Stored Sunlight

August 5, 2008 at 8:08 am 2 comments

For about 100,000 years of existence of the Homo sapien sapien as a species, it only reached its one billion population mark in the last 200 years. For many millennia, human population has stayed below one billion. Since the 1800’s, human population has been steadily increasing in an exponential rate. It is not a mere coincidence that this population growth has reached its sudden explosion alongside with the Industrial Revolution. When humans learned a new way of producing goods in a massive scale, it resulted in product surpluses. Efficient food production and better medicine meant longer lifespan and better opportunity to reproduce. The Industrial Revolution also brought fort the rapid development and expansions of cities.

Greater bulk of products available meant greater population can be supported. On the other hand, the rapidly increasing population meant greater demand for goods. This has become a vicious cycle that resulted to unsustainable growth. Mass production supported the ever increasing population while the population created insatiable demands for products. Although it brought prosperity and comfort, it also resulted in many problems that we are facing today. Mass production and large population require tremendous amount of energy. Somewhere along the process, too much bulk of wastes is produced. Nonrenewable sources of energy are continually being depleted just to maintain this process.

In ancient times, long before the invention of the steam engine and petroleum-powered machines, human population is supported by renewable energy. The radiant energy of the sun is the main source of this renewable energy. Humans were dependent on the daily energy coming from the sun. Humans were not yet capable of exceeding the daily energy quota provided by the sun. For instance, a hectare of wheat field can only produce certain amount of grain based on the sunlight it receives throughout the year. This biomass of wheat grain can only be converted into certain amount of human biomass. The level of production was still within the subsistence level. Surplus products were rare.

However, when civilization learned how to utilize fossil fuel, the efficiency of production dramatically increased. The distribution of these products was also made convenient by the invention of engine-powered vehicles. Hence, products became easily available to the masses. The use of fossil fuel made it possible to produce more food, improve health care, and increase mobility. These paved the way to the creation of cities. All of these resulted in the sudden increase in population. Humans became free from the bondage of daily energy quota of the sun. Humans learned how to utilize ancient stored sunlight.

This stored sunlight is in the form of fossil fuel. The sunlight energy stored by primeval forests, sea creatures, and land fauna became the fossil fuel. Ancient biomass was compacted under tremendous pressure and temperature for millions of years. This biomass turned into hydrocarbons as a result. The sunlight energy stored in this fossil fuel is now sustaining factories, power plants, and automobiles. Every time you turn the ignition key of your car, you are actually burning remnants of extinct biodiversity. The remains of prehistoric forests and fauna are literally being burned. It took millions of years for the fossil fuel to be formed but it only takes a few seconds for it to be burned.

Fossil fuel provided energy surplus to support the exponential population growth. But this energy is not sustainable. Fossil fuel is predicted to be totally depleted within a century. If this happens a sudden crash in the economic and political systems is expected. The world is facing yet another global war. Since industries are dependent on fossil fuel, economic tension will become worse as the supply of fossil fuel continues to be depleted. Petroleum will steadily become a coveted and rare commodity. As fossil fuel becomes rarer, world instability will increase.


Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , .

Human Society and Consumerism Climate Change Controversy

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Gordon Craven  |  November 7, 2008 at 4:03 am

    “Unlocking the stored sunlight in wood for the production of renewable energy has taken off across the globe, with good reason,” according to Bob Gordon at

  • 2. Jun Wang  |  November 7, 2008 at 6:49 am

    Nice pictures!


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