a fundamental resource for all human activity.

    Sustainable use means to take into account all aspects of production and to balance its costs in terms of resources taken from the biosphere against its regenerative capacity.

    This requires no less than an understanding of the entire life-cycle of products, production processes and the way businesses and consumers use resources and products, plus how much resources could be taken from the biosphere in a given time and which amount and types of pollution could be processed and cleansed by the environment without causing damage.

    This applies to the use of land for farming and human settlement, forests, fresh water resources, the sea, the air as well as natural reserves and the wild nature. The latter is particularly important, because primeval forests as well as intact ecosystems on land and in water preserve biodiversity and hold immeasurable treasures only partly understood yet. Destroying the indigenous ecosystems on our planet is not only an irreversible loss because they are life itself, it also deprives us of our best chance to battle catastrophic levels of geoentropy.

    Interestingly recent studies show that a worldwide wholesale switch to organic farming will produce at least the same quantity of food that is currently harvested with predominantly agroindustrial methods which have left many farmers in developing nations with degraded soil and dependent on synthetic fertilizer. A string of successful projects has demonstrated that traditional crop rotation combined with using indigenous species does not only make farmers less dependent but also produces better results.

    It is important to note that biofuels are renewable but not sustainable unless produced as a byproduct of other processes.

  3. Recycling: Economic efficiency obviously depends on how much resources are spent during production, use and disposal of products. This is most relevant for such resources for which demand is greater than its sustainable supply.

    Recycling means more than reducing waste and using disposed products as resources. It expresses a long term strategy for a sustainable economy.

    The patterns of resource consumption are complex: they encompass resource extraction from the biosphere; any number of processing and manufacturing stages, of which each may require additional resources; the life-time of a product, which use may also demand resources; and the disposal process that may require resources, yield resources and generate waste that is passed into the biosphere.

    While the economy is the result of individual economic activity, its total demand for resources from the biosphere and its waste production is a key indicator. Ideally the demand for natural resources and the generated waste should not exceed the biosphere's regenerative capacity, i. e. its ability to replenish and regrow resources and to filter and cleanse waste and pollution.

    But our current economy shows an extremely lopsided reality with a large take on the Earth's natural resources and a most unbalanced disposal process that creates large deposits of waste and toxic substances that require very long spans of time before rendered harmless, and particularly problematic types of pollution that defy the biosphere's filtering capability completely and lead to its degradation.

    Effective recycling is a two step approach: first, to decrease the quantitative demands for the biosphere's resources and filtering capability; second, a profound change of production processes and technology that takes into account the entire life-cycles of products and enables a disposal process that does only generate waste substances that occur naturally on the planet or are of biodegradable nature, i. e. such that could be successfully filtered and processed by the biosphere.

This short overview gives us an idea of the complexity of the problems we have to deal with. It is a daunting task just to list the technologies currently used in manufacturing or the materials commonly found in a single household. If we consider what challenge we face, current research on clean energy, sustainable use and recycling appears largely underfunded.

Towards a Solution

In principle there is widespread agreement that clean energy, sustainable use of natural resources and recycling are keys for humankind's future. But it is also recognized that the momentum of human development in all parts of the world is immensely strong and that current technology is not sufficient for satisfying human demand in an environmentally sound way.

What are our options? Foremost, we need to strengthen our research efforts and to focus on the fields that count. This is not a question of funding alone but it also requires political will and support from individuals, researcher or not, from suppliers and consumers. It involves all.

In the years since WWII worldwide scientific progress and the effort of engineers was unfortunately focused to a very large extent on military and commercial gains. What we ended up with are more powerful weapons, planes, cars and computers. The first thing we need to do is to refocus our effort on energy efficiency and the engineering solutions we need to move towards a sustainable economy.

What we can do

What we can offer the world is a unique mix of highly innovative technologies that comprise together the foundation of what we call a super-simulator. This machine can create a perfect virtual image that mimics real world subjects 1:1, accurate in detail down to nano-scale and subatomic levels, and in effect can make many (real) experiments redundant. This is made possible by recent advances in parallel computing, quantum physics and a new highly advanced programming language that can automatically parallelize algorithms.

In particular our offer pertains to employing the super-simulator for the development of a commercially feasible fusion reactor design. This includes the building of a prototype reactor and a full power plant that produces 1,000 MW of energy within a time frame of five to ten years.

Technically, the time frame for the necessary research, development, engineering and construction requires only five years. The larger time frame of ten years includes the typical overheads normally associated with a project of this size, ranging from selecting a site, wrangling over the political status of a body that governs the project, dealing with regulations and more. If a government would be prepared to fast-track the project, we could move much faster to achieve the goals within a time frame of five years.

This is only a fraction of the time estimated for other fusion research projects to arrive at a commercially feasible design. For example, the ITER research project estimates a development effort of 50 years.

What we propose is to design the fusion reactor within the super-simulator. It is the first of its kind and capable of simulating the exact physical conditions in all parts of the reactor. With other words, engineers can develop critical components and experiment with the reactor while incurring only a fraction of the overheads common today. This allows for fast design iterations and much shorter development cycles. The insights they gain from directly monitoring plasma reactions and containment fields down to subatomic levels is superior to anything other experiments offer.

Simultaneously the simulator can be used for the development of advanced materials, fuel cells and superconductors.

The super-simulator is highly versatile, and depending on how fast it can be reproduced, it can be used to develop many critical technologies needed for a sustainable economy.

In general we believe that we can achieve two goals if we dedicate the necessary resources and our minds to it: to provide humankind with huge quantities of clean energy and to replace today's production processes and products with counterparts that are either completely biodegradable or emit only naturally occuring substances into the environment and human living areas.

What you can do

Apart from taking part in research there is something that each of us can do already today to stem the trend that threatens our biosphere.

Everyone has an impact on the global balance of resources being consumed, and just saving a part of what we consume within a year makes a difference. Moderate targets will do, e.g. reducing consumption by a modest target of for example 10%, or thinking twice whether buying a new device or item will really benefit our lives, or considering if the heating in one room could be decreased. Being aware is the first step and key.

There is also much potential for saving natural resources by choosing from different versions of a product and to prefer one which production does cost less resources and which will generate less harmful waste.

Although this can be difficult to judge from a consumer's point of view, more often than not there are simple guidelines that can be followed; for example to distinguish between natural materials or industrially processed ones, to consider the way packaging and transport is done, or to check the web for authentic and independent information about the production processes used by a manufacturer.

It's a learning process on its own but worth the effort. Nothing beats the feeling of having done something right.

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