Recycling Humans?

Chemistry as it applies to the human population.

Recent bush fires in Australia have had me thinking down some very black roads.  Some related to politics, capitalism and how the world could have been better if we had taken advantage of different “sliding door” moments.

I have reflected on climate change, sustainability, the death of native animals, destruction of houses and communities. I thought about the moments in history which have led us here to this time and place.

…And then I got to thinking about thermodynamics. About available energy and matter.  The fact that there is a finite number of atoms on this Earth.

The big question in my mind then became “How many people could live on this planet without ruining it?”

As a chemist, I have studied closed system reactions. Our earth is essentially a closed system.  A closed system only has a certain number of atoms available so once you use them up the reactions have to stop. Rearranging atoms usually uses up energy. Energy is also limited.

These limited atoms are used to make up all the things on Earth including humans. There are an estimated 7,656 million people on the planet. Let’s say the average mass of a human is around 80kg. That’s 612,480 million kilograms of humans. (1 kilo = 2.2 lbs)

If we wind back the clock just 300 years to the 1700s, the estimated upper limit[1] of the human population was 680 million. That means there is an extra 558,080 million (558,080,000,000) kg of human flesh on the planet now compared to then.

Most of those extra kilograms have come from other living things in our closed system because we eat them.  There has to be a time when we simply run out of atoms and energy to keep making more humans. The majority of the energy we are using now has come from the stored energy of ancient living things – a.k.a fossil fuel.

While some of the atoms in current humans may have come from recycled humans (i.e. the return of nutrients to the soil through decomposition) most of the time we don’t generally “recycle” humans. We put them in sealed boxes in burial grounds off-limits to agriculture where the nutrients can not be returned to the system. Cremation adds to the carbon in the air.

We waste and misuse so many resources. As consumers, we salve our conscious with the catch-cry,  reduce-reuse-recycle, but that is unlikely to be enough to stop or reverse climate change.

Is it time to stop being humans who recycle to humans who are recycled?

Is it time to start thinking about burial practices so the nutrients in humans are available for other uses? I’m of course not the only one thinking about this sort of thing; burial trees pods have been mooted for a while.

It’s all sounding like Soylent Green may not be such a bad idea after all! By the way, that movie, where people were recycled to make food for other humans was set in 2022.

I also believe that those of us in developed economies, who use a lot of resources, have a moral imperative to reduce the number of children we have. We need to seriously consider limiting our population through natural attrition so that some of the atoms can be returned to make other things.

Instead of “one [child] for mum, one for dad and one for the country” how about just one for the planet?

[1] https://www.ecology.com/population-estimates-year-2050/

Mini-doc of the Week 2

Early Morning in Narooma

Continuing on the theme of fires on the NSW South Coast. Once again this clip is from Narooma, a village about 4 hours drive from Sydney. I used to spend holidays there in my early 20’s. I have plenty of fond memories.

These areas rely on tourism, especially in our summer school holiday period so they will be doing it tough. The main crisis has passed now, but the people in this area need to put their lives back in order.

Support them if you can.

 

All footage on iPhone SMAX edited using iMovie on my phone.

Launching Mini-Doc of the Week

Photo of the Week Challenge

Last week I finished up a full year of a Photo of the Week challenge. In the spirit of adventure, I am going to morph this into a video challenge. I am challenging myself to create a short (1 – 5 minute) mini-documentary each week. Or as I like to call them Chookumentaries! (It makes me laugh!)

To get a head start I will use some archival footage I have shot “on location”. Some clips will have already appeared on my Facebook page, so apologies to those who have already seen them!

I will most likely knock them together with my iPhone and iMovie so they may be rough and ready. I’ll use it as an excuse to experiment with a few other video creation apps as well.

Wish me luck! The theory is that I’ll get better with practice! Oh and I’ll make a new graphic for Week 2, I wanted to use the same one for this week before heralding the change in format.

Week 1: Ashes in the Sand. Smoke in the Sky

This clip was filmed in Narooma while I was on deployment for the State Emergency Service to support the local Rural Fire Service. This area, the Eurobadalla Shire, had been badly hit by fires on New Year’s Eve and was facing ongoing issues from falling trees.

Active fires were still burning in some areas.

 

 

How to reduce your reliance on fossil fuel.

People Power, not Petrol Power!

An off-schedule post today to add to the theme of reducing your reliance on fossil fuel. It might become a regular feature; it might not! I am very mindful of being that annoying blogger who is always pushing things into your inbox. It might just morph into my regular Friday posts, but I felt the need to share this today.


A few months ago, I found a video from Liziqi Art of Cooking in my Facebook feed.  After five minutes of being mesmerised by the process of making silk by hand, I hit that follow button. Today another came into my feed about making cotton doonas.

Amazing!

It’s worth watching for the hand-driven technology. This is the way we need to go to save the planet. Use people power, not petrol power. Except for the fact it has been videoed and subsequently uploaded to social media, not one bit of fossil fuel can be seen in use.  Of course, there is a lot of wood-burning happening. Perhaps you could replace that with solar or wind-generated electricity?

Her cooking videos are amazing. Her life hacks and kitchen tips are great too.

I could, unfortunately, watch for hours and hours! I’d love to spend a couple of weeks living like this! Without a radical change to my existing life, it would be impossible for me to replicate, but it is absorbing. I can dream about such a simple life filled with hard and satisfying manual labour. I bet Liziqi doesn’t have to worry about counting calories and scheduling gym sessions!

The mix of excellent camera work, social media presence and traditional lifestyle show that these people are not living in the past, but savvy entrepreneurs. She has an online shop and fashion brand as well.

She has a huge following, and I am sure many of you know of her already. Even if it is only 50% “real” and 50% marketing it’s still a delight!

If you have an hour to spare dive in!

 

See my other posts about planet-saving!

How can you reduce your climate change impact?

Earlier this week I dashed off a rather prickly post about getting angry with yourself about climate change flavoured heavily by the current bushfire situation in Australia. It was, in part, a reaction to the fact that I was going out for the 8th day straight to help the NSW Rural Fire Service as an SES volunteer. I was up to 100 % days for the year! While my role is in support and I am never in any real danger, it has been stressful and tiring, albeit overwhelmingly self-affirming. I am proud of myself that I am ABLE to be helpful in a second-line role.

I challenged you to make a contribution to reduce your impact on the climate. These actions will, of course, be too late for this particular crisis, but we need to start somewhere!

Here are a few suggestions.

Get politically active

As individuals, we can make changes to our life that will have an impact, but the big guns are held by the government.  They are the ones who decide whether we keep digging up coal and burning it or invest in renewables.  You, however, have the power to decide who is in government, so my first suggestion is to become more politically active. In Australia, we have a working democracy, and we get who we vote for. But unlike America and other places, we don’t vote for our Prime Minister. We vote for the party they represent.The Prime Minister can be removed without a change of government.

Make sure your local member knows what you think about their policies.  ALL of their policies. I am not going to tell you who to vote for because these fires have been a long time coming and are not the responsibility of one or the other of governments we have had. (Without going down too much of a rabbit hole when you think of it, it has been a growing issue ever since we placed more value on wealth than our environment… but that’s another story)

Ten things you can do to reduce your climate change impact

David Suzuki has been agitating for action in a moderate and persuasive way for a long time.  This site is easy to read and provides a very digestible listicle of the ten things you can do to make a start on reducing your impact on climate change.

Steel Street - Cringila
Stop and think about your impact

What’s the one ‘big’ thing you can do to reduce climate change impact?

The most useful thing you can do is not going to seem so palatable to many of you. It is to have one less child.  The per annum reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide by having one fewer child is estimated at 23,770 – 117,700 kg compared to 5 kg for using reusable shopping bags. (Source: Seth Wynes and Kimberly A Nicholas 2017 Environ. Res. Lett. 12 074024). Reducing the number of children reduces the number of resources they will use over their lifetime.

This article ranks personal actions as being high, moderate or low impact. 

It is an open-source, peer-reviewed article. You will need to download it to read the whole thing. I suggest you skip through to the tables that list the categories.

In summary, here are the high impact actions YOU can take

High Impact actions individuals can take for climate change reduction

  1. Have one less child
  2. Live car-free
  3. Avoid one flight
  4. Purchase green energy
  5. Reduce the effects of driving (eg with a more efficient car)
  6. Eat a plant-based diet

Moderate Impact actions individuals can take.

These moderate impact actions reduce carbon dioxide in the range of  0 – 370 kg/annum each. These actions are not painful at all. I bet you do some to a certain extent already but don’t sit on your hands, tackle some more!

  1. Home heating/cooling efficiency
  2. Install solar panels
  3. Use public transport or walk/bike as much as possible
  4. Buy energy-efficient products
  5. Conserve energy
  6. Reduce food waste
  7. Reduce consumption
  8. Reuse
  9. Recycle
  10. Eat local

Low Impact actions individuals can take.

These low impact actions reduce carbon dioxide in the range of  6 – 60 kg/annum each but if you do them all that’s a good start and if EVERYONE did them all that would be BIG!!!  For instance, if all 24 million Australian’s did these simple things it would add up to 1,440,000,000 kg of CO2!

  1. Conserve water – eg. run a full dishwasher
  2. Eliminate unnecessary travel
  3. Minimise waste
  4. Plant a tree
  5. Compost
  6. Purchase carbon credits
  7. Reduce lawn mowing
  8. Ecotourism
  9. Keep backyard chickens – I wish I could!! 🙂
  10. Buy bona fide eco-label products
  11. Calculate your home’s footprint (I’ll research this one some more to find out how and what they mean)

How many can you tick off? Even if you can tick off many of the things on these lists already, don’t get complacent.

Encourage others!

Conserve more!

Walk more!

Use less!