After putting the various pieces together the conclusion seems rather obvious – the Earth functions as a giant battery (as well as performing other roles). Crudely put, planet Earth has taken the input from stars, whether that be light or atoms, and converted it into stored energy. To give an example, photosynthesis is one of the conditions necessary for plant growth; during the carboniferous period (carbon forming) around 360 million years ago, these plants (when dead) found a grave in swampland creating peat. As this peat sank it was compressed and heated creating various grades of coal – thus giving us a coal battery. Similar processes occurred to give us oil and gas batteries. Hence the Earth, as a system, functions as a battery – charging slowly over time until a civilisation unlocks the stored energy. Figure 1 shows the approximate charge cycle and Figure 2 shows the approximate depletion curve of coal.
Figure 1 – Coal Battery Charge Time (approximation)
Figure 2 – Coal Battery Depletion Time (approximation)
The Configuration States of Civilisation
So Luke, what’s your point? My point is that civilisations can be categorised through configuration states. In particular, they are configured in relation to the type of energy they consume. Let us look at three civilisations:
- Coal Civilisation
- Coal, Oil & Gas (Fossil Fuel) Civilisation
- Fossil Fuel and “Renewable” Civilisation
First under the microscope is Coal Civilisation using the UK as a reference model between roughly 1760 – 1929 as an example. Presented as a “circuit” it looks as follows (Figure 3):
Figure 3 – Coal Civilisation – (Please see PDF for a readable version – Battery Earth (Coal) v3-1)
We can derive a key set of functions attributed to civilisation – e.g. communication, transportation and organisation and then see how our batteries address each of these in turn. For Coal Civilisation we end up with the following:
- Communication – Telegraph and Wireless Telegraph (radio)
- Transportation – Railroads and Canals
- Organisation – Nation States and Empires
Note: Arguments will be made that technology is just as important as energy in determining how civilisations function, but to counter that I will say this – without energy it doesn’t matter how good your ideas are, even Einstein needed to eat.
Next, around 1929, civilisation added a hydrocarbon battery (oil and gas) en masse – creating the “circuit” below (Figure 4):
Figure 4 – Fossil Fuel Civilisation (Please see PDF for a readable version – Battery Earth – Fossil Fuel v3-1)
Adding the Hydrocarbon battery not only alters the functionality of the device (civilisation) it also alters the entropy in the system (e.g. oil slicks in sea water). Focusing purely on the functional aspect we get:
- Communication – Mobile Communications and Internet
- Transportation – High Speed Rail, Motorways, Super Tankers, Jet Engine Aircraft
- Organisation – Nation States and Supranational Organisations (e.g. UN & EU)
Note: the circuit has been wired in parallel which assumes batteries can be removed without affecting the operation of those that remain – this, of course, is an untested assumption (as far as I know).
Why is all of this important? Well, we are in the process of adding more batteries as per the below (Figure 5):
Figure 5 – Fossil Fuel & “Renewable” Civilisation (Please see PDF for a readable version Battery Earth – Fossil Fuel and Renewable v3-1)
The point is that you can’t alter the batteries of civilisation without altering the functionality. In other words, change is coming.
What kind of changes are we seeing? First of all, the nature of our economic system appears to be changing. Coal civilisation, using the UK case model, largely operated under free-market economics as enshrined by Adam Smith in his “Wealth of Nations” first published in 1776. The economic model shifted at the dawn of the Fossil Fuel Battery when John Maynard Keynes published his “General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money” in 1936, favouring an interventionist approach from central banks to stimulate demand. Using Germany as a test case for the Fossil Fuel and “Renewable” Battery we see the following (Figure 6):
Figure 6 – Total German Debt (Public and Private)
Two things become apparent:
- Debt keeps on increasing over time
- Public debt becomes a larger percentage of total debt over time
We might as well take this chance to examine the comparative performance of batteries. If we compare the German Battery to the Finnish Battery in terms of carbon dioxide emissions we see that one vastly outperforms the other. Firstly, the German Battery is comprised as per Figure 7:
Figure 7 – German Battery (Energy Consumed by Type over Time)
The Finnish Battery is comprised as per Figure 8:
Figure 8 – Finnish Battery (Energy Consumed by Type over Time)
Now let us see how those batteries compare in terms of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of energy consumed (Figure 9):
Figure 9 – German and Finnish Battery when measured by Carbon Dioxide Emitted per Unit Energy Consumed
The difference appears to be that the Finnish Battery has a higher proportion of nuclear, hydroelectric and geothermal than Germany, whereas Germany has a higher proportion of wind and solar but presumably this has coal generation back up in times when supply cannot meet demand.
For those interested, I presented this to INCOSE UK Energy Systems Interest Group and my slides are here: Battery Earth – INCOSE Energy Working Group Slides 10-10-2019