Ancient Sunlight nearing twilight

Thom Hartmann
Hartmann: inspiring

Leonardo DiCaprio recently told Air America host Thom Hartmann that Hartmann’s book, “The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight,” helped inspire DiCaprio’s documentary “The 11th Hour.”

Now making the rounds of festivals, “The 11th Hour” explores what DiCaprio sees as grave crises in ocean depletion, global warming, deforestation and species extinction.

Hartmann, who lives on a houseboat on the Willamette River with his wife, Louise, works as a host for Clear Channel and Air America. He has written more than 20 books, including works about attention-deficit disorder, which he wrote after his son, Justin, was diagnosed with the disorder.

Hartmann’s main argument is that oil (stored sunlight) has allowed untrammeled population growth. Nowadays, it takes about 12 years to add one billion people to the global population. So, sooner or later we face the uncomfortable transition from the population level that peak oil production can sustain, to the level current sunlight (think �renewable energy�) can sustain.

Hartmann suggests this population is somewhere between a quarter of a billion and one billion people. The five-year, industry reviewed, US Geological Survey � with an accompanying analysis by the US Energy Information Administration � puts peak oil production at �nearer the middle than the beginning of the 21st century� based on 2% annual demand growth. In 2004, oil demand growth was 3.5%. Producers were working flat out to meet demand, by the way. That $50 oil price was fundamentals, not fear.

Taboo viewpoint. Now you may well say that the end of conventional oil is not on your business decision horizon � that’s for our kids to figure out. But what if the era of adjustment just began? What if it’s up to us to engineer a soft landing to the end of the conventional oil boom, starting now?

In 2004, two of his articles were recognized by Project Censored, a media research group that compiles socially important news stories that have been overlooked or censored by mainstream media.

Hartmann started a residential treatment program for emotionally disturbed and abused children in New Hampshire in 1978.

He also helped start hospitals, famine relief programs and schools for children in India, Uganda, Australia, Colombia and the United States.

Hartmann argues that we as individuals are to blame because we are allowing our politicians to get away with the present state of things. But that is like blaming us for the parents we have. Hartmann directs little attention to the behavior of companies or governments.

“You really got me, as a reader, to take a step back and try to understand how this all came about,” DiCaprio told Hartmann.

Here is an excerpt from The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight (subtitled: The Fate of the World and What We Can Do Before It’s Too Late

This excerpt is taken from Hartmann’s web site:

Using ancient sunlight
About 900 years ago, humans in Europe and Asia discovered coal below the surface of the earth and began to burn it.

This coal was the surfacemost of these ancient mats of vegetation�this 300-million-year-old stored sunlight�and by burning it humans were, for the first time, able to use sunlight energy which had been stored in the distant past.Prior to the widespread use of coal, our ancestors had to maintain a certain acreage of forest land because they needed the wood for heat to survive the cold winters in the northern climates.

Forests captured the �current sunlight� energy, and they could liberate that captured sunlight in a fireplace or stove to warm a home, cave, or tipi during the long dark days of winter.The exploitation of coal, however, reduced their reliance on current sunlight, allowing them to cut more forestland and convert it into cropland, since they no longer were absolutely dependent on the trees for heat. By making more croplands available, they were able to produce more food for more humans, and the population of the world went from five hundred million people around the year 1000 to the first billion living humans in 1800.

This represents a critical moment in human history, for this is when our ancestors started living off our planet�s sunlight-savings.Because our ancestors could consume sunlight that had been stored by plants millions of years ago, they began for the first time to consume more resources�in food, heat, and other materials�than the daily amount of sunlight falling locally on our planet had historically been able to provide.

The planet�s human population grew beyond the level that the Earth could sustain if humans were only using local �current sunlight� as an energy and food source.This meant that if our ancestors� supply of coal had run out, they�d have eventually faced the terrible choice of giving up croplands (risking famine) so they could re-grow forests for heat, or having enough to eat but freezing to death in the winters. (Or, of course, they could have abandoned the colder climates, and packed their population closer together nearer the equator. But the historic movement of people had been away from the equator, a trend encouraged by the availability of fuel.)We see this same trend today: the availability of a fuel leads to a population that depends on it and will suffer if it�s taken away.Had our ancestors run out of coal, Nature would have taken over and limited their population.

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