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In the context of geoengineering and "the transition to a sustainable economy" I can't help but be reminded of the Kardashev Scale, in which a "Type I Civilisation" is one that "harnesses all the power vailable to an entire planet".
A possible method by which Earth can advance to a Type I civilization is to begin the heavy use of ocean thermal energy conversion, wind turbines and tidal power to obtain the energy received by Earth's oceans from the Sun. However there is no known way to successfully utilize the full potential of Earth's energy production without complete coating of the surface with man made structures. In the near and medium future, this is an impossibility given humans' current lifestyle. We are, however, already "harnessing" Earth's production through our dependence upon ecosystem services, which may prove more efficient and sustainable than our own technology well into the future. If we choose never to fully substitute synthetics for nature's services on this planet, we may still achieve a Type I civilization by assuring that Earth's ecosystem services are maximally functional.
Barring collapse, it is maybe more likely that we will become a Type I civilisation (and beyond: type II would harness the entire energy output of the Sun) rather than stabilize at a constant level, but it is a matter of policy (and hence a matter of choice) whether we try to keep the Earth's ecosystems "maximally functional" or we try to "geoengineer" them. I am not optimistic about the prospects of changing our economic system so the "maximally functional ecosystems" model prevails, and a more equitable global system would be necessary.

According to the wikipedia article I quote, Carl Sagan calculated that Earth was a "Type 0.7 Civilisation". While maybe not on total power output, it is entirely possible that, on ecological carrying capacity, we are approaching the "Type I", at which point we "harness" the entire biosphere. It is again a matter of policy whether we strive to keep the ecosystems "maximally functional".

In this context, I would revisit De Anander's The Future I Was Promised.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 01:45:16 PM EST
Related to De Anander's diary, in a way, I found this column by Michael Chabon moving. I didn't live through this period of technooptimism personally, although as a kid I did spend a lot of time in the library looking at books on the stars, forms of space travel etc. So I can relate.

Back to the column, this quote is great:

The Sex Pistols, strictly speaking, were right: there is no future, for you or for me. The future, by definition, does not exist. "The Future," whether you capitalize it or not, is always just an idea, a proposal, a scenario, a sketch for a mad contraption that may or may not work. "The Future" is a story we tell, a narrative of hope, dread or wonder. And it's a story that, for a while now, we've been pretty much living without.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 03:22:02 PM EST
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(cough) link here
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Oct 14th, 2006 at 03:23:18 PM EST
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That's a moving essay and it's interesting how closely it mirrors my own sentiments, giving me that eerie feeling of "not being as totally out of step with the culture as I thought I was."  Thanks for the link...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sun Oct 15th, 2006 at 02:01:26 AM EST
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Based on the ratio of human power consumption to global net primary production by photosynthesis (not necessarily the best standard, but interesting) we're roughly a Type 0.15 civilisation at present. That's close enough to 1.0 to scare me, especially when I hear talk of chewing up more biosphere to make fuel.

But wherever we are on the Kardashev scale, I vote that we skip becoming an Earth-killing Type 1 civilisation and move on toward being a fractional Type 2. This could have benefits, from a lemur's perspective and ours.
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One story reads something like this --

With Solar space open, Earth looks small. Warm, sunny land becomes more abundant by far than what a planet could offer. People are drawn there for the freedom it offers: They can tear it up and rebuild exactly as they please. The New Lands become places as beautiful (or ugly) as imagination and unimaginable wealth can make them.

Those who stay behind think differently. Many like Earth simply because it is Earth, and they support environmental laws too strict for some... who emigrate, leaving behind a polity ever more inclined to support stricter laws. As the cycle continues, unstoppable, biospheric reserves grow and merge until they encompass the Earth, stewarded by people who make homes there because they love the Earth for itself.

And they have the powers they need to live lightly, and heal.
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No Type 1 civilisations, please.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Sun Oct 15th, 2006 at 03:39:21 AM EST
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Based on the ratio of human power consumption to global net primary production by photosynthesis (not necessarily the best standard, but interesting) we're roughly a Type 0.15 civilisation at present. That's close enough to 1.0 to scare me, especially when I hear talk of chewing up more biosphere to make fuel.
The Kardashev scale is logarithmic with a base of 10^10... So, if you put the "Type 1" at total power output = total photosynthetic capacity, 15% capacity is "Type 0.92".

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Oct 16th, 2006 at 04:09:32 AM EST
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Ah! A logarithmic scaling does make more sense. I see that this extension by Sagan, though.

Definitely uncomfortably close to "1.0", though the power level would be no problem if the collection and dissipation weren't being done on Earth.

(If I were doing the numbers more seriously, I'd start by looking at total solar input power and total radiative heat dissipation capacity. To look at a silly but physically sound possibility, however, it is possible to dump substantially more heat from a planet than can be radiated from it by a black surface at its ambient temperatures. The trick, of course, is refrigeration.)

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Mon Oct 16th, 2006 at 04:29:26 PM EST
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