Solar Energy Is a Terrible Thing to Waste

Michael Anissimov at Accelerating Future highlights the simple observation behind the transhumanist vision,

Part of the rationale for being a “transhumanist”, or, more broadly, having grandiose dreams for humanity’s future, is the extremely simple and mundane observation that the available matter and free energy in our general vicinity is far larger than what we have utilized of it thus far. The incoming solar energy is about a million times greater than global energy consumption, and the available hydrothermal energy to be extracted from the energy gradient between the mantle and the upper crust is many times that. These energy sources far exceed that available from all fossil fuels, uranium, and thorium combined. In the long run (less than a century?), solar and hydrothermal will become our primary energy sources, simply because nothing else will be able to meet our exponentially growing demand.

Sometimes its difficult to imagine the sheer amount of energy in our small part of the universe, but this spiral energy scale diagram does a nice job of capturing it (note I did not fact-check the claims so you be the judge on the accuracy).  Note the two data points that address the point made by Anissimov:

All electricity since Tesla – approximately 10^21 joules

Daily receipt by Earth of total solar energy – approximately 10^22 joules

Anissimov — not surprisingly for a transhumanist — thinks we should be focused on finding ways of increasing the percentage of that energy and other abundant resources,

Some, like environmentalist Bill McKibben — have said “Enough”, enough technology, enough life, enough progress. Unsurprisingly, I disagree. Looking back from the perspective of a world more than 20 times lusher and Nature-filled than today, with more than 20 times more people distributed evenly across huge tracts of land now practically empty, it will be hard to say, “we should have stopped when we were just at 5% of this potential”. There have been other times in history with just 5% of the biomass and life of today — immediately after major mass extinctions. If today’s world is “enough”, then why stop there? Why not revert back to a world with even less biodiversity and biomass? It would be a surprising coincidence if the current biomass is just right, rather than too little or too much. Those arguing otherwise are just products of their environment — the glacier, desert, and steppe-covered poverty of the Late Cenozoic.

Hell yeah.