Spaceship Earth and its web of life is powered by energy from the Sun, a hydrogen/helium nuclear fusion furnace some 15000000 kilometres distant. The energy of this sunlight supports almost all life on Earth by photosynthesis, and drives Earth’s climate and weather. Currently vast amounts of energy in the form of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) is being used to transform the spaceship for the evident benefit of this generation of passengers. Unfortunately the release of this stored energy from organic material deposited under the ground millions of years ago has led to anthropogenic climate disruption and warming of the entire planet. Thus one species in the web of life is now augmenting the Sun’s control of the climate by releasing from the Earth’s crust (lithosphere) what the Sun formerly created. Exponentially growing use of fossil fuels means that they will be used up in a matter of decades, but the IPCC report (October 2014) warns that if their unabated use continues, global warming will result in catastrophic consequences. Nuclear energy derives from uranium which is also a non-renewable resource. Storing its waste is problematic and the Sellafield, Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents have led many to doubt its long-term safety.
This section contains resources such as this slide show of energy graphs from the international energy agency (IEA) about the challenges of managing and maintaining energy supplies overcrowded Spaceship Earth. In a wide-ranging overview of “Our Renewable Future” Richard Heinberg surveys the contrasting prospects of those who favour continuing fossil fuel use as opposed to the expansion of low carbon energy supplies.