Solar energy thoughts re: scarcity

I’ve been doing some (very, very rough) calculations for the last hour or so, to get a concept of what sort of scale my thoughts should be working from as I brainstorm the “post-singularity” future. I was thinking about the idea of scarcity. Lou Dobbs was on the Daily Show & he kept insisting that America is fragile & America doesn’t have unlimited resources, and yadda yadda, Obama will literally destroy America before we have a chance to vote again… Anyway, the direction my brain went was toward the question of how much solar energy was hitting the Earth, and how much matter that amount of energy represents, in matter-and-energy-are-two-forms-of-the-same-thing terms.  You know, the old E=mc2 thing.

Based on my calculations, on average, pretending that all the energy from sunlight could be captured and then that all the energy could somehow be converted to “matter”… the amount of solar energy that falls on a square mile of the Earth in 12 hours of daylight (yeah, yeah) converts to about 1.5 tons of matter.  Yes, this is Star Trek tech, the replicator, and we’re not actually near any practical application that could make use of it.  And, yes, we’re almost as distant from being able to make use of 100% of the solar energy that reaches the Earth.  And, of course, there would be inefficiencies in the system (ie: entropy exists), so it wouldn’t be all, all, all… ooh, but as long as we’re pretending:

If we had a solar-powered replicator that operated at 85% efficiency, one acre of solar collection (on Earth) could replicate about 3 meals a day.

Ooh: Just did another calculation. Disappointing, I suppose.  If Skythia (the utopian city featured in Forget What You Can’t Remember) had no other energy/fuel/material source than solar, even if it was 100% efficient, it couldn’t support more than about 20,000 residents – and certainly a lot fewer than that, considering the high-energy and high-consumption activities they did there on a regular basis.  Even if the “gravity lenses” that levitate the city were passive (ie: not consuming energy to keep the city afloat), the hundred thousand or more people I described as living there would be significantly too many!  Lucky thing it definitely also uses magic and trade to supplement its existence… I guess.  Maybe I’ll reduce its population in a future edition.  Or maybe they also use some sort of nuclear power in addition to solar.  Ooh: the definitely make use of satellites.  Perhaps they have some large solar arrays in high polar orbits that beam energy down to Skythia.  Because the solar energy that hits the Earth represents only about (4.5 x 10-8) percent of the solar energy that the sun gives off.

On the other hand, when we have energy-to-matter tech, we’ll likely also have matter-to-energy tech as well, which means that the 4.4lbs/day of trash the EPA estimates the average American produces equates to around an acre’s worth of solar energy… and that the energy contained in the matter of about 10k Americans’ daily refuse is enough to power the Earth. Pretending it could be easily converted directly to energy. Hmm… Of course, by the time we reach that technology (25 years, Kurzweil?), a lot of other aspects of our lifestyle will have changed dramatically, too.

Oh, and as far as “America is fragile” – we’re just beginning to come out of a recession that wasn’t as bad as the one we had in the early 80’s, neither of which holds a candle to the global depression of the 30’s… none of which came close to breaking America.  Not world wars, not the end of slavery (a foundational change in our economic structure), not the further social changes brought about with the introduction of birth control…  America is not fragile.  America could certainly survive (and I believe would be better off with) universal health care.  The rest of the civilized world does.  But that isn’t even what’s on the table, right now.  No one in power is even coming close to actual Health Care Reform – all they’re doing is mucking about with Health Insurance Reform… These are not the changes that America is calling out for, and they’re nowhere near enough to “destroy America.”  You’re crying wolf.  I can only consider it a good thing, because hopefully all the people you’re riling up about this now will know better than to listen to you when real reform comes rolling down the pike in years to come.

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