Civilization / 7 billion humans around a big campfire

FIre big

A short history of civilization:

  1. An archaic human (most likely Homo erectus) discovered that a controlled fire provides heat and light and therefore some protection against adverse environmental conditions.
  2. Humans build bigger and bigger fires for the next 300,000 to 1 million years (it’s not a date that we definitely know) for the same purpose.

Conceptually, we haven’t advanced from this “discovery.” Modern energy production is based on heat: natural gas, coal, even nuclear plants heat water, which produces steam, which drives turbines, which generate electricity for lighting and heating and for powering machines. That’s it!

Natural gas, or coal, or heating oil, burn in a box (boiler, furnace, cooking stove, water heater) to produce heat. These technologies are barely more sophisticated than lighting a campfire. True, electrical assist and regulation have been added to these appliances, which add nothing to function, but frequently break and make the unit unusable without an HVAC fix.

Let’s pretend that there are advanced alien civilizations “out there” who have been observing human progress. They observe that our planet is enveloped in solar energy, and dangerously so, if not for our atmosphere and electromagnetic field. The hot and lively mantle that churns below the crust we live on also generates enormous power, as do the tides that move incredible quantities of water every day. What’s more, this extravagant flow of energy is FREE.

But here we are, after 300,000 to 1.5 million years of building bigger campfires:  conceptually, we’ve gone nowhere.

Welcome to my campfire.

ddn120711powerplants Coal-fired-steam-turbine-power-plant

In principle a power plant relies on a big campfire. It is possible that our failure to fully exploit other energy sources is our psychological attachment to fire.


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