Remember your thoughts when you first viewed the stunning NASA scene titled Earthlights that circulated the Internet a decade ago?
Initially, I was drawn to the mosaic out of curiosity and by the sheer beauty of the familiar yet haunting pattern that showed the purposeful hand of man, so I installed it as my computer’s wallpaper. Over time it became a talisman of sorts, in much the same way I’ve come to regard the mountains embracing my town…a presence that is at once comforting and challenging.
Questions of “Why this?” or “Why not there?” have emerged without fanfare, and here, while I pondered the history and fate of waste, I once again found myself drawn into the night scene without any sense of purpose. It was as if what I needed to say had been waiting there ready to snare me…and it did.
The same hand of man my wallpaper depicted through myriad points of light produced the base materials with which my soon-to-be audience wrestled on a daily basis, but the significance of the mosaic didn’t end there…indeed, far from it.
Take a moment to let the image wash through you, and then consider some points of interest.
* Electrification, as it now exists, is little more than a century old.
* When it began to emerge, the world’s population stood at 1.4 billion people—roughly 10 times what it was at the time of Christ.
* Today, the world’s population has grown fivefold—to 7 billion, headed for 8 billion by 2020.
* If the present rate is to continue, we will have achieved another 10-times population expansion in less than 200 years.
* Worldwide gross product has grown one-hundred-fold in the last century.
Now look at the image again. Does it look the same to you, or does it stir up some new thoughts about life here on Earth 100 years ago, today, and then into the time of our grandchildren? To me, it raises strings of questions, chief among which is, “To what extent does the maintenance, much less than the growth, of the world’s current population depend on the production and delivery of reliable and affordable energy?”
Without the guarantee of reliable, affordable, and secure energy, not only is the industry necessary to meet the needs of our soaring population growth at risk, but so too the ability to sustain that which already exists.
Earthlights, if you look behind the shimmering dots, is a grim depiction of a house of cards at the mercy of forces largely beyond our control. Our salvation, I would like to suggest, lies in our ability to develop and maintain options…one of which is an expansion of distributed energy resources and solutions.
Until this past week, it seemed that nulcear power—with much of the opposition to the building of new powerplants on the wane—once again held promise for the future, but in the wake of the Sendai quake and tsunami, I suspect any hopes in that arena have been dashed for at least another generation. So when it comes to options for the future, what are your feelings about converting non-recyclable organic waste materials to energy?