Our society is living on borrowed ancient sunlight

The fossil fuel companies have given us an abundance of gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, coal, natural gas, and other fossil fuel products, that after 100+ years our society is rather confused. We think these fuels are endless, and there’s no obvious direct impact (other than slightly stinky exhaust). Therefore we must collectively think it’s all okay, no problem, move on with our lives, and keep on jet skiing all summer long, who cares.

Everybody, please, stop for a moment and think about this carefully.

Gasoline, diesel, coal, natural gas, none of that has a limitless supply. And burning that stuff causes a host of unwanted side effects like cardiovascular disease, and other diseases, and a toxic environment, and global warming, and on and on.

We all know how gasoline is formed, right? Dinosaurs lived millions of years ago, they died, making a great big puddle of dinosaur guts, that eventually rotted and became gasoline. Right? Technically that’s not accurate. In reality crude oil is made from fossilized ancient life forms, zooplankton and algae, that settled at the bottom of ancient lakes and seabeds. In the right conditions these ancient creatures were converted into crude oil.

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So crude oil isn’t made from dinosaurs but from algae. The real point is that the creatures lived in ancient times. Those creatures lived because of sunlight striking this planet in ancient times. Therefore the vast majority of our population is 100% beholden to ancient sunlight.

That’s what occurred to me while answering a question: Why do people compare electric cars to gas cars when electric cars have no onboard energy source?

First, the question contains a fallacy. The subtext is that gasoline is an energy source when electricity is not an energy source. Which causes us to ask – what is an energy source? And is gasoline an energy source?

Pondering those questions has you remember how gasoline comes from dinosaurs (well, algae) that lived in ancient times. And as a result gasoline is an energy carrier, just like an electric car battery pack is an energy carrier.

Think about the size of the oil fields around the world – West Texas, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, the Gulf Coast, Alberta, etc. All are large territories, some of which are deserts today, but in ancient times had to have been a large lake or an ocean. These bodies of water teemed with life, not just the algae’s but fish and birds and who knows what else.

All of that life had to have existed because of sunlight striking this planet. It warmed the atmosphere, and through photosynthesis gave energy to plants. The plants were food for animals and all kinds of biological stuff happened. The side effect was carcasses sinking to the ocean floor and eventually becoming crude oil.

Today, based on the ability to mine that crude oil, our society has powered itself to develop huge technologies of all kinds, to commit war and destruction on a huge scale, to build highways and gleaming skyscrapers, and even contemplate the possibility of traveling to other planets.

And the vast majority of this was due to ancient sunlight causing ancient sea creatures to live and die and become crude oil.

We have a collective delusion that gasoline and diesel and the rest is an energy source. If it were an energy source then it would be limitless. None of that is an energy source, and there is a limited quantity of it available.

Roughly speaking that will be the Age Of Oil. Humanity will have the brief spurt of hugeness that we are enjoying today. But it’s all powered by this ancient sunlight that formed ancient creatures from whose bodies were formed crude oil and coal.

When we use that up, we use it up, and then what?

Isn’t it a better choice to base our society on today’s sunlight?

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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