Energy and Heat

I have to babble a little about energy and heat.

What’s the total amount of energy delivered to the Earth’s surface? What are we adding to it?

Thermodynamics dictates that all energy eventually gets converted to heat. As energy generators, earthlings add about 0.03% to the Earth’s total heat signature at the Earth’s surface (after taking cloud cover into account). This doesn’t seem like much. But it is heat, and as developing countries’ energy needs grow this small percentage can only increase with time. The heat has nowhere to go but up. If carbon dioxide and other fossil fuel emissions continue to increase the thickness of the atmosphere’s insulating blanket, then this extra heat will become trapped at the Earth’s surface rather than radiating out to space.

In a hundred years I estimate that the Earth’s total energy consumption will be at least at factor of 10 more than today. This can only exacerbate the trapped-heat problem that we’re causing with excess CO2 generation. And if we ever find a way to cheaply create “cleaner”, non-solar-generated energy – like fusion power, perhaps – the availability of that energy will certainly cause its use to increase even faster. That means that the percentage of Earth’s heat we ourselves generate will grow even faster. And we seem to be able to create new energy sources much faster than our ability to remove CO2 from the air.

As long as we continue to be inventive, our heat signature relative to the Sun’s will increase. We’ll end up baking the earth regardless of how much additional CO2 we throw into or take out of the air.

This winter I’m turning the thermostat down another degree.



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