Advertisement heard on PBS – “Can Planet Earth be Saved by the Sun?”

Oh urp! You would think PBS would use their words to educate rather than to confuse us all. This question is misleading, anthropomorphic, irrelevant, ignorant and more seriously this is a question which by its very nature denies reality. It tries to imply that we need not fulfill our own responsibilities to the living earth ecosystem of which we are a part. And this quote is from one of the better programs available to us as we try to understand the reality of the earth ecosystem. It’s no wonder that most people are confused about the realities of energy metabolism.

The fact is:

1. The planet earth is not a living thing, and certainly doesn’t need saving. But, not to quibble, we can understand they are talking about the living earth ecosystem. In that case, the answer is NO. The sun can not prevent us HUMANS from destroying the living earth ecosystem. Either we stop ourselves or it doesn’t get saved.

2. The living earth would not be here at all without the sun, but that doesn’t mean the sun is actually DOING anything that will save us. It is life that maintains life, within the suitable environment. Life sustains life by means of: (1) the flow of energy, that is metabolism; (2) the flow of information; (3) the cycling of materials. Without the sun we would have no flow of energy, but the sun energy can not be used for food. The limiting energy factor is conversion of light energy to organic energy by photosynthetic organisms.

3. The program PBS was advertising is about solar power. The answer is: Solar power can be used to generate electricity and heat but not food (organic energy). It is not the sun that can save the living earth ecosystem. The living earth ecosystem was doing fine until we unbalanced it.

4. The metabolism of the living earth ecosystem is limited by photosynthesis, not by availability of sunlight. It is limited by the availability of organisms that can convert the light energy of the sun into organic energy of food. The only thing that can save the living earth ecosystem is to restore a sustainable balance between the amount of organic energy that the ecosystem can produce and the amount of growth that goes on within the ecosystem (that includes biological and economic growth

The only way solar energy can be used to help save the ecosystem would be if we use it for heat and light and to STOP using more organic energy than the earth ecosystem can produce, and the only way that can happen is if you choose to help.

To do that we, especially our activists and politicians, voters and parents, need a much better understanding of how the metabolic processes function to maintain life. So it is time I stop watching television and explain, beginning with the simplest sort of self-sustaining living organism, the energy metabolism of the individual photosynthetic cell.