“If We Can’t Save the Earth, Can We Leave It?”
If you’re at all techy, geeky, nerdy, or just love intelligent humor, you probably already know about the brilliant web comic XKCD. If not, check it out. It’s scientifically literate, poignant, pithy, and occasionally even addresses topics that hit close to home here at HD Living—like this spot-on strip about audiophiles. (And let’s face it: if you’re not that guy, you know that guy.)
Even if you’re a fan of the strip, you may have overlooked the fact that creator Randall Munroe has started a new subsection of the site dubbed “What If?” In it, he addresses the huge hypothetical questions you’ve always wanted answered, with the same scientific literacy, humor, and snarkiness for which his comic strips are beloved.
Last week’s question (and answer) is one of the best yet: “Is there enough energy to move the entire current human population off-planet?” In other words, if we wreck the climate and environment of the earth completely, is it within the realm of possibility that we could pick up and move somewhere else?
This isn’t really spoiling anything, since Munroe’s answer isn’t nearly as important as the way he arrives at it and how beautifully he communicates it, so you should definitely give it a read, but to sum up the bottom line: probably not. At least not with current technologies. Relying on good old fashioned rocketry, Munro figures that to shoot all 400 million tons of humanity into orbit would require pretty much all of the hydrocarbon fuels the planet has left in it, and that’s not considering the fuel it would take to build the rockets or transport all of those people to the launch sites. So, maybe the numbers would work on paper, but in practice? Probably not.
He does kick around a few other potential options, like space elevators made of materials stronger than we can construct at the moment, as well as literally propelling ourselves off the planet with nuclear explosions. (No, really.)
More than anything, though, this brilliant little thought experiment underscores the fact that, for now, we really don’t have any place to go, so we really have no choice but to be a little nicer to our home planet. Not that we didn’t already know that, mind you, but in addition to being fun and geeky and something to look at on the web when you ought to be working on wiring plans or project proposals instead, this Q&A could make for a fun sales pitch the next time you find yourself struggling to sell a client on energy management solutions from Control4 and Eragy, or power (and money)-saving lighting control from Lutron. We’re finally at that point where integrating energy management within electronics and various home technology has become much more of a standard – perhaps you use Munroe’s thinking to interest your prospects in Savant home control, they’ve added energy monitoring capabilities to their system too.
Granted, you probably don’t want to get too scary with your message—“Would you rather spend a few bucks now or force your grandkids to ignite nuclear bombs under the seats of their pants?” is probably not the best of sales pitches—but it couldn’t hurt to inject a little levity into the very serious issues facing our environment, and the very cool products we can integrate into the home to help conserve our natural resources, one household at a time.
Related: Control4, electronics, energy efficiency, energy management, energy monitoring, eragy, green tech, home control system, lighting, lighting control, lutron, Randall Munroe, Savant, smart home, technology, XKCD