34 No. 2
Science is responsible—in whole or in part—for nearly all modern products. The creation of these products is causing the depletion of finite natural resources at an accelerating rate. In our globalized world, 7 billion humans, soon 10 billion, aspire to have the same products, but have (per capita) only 140 x 140 meters of ever-decreasing land resources from which to make products. For these reasons, chemists and other scientists should take a leading role in educating humanity about the fact that we live in a closed-mass system in which the use of finite resources (mass and energy) must be minimized and their use in time and space maximized. In other words, scientists must help educate the public about the following science principle: “In a closed mass system, make one product that lasts and is shared.”
First, some background and perspective on products versus resources and the laws of man versus the laws of nature. Around 230 years ago, King George III of Great Britain was furious. Trailed by a minister, the monarch was striding his battlements glowering at gleaming rods, lightning conductors, spaced at intervals around the ramparts “guarding” his castle.
“Ben was my friend,” the King wailed in anguish, “how could he do this to me! The bastard,” he bellowed angrily, “insurrectionist, revolutionary, damned blasted rebel! Abolish my former decree!” he ordered the minister. “Franklin’s lightning conductors are hereby banished from my kingdom!”
“As you wish,” replied the minister with a weary sigh and a grim wag of the head, “but no good will come of it, sire. You cannot repeal the laws of nature.”
Around 230 years ago, the multitalented scientist Ben Franklin and other American revolutionaries fought an eight year war and established the first and prototypical modern free-market democracy. From the Greek word δημοκρατία (dēmokratía), meaning “rule of the people,” this new democracy was based upon laws of man, which could be made, changed, and repealed. At this same time, a far more momentous change began: the third and present age of Homo Sapiens’ development, the age of Industrial Producers. The first age of Hunter Gatherers began 130 000 years ago; the second, of Cultivator Herders began 12 000 years ago. In the present Industrial Age, humans use external energy sources to make Products. Nearly all of these products were created through science.
For a common understanding of Homo Sapiens’ development, there are three, and only three, fundamental variables to consider: H for Humans and P for man-made Products, both of which are exclusively from R, natural Resources, which are finite. These variables exist in a closed-mass system in which matter is not increasing, even the solar energy coming in is finite.
+P. Product making, (+P), has massively increased at the expense of Resource depletion (-R). If 230 years ago, total manmade production was 2 “product units,” then, by comparison, 40 years ago it was about 55 units, today it is about 220 units, and 40 years from now it is projected to be about 880 units. It could be much more. (Many planet changes, including climate change, are of course direct results of manmade
+H. Human numbers have also increased (+H). Two hundred and thirty years ago there were only 800 million humans, 40 years ago 3.4 billion, today 7 billion, and in 40 years there will be 3 billion more. It took 130 000 years to reach a population of 800 million on the planet, currently 800 million are added every 10 years.
And all of this collides with the laws of nature:
|. . . the closed-mass rule for a product is to make one that lasts and is shared.
-R. Humanity’s planet is a closed-mass system. Therefore, planet resources per human are rapidly and drastically decreasing, +H = -R/H. As a resource measure, a standard football/soccer field (65 x 100 meters) will be used because its size is known worldwide:
Two hundred and thirty years ago, each human, per capita, had about 24 football fields of average land and freshwater resources from which to get food, water, and make products (plus about 48 fields of ocean). By 40 years ago, each human’s resources had crashed to 6 fields; today each human has 3 fields; in 40 years it will be 2 fields or less.
+P +H = -R. The unbiased conclusion of scientists who have examined resource facts is that in 40 years, when there are 9–10 billion globalized humans all aspiring to and working for the same product-rich good life, these 2 fields—already depleted by 230 years of industrial production—will not be enough for a high standard, quality human life—if the laws of man aren’t changed.
For good manmade closed-mass system rules to follow, humanity can look to some extraterrestrial examples. In the International Space Station, which is only infrequently re-supplied, or in proposed interplanetary expeditions, which have no re-supply, the closed-mass rule for a product—whether it is a t-shirt, a computer, a guitar, or a whole spacecraft—is to make one that lasts and is shared (this ensures minimum mass-energy and maximum space-time).
Nearly everything on the space station is designed to last and be shared. There are few private possessions, and the exclusive possession of products is not thought to be prestigious or esteemed. On earth, as in space, everyone wants the same products. To make this possible with extreme finite resources, everything is made to last and is shared—there are libraries for entertainment, clothing, communication, transportation, everything.
In order to reinforce this lesson here on earth, students are given the information above and asked to imagine that they (and everyone) have only 3 fields of average resources, which in 40 years will be 2 fields or less. Then, they are asked to make rules for their land. The students become conscious that the 3 fields are a “closed-mass system” and they make the same elemental product rules as the people residing in space: make that one lasting, shared thing to be the most useful, beautiful, least damaging, etc.
Turning to the “real world” of human rulemaking in earth’s closed-mass system, the creation of infinite products from finite resources is not possible, and yet it is tried. The present, universal manmade rule is to make an infinite number and variety of products, “make many that don’t last and aren’t shared,” the inverse of the closed-mass rule. With ever-fewer and depleted resources per human this cannot continue.
Take metals as an example. Metals are one of the most valuable resources upon which industrial production is built. In sweeping generality, proven reserves for global metals average less than 40 years, while recycled content in new products averages less than 20 percent. Both are extremely difficult to increase because of disorder, dispersal, and material and energy requirements. And yet, the global plan to secure the future is to “make many products that don’t last and aren’t shared with increased efficiency and recycling.”
A fundamental law of nature and science is entropy: “usefulness made unavailable, you touch it you lose, there is no something for nothing, no gain without pain, no free lunch.” In sustainable development for humanity, the solution is not to be found through increased efficiency and recycling, while leaving the primary action of making ever-more products that aren’t shared and that don’t last “off the table.” Yet, that is the plan.
Homo Sapiens are by nature curious, attracted to novelty and to infinities, including “freedoms.” For 130 000 years, these were largely satisfied by infinite new experiences, new knowledge, new understandings, by activities and other humans, not by manmade products. Only in the present brief age of massive Industrial Production has humanity been nurtured and taught to seek gratification and prestige in infinite novel products that don’t last and aren’t shared.
Through laws of men, Homo Sapiens have constructed global political, economic, and educational institutions that promote uninformed, “infinite” behaviors, including the doctrine of “make many that don’t last and aren’t shared.” In a closed-mass system, these behaviors cannot secure a positive future for humanity. Our manmade institutions, such as science academies and institutions, need to help change our nurtured, learned behavior from “infiniteness” to “finiteness.” Such a change is entirely possible and is consistent not only with Homo Sapiens’ nature, but also with its most worthy characteristics and with the laws of nature.
Until age 91, an American professor, a crotchety, no-nonsense, daughter of the revolution, taught a course on language and culture at Akron University to Ph.D. science students from all over the world. “Science means knowledge,” she’d say in a raspy cigarette and whiskey voice, banging her fist on a desk and making students jump. “And you knowledge ‘knowers’ must be leaders. And as leaders, you must never forget that you owe the people your very best judgment.”
Laws of nature cannot be repealed. Laws of man can be changed. While other institutions fail, we leaders, as individuals and organizations, owe humanity our best judgments.
Scientists, governments, and businesses can take the lead on a global initiative in developing and communicating a common understanding of humanity’s closed-mass system of product creation in order “to secure the Blessings of liberty for Ourselves, and our Posterity,” as Ben Franklin and the revolutionaries 230 years ago timelessly wrote.
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last modified 2 March 2012.
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