March 31, 2011

PBS: Journey to Planet Earth

This series is another reason that the Tea Party (and their corporate masters) want to defund Public Broadcasting.

The first episode covered Lester Brown's Plan B. To provide some perspective about the urgency of the problem, Lester Brown describes the 29th Day phenomena where the number of lily pads in a pond double every day such that on the 29th day, the pond is half full. What happens on the 30th day? The pond is full and there is no more room for any other life. Many scientists suspect that we are in our 29th day for the earth. The need to act soon is absolutely irrefutable.

You can watch this episode here.

BTW: David Suzuki has a similar analogy for the lily pad and pond to represent the limits of a finite world, but one based on bacteria in test tubes.

We have come to believe that growth is the very definition of progress. You talk to any businessperson or politician and say, ‘How well did you do last year?’ And, within a picosecond, they will talk about growth in the GDP and the economy in profit, jobs or market share. And, anything in a finite world cannot grow forever. We live within the biosphere, that cannot grow- it’s fixed.

And, I use the analogy of the bacteria in the test tube for why it’s suicidal to look for steady endless growth. Anything growing exponentially has a predictable doubling time. I give you a test tube full of food for bacteria- that’s an analogy with the planet- and I put one bacterial cell in and it is us. It’s going to go into exponential growth and divide every minute. So, at time zero, at the beginning, there is one bacterium. One minute, there are two. Two minutes, four. Three minutes, eight. Four minutes, 16. That’s exponential growth.

And at 60 minutes, the test tube is completely packed with bacteria, and there’s no food left. When is the test tube only half full? And the answer of course, is at 59 minutes. So, at 58 minutes it’s 25 percent full, 57 minutes, 12 and a half percent full. At 55 minutes of the 60-minute cycle, it’s three percent full. So, if at 55 minutes, one of the bacteria looks around and says, ‘Hey guys, I’ve been thinking, we’ve got a population problem.’ The other bacteria would say, ‘Jack, what the hell have you been drinking, man? 97 percent of the test tube is empty, and we’ve been around for 55 minutes!’ And, they’d be five minutes away from filling it.

So, the bacteria are no smarter than humans. At 59 minutes they go, ‘Oh my god! Jack was right! What the hell are we going to do, we’ve got one minute left! Well, don’t give any money to those economists, but why don’t you give it to those scientists?’ And, by God, somehow those bacterial scientists in less than a minute, they invent three tests tubes full of food for bacteria. Now, that would be like us discovering three more planet Earths that we could start using immediately. So, they’re saved, right, they’ve quadrupled the amount of food in space. So what happens? Well, at 60 minutes, the first test tube is full. At 61 minutes, the second is full, and at 62 minutes, all four are full. By quadrupling the amount of food in space, you buy two extra minutes. And, how do you add any more air, water, soil or biodiversity to the biosphere. You can’t, it’s fixed! And, every scientist I’ve talked to agrees with me. We’re already past the 59th minute.

Posted by Mary at March 31, 2011 07:51 AM | Environment | Technorati links |