SUNLIGHT IS THE EARTH'S ONLY TRUE INVESTMENT OF ENERGY
by
Chris Maser

The only true investment in the global ecosystem is energy from solar radiation (materialized sunlight); everything else is merely the recycling of already existing energy. In a business sense, for example, one makes money (economic capital) and then takes a percentage of those earnings and recycles them, puts them back as a cost into the maintenance of buildings and equipment in order to continue making a profit by protecting the integrity of the initial outlay of capital over time. In a business, one recycles economic capital after the profits have been earned.

Biological capital, on the other hand, must be "recycled" before the profits are earned. This means forgoing some potential monetary gain by leaving enough of the ecosystem intact for it to function in a sustainable manner. In a forest, for instance, one leaves some proportion of the merchantable trees (both alive and dead) to rot and recycle into the soil and thereby replenish the fabric of the living system. In rangelands, one leaves the forage plants in a viable condition so they can seed and protect the soil from erosion as well as add organic material to the soil's long-term, ecological integrity.

People speak incorrectly about fertilization as an investment in a forest or grassland, when in fact it is merely recycling chemical compounds that already exist on Earth. In reality, people are simply taking energy (in the form of chemical compounds) from one place and putting them in another for a specific purpose. The so-called "investments" in the stock market are a similar shuffling of energy.

When people invest money in the stock market, they are really recycling energy from Nature's products and services that were acquired through human labor. The value of the labor is transferred symbolically to a dollar amount, thereby representing a predetermined amount of labor. Let us say you work for ten dollars an hour; then, a one-hundred-dollar bill would equal ten hours of labor. Where is the investment? There is no investment, but there is a symbolic recycling of the energy put forth by the denomination of money we spend.

When people invest money in the stock market, they are really recycling energy from Nature's products and services that were acquired through human labor. The value of the labor is transferred symbolically to a dollar amount, thereby representing a predetermined amount of labor. Let us say you work for ten dollars an hour; then, a one-hundred-dollar bill would equal ten hours of labor. Where is the investment? There is no investment, but there is a symbolic recycling of the energy put forth by the denomination of money we spend.

Here, you might argue that people invested their labor in earning the money. And I would counter that whatever energy they put forth was merely a recycling of the energy they took in through the food they ate. Nevertheless, the energy embodied in the food may actually have simultaneously been a true investment and a recycling of already existing energy.

It has long been understood that green plants use the chlorophyll molecule to absorb sunlight and use its energy to synthesize carbohydrates (in this case, sugars) from carbon dioxide and water. This process is known as photosynthesis, where photo means "light" and synthesis means the "fusion of energy" and is the basis for sustaining the life processes of all plants. The energy is derived from the sun (an original input) and combined with carbon dioxide and water (existing chemical compounds) to create a renewable source of usable energy. This process is analogous to an array of organic solar panels-the green plant.

Think of it this way, the plant (an array of solar panels) uses the green chlorophyll molecule (a photoreceptor, meaning receiver of light) to collect light from the sun within chloroplasts (small, enclosed structures in the plant that are analogous to individual solar panels). Then, through the process of photosynthesis, the sun's light is used to convert carbon dioxide and water to carbohydrates for use by the plant, a process that is comparable to converting the sun's light in solar panels on the roof of a building into electricity for our use. These carbohydrates, in turn, are partly stored energy from the sun—a new input of energy into the global ecosystem—and partly the storage of existing energy from the amalgam of carbon dioxide and water.1

When, therefore, we eat green plants, the carbohydrates are converted through our bodily functions into different sorts of energy. By that I mean the energy embodied in green plants is altered through digestion into the various types of energy our bodies require for their physiological functions. The excess energy (that not required for physiological functions) is expended in the form of physical motion, such as energy to do work. On the other hand, it is different when eating meat because the animal has already used the sun's contribution to the energy matrix in its own bodily functions and its own physical acts of living, so all we get from eating flesh is recycled energy.

ENDNOTES

  1. Paul May. Chlorophyll. http://www.chm.bris.ac.uk/3motm/chlorophyll/chlorophyll_h.htm (accessed on 5 January, 2009).


This essay is excerpted from my 2009 book, "Social-Environmental Planning:  The Design Interface Between Everyforest and Everycity." CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. 320 pp.

©Chris Maser 2009. All rights reserved.

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