Ropes I Know

May 31, 2008

Sense of Proportion

Filed under: Life Universe and All the Rest — Tags: , , — Yeti @ 9:37

(To keep the numbers memorable, I’ll shamelessly round them wherever I see fit …)

Our sun shines with an energy of about 4*10^26 W, that’s about 400 thousand trillion gigawatts. It achieves this by fusioning about 564 million tons (metric ones, that is …) of Hydrogen, resulting in 560 million tons of Helium ….

… per second.

This means that – and you really have to consider this hard to get to the point – 4 million tons of matter are transformed into pure energy. 4 million tons of matter-equivalent radiated off into space. Each and every second. For millions and billions of years. Since our sun has been shining, it has converted about 90 times the earth’s mass into pure energy.

Now, how much of this energy gets to us humans here on Earth, desperately craving for energy to keep our homes warm, our ‘Schnitzels’ cooked, our industries buzzing and – generally – everybody happy (at least those of us who have access to a fair share of the carbohydrates we suck out of our soil with ever and ever increasing effort and pain)?

The Earth, having a radius of around 12’600 km, is seen from the Sun at a solid angle of approximately 0.02 micro-steradian. That’s not much. To envision it, just imagine how small the Earth appears seen from the Sun, compared to the whole 4-Pi sphere (measuring 1 steradian) that represents all the space that can be seen around the sun (or around any point in space, for that matter). Still, this tiny fraction of the sun’s total energy that reaches us, amounts to nearly 9 million gigawatts (about 1500 W per square meter).

This is the amount of energy that the sun shines onto the daylight side of earth. Now nine million gigawatts may not seem too much to some readers, but it still is about 10 to 15’000 times the energy we humble humans fry constantly (at least those of us … see above).

Each and every single day, we burn an amount of oil that took several hundred, if not thousands of years to be deposited in the distant past.

At the moment.

Also, at the moment, China is building at least one coal-fired power-plant each week. Meaning that China’s energy consumption increases every year by an amount of – let’s be a little bit inaccurate here – the total energy consumption of e.g. Germany in a whole year. Every year, China’s energy consumption increases by the yearly energy consumption of a highly industrialized European state inhabited by 85 million people.

And China’s not the only emerging ecology this planet is facing.

Think about it.

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