Welcome to the age of diminishing returns

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Climate: a 9/11 moment?

The North Pole has never been ice-free for the past 3 million years, at least. Is what we have seen this summer dramatic enough to spur people to action to fight climate change? Apparently not.

Maybe the moment will come when everyone will wake up to the climate situation. Something will happen; something so big, so horrible, so terrifying that people will watch the news in TV while telling themselves: "it is happening now, it is happening to us!" That could be a "9/11 moment" or, perhaps, a "Pearl Harbor" moment. Then, we may finally start doing something against climate change.

On the other hand, a general "aha" climate moment may never come. Already plenty of big, horrible, and terrifying things have happened, with most people barely noticing. Think of the melting of the North Pole of this year. It had never happened on this planet for the past 3 million years, possibly as many as 13 million years. Isn't that dramatic enough? Apparently not, because the mainstream press barely mentioned it.

Most people just don't seem to be able to connect the dots, to see the relation of climate change to all what is happening around us. Will we boil a little more every summer, always expecting next summer to be better? Will we run out of oil and blame speculation? Will we starve and blame the financial crisis? We have already seen environmental concerns being swept away from the political agenda by concerns about the financial crisis, the cost of gasoline, jobs, security, and all the rest. So, how are we going to react to the next climate crisis? Maybe retreating even deeper into denial.

Back to many centuries ago, Rutilius Namatianus left us a report from the time of the fall of the Western Roman Empire. He saw disaster all around him: Rome sacked, the roads destroyed, the legions defeated, people dying. And yet, he couldn't understand the reasons for what he was seeing. He saw all these events just as temporary reverse of fortunes. Rome has been in trouble before, Rome will be great again, he says.

But none of those in charge during the last decades of the Empire could understand what was happening (with perhaps one exception). They could only keep doing what they had been doing before, always hoping that the following year would be better than the past one. Perhaps that will be our destiny, too. There is a difference, though. If the Romans were blind to what was happening to them, we were warned in advance but we chose to close our eyes.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Degrowth and peak oil

This is a condensed version of the talk that I gave at the 3rd international conference on degrowth, in Venice, on Sep 21 2012

Hello, everybody; I think you came to listen to me today because you want to know something about the situation with crude oil, that is of "peak oil". So, what I can tell you is that the peak has arrived and we are now in the post peak world. It is an event that is taking place slowly, over several years, but I think we can say with reasonable certainty that the petroleum production peak was in 2008.

To prove what I am telling you I could show you data and graphs, but I think that the best way for you to realize that the peak is past us is to think about how much people are discussing about oil substitutes. You know, all those things that produce flammable liquids that we can use to fuel our cars: biofuels, tar sands, shale oil, you surely heard about all that. And you surely heard about the idea of a "new age of oil," that some say it is coming and that is supposed to be a good thing. But this "new age" is based on dirty resources which have been known for decades (at least) and I am sure you understand that they are expensive, if nothing else by looking at gas prices. Today, we are forced to use these resources exactly because we passed the production peak of conventional crude oil. In this way, we have been able to mask the peak, for the time being, avoiding an obvious decline of production of liquid fuels. In a sense, we acted as those people who try to mask their age by dying their hair. They may succeed in looking younger, but only for a while.

The problem, however, is not so much for how long we'll be able to keep the production of liquids stable; it is that the resources we are using for this purpose have a low energy yield and do tremendous damage to a lot of things. We are destroying enormous areas, poisoning the water aquifers, and forcing agriculture away from food production. More than that, we are increasing the amount of greenhouse gases generated for the same amount of energy produced. Emissions keep increasing and climate change accelerates, as you could see from what happened to the North Pole this year.

So, in a sense, peak oil has been a big disappointment. It was perhaps the first modern appearance of the concept of "degrowth", when it started being discussed some 10 years ago. We expected that the post peak age would have stimulated the development of clean resources and some of us (myself included) thought that it would have saved us from global warming, or at least greatly reduced its importance. But, that has not been the case, unfortunately.

Today, we are discussing another kind of degrowth, intended mostly as a personal choice and most of us seem to believe that it is a good thing. It is an attitude that looks similar to the one we had about peak oil 10 years ago. But is it possible that we are making the same mistake? That is, could we be too optimistic about what degrowth can bring to us?

Let me ask you a question: what problems exactly do you think that degrowth can solve? Maybe you think that degrowing you'll be happier and this may well be. But can degrowth solve the climate problem? Can it reduce pollution and the stress on the ecosystem? Surely, if everyone decided to reduce their consumption, the impact of human beings on the planet would be reduced. But if just some of us decide for degrowth, wouldn't the resources that we don't consume be consumed by someone else? Then, the human impact wouldn't change.

Besides, even if voluntary degrowth were to have a significant effect, would that be enough? Climate change could be irreversible by now, in the sense that we may have unleashed mechanisms that will cause the Earth to keep heating up independently of what we do. Reducing emission or even stopping burning fossil fuels altogether wouldn't stop warming. If this is the case, degrowth alone would not be a solution, just as peak oil wasn't one. Will we need geoengineering to save ourselves? Perhaps, but is geoengineering compatible with degrowth? If our economy shrinks a lot, where would we find the resources needed for geoengineering?

I am not asking you rhetorical questions: I don't know the answers myself. What I know is that we are facing incredibly complex problems. We don't know what kind of solutions might exist for global warming and for ecosystems collapse. We don't even if solutions exist at all. But I think we can say, at least, that it has been growth at all costs that has led us to the quandary in which we are now. Stopping growth surely can't harm us as much!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Report to Galactic Command: the eradication of the human species is in progress

From: Earth Orbital Outpost
To: Galactic Central Command
(note: time spans in this report are measured in Earth orbital revolutions. One Earth orbital revolution corresponds to 4e-10 Galactic years)

Progress report: Human eradication plan

- Strategic Summary

The Earth Orbital Outpost is pleased to report to Galactic Command that the eradication of the creatures termed "humans" inhabiting the planet known as "Earth" is proceeding according to plans. The rapid warming of the planet obtained by the injection of large amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is expected to wipe out most large vertebrates within 40-50 planetary revolutions around the parent star. The planet will be ready for colonization by our species in a few thousand years; when the ecosystem will have been restored.

- The original (1st level) plan

Planet Earth was the object of several preliminary explorations before being selected as suitable for colonization. Upon reaching this decision, the Earth Orbital Outpost was set up with the purpose of facilitating the colonization task. The Outpost proceeded to study the planet, finding that it is dominated by a species, known as "humans", which has appropriated most of the planetary ecosystem productivity. Individually, humans turned out to be highly intelligent and it was soon clear that the species poses an important obstacle to colonization. A necessary step for colonization was therefore their eradication. The decision was reached also upon the consideration that, if left to themselves, humans were likely to reach a technological level sufficiently high to become a nuisance at the Galactic scale.

Several plans were developed to carry out the eradication program. It soon became clear that sterilization with neutron beams, carried out by the Galactic star fleet, was possible but expensive and, besides, humans were rapidly reaching a technological level sufficient to produce a significant opposition. Instead, it was found that humans could be eradicated at a much lower cost by warming the planet at temperatures high enough to make their survival impossible. That could be accomplished by exploiting the human habit of burning fossil carbon materials in order to obtain energy. According to initial observations carried out about a hundred revolutions ago, just letting humans to themselves would lead them to inject in the atmosphere sufficient amounts of greenhouse gases to cause a warming intense enough to destroy most large vertebrates.

In previous reports, we were pleased to describe that the plan was working. 50 revolutions ago, the concentration of greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere had already picked up a trend of rapid growth and it was calculated that it would lead to the collapse of the ecosystem in less than a hundred revolutions. However, as mentioned earlier on, humans turned out to be remarkably intelligent and the brightest of them were able to identify and understand the ongoing process (that they usually referred to as "global warming.") Humans built up a sophisticated planetary monitoring system and created theoretical models of the atmosphere. At that point, they embarked in a planet-wide effort to stop global warming by curbing fossil carbon burning and deploying non-carbon based energy sources.

Having observed this development, it was necessary to alter the original plan and intervene more directly in the eradication task, although still doing an effort to avoid the enormous costs involved in deploying the Galactic fleet.

-  The 2nd level plan

Stopping humans from taking measures to avoid destroying themselves turned out to require a quite modest effort - completely within the resources available to the Earth Orbital Outpost. This result may be surprising and, indeed, some members of the Galactic Command had expressed doubt on being able to convince humans - individually very intelligent - to continue actting in ways that were leading to their destruction. Nevertheless, we succeeded in accomplishing this task.

The key element of our action has been the study and the exploitation of the human information network, that they call "the Web." It is a sophisticated planet-wide information system that has been fundamental for humans in developing their understanding of climate and diffusing this knowledge with their decision makers. However, we found fundamental flaws in the functioning of this network.

In particular, we found that the network is dominated by "super-nodes" which show a higher level of connectivity than most nodes. These super-nodes are called by humans "media" and sometimes "mainstream media". Surprisingly, we found that the supernodes are managed by humans who are quite unable to understand the basic elements of the functioning of the Earth's ecosphere. Even more surprisingly, we found that the humans in charge of these media nodes make no effort whatsoever to check that the information they diffuse corresponds to physical reality.

We also found that the humans in charge of managing the media supernodes are easily influenced by other groups of humans which are called "lobbies," whose role is not easily understood by us. We believe it has something to do with the abnormal interest of humans in a virtual entity that they have created and that they refer to as "money". Although the characteristics of this entity are obscure to us, it seems that humans (especially males) care about being associated with large amounts of this virtual entity and this, in turn, seems to have something to do with the behavior of human females. In any case, we were able to penetrate the human computing centers which produce this "money" and appropriate large amounts of it for our purposes.

In practice, it was sufficient for the Earth Orbital Outpost to take control of a small numbers of leading human individuals; whom we refer to as "avatars." This task was accomplished mainly by our control of large amounts of the above mentioned "money" entity. Using money, the takeover of these minds turned out to be extremely easy: we found little resistence on their part and no evidence that our operation was detected by other humans. Our avatars carried out several tasks, mainly providing the media super-nodes with fake data that contradicted the results of the previous scientific investigation on the degradation of the ecosystem.

A special operation that turned out to be extremely successful was to break into the database of one of their best scientific organizations (called by humans "climate research unit") and diffusing internal data exchanges all over the network. This operation generated considerable confusion among humans as it highlighted several uncertainties in the research; something typical of scientific investigation but that, apparently, most of them are not familiar with.

Assessment of the present situation

The takeover of the human information system (the "Web") by our human avatars was completely successful and we have been able to turn it into an instrument for our purposes. We are pleased to report that most human leaders have been turned into avatars under our direct control or are completely confused about the issue of global warming. It has been possible to relegate the discussion on this theme to only some minor clusters of the information network. All attempts carried out by humans to diffuse it outside these clusters are met by aggressive denial (humans turn out to be extremely aggressive for reasons that to us appear futile).

As a consequence of our takeover of the information network, all attempts of humans to stop the ecosystem destruction have been halted and appear unlikely to be restarted any time soon. The amount of greenhouse gases being emitted in the Earth's atmosphere keeps increasing. That is creating a rapid rise of temperatures, as confirmed by the recent observation of the near complete melting of the North Pole ice cap, a planetary feature that had been existing for several million years of planetary history.

It is clear that the Earth's system is heading towards a tipping point where rising temperatures will trigger a series of phenomena which will lead to runaway warming and to the total collapse of the ecosystem, even without further human generation of greenhouse gases. We have been monitoring the system evolution using climate modeling programs developed by humans, which turned out to be very sophisticated. According to these models, the tipping point could have been already reached or, in any case, will be reached within a few planetary revolutions. Therefore, we expect that the eradication of the human species could be fully accomplished within a few tens of revolutions.

Recent developments and recommendations for the future

Even though the Earth's climate tipping point is likely to have been reached, humans could still, theoretically, react with various countermeasures, such as restarting with the phasing out of fossil carbon burning, deploying non carbon energy sources, shielding the Earth from solar radiation, and so forth. In order to succeed, however, humans need first to regain control of the planetary information system. Our avatars on the planet report ongoing human efforts in this sense, perhaps triggered by the observation of the melting of the North Pole ice cap.

Given these recent developments, the coming planetary revolutions will be critical for the success of the human eradication plan. The Earth Orbital Outpost will keep the situation under strict and continuous monitoring. We do expect difficulties, in particular with our avatars. Their physical integrity cannot be guaranteed if their role in the eradication plan is discovered by humans not under our control. Nevertheless, they have done their job and their loss will not change the rapid evolution of the Earth's climate system.

Assuming that things continue to move according to plans, planet Earth will soon be free of humans and of most large vertebrates that could be a nuisance for colonization. We shall therefore proceed with the second part of the plan, which consists in cooling down the planet by deploying space mirrors. Subsequently, natural processes will re-absorb greenhouse gases and restore the planetary ecosystem in about one thousand planetary revolutions. At this point, the planet will be ready for colonization by our species. Ships with colonists are expected to arrive in about ten thousand revolutions from now. Then, a new planet will be added to our Galactic civilization!

End Report - The Earth Orbital Outpost 

(note: this post was inspired by Isaac Asimov's story "The Gentle Vultures" - 1957)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The next ten billion years

It is not surprising that we found the future fascinating; after all, we are all going there. But the future is never what it used to be and it is said that predictions are always difficult, especially those dealing with the future. Nevertheless, it is possible to study the future, which is something different from predicting it. It is an exercise called "scenario building". Here, let me try a telescopic sweep of scenario building that starts from the remote past and takes us to the remote future over a total range of 20 billion years. While the past is what it was, our future bifurcates into two scenarios; one "good" and the other "bad", all depending on what we'll be doing in the coming years.

The past 10 billion years

- 10 billion years ago. The universe is young, it only has less than four billion years. But it already looks the way it will be for many billion years: galaxies, stars, planets, black holes and much more. 

- 1 billion years ago. From the debris of ancient supernovas, the solar system has formed around a second generation star, the Sun, about 4.5 billion years ago. The planets that form the system are not very different from those we see today. Earth has blue oceans, white clouds and dark brown continents. But there are no plants or animals on the continents, nor fish in the water. Life is all unicellular in the oceans, but its activity has already changed a lot of things: the presence of oxygen in the atmosphere is a result of the ongoing photosynthesis activity. 

- 100 million years ago. Plenty of things have been happening on planet Earth. Starting about 550 million years ago, perhaps as a result of the ice age known as "snowball Earth," multicellular life forms have appeared. First, only in the oceans; then, about 400 million years ago, life has colonized the surfaces of the continents creating lush forests and large animals that have populated the Earth for hundreds of millions of years. That wasn't uneventful, though. Life nearly went extinct when, 245 million years ago, a giant volcanic eruption in the region we call Siberia today generated the largest known extinction of Earth's history. But the biosphere managed to survive and regrow into the cretaceous period, the age of Dinosaurs.

- 10 million years ago. The age of dinosaurs is over. They have been wiped out by a new mass extinction, caused probably by a giant asteroid which hit the Earth 65 million years ago. Again, the biosphere has survived and now it prospers again, populated with mammals and birds; including primates. We are in the Miocene period and the Earth has been cooling down over a period of several million years, possibly as the result of the Indian subcontinent having hit Asia and created the Himalayas. That has favored CO2 removal from the atmosphere by weathering and has lowered temperatures. Icecaps have formed both at the North and the South poles for the first time in several hundred million years.

- 1 million years ago. The Earth has considerably cooled down during the period that we call "Pleistocene" and it is now undergoing a series of ice ages and interglacials. Ice ages last for tens of thousands of years, whereas the interglacials are relatively short hot spells, a few thousands of years long. These climatic oscillations are perhaps the element that stimulate the evolution of some primate species which have developed bipedal locomotion. One million years ago, homo erectus and homo abilis can use fire and make simple stone tools.

- 100.000 years ago. The glacial/interglacial cycles continue. The hot spell called the "Eemian" period, about 114,000 years ago, has been short lived and has given way to one of the harshest known glaciations of the recent Earth's history. But humans survive. In Europe, the Neanderthals rule, while the species that we call "homo sapiens" already exists in Africa.

- 10.000 years ago. The ice age ends abruptly to give rise to a new interglacial; the period that we call "Holocene." The Neanderthals have disappeared, pushed over the edge of survival by their "Sapiens" competitors. Climate stabilizes enough for humans to start to practice agriculture in the fertile valleys along the tropical region of Africa and Eurasia, from Egypt to China.

- 1000 years ago. The agricultural age has given rise to the age of empires, fighting for domination of large geographical areas. The human population has been rapidly growing, with the start of a series of cycles of growth and collapse that derive from the overexploitation of the fertile soil. 1000 years ago, the Western World is coming back from one of these periodic collapses and is expanding again during the period we call "Middle Ages".

- 100 years ago. The age of coal has started and has been ongoing for at least two centuries. With it, the industrial revolution has come. Coal and crude oil are the fuels that create a tremendous expansion of humankind in numbers and power. 100 years ago, there are already more than a billion humans on the planet and the population is rapidly heading for the two billion mark. Pollution is still a minor problem that goes largely unrecognized. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been increasing to near 300 ppm over the 270 ppm which has been the level of the pre-industrial age. This fact is noted by some human scientists, but the long term consequences are not understood.

- 10 years ago. The fossil fuels which have created the industrial age are starting to show signs of depletion and the same is true also for most mineral commodities. The attempt to replace fossil fuels with uranium has not been successful because of the difficulties involved in controlling the technology. Energy production is still increasing, but it shows signs of slowing down. The human population has reached 6 billion and keeps growing, but at reduced rates of growth. The Earth's agricultural system is in full overshoot and the population can only be fed by means of an agricultural-industrial complex based on fossil fuels. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has been growing fast and is now about 370 ppm. Global temperatures have been rising, too. The problem of global warming has been recognized and considerable efforts are being made to reduce the emission of CO2 and of other greenhouse gases.  

Today. The world's industrial system seems to be close to stopping its growth and the financial system has been going through a series of brutal collapses. The production of crude oil has been stable during the past few years; but the overall energy production is still increasing because of the rapid growth of coal production. The political situation is chaotic, with continuously erupting minor wars. The human population has reached seven billion. The climate system seems to be on the verge of collapse, with a rapid increase in natural catastrophes all over the world and the near disappearance of the ice cap at the North Pole.The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is almost 400 ppm and keeps increasing.

The future in two scenarios

1.The "bad" scenario.

10 years from now. In 2020, the production of "conventional" crude oil has started a historical trend of decline, but an enormous effort has been made to replace it by liquids produced using non conventional sources. Tar sands, shale oil, and other "heavy" oil sources, as well as biofuels are being produced in amounts sufficient to stave off the decline. Natural gas production is in decline, but large investments in "shale gas" have so far avoided collapse. Uranium, too has become scarce and several countries which don't have national resources have been forced to close down some of their nuclear plants. These trends are partially compensated by the still increasing production of coal; which is also used to produce liquid fuels and other chemicals that once had been obtained from oil. The growth of renewable energy has stalled: there are no more resources to invest in research and development in new technologies and new plants, while a propaganda campaign financed by the oil industry has convinced the public that renewable sources produce no useful energy and are even harmful for the environment. Another propaganda campaign financed by the same lobbies has stopped all attempts of reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases. As a result, agriculture has been devastated by climate change and by the high costs of fertilizers and mechanization. The human population starts an epochal reversal of its growing trend, decimated also in reason of the increasing fraction of fertile land which is dedicated to biofuels.

100 years from now. In 2100, the human economic system has collapsed and the size of the economy is now a small fraction of what it had been at the beginning of the 21st century.  Resource depletion has destroyed most of the industrial system, while climate change and the associated desertification - coupled with the destruction of the fertile soil - have reduced agriculture to a pale shadow of the industrial enterprise it had become. The collapse of agriculture has caused a corresponding population collapse; now under one billion people. Most tropical areas have been abandoned because global warming has made them too hot to be habitable by human beings. The rise in sea level caused by global warming has forced the abandonment of a large number of coastal cities, with incalculable economic damage. The economy of the planet has been further weakened by giant storms and climate disasters which have hit about every inhabited place. Crude oil is not extracted any more in significant amounts and where there still exist gas resources, it is impossible to transport them at long distances because of the decay of the pipeline network and of the flooding of the ports. Only coal is still being extracted and coal fired plants maintain electric power for a reduced industrial activity in several regions of of the North of the planet. Labrador, Alaska, Scandinavia and Northern Siberia see the presence of remnants of the industrial society. Using coal liquefaction, it is still possible to obtain liquid fuels, mostly used for military purposes. The Earth still sees tanks and planes that exchange gunfire against each other.

1000 years from now.The industrial society is a thing of the past. Human caused global warming has  generated the release of methane hydrates which have created even more warming. The stopping of the Oceanic thermohaline currents has transformed most of the planet into a hot desert. Almost all large mammals are extinct. Humans survive only in the extreme fringes of land in the North of the planet and in the South, mainly in Patagonia. For the first time in history, small tribes of humans live on the rapidly de-frosting fringes of the Antarctic continent, living mainly of fishing. In some areas, it is still possible to extract coal and use it for a simple metallurgy that uses the remains of the metals that the 20th century civilization has left. Human being are reduced to a few million people who keep battling each other using old muskets and occasional cannons.

10.000 years from now. Human beings are extinct, together with most vertebrates and trees. Planet Earth is still reeling from the wave of global warming that had started many thousands of years before. The atmosphere still contains large amounts of greenhouse gases generated by human activity and by the release of methane hydrates. The continents are mostly deserts, and the same is true for oceans, reduced to marine deserts by the lack of oxygenating currents. Greenland is nearly ice-free and that's true also for Antarctica, which has lost most of its ice. Only bushes and small size land vertebrates survive in the remote northern and southern fringes of continents.

100.000 from now. The planet is showing signs of recovery. Temperatures have stabilized and silicate erosion have removed a large fraction of the carbon dioxide that had accumulated in the atmosphere. Land animals and trees show some sign of recovery.

1 milion years from now. The planet has partly recovered. The planetary tectonic cycles have re-absorbed most of the CO2 which had created the great burst of warming of long before. Temperature has gone down rapidly and polar ice caps have returned. The return of ice has restarted the thermohaline currents: oceanic waters are oxygenated again. Life - those species that had survived the warming disaster - are thriving again and re-colonizing the tropical deserts - which are fast disappearing.

10 million years from now. Earth is again the lush blue-green planet it used to be, full of life, animals and forests. From the survivors of the great warming, a new explosion of life has been generated. There are again large herbivores and carnivores, as well as large trees, even though none of them looks like the creatures which had populated the Earth before the catastrophe. In Africa, some creatures start using chipped stones for hunting. In time, they develop the ability of creating fire and of building stone structures. They develop agriculture, sea-going ships and ways of recording their thoughts using symbols. But they never develop an industrial civilization for lack of fossil fuels, all burned by humans millions of years before them.

100 milion years from now. Planet Earth is again under stress. The gradual increase in solar irradiation is pushing climate towards a new hot era. The same effect is generated by the gradual formation of a new supercontinent generated by continental drift. Most of the land becomes a desert - all intelligent creatures disappear. There starts a general decline of vertebrates, unable to survive in a progressively hotter planet.

1 billion years from now. The Earth has been sterilized by the increasing solar heat. Just traces of single celled life still survive underground.

10 billion years from now. The sun has expanded and it has become so large that it has absorbed and destroyed the Earth. Then, it has collapsed in a white dwarf. The galaxy and the whole universe move slowly to extinction with the running down of the energy generated by the primeval big bang.


2.The "good" scenario

Ten years from now. In 2020, fossil fuel depletion has generated a global decline of production. That, in turn, has led to international treaties directed to ease the replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy. Treaties are also enacted with the purpose of minimizing the use of coal. The production and the use of biofuels is forbidden everywhere and treaties force producers to direct all the agricultural production towards food for humans. The existing nuclear plants make full use of the uranium in the warheads that had been accumulated during the cold war. Research on nuclear fusion continues, with the hope that it will provide useful energy in 50 years. Even with these actions, global warming continues and agriculture is badly damaged by droughts and erosion. Population growth stops and widespread famines occur. Governments enact fertility reduction measures in order to contain population. Nevertheless, the economy does not show signs of collapse, stimulated by the demand for renewable plants.

A hundred years from now. The measures taken at the beginning of the 21st century have borne fruit. Now, almost 1% of the surface of the planet is covered by solar panels of the latest generations which produce energy with efficiency of the order of 50%. In the north, wind energy is used, as well as energy from ocean currents, tides, and waves. The production of renewable electrical energy keeps growing and it has surpassed anything that was done in the past using primitive technologies based on fossil fuels. No such fuels are extracted any longer and doing so is considered a crime punishable with re-education. The industrial economy is undergoing rapid changes, moving to abandon the exploitation of dwindling resources of rare metals, using the abundant energy available to exploit the abundant elements of the Earth's crust. The human society is now completely based on electric energy, also for transportation. Electric vehicles move along roads and rails, electric ships move across the oceans and electric airship navigate the air. The last nuclear fission plants have been closed for lack of uranium fuel around 2050, they were not needed any more, anyway. Research on nuclear fusion continues with the hope that it will provide usable energy in 50 years. Despite the good performance of the economy, the ecosystem is still under heavy stress because of the large amounts of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere during the past centuries. Agriculture is still reeling from the damage done by erosion and climate change. The human population is in rapid, but controlled, decline under the demographic measures enacted by governments. It is now less than 4 billion humans and famines are a thing of the past.  With the returning prosperity, humans are restarting the exploration of space that they were forced to abandon at the start of the 21st century.

1000 years from now. In the year 3000 A.D. the ecosystems of the planet have completely recovered from the damage done by human activities during the second millennium. A sophisticated planetary control system manages solar irradiation by means of space mirrors and the concentration of greenhouse gases by means of CO2 absorbing/desorbing plants. The planet is managed as a giant garden, optimizing its biological productivity. The Sahara desert is now a forest and the thermohaline currents pump oxygen in the northern regions, full of life of all kinds. The solar and wind plants used during the previous millennium have been mostly dismantled, although some are still kept as a memory of the old times. Most of the energy used by humankind is now generated by space stations which capture solar energy and beam it to the ground in forms easily usable by humans. Research in controlled fusion energy continues with the hope that it will produce usable energy in 500 years. Humans are now less than one billion, they have optimized both their numbers and their energy use and they need enormously less than they had needed in the more turbulent ages of one thousand years before. The development of artificial intelligence is in full swing and practically all tasks that once had been in the hands of humans is now in the "hands" of sophisticated robotic systems. These robots have colonized the solar system and humans now live in underground cities on the Moon. The new planetary intelligence starts considering the idea of terraforming Mars and Venus. The first antimatter powered interstellar spaceships have started their travel to far away stars.

10.000 years from now. There are now less than a billion human beings on Earth who live in splendid cities immersed in the lush forest that the planet has become. Some of them work as a hobby on controlled nuclear fusion which they hope will produce usable energy in a few thousand years. The New Intelligence has now started terraforming Mars. It involves similar methods as those used for controlling the Earth's climate: giant mirrors and CO2 producing plants that control the Martian atmosphere, increasing its pressure and temperature. The terraforming of Venus has also started with similar methods: giant screens that lower the planetary temperatures and immense flying plants that transform CO2 into oxygen and solid carbon. That will take a lot of time, but the New Intelligence is patient. It is also creating new races of solid state beings living on the asteroids and orbiting around the Sun. The exploration of the galaxy is in progress, with spaceships from the solar system now reaching a "sphere" of about a thousand light years from the sun.

100.000 years from now. About 500 million humans live on Earth - mostly engaged in art, contemplation, and living full human lives. Nobody knows any longer what "controlled nuclear fusion" could mean. Mars is now colonized by Earth's plants, which are helping to create an atmosphere suitable for life; it is now a green planet, covered with oceans and lush forests. Several million human beings live there, protected from cosmic radiation by the planetary magnetic field artificially generated by giant magnetic coils at the planet's poles. The temperature of Venus has been considerably lowered, although still not enough for life to take hold of its surface. The exploration of the galaxy is in full swing. Other galactic intelligences are encountered and contacted.

A million years from now. Venus, Earth and Mars are now lush and green; all three full of life. Mercury has been dismantled to provide material for transforming the solar system into a single intelligence system that links a series of creatures. There are statites orbiting around the sun, solid state lifeforms living on asteroids and remote moons, ultra-resistent creatures engineered to live in the thick atmosphere of Jupiter and of the other giant planets. Humans, living on the green planets, have become part of this giant solar network. The other extreme of the Galaxy has been now reached by probes coming from the solar system.

10 milion years from now. The New Intelligence is expanding over the Galaxy. The Green planets are now the place of evolution tests and the Neanderthals now live on Mars, whereas dinosaurs have been recreated on a Venus where the planetary control system has recreated conditions similar to those of the Jurassic on Earth.

In 100 million years from now. Controlling temperatures over the three green planets of the Solar System has become a complex task because of the increasing solar radiation. Mirrors are not enough any more and it has been necessary to move the planets farther away from the sun; which is now the preferred system for climate control. The statites that form the main part of the solar intelligence now surround the sun almost completely in a series of concentric spheres.

In a billion years from now. The solar radiation has increased so much that it has been necessary to move the green planets very far away. One year lasts now as 50 of the "natural" Earth years as they were long before. But these are no problems for the Solar Intelligence, now just a small part of the Galactic intelligence. The three green planets are three jewels of the Solar System.

In ten billion years from now. The sun has collapsed in a weak white dwarf and all the planets that orbit around it are now frozen to death. The Galaxy has lost most of its suns and the universe is entering its last stage of expansion which will lead it to become a frozen darkness. The Galactic Intelligence looks at a nearly dark galaxy. It is now the moment. The Intelligence says, "Let there be light" And there is light.

(this text was inspired by Isaac Asimov's story "The Last Question")

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Pippa says it all

 Great video by "Deep Rogue Ram" A true communication masterpiece; and it is going viral!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Mitt Romney's promise

President Obama promised to save the branch. My promise to you is that there will be plenty of firewood for you and for your family.

h/t Resistance is Futile