Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Beyond the Agrarian Age

"The new landscape of our time is us."
Edward Burtynsky

We are fully immersed in the age of making stuff fueled by a huge easily accessed caloric surplus. At this point in the neolithic age there is more than enough fuel to keep us warm and more than enough food to keep us fed. The result is a type of leisure time. Although it is not leisure time in the strict since, it is however time spent producing stuff other than fuel or food. In fact a very small proportion of the population is required to produce fuel and food. Fuel and food are produced on a massive scale so that the rest of us can participate in the ritualistic activity of trading and producing meaningless stuff.

But this is our nature, the niche we have filled along the homo sapiens evolutionary path. Some argue that the evolutionary phase of humans can be likened to a forests primary production phase when rapid growth is occurring and laying the groundwork for a mature forest where energy is conserved. I would argue that we have been in a mature climax phase for a while as we continue to increase our biomass, storing the surrounding nutrients in all the stuff we are making, much as a mature rainforest does.

The clip below from the movie Manufactured Landscapes by Edward Burtynsky captures my thoughts above perfectly. The film is a must watch for those interested in a non egocentric view of the human condition.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Anthropocene and the Fossil Fuel Epoch

"Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”  
 -ts eliot-
Scientists can trace the formation of the universe, galaxies and solar systems. They track the origin of life on earth and its evolution into homo sapiens. This process happened over billions of years with one basic principal. The total amount of material and energy in the process remains the same. Earth functions as an evolving subset of this material operating primarily as a closed system. There is the occasional significant meteor that adds some material to the mix or significantly alters the planets physical processes but these events are rare. For the most part what happens on earth is a function of what is on earth. Over geologic time the matter and energy on the planet have combined in a way that has formed life. These geologic processes over large time scales continually shape and reshape the biological and physical environment. The evidence of this is present in the layered patterns of sediment and rocks and the fossils of organisms. Throughout all those layers the layer currently being created by the activities of humans is unique because of the rate at which the physical processes of the planet are changing. This geologic period is becoming known as the Anthropocene.

The following discussion captures the planetary processes and our current relationship with those processes very well.