Wallpaper From Beyond the Van Allen Belt


Once a month or so I change the wallpaper on my office PC, but over the years I’ve found myself returning again and again to NASA’s Earth_Lights, a mosaic of our nighttime home viewed from Earth’s orbit.

Initially, I was drawn to the mosaic out of curiosity and by the sheer beauty of the familiar yet haunting pattern that showed the purposeful hand of man. Over time, it became a talisman of sorts, in much the same way I’ve come to regard the mountains embracing my town … a presence that is at once comforting and challenging.

NASA Earth_lights

NASA Earth_lights

Questions of “Why this?”, or “Why not there?” have emerged without fanfare, and here while I pondered the history and fate of as historian William Manchester titled his book of the Middle Ages, A World Lit Only By Fire, I once again found myself drawn into the night scene without any sense of purpose. It was as if what I needed to say had been waiting there ready to snare me … and as usual, it did.

The same hand of man my wallpaper depicted through myriad points of light produced the base materials with which we all wrestle on a daily basis, but the significance of the mosaic didn’t end there…indeed far from it.

I’ll ask you to take a moment to let the image wash through you, and then consider some points of interest:

• Electrification, as it now exists, is a century and a little odd-change old.
• When it began to emerge, the world’s population stood at 1.4 billion people—roughly 10 times what it was at the time of Christ.
• Today (depending on the authority you wish to support) the world’s population has grown five-fold—to 7 billion, headed for 8 billion before 2030.
• If the present rate is to continue, we will have achieved another 10-times population expansion in less than 200 years.
• Worldwide gross product has grown a hundredfold in the last century.

Now look at the image again. Does it look the same to you, or does it stir up some new thoughts about life here on Earth 150 years ago, today, and into the time of our grandchildren? To me, it raises strings of questions, chief among which is, “To what extent does the maintenance and/or growth of the world’s current population depend on the production and delivery of reliable and affordable energy?”

Without the guarantee of reliable, affordable, and secure energy, not only is the industry necessary to meet the needs of our soaring population growth in jeopardy, but so too the ability to sustain that which already exists.

Earth_Lights, if you look behind the shimmering dots, is a grim depiction of a house of cards at the mercy of forces largely beyond our control. Our salvation, I would like to suggest, lies in our ability to develop and maintain options, one of which involves the extraction of every last bit of value from all the materials we use. Energy from its various sources may seem to some as just a sidelight to the contribution we make to our society’s welfare, but an increasingly important one viewed from afar.

In my most recent stent as editor of Energy Storage Solutions, I’ve come to believe that we are at the threshold of dealing more effectively, efficiently, and sustainably with what I’m loath to call (but I will anyway) our energy crisis than I would have thought possible a decade ago. Who knows, what we see in Earth_Lights may someday be a beacon to sentient beings from beyond our solar system.


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