Just Don’t Do It

Many conscientious people are busy figuring out what they can do to turn this “ship bound for a major iceberg” around. I commend them. There is so much to do and we need “all hands on deck.” However, this past week or so, I have heard two environmentally-minded people say the following, “We are doomed”–the “ultimate negative,” if there every was one. Statements like this are better not said. They serve no function other than furthering hopelessness. Furthermore, they indicate a serious degree of self-righteousness as well. In such cases, I recommend that people just “don’t do it”.

Let me try to explain why I find these sort of sentiments so problematic. First off, they are stated as fact. No person knows what will happen. No person knows what can happen. Even the bleakest of situations can sometimes be resolved or return to a better state (history repeatedly shows us this). Such statements definitely ignore the incredible potential that exists in each one of us as well as the gargantuan power that we harness collectively. Importantly, they also completely fail to recognize the enormous power and potential that exists within nature. Our current understanding of the natural world is still in its infancy, something the field of biomimicry has made clear over the past two decades.

Secondly, fatalism isn’t good for your/our health. We know from scientific research that animals/babies that aren’t loved don’t fair as well as those that are. Articulating the “ultimate negative” can’t be a good thing for our psyche or our physical well-being.

Thirdly, such negative thoughts don’t lead to action. They actually lead to inaction and paralysis. They may even lead to self-harm or, worse, harm done to others. I imagine some of the “suicide” acts we have observed in recent years are driven by people who have “no hope.”

Fourthly, negativism breeds negativism. People hear what you say and react to it. If you are so glum as to speak the “ultimate negative,” you should say it privately (and then seek support from others). Otherwise, if others hear you, they too will likely become more depressed and inactive.

Lastly, consider the sentiment a victory for those very powerful entities that have created the extreme injustice and cynicism in the general populace. As long as “we the sheeple” continue to behave as if “we are all doomed”, they continue to control us, our lives, our bodies, and our minds.

So, “just don’t do it”.

[After writing this, I heard an amazing couple that perform UPBEAT jazz–Pippi & Daniel…what a special duo they are!]

Imagination…plants remind me of it

[I want to thank Monica Gagliano, a biologist in Western, Australia, whose Bioneers 2018 talk (link) caused me to do some serious introspection this morning at the 8th Prairie Fire Bioneers Conference held at Knox College.]

I’ve recently fallen in love with plants. It has taken some time, it wasn’t something that happened overnight. Over the past ten or so years, I been surrounding myself with plants more and more. It started with me growing 13’ okra with my neighbor. This led me to help start a community farm that still exists in my small city. Then I started an educational farm on my college’s campus. Next came building a raised bed of plants in the front of my house (how you treat your front yard is a political statement) then installing a butterfly waystation (also in my front lawn). Currently, my freezer has seeds of many plants, my basement is full of aging seeds, pawpaw seeds are germinating in my living room, and houseplant propagation has become a regular activity. Last semester I even remember bringing spider plants to my class and saying, confidently, “this is the beginning of a major campaign. I plan to put plants in every classroom in the world!” So, as you can see, my love has become somewhat of an obsession.

Yet, despite all this effort, I never really understood what was driving me to do this. As of this morning, I may have an inkling. Plants have imaginations (if you are incredulous about this, please watch Gagliano’s video and check out her scientific articles and books). What does this have to do with me? Well, as most can attest, I have quite an imagination as well. As a child, relatives called me “Mr. non-sequitur.” As an aspiring local politician, I was described (in print), somewhat pejoratively, “a dreamer.”

Where does my imagination take me? I firmly believe that humans will resolve our current “insurmountable” challenges. I know we can do so. I live every day with this in mind and heart. I don’t know how, but I am “audacious” (to borrow a term used by Gagliano) enough to imagine a world where hunger, poverty, preventable disease, racism, misogyny and pollution don’t exist.

Plants imagine these things to. How do I know? Why wouldn’t they? Haven’t their ancestors lived in a world without these horrible things? This is why I think I’ve been surrounding myself with plants. They imagine this world and they live everyday to make it happen (again). We probably have a non-verbal, mutualistic, hopeful exchange daily. Sadly, many of the people I know can’t seem to imagine these things. And I think I have been becoming a bit more reclusive (to humans) in reaction to this.

I think this “state of mind” that I have is the ultimate privilege. I think our deeply racist, capitalist, misogynist, nationalistic, militaristic world has destroyed most people’s ability to imagine a different world. Fortunately, Bioneers has repeatedly reminded me that many humans are still able to imagine such things and are working every day to achieve them. I am glad to have this local Bioneers “shot” every year and I am also grateful to have plants around to remind me that another world is not only possible, it is imperative.

The insanity of our world: What to Do? (Part II)

[I haven’t blogged in a long time, the longest hiatus since I started this project in 2016. There are several reasons for this. One, the insanity of our world has only gotten more pervasive, intensive, and perplexing. I’ve probably started five blogs in the meantime only to put off finishing them due to mental and emotional exhaustion writing them engender. Two, I had to put the bulk of my intellectual energy into finishing my first (co-authored) book—The Earth is Not For Sale (www.theearthisnotforsale.org)–which hit the presses this fall.]

In the previous piece (Part I, see below), I laid out how most of our everyday actions are insane and why we continue to do them despite the illogic nature of doing so. Despite the provocative spirit of my first installment and the near invisible lack of response/reaction from those that took the time to read it, one might wonder why I persist with this topic. I guess it just feels therapeutic to get it out of my mind (where it simmers and infests other parts of my body). More importantly, I feel compelled to initiate a conversation on one of the questions I ended with, namely, “what might compel us to stop acting insanely?”

We will stop acting insanely when we come to terms with this simple understanding: “if we don’t, our lives will continue to suffer and our species will take an early exit from this amazing planet.” Since the second part of this statement is hard to fathom (particularly when our species continues to grow exponentially larger), it is advisable to hone in on the first part. Our lives are all much worse because of the insanity. Most of us realize this but we escape its implications because it just makes us feel worse. Perhaps an analogy will help here. Imagine being told you are dying from a disease. People handle this news differently. Many immediately shut down in disbelief. Others get really angry and ask, “why me?” Eventually, most come to terms with this horrific information and do what they can every day to make their lives livable without dwelling on it. This is what I think most of us do with our lives right now. We know that we live in a dysfunctional and insane world and we try to avoid focusing on it, which inevitably means we support and recreate its insanity by our actions (as discussed in Part I).

But what if we were to learn that there is a cure for our disease. I expect that many would try to cure/treat it by whatever means we can afford and access. I’ve known people to travel thousands of miles to seek wisdom and insight from non-conventional methods of disease response, for example. I have witnessed some spending their last dimes to help themselves or someone else enduring some great physical challenge. This is a reasonable response as being alive is something that we cherish and is much preferred to its alternative. However, when it comes to our everyday lives, our malaise (and continued participation in an insane society) doesn’t produce nearly the same type of response. Why? I think it is because we don’t think there is a cure for our insanity. And why should we when we are indoctrinated from the moment we come out of the womb to think that everything that is going on is “normal”/”proper” or inevitable. How many of these memes have you been taught (and how many do you believe—or at least act as if you believe)?:

–humans are inherently violent (hence, war is inevitable)
–money brings happiness
–economic inequality is natural (hence, an underclass is acceptable)
–significant numbers of people need to be “put away” as they are not fit for society (and they are not “curable”)
–nature’s creatures compete for preciously limited resources to survive
–pollution is a sign/result of progress
–feeding everyone requires us to grow mostly GMO grains
–modern humans are smarter than our ancestors
–humans are too insignificant to impair the planet significantly

In contrast, how many of these do accept/believe? (reject if you feel that are naïve or overoptimistic):

–humans from different cultures can coexist peacefully
–there is enough space, food, resources for all 7+ billion people on Earth
–rainwater and rivers should be clean enough to drink
–humans are inherently kind and resourceful
–species cooperate to survive and maintain environmental conditions conducive to life—diversity enhances survivability
–money is just one medium to facilitate exchange of needs
–there is no such thing as waste
–plants and mushrooms are intelligenct organisms

Now subtract the number of memes you accept/believe in the second list from the number of such memes in the first list. So how did you do? Did your subtraction net a positive number? Probably not and this is a major part of the problem.

Before we will do anything, we need to be motivated. If we look at the prospects for ourselves and species in the near term, I suspect most of us, particularly young people, will understand the need to change our ways. Now let’s assume that you agree with this but are rather skeptical that others will be sufficiently motivated to change too. Well, this is where a leap of faith comes in. You need to have faith in others (the fourth element in the second list). True, you cannot control others but you should be able to control yourself, at least to a greater degree than you probably allow; oddly enough, as I write this I am struck by the extraordinary efforts by the mass media and the advertising industry to make us conform (by accepting one of the first list’s memes or buying one of the millions of mass produced items that they offer). Yes, it is with this faith in others that must be the foundation of any change in the world or on your part.

But thankfully, you don’t need to act on your own and merely wait for others. Others have already made this leap of faith and are making positive changes all over the place. You just have to look; hint, it probably won’t be on your television. It is happening in your neighborhood too, so you don’t need to move to a more progressive place to get busy. I’ll end here but I will provide concrete examples of what I am talking about in a future blog. In the meantime, let others know you are changing (you can comment here for instance) and may it become contagious!

The insanity of our world: The Why (Part I)

Many people now realize that the world is largely insane. However, every day these “sane” people continue their lives as best they can. Since so many aspects of our dominant culture and society are ruled largely by insane principles, these “sane” people can’t help but support (and thereby preserve) the insanity as they go about with their lives. To give some examples of what I am talking about, I consider the following “every day activities” as critically contributing to the continuance of our cultural insanity: buying “normal” (non-local, non-organic, “free” trade) food; using electronics and communication systems which are ruthlessly toxic in so many ways; watching mind-numbing entertainment; following mainstream news (which focuses almost all of our attention on the insanities in our world, but does so in such uncritical ways that it only normalizes the insanity it covers); paying taxes (which we know largely supports subsidies for unsustainable and inhumane practices including the jumbo-sized military and prison system); putting our money in national/international banks, investing in blue-chip stocks, or using credit-cards (all which directly support the insanely unequal distribution of wealth that exists); and, promoting consumeristic values (by adorning ourselves with material goods containing subtle or in-your-face advertisements, such as, a “F-I-L-A” hat or CK jeans, or having “bling-bling” qualities, such as, a diamond ring, gold necklace, faux fur, or Rolex watch).

For many of us these activities appear very normal and even mundane. Some reading this may in fact be quite annoyed at the insinuation that these are “insane” activities. However, the harm that they do (by perpetuating a materialistic, profit-at-any-cost system) is immeasurable. Then, if they are so harmful, why do the vast majority of us continue to do them? And what might be done to make us stop? These questions cut to the core of whether our society will endure or collapse (through war, disease or climate catastrophe)? I don’t pretend to be an expert when it comes to answering these questions, and I am not sure such experts exist, given that so few of us seriously consider changing the way things are. In this vein, I offer some thoughts to stimulate discussion in these largely ignored areas.

First, why do so many of us continue to act in ways that are insane? Well, some of us do so because we don’t have any other choice. Poverty is at epidemic levels in the US (the “richest” country in the world—how insane is that?) and income inequality continues to grow. In my community, over 60% of children are granted “free and reduced” lunch (and breakfast) because the government recognizes how desperate things are (hungry children lead to very angry citizens). A recent national report documents that more than 1/5 of children nationally suffer from food insecurity during the year. As tragic as this is, the poverty that affects so many has a paralyzing effect. Living day-to-day (paying this or that bill, deciding between dinner, a car repair, or a bus ride home) makes it nearly impossible to act outside the norm. (Interestingly, when you hit rock bottom, such as homeless people, you often must do things outside the norm (such as dumpster diving) to survive. In this sense, these folks are one of the few that aren’t perpetuating the insanity.) Even middle-class folks in the US have limited options. Although they may have some money saved or invested, they recognize that they are often one life challenge from losing their home/apartment, their car, or their educational dreams. Thus, they too work tirelessly to stay one step ahead—the system tells us all that as long as we work hard enough, we’ll be alright, and this satisfies our anxiety enough to keep moving on the “treadmill”. Many are also told that “we could be the lucky ones,” and this belief leads to many low- and middle-class people buying lottery tickets with the little that they have; in my community, over $6 million a year (~$200 per head) is spent now in mini-slot machines that have begun dotting our cultural landscape over the past few years. Our insatiable thirst for entertainment (500 cable channels, social media, sports on “steroids”) represents an escape from the realities of the world—a relatively innocuous escape compared to the many destructive vices that many (people of all economic classes) engage in for the same effect. Also, just as most industrial farmers are trapped by huge unpaid loans (for their mega-machines) and rising annual seed and pesticide payments, middle class people are trapped by their rent/mortgage, health care, car payment, cell phone, and cable bill. Then, you have the upper classes and the rich and it is pretty obvious why they perpetuate the insanity. They benefit from it, at least relatively, so they have no motivation for changing it, though they have the most power to do so. It should be noted that some thoughtful “wealthy” people assuage their guilt or fear (from the horrors of “poisoned” food and chemical-laced pillows) by purchasing hybrid cars and organic briskets. Unfortunately, while these acts are more sensible than other options, their contributions are not yet significant enough to overwhelm the “insanity” that dominates other components of their lives (such as, their many flights & ginormous homes and lawns) and other’s lives.

There you have it. The system of insanity continues because a few benefit from it while the masses can’t really see any other way.

Okay, so what might compel us to stop acting insanely? Does it have to be this way? You can comment your thoughts on this (I hope) and/or you can wait for my next blog 😊.

Math That Matters (Part IV—Solar Power for the U.S.)

(Part A)

How big a solar array is necessary to provide all the electricity currently used in the United States?
Renewable energy (particularly, solar and wind) use is way up over the last 20 years, both globally and in the United States. Annually, rates of growth for PV (photovoltaic) solar and wind are both above 20% over this time, with solar being closer to +40%. This amazing growth appears ready to continue as more and more areas of the world are looking to install solar due to its many benefits (ref 1). However, some believe that solar would have to cover huge expanses of land in order to make a significant contributor to our energy portfolio. Let’s take a look at this belief by asking a simple question, “How big a solar array is necessary to provide all the electricity currently used in the United States?”

Well, there is some background information and a few assumptions that one needs to make in order to calculate this.
First, how much electricity do we use in the U.S.?

Looking this up, we find:
(1) 12.6 Q = 3,704 PWh (ref 2)
(1 Q = 1 Quad BTU = 294 PWh, where 1 PWh is 10 to the 12th power (or 1,000,000,000,000) Watt-hours)

Next, we need to know how much electricity is produced by a typical solar panel. This requires other information as well:
(a) Power rating for solar panel = 345 W
(b) Size of solar panel (61” x 41”) = 17.37 square feet
Thus, Maximum power output = (a)/(b) = 19.9 W/sq. ft

Note: From these values one can compute an efficiency for the panel (which is typically between 15-20%), but one need not calculate the efficiency for our purposes.

Since no panel produces maximally (due to inverting DC current to AC current, losses in wires, snow/dust on panels, etc.), a “de-rating” of 75% is typically used.
(c) Power output expected = Max. power * de-rating = 19.9 W/sq. ft * 0.75 = 14.9 W/sq. ft

Now we need to consider how many hours of sunlight there will be for this panel. Typically, this is done by computing the “average” number of “full-sun” hours per day a panel would be expected to receive at a location. In the U.S., most locations range from 3.5-6.5 hours. We’ll take 4.5 “full-sun” hours to be conservative (central IL has these types of values).


(d) True electricity provided = Power output expected * “full-sun” hours (daily) * days in year
(2) = 14.9 W/sq. ft * 4.5 hrs/day * 365 days/year = 24.5 kWh/sq. ft

Now, we can determine how many square feet we need to provide the electricity for the entire nation of the United States:

Size of solar array = Electricity usage (nation)/Electricity production density
= (1)/(2)
= 3,704 PWh/24.5 kWh per sq. ft
= 151,184,000,000 sq. ft

Wow, 151 billion square feet. That’s huge, isn’t it? Let’s convert this to square miles:

# square feet in a square mile => 1 sq. mile = (5280 ft) * (5280 ft) = 27,900,000 sq. ft

So, 151.2 billion square feet is __X__ square miles; where,

X = 151,200,000,000 sq. ft/(27,900,000 sq. ft/sq. mile) = 5418 sq. miles

But, how much is 5,418 square miles?
Just about a squared area with 74 miles on a side!

The area of the state of Illinois is ~58,000 square miles. So, 5,418 square miles is ~9.3% of the state! It is also only 25-times the combined size of the 10 largest airports in the United States. This area, again, if covered with solar panels, would be produce enough electricity to power the entire nation!

In conclusion, the belief that solar panels sufficient to power the U.S. would have to cover a huge amount of area is just plain wrong! Wondering why this information isn’t widely distributed? Well, are you going to distribute it or not? If not, why not? This might provide you part of the answer as to why it isn’t widely known.

(Part B)

Now, what if we wanted to produce all the energy resources we use, not just electricity, with solar PV power? Understandably, most things that use fossil fuels now are not currently able to use electricity (as in, most of the cars/trucks on the road are not yet electric), but most could be made to use electricity if it was available. So, then, if we need to produce 97.3 Quad (not 12.6 Q which is the current electricity demand alone), we’d need ~7.7 times (or 97.3/12.6) more land than stated above. However, since our fossil-fuel dominant energy economy currently requires 37.5 Q of energy to produce 12.6 Q of electricity (due to the inefficiencies in the use of such sources), we actually wouldn’t need to use this wasted energy (or 24.9 Q (37.5 Q – 12.6 Q)) at all; this is a HUGE understated benefit of moving towards solar energy sources. Thus, we would need only to produce 72.4 Quad which would require 5.7 times more land than calculated in Part A, or ~31,000 square miles. This amounts to about 11% of the land area of the state of Texas, not much land considering the size of the United States. In fact, since the area of the U.S. is 3.8 million square miles, we would need to cover less than 1% of the U.S. land surface with solar PV in order to produce all the energy we would need in a fully “electrified” nation! (A recent study by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) found that we could provide 1,432 TWh of electricity by putting solar panels on suitable buildings in the United States. This would be enough to provide 39% of our national electricity needs and 7% of our national energy needs!; see report.)

Caveats: The above calculations only relate to solar PV. The future renewable energy system, that will become dominate in the 21st Century, displacing almost all fossil fuels, will rely on wind, geothermal and hydropower as well. In addition, the need for the world’s poor to use more energy than they do now (in order to live fully actualized lives) will require greater amounts of energy to be produced. Additionally, as the U.S. is one of the more wasteful energy users, its consumption could easily decline (perhaps by 50%) without any detrimental impacts. These factors are important when looking at the future land needs of the entire energy system.

Math that Matters (Part III—The 2000 U.S. Presidential Election)

We often are told that we should vote. Yet, how many of us have ever participated in an election where our vote was the deciding one? Consider that a national or statewide election usually consists of millions of votes, the opportunity to be the deciding vote is clearly very rare. However, not to long ago there was a national vote that was extremely close and it had huge consequences on the course of history.

November 7, 2000 appeared to be a normal voting day in the United States. Two major party candidates as well as several dedicated third-party ones were running for the premier office—the Presidency of the United States. What would transpire that evening and the subsequent days caught most of us by surprise and its ultimate outcome certainly reminds us of the importance of voting.

George W. Bush beat Albert Gore by winning the electoral votes by less than 1% (actually, 0.93%) in one of the closest races in history; Gore actually won the popular vote by 1% (actually, 0.51%), or 540,000+ votes. And while these are very close numbers indeed, nothing was closer than what took place in the state of Florida (although there were 5 states that were decided by less than a 0.5% margin—and all of these others narrowly supported Gore over Bush).

When all the votes were “counted” and confirmed (though 20 U.S. Representatives objected to the Florida recount), Bush won the Florida popular vote over Gore by a mere 547 votes. Now, the closeness of this result needs to be properly understood. In the state of Florida, there were nearly 6 million votes counted for the U.S. Presidency in 2000. Thus, 547 votes out of 6 million represents 0.009%. Converted into a language that we might understand better, this represents approximately 1 in 10,000. Thus, if just 1 in every 10,000 voters had voted for Gore, rather than Bush (or any other Presidential candidate on the ballot), Gore would have won the state of Florida’s 25 electoral votes, and, therefore, the election. Now that is about as close as it gets!

(This mathematical exercise ignores the huge issue of voter suppression revealed in 2000, which continues today, and the amazing potentiality of voter fraud given the issue of “hanging-chads” or electronic voting machines (that often had/have no credible validation option). These are huge omissions and for the sake of completion, links to such issues are provided below, for interested parties.)

Voter Suppression:
In 2000: ref 1
In 2012: ref 2
In 2016: ref 3a, ref 3b

Hanging Chads: ref 4a, ref 4b

Electronic Voting Machines: ref 5a, ref 5b

Math that matters (Part II–Atmospheric Changes)

Everyone now knows (or denies) that CO2 has been increasing in the atmosphere for the past couple hundred years and this increase is largely responsible for the climate changes that have occurred over that time. And 400 ppm (parts per million) is a number that more and more people are familiar with as well; it represents the average concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere (up from 280 ppm when the Industrial Revolution commenced, ~1750). Well, there are a few other very interesting/compelling numbers that we can determine based on this information alone, including:

(1) What is the average annual growth rate of the CO2 over this period (1750-2017)?
(2) What is 400 ppm in percentage terms?
(3) How many molecules of CO2 are there in a regular sized balloon?
(4) Considering CO2 changes alone, by what percentage has the composition of the atmosphere changed since Industrialization?

Let’s do some calculations:

(1) What is the average annual growth rate of the CO2 over this period (1750-2017)?

Atmospheric CO2 concentration has risen exponentially so we use an exponential growth equation to model it:

(a) Cf = Ci x e^(rt),
where, Cf = final concentration, Ci = initial concentration, e = 2.718 (Euler’s number), r = annual rate of growth, and t = duration of time (^ is used as an exponential symbol)

The variable we want is r (as we have all the other numbers). Solving for r requires using a little “Algebra II”:

First move Ci over by dividing both sides of (a) by Ci and flipping the equation around; this leaves:
e^rt = Cf/Ci

Now, if we take the log of both sides (here the natural log, ln) and use the fact that ln(e) = 1, we get:
ln(e^rt) = ln(Cf/Ci)  rt x ln(e) = ln(Cf/Ci)  rt = ln(Cf/Ci)

Now, if we divide both sides by t, we get an equation solved for r, the desired variable:
r = ln(Cf/Ci)/t

Inputting the values of the three known variables (Cf = 400 ppm, Ci = 280 ppm, and t = 2017-1750 = 267 years) yields the annual growth rate:
r = ln(400/280)/267 = 0.00134 (or 0.134% per year)

If we just look at the growth of CO2 concentration since 1950 (when industrialization became global; CO2’s concentration in 1950 was ~310 ppm), we can once again use the exponential equation above to determine the growth rate in more recent times:
r = ln(400/310)/67 = 0.0038 (or 0.38% per year)

In either case, notice that humans are increasing CO2’s concentration only very slightly each year. (Over the past 267 years, CO2’s concentration has gone up 43%.) However, what may appear “slight” is definitely not slight in terms of its current and future impacts.

(2) What is 400 ppm in percentage terms?

Answering this merely requires us to understand what ppm (parts per million) means. Unlike some words in English, ppm means literally what it says. If the atmospheric concentration of CO2 is 400 ppm then for every million parts (or molecules) of atmospheric gas, CO2 will be 400 of them. With this understanding we can compute a percentage by expressing the amount of CO2 (relative to everything in the atmosphere) as a ratio:
% of CO2 in atmosphere = ppm of CO2/1,000,000 parts of atm = 400/1,000,000 = 0.0004 (or 0.04%)

Again, this is a very, very small amount but as we know this small amount of CO2 is responsible for a significant amount (~30-40%) of the Natural Greenhouse Effect (NGE) and the bulk (~50-60%) of the Anthropogenic Greenhouse Effect (AGE), associated with “global warming” and “climate change.”

(3) How many molecules of CO2 are there in a regular sized balloon?

While (2) tells us what proportion of gases in the atmosphere are CO2 it doesn’t really tell us how much CO2 is a particular volume. If we take a typical balloon (1 foot in diameter; let’s assume it is a sphere), we can find the volume of the balloon using this formula:
V = 4/3 x pi x r^3,
where V = volume, pi = 3.14159, and r is the radius of the balloon. Plugging in the numbers leads to:

V = 4/3 x 3.14159 x (0.5)^3 = 0.52 cubic feet

Since 1 liter = 0.0353147 cubic feet, the volume of the balloon is:
V = 0.52 cubic feet x (1 liter/0.0353147 cubic feet) = 14.7 liters

This seems quite high when one considers a two liter bottle of soda but rest assured this is the correct value.

Now that we have the volume, we’ll need to determine how much CO2 is in such a volume. Here we have to use some chemistry laws; here the most well-known of them all, the Ideal Gas Law:

(c) PV = nRT, which can be rewritten as, n = PV/RT,
where P = pressure, V = volume, n = number of moles of gas, R = the Ideal Gas Constant = 0.082 L-atm/mole-K) and T = temperature in Kelvin degrees.

Assuming that we have a standard atmospheric pressure of 1 atmosphere and we are at room temperature of 27 deg Celsius (equivalent to 81 degrees Fahrenheit or 300 K), we can plug the numbers into equation (c):
n = (1 atm)(14.7 L)/((0.082 L-atm/mole-k)*(300 K)) = 0.60 moles

So what is a mole? Chemists define one mole as 6.02 x 10^23 molecules (or 602,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules).

Notice that our use of the Ideal Gas Law was for all the molecules of gas, not just CO2.

Thus, if the 14.7 L (of a balloon) contains 0.60 moles of gas, we calculate the number of molecules of gas in the balloon as such:

# of molecules of gas (in balloon) = 0.60 moles x (6.02 x 10^23 molecules/mole) = 3.61×10^23 molecules

Now to determine how many of these molecules are CO2 we use the information determined in the previous question thusly:

# molecules of CO2 in a balloon = 3.61 x 10^23 molecules of gas x (0.0004) = 1.4 x 10^20 molecules of CO2

There we have it. There are 140,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules of CO2 in every balloon (assuming it isn’t filled with helium 😊).

Now, while this balloon’s gas is very light, it certainly is filled with a lot of molecules of CO2. This might lead one to wonder how much does all the CO2 in the atmosphere weigh. Well, this calculation is a bit trickier. According to web references, the entire atmosphere weighs approximately 1.1 x 10^19 pounds (or 5.5 quadrillion tons). We might want to just multiply this by the percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere in order to determine the total weight of CO2 in the atmosphere but we would be wrong to do so; though it wouldn’t be a terribly bad approximation (if we did so we get 4×10^15 pounds). The different molecules of gas have different weights. Thus, we would have to do a calculation that would include all of these different gases and their weights. This is a bit more complicated than I choose to get right now, so suffice it to say that all the CO2 in the atmosphere weighs approximately six thousand times more than all the humans on the Earth combined (which is approximately 7×10^11 pounds).

(4) Considering CO2 changes alone, by what percentage has the composition of the atmosphere changed since Industrialization?

Calculation (1) clarified how small CO2’s concentration is the larger scheme of things, while (2) and (3) suggested how much CO2 there is. Notice, it all depends on how we look at things, as do most things.

The question asked here aims to provide a sense of how much change has occurred in our atmosphere since industrialization.
We know that the atmosphere’s CO2 concentration has gone from 280 ppm to 400 ppm (a 43% increase). And we calculated that CO2 comprises 0.04% of the atmosphere. Thus, to determine how big a change in the atmospheric composition has been caused by Industrialization, we need only to multiply these two percentages together, as such:

Change in Atmospheric Composition since industrialization = % Change in CO2 concentration x % of atm. that is CO2.

Putting numbers in yields,

Change in Atmospheric Composition since industrialization = 43% x 0.04% = 0.017%

Since most don’t work with percentages this small, what does this amount of change mean. Well, if you had 5,814 molecules of atmospheric gas–represented by 5,812 red polka dots (each representing a molecule of gas other than CO2) and 2 blue polka dots (each representing a molecule of CO2)—over the 267 years of Industrialization, one more molecule of CO2 has been added to the atmosphere (or one more blue polka dot). Another way to look at it: If you had 5,814 fans sitting in a gymnasium, 267 years later, one more fan would join the fray. Would you notice a change of this amount? Most definitely not (unless of course the fan was decked out in the rival’s colors 😊). But we can thank modern science for building equipment that can measure such small (yet powerful) changes in the atmosphere. Perhaps the most salient question is: have we built a political/social apparatus to respond to the future/predictions that this information clarifies?

Math that matters (Part I–Missing Women)

If we want kids/adults to learn math, we might as well make it relevant. Here are a few relevant calculations (that employ nothing more than algebra) which I find very relevant to our future. Imagine these calculations being taught to an 8th grade algebra class! Here is the first installment:

Missing women

Most people are not aware that females were systematically removed from the population during the 20th Century and it is a practice that continues today. How do we know? Well, as Nobel Prize winning economist, Amartya Sen, noted back in the 1990s, if we look at sex ratios of nations, we find several that have ratios that are far from 1:1. Pakistan and China have ratios of 0.94:1 and India has a ratio of 0.93:1 (in 2016) (these numbers are pretty much the same as they were in 1990, though Pakistan has improved slightly from 0.91:1). Given that women live longer than men, nations should have sex ratios above 1–most European nations are above 1.03:1. Given these “small” differences among nations, one might just dismiss the low ratios as “normal” variation. Unfortunately, this would be a huge mistake. Here is the math to determine what a ratio of 0.93:1 means, in comparison to a 1.03:1.

First, let’s define the variables needed:
F = number of females in a population
M= number of males in a population
T = total population = F + M
R = sex ratio = F/M

So the above two equations have 4 variables (F, M, T, & R)…if you know two (and you do, T and R, from Internet sources), you should be able to use simple algebra to compute the other two, F and M.

Again, the equations are: (1) T = F + M and (2) R = F/M

Here is how you solve these two equations:
Solving (2) for M yields (3) M = F/R, substituting (3) into (1) yields, F + F/R = T; this can be rewritten as: F(1+(1/R)) = T
which can be rewritten as
(4) F = T/(1 + 1/R)

So, you can determine how many females are in a population using this equation. This can be considered the Actual Females (Fact).

So, with a population of 1 billion (1,000,000,000; which is smaller than both India’s and China’s current population) and a sex ratio of R=0.94, we use equation (4) to solve for Fact as such:

Fact = 1,000,000,000/(1 + 1/0.94) = 485 million
So, Mact = 1 billion – 485 million = 515 million

Now to determine the Expected Females (Fexp) in a “healthy” society, with F/M = 1.03, we use equation (4) again with this new R value.
Fexp = 1,000,000,000/(1 + 1/1.03)) = 507 million
So, Mexp = 493 million

Now you can determine the “missing females” (Fmiss) using this simple formula:
Missing Females = Fmiss = Expected Females – Actual Females = Fexp – Fact

In our example above (the hypothetical nation of 1 billion people), we find:

Fmiss = 507 million – 485 million = 22 million

Is this a large number? Well, when one considers that between 50-60 million people died in World War II, I’d say it is! Also, this is only for one country (say China or India). If you were to add up all the nations in the world with “missing women,” it comes to close to 100 million! Now that is an abominable figure, isn’t it? Yet, how many of you have heard of this figure before? If you are wondering why women are missing, do some research. It isn’t a pretty story. (I wrote about this issue over 10 years ago and got it published in a local paper’s front page. Sadly, as I recall, it hardly drew any attention.)

Just to put these numbers in perspective it is sometimes valuable to imagine what a sex ratio looks like when you bring it down to a scale that we can see. Let’s say, if you had a party of 100 people and a sex ratio of 0.94, you would have 52 men and 48 women. This would hardly be noticeable, would it? Hence, now we see why we need to do the large-scale calculations to expose something very sinister.

We will, yes we will!

[This journal was inspired by the 68 students who just finished their first week of classes with me. Their blogs, journals and in-class comments provoked me to reexamine the prospects for humanity.]

Things don’t look too promising right now. Super hurricanes have just pummeled two regions of the U.S. and forest fires continue to burn millions of acres of land in another. These are just the most recent calamities that pervade our consciousness. Bees, birds, bats, butterflies, and bears (nearly everything beginning with a “b”) seem to be suffering greatly. Pick another letter and you will find some of the same depressing trends (how about “I”, ice sheets, icebergs, infectious diseases, islands, invasive species, etc.). However, these trends can be reversed and humanity can bring about peace within their own species and across the entire biosphere.

How in the face of all this disaster can I say something optimistic? Well, you definitely cannot claim the opposite of what I’ve said. Saying that you know that humans are incapable of reversing these trends requires a degree of self-righteousness (and clairvoyance) unimaginable. And if you can’t argue the opposite, then you are left with only two options. You can assert that you don’t know or you can, as I just did, assert that humanity can resolve these matters. Saying you don’t know if humans are able to (or will) reverse these ominous trends, while inherently true (we actually can know nothing of the future with certainty), is equivalent to being ambivalent (or “pleading ignorance”), and we frankly have no time for this; to claim ignorance is a cop out of the worst kind. Humanity must do something to reverse these trends and the time is now to do so. Logically, then, we are left asserting that humans can (and will) do this!

But there is more than mere logic that forces us to accept that we can. Consider two additional insights. First, the world we live in is so different from the worlds that humanity has lived in the past. In no time in the past has a human being in Venezuela been able to visually see and talk to a human being living in Indonesia (the exact opposite side of the planet; if you want to see what is directly on the other side from you, check out this website, link). In no time in the past have foods/materials been able to move from one place on the planet to any other place on the planet in less than 24 hours. Never in past worlds have all humans had the capacity to find out almost any known information at the click of the mouse. These three incredible “technologies” permit possibilities that are just as unlimited as they are unimaginable.

Second, consider how much we have learned about the world in the past 100 years, e.g., penicillin was discovered in 1928 and DNA’s helical structure became known in 1953. If we consider how few humans have been involved in this type of discovery, particularly with the existing underclass that pervades almost every modern nation, we should anticipate that unlimited insights from new knowledge await us. Furthermore, despite all that we currently know about how to reverse the “trends” (through research in the fields of environmental studies, ecology, biomimicry, engineering, medicine, horticulture, communication, renewable energy, sociology, computer science, atmospheric science, etc.), consider how few of us are actually engaging directly with this knowledge in practice, whether it be researching phenomena, disseminating/teaching findings, or implementing solutions. There is so much that could be shared and accomplished.

So, for all the above reasons, I look at the future with a confidence that humans will reverse these trends. I didn’t say it will be easy. However, I can promise you this. It will be incredibly satisfying and uplifting for those who were involved in doing so! And if you are wondering where to start, you are exactly where you need to be! Check out your local scene. There are probably many people already at work on reversing trends–whether they are doing urban farming, enhancing biodiversity, teaching/mentoring, engaging in grassroots politics, building social capital, et cetera. They would love more support and camaraderie and if more of us work together we can succeed in reversing the trends and building a sustainable society.

The Illusion of Poverty: The Age of Sharing Awaits Us

Huge caveat: The author fortunately has not suffered directly from impoverishment during his life. (We all suffer from it indirectly.) Thus, he contributes this piece, not as an expert on the “topic,” but as attempt to generate productive exchange.

People in the world, in fact most people in the world, suffer greatly because they are economically poor. (Many are spiritually and culturally rich and this should give many unfulfilled “Northerners” pause regarding the “civilized” nature of our lifestyle.) They go without food, water, housing, health care, education, etc., because they cannot purchase these necessities. Why? It is because these items, despite being core basic necessities for a fully actualized life, have all been commodified. (All resources are commodified, even air–you don’t pay a monthly fee for air yet but you suffer, and pay for medical treatment, from the reckless polluting of the atmosphere.) Commodification in our capitalist world dictates that these (all) resources are provided (or not) so as to maximize profits for the few. This is a terribly inhumane situation and one that will continue to bring great suffering to the world if not ultimately trigger the elimination of our species.

But hold on. There is something incredibly simple about this terrible situation. It is completely an artificial construction! It isn’t like we don’t have enough food, land, water, or shelter to provide every human sufficient resources to self-actualize. We do! Yet we don’t make this grand aim a priority and most of us are not yet willing to share. But we could change this, couldn’t we?

What is holding us back? I think three things are key. One, we accept inequality and selfishness as reasonable/normal and a natural outcome of human society. I see this point of view as a cop out/rationale which can be tackled by intentional efforts to share and redistribute resources so that every person is a “have” and no one is a “have not”. Two, we must change the economy from a profit-based one to an equity-based one. We need progressive taxes (not more regressive ones) and shared resources. One need look no further than the difference between health outcomes in the USA (where more and more hospitals are becoming privatized and costs are skyrocketing) and those in Europe (where socialized medicine reigns)–U.S.’s health system is ranked #37 by the WHO while 17 of the top 20 ranked are European (link) Similar benefits would come by making sure that all of us have true access to the best education possible, clean water, healthful food and safe housing. (Recent efforts to privatize these resources has resulted in worse conditions, not better.) Three, we should have more free time to give to our families, children, friendships, & communities; some European countries are moving in this direction. Capitalism has demanded more of our time (men and women) and not made us any happier or fulfilled. It is also destroying the planet due to its “rational” short-sightedness that dictates that an old-growth forest is worth more as a ream of paper now than a flourishing ecosystem for perpetuity.

So, some big changes in consciousness and structures are necessary, but we are closer than we think. Recall it was just 150 years ago that many thought slavery was necessary to deliver a good life. Some still do, but most do not and we are part of that most and we can make a better future for ourselves and the future.