World Futures: Education – Part Three

Los Alamos World Futures Institute
In part two in this series we looked at education from personal, societal and governmental perspectives.
Yet all three perspectives must be incorporated into a unified educational perspective, while the advancing individual becomes more focused and specialized as he or she progresses.
From a personal perspective the statement describes me. I studied the military art while learning general engineering, followed by nuclear engineering. I did not study in depth English literature, music, anthropology and the list goes on.
But I did have to study some of this material for reasons other than the specifics of nuclear engineering. This suggests that there is a required curriculum for everyone and elective curriculum offerings as one advances and becomes more specialized. But what does everyone need to take and understand to be a good citizen of a society and government?
Earth itself is a good place to start. It is assumed that saving Earth for future generations is a fundamental value of humanity. We have an obligation to help those who follow us (other humans we create, at least until the aliens arrive) sustain the planet and its habitable environment. The problem becomes one of rate of change.
The earth evolved slowly, building up and storing chemicals and energy over four and a half billion years while humans have been around for about 200,000 years and are a mere 6,000 years as we know them. And in the past 200 years we have seen the emergence of telegraphy, photography, the rotary press, the typewriter, rockets, the steamboat, x-rays, gasoline and diesel engines, advertising agencies, bureaucracy and on and on.
Oops, almost forgot the cell phone. All of these tools have helped sustain an ever growing population as well as accelerate the growth of knowledge and information. With this ever accelerating growth of technology, knowledge and information, where is Earth and humanity going and how much time do we have?
So far humans have travelled to the moon and back and are planning for travel to and from Mars. In this travel, humans must exist in a capsule for a defined amount of time. The human bodies must exist and live, needing food, waste processing, water and so forth. The Apollo 17 mission to the moon (December 1972) lasted 12 days, 13 hours, 57 minutes and 59 seconds. Obviously, it was very doable. Load up a recreational vehicle, pack with food and water, add enough fuel from the gas station and you are on your way.
But what do you need for sustaining humans while to going to and returning from Mars? It takes between 150 and 300 days to make the trip one way. And when you arrive at Mars, there is no refueling station and convenience shop. The humans are fully dependent on the spaceship, its stored energy and a tiny bit of solar, to sustain life. This sounds a lot like Earth except we do not know where we are going, the duration of the trip, the number of passengers, and the role of descendants. Earth is a spaceship and its crew (humanity) must be sustainable.
Spaceship Earth, a term I found in a 20-year-old book, currently has a crew of 6 billion. What does it take to keep them alive and reproducing? Do students in the formal education system need to understand the magnitude of the challenge and be able to make operational decisions when they become adults? Operational decisions can entail many areas that might include waste creation and reprocessing, distribution of essentials, transportation and sacrificing part of one’s personal pursuit of happiness.
As an example, in 2018 humanity consumed 99.558 billion barrels of oil. Actually, this is the number of barrels produced or taken out of the earth. I use the word “consumed” because if it is not consumed the demand for production would not be there. Also, in 2018, the estimated reserve of oil, what remains buried in the earth, was 1.73 trillion barrels. If you do the math, this means we will run out of oil in a little over 53 years. Can you really conceive of a billion or trillion barrels? Do you know that a barrel contains 40 gallons or 158.987 liters? Do I need to cite the volume in liters to three decimal places?
I am an engineer and I find billions and trillions of barrels difficult to grasp other than as numbers, but 53 years ago I was in graduate school. And with a run out time projection of 53 years, a newborn today will only be 53 years old when we run out of gas. And when newborns reach adulthood, they will have only 35 years to go.
Currently, technology, knowledge, and information will grow over 260,000 times while the new born is growing up. Will they be able to understand the magnitude of the challenges and contribute to the sustainability of humans as adults? Teaching them through the education process about spaceship earth is essential if they are to be competent adults.
In this example, we deal with a fairly simple, straightforward situation. We need energy. We can argue that there is natural gas and nuclear. But these, too, are finite at least in relation to solar.
One might also agree that we need to be able to store solar (create oil?) for future generations, assuming that the solar supply is infinite or that we need to learn how to exist solely on solar as long as we can. But exploring the options for the future of humanity takes critical thinking and sufficient knowledge to assess what we know and do not know. It requires education of everyone to develop critical thinking, especially if we are going to work together to sustain the spaceship.
Til next time…
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