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Earth Day as if Earth mattered

Earth day is April 22 and it is appropriate to think about the future of the Earth and its biosphere. The key word here is think. What popularly passes for environmental concern today has evolved into something much more resembling a religion than scientifically-informed values. Unfortunately, as with many religions, the resulting memetic structure can work actively against real scientific efforts to advance the very goals that the religion started with.

Here’s a simple example: the average environmentally-concerned person seems to believe (a) that recycling is good for the environment, and that disposable stuff should be biodegradable; and (b) that the amount of CO2 humans inject into the atmosphere should be as low as possible.

The problem, of course, is that these are incompatible in a number of ways, the simplest one being that making lots of stuff from carbon-bearing materials such as paper, and burying them in landfills after one use, is probably the most efficient and easily-adopted form of carbon sequestration — and the less biodegradable, the more sequestered. They can’t both be right.

This is minor, however, compared to the anti-technological bias that seems to be an article of faith among much of the environmentalist movement. I find this intensely puzzling, because in the long run, only nanotechnology will make it possible to preserve the Earth in anything resembling its natural state.

This is not green:
Mumbai slums: not green.

Without a climb into at least Western industrialized levels of affluence, the human population will continue growing exponentially. Poor people care a lot more about where their next meal is coming from, and a lot less about the preservation of polar bears and orangutans. But once prople can afford to be green, roughly $30k per cap, richer means greener.

Current-day methods of manufacturing and energy production, even current-day nanotechnology, are messy and inefficient. Eutactic nanotechnology, in which we control not only the structure of the result at a complete, atom-by-atom level, but the entire manufacturing process is controlled the same way, is the gold standard. Compared to this, any bulk process is inefficient, messy, and uncontrolled.

In the near term, nanotech will push clean energy tech such as solar, space-based solar, and so forth closer to economic viability. In the long run it could move the entire industrial economy into a new, clean mode of manufacturing and transportation, and enable us to move dirty, risky, aggressive, high-energy industrial development off the Earth altogether.

The sooner we get to real, eutactic nanotechnology and molecular manufacturing, the better it will be for the Earth.

space colony

4 Responses to “Earth Day as if Earth mattered”

  1. Blog Archive » Earth … | Nano Broadcast Says:

    [...] Current-day methods of manufacturing and energy production, even current-day nanotechnology , are messy and inefficient. Eutactic nanotechnology , in which we control not only the structure of the result at a complete, atom-by-atom level, … Nanodot: Nanotechnology News and Discussion » Blog Archive » Earth … [...]

  2. About That Earth Day… « Tai-Chi Policy Says:

    [...] by taoist in Environmentalism. Tags: Earth Day, Global Warming, Philosophy, Religion, Technology trackback Some thoughts over at the Foresight Institute. I myself am similarly turned away from thereligious aspects of the environmental movement, as well as fairly outraged at the tendency of the environmentalists to work against any and all technological developments. While they’re primarily concerned with nanotechnology over at the Foresight Institute, I find that even many technologies and developments that could help us today offend environmentalists – and those are developments that are win-win, helping not only the environment, but society. After all, rich societies are the only ones that have the luxury of really worrying about the environment. [...]

  3. JamesG Says:

    Agreed. Nanotechnology should be the main goal of everyone, it is the perfect ‘green’ technology, it will allow everything we do to be ‘green.’ If only we could get a mega-rich person or a major government to see the light, millions of people could be saved from an unnecesary death, and imo all the world’s problems will be solved that much sooner.

  4. Says:

    “making lots of stuff from carbon-bearing materials such as paper, and burying them in landfills after one use, is probably the most efficient and easily-adopted form of carbon sequestration”

    Citation needed.

    I don’t think full-tilt industrial consumption of plant and animal natural resources with the intent to bury the product in a landfill is an efficient way to sequester carbon.

    Manufacturing “carbon-bearing materials such as paper” probably emits more carbon than the final product contains. And most carbon laden materials are organic thus biodegradable – certainly paper is.

    So we’d emit CO2 and stuff making the products, then bury it where it will decay into methane, which is a worse greenhouse gas than CO2. Doesn’t really sound like much of a carbon-sequestration strategy to me.

    But I do hope that new tech like nanotech will help us stabilize our life-support system.

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