Quickie Post – Information Density of the Biosphere – and What We’d Need to Create an Off-Planet Livable World

Life in the PNW — Conor and Les unloading the catch of the day

One of the more fun things to think about (well, at least for me) is what humanity would actually have to do to successfully leave the Earth behind, without, well, destroying the Earth. It’s a long and complex thought process, and I’ve written about the conundrum of space aliens eating us here. Short version, they wouldn’t, but we’d likely not be able to understand them when they told us how not to be such planetary losers.

Recently, I’ve virtually hooked up with Ugo Bardi, a physical chemist and revisor of the Club of Rome’s book The Limits to Growth. Ugo runs a couple of Facebook Groups (The Seneca Effect, The Proud Holobionts) where he attempts to probe into similar issues. Short version — we’re probably a match made in heaven/hell, depending on your perspective. Wine drinking is definitely in our future. Probably followed by shaking our collective fists at the gods.

Ugo wrote a recent brief post on Facebook, The Proud Holobionts, about information density on the planet, since the idea behind a Holobiont is that we’re all this connected, synergistic organism, and as such, we need to think about exactly HOW we’re all connected. One can see the empathy tie-over. Here’s Ugo’s post:

—————————————

The biosphere vs. humankind: Who is smarter? 

(from Makarieva, Gorshkov, and Wilderer, (2014) https://www.bioticregulation.ru/common/pdf/eete14-en.pdf)

“With the global mean efficiency of photosynthesis of about ε = 0.5%, global mean flux of solar energy absorbed by the planetary surface of about F = 170 W m^−2, total global flux I of information processed by living cells on the Earth’s surface of area S = 5×10^14 m^2 is estimated as I = εFS/(kT) = 10^35 bit s^−1

There is virtually a precipice between the information processing capacities of the biosphere and our civilization. It pertains total fluxes of information as well as the energy efficiency of information processing. If all people on Earth had a modern PC that runs about 10^11 operations per second, total flux of information processing by the humanity would not exceed 10^21 operations per second, which is 14 orders of magnitude less than in the biosphere.”


The short takeaway is that we are a bunch of orders of magnitude away from anything resembling long-term sustainable spaceflight, a la Rendezvous with Rama, because we’re nowhere near the information density of the biosphere. Or even a small one. And we’d forget something/leave something out that really mattered for sure. It’s why this extinction thing, even on our home planet is such a big deal. Every species sent down the long road to extinction is one less piece of information-generating equipment on our small blue spaceship.

And we’re not going to make it big-time in a simplified tin can. At least for the years we’ll need to get any place truly different. It’s worth referring to small thought exercises like this as we go forward. As I’ve said in my other pieces, when it comes to long-term space presence, everyone’s going to have to come along.

And information density only matters if it’s structured AND coherent. Yep, it all goes back to empathy.

One thought on “Quickie Post – Information Density of the Biosphere – and What We’d Need to Create an Off-Planet Livable World

  1. “Every species sent down the long road to extinction is one less piece of information-generating equipment on our small blue spaceship.”

    I’m glad to see you say that. It’s such a simple insight but a damn important truth. Few seem to understand what we’re doing to ourselves. Mass extinction isn’t simply sad because there are fewer strange creatures for National Geographic documentaries.

    It’s not only about loss of potential knowledge, as these species are part of symbiotic relationships, ecosystems, and the biosphere. It’s like removing cells from the human body. How many cells can we remove before the body stops functioning?

    Liked by 1 person

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