On bananas, oxygen and energy

Munching a perfectly ripe nutritious banana for breakfast a few minutes ago, I felt amazed at the amazing transportation system that has provided this nutritious treat, having brought it to here from far away Ecuador, after being grown and harvested there at significant cost and effort, too.

That low cost transportation was powered by petrochemicals, low cost widely available energy sources. Or, so it is said, low-cost.

Petrochemicals are pried or slurped out of the depths of the earth, where they have been stored for eons as sequestered carbon. Sequestered at a great price by Mother Nature. But that was long ago and far away and none of our business, right?

We see the price as merely that of the land that was bought and sold among people, with rights to take those petrochemicals from below. And the cost of extracting the coal or oil or natural gas, and processing and transporting it, and retail sales costs. That is the cost we see. Not the cost of actually making that coal or oil. We get a hint of that cost as we attempt to make biofuels.

Yet, that kind of petrochemical energy is actually only half the energy involved. The other half comes from the air. The same air that we breathe, note. And surrounds this planet with its life sustaining qualities. That oxygen did not come free, either.

Way way back long ago, this planet was much as we know it in terms of size, land and oceans differently configured, but there was no oxygen in the air, just carbon based gasses. We would not have been able to live in it for over a minute or two, then dead, if it were again back like then.

Tiny creatures called cyanobacteria, sunshine powered, munched the hydrocarbon gasses surrounding our planet, and excreted oxygen as a byproduct. So they were sequestering carbon, and producing oxygen. As they persevered, and the atmosphere was depleted of much of its hydrocarbon gasses, other plant life appeared and also sequestered carbon in their bodies, and produced oxygen for the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide got converted by those sun-powered plant beings, the carbon sequestered as their physical bodies, and oxygen being put into the atmosphere. The mass of their expired bodies, such as peatmoss too, got buried by the geological processes, compressing it down into the coal and oil we now can find there in places.

So when we burn coal and oil and natural gas to produce energy, all we are doing is extracting the solar energy that those countless plant beings put into the sequestering of that carbon. We are undoing the processes that made our planet livable for creatures such as we are.

Now, there is lots of oxygen in the atmosphere. And lots of that coal and oil underground. So we can mess with undoing those long ago life efforts to create our breathable atmosphere, and Mother Nature can take the mess, at least for awhile.

We have also multiply documented how the carbon dioxide, put back into the atmosphere, changes the retention of solar heat, raising the temperature of the planet's surface and tinkering with the delicate balance of energies of the weather's modifications to our living spaces around the world. Just how much we can tinker with undoing the sequestering of the carbon and production of oxygen that was done with enormous difficulty way way back when, without messing up our nest way too much, remains to be seen.

Now, this banana, the one I started this post admiring, also was made by a plant that munched airborne carbon dioxide and produced oxygen for the atmosphere too, in the banana's making. I will exhale some carbon dioxide back into the air, eventually. But the vast majority of the carbon dioxide that was put into the air, while consuming precious oxygen from the air, that was used in the process of transporting that banana to me; and there is also no ongoing processes that are making up for that combustion-lost oxygen from the atmosphere as part of that transportation.

So is it really low cost transportation energy? Is the cost of petrochemical energy merely the cost really only that of robbing Mother Earth of its sequestered hydrocarbons and oxygen?

I like to think of it all as a temporary gift Mother Nature has given to us to provide the energy to jump-start us to reach for far better sources of energy to power our vast power-hungry civilization.

Very little of our energy use actually needs hydrocarbons to be burned; the production of cement and steel being some of them.

But the vast majority of our use of energy is used to move us and our stuff around from place to place, heat and cool our places of work and residence, cook our food, power our tools, play our TV's, power our computers. None of these things intrinsically need to use petrochemical burning for energy to make them happen. Seems more logical and overall efficient to go right to the source, the vastly abundant sunshine.

There is energy aplenty streaming in every day from the Sun; all we have to do is adequately and efficiently capture and use it. Roughly a kilowatt of solar energy pours into every square yard of the earth's disk; given that half the earth is receiving solar energy at any given time, with a radius of 4,000 miles, that is a disk of pi R squared area or 50 million square miles, or 1.5 times 10 to the 14th power square yards, each with that 1,000 watts pouring in on it (nevermind the clouds for now) means the Earth on average is constantly receiving 1.5 times ten to the 14th power kilowatts, each hour receiving that many kilowatt hours of energy. 1.5 x 10^14 KWh, 1,500,000,000,000,000 KWh every hour, coming in free for the asking, but thrown away for the ignoring.

Free for the asking, but thrown away for the ignoring!

Yet we still burn lifegiving oxygen while undoing hard sequestered carbon ... just for energy? Just to take out the solar energy that was used to sequester that carbon and to produce oxygen for the air?

Are we smart folks, or not?

I think we can do better, lots better.

We ought to be able to do lots better than using our smarts and skills just by going bananas with our war machines doing our incredibly expensive and messy worldwide Hatfield & McCoys games, worshiping the testosterone god.

It seems to me that we ought to instead be providing totally solar powered rapid ways to get bananas brought up here to Washington State, for example. But since we didn't, obviously I am missing some important point.

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