The Earth’s plants produce exactly what others eat

July 3, 2013

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

In this blog and other blogs that will follow, I will show you how laws of nature limit human expectations borne from ignorance and arrogance.  First, I would like to remind those readers who might be scientifically-challenged that the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology are called "laws," because we, scientists, have found no exceptions to them in as many experiments as have been carried out for as long as these laws have been on the books.  I repeat: As opposed to legal laws, the laws of nature do not allow exceptions, no matter how much money and effort is spent by the corrupt corporations, corrupt academics, clueless reporters, and other drug dealers to hide this fact from the society.

Just like ignorance of the law cannot be a legal excuse, ignorance of the laws of nature is a crime, not an oops. But, because most societies do not care much about nature, this crime generally goes unpunished by human laws.  In the long run, however, trespassing against the laws of nature has only one outcome: We perish by one means or another.  Since this perishing is distributed over space and time, most people do not make the connection.  So think about all the cancer cases among the people you knew and remember.  Or all the ADD or autistic children you know or have met.  Or all the diabetics you know or have met. Did you notice how many people have rampant allergies? How much do you know about the Roundup-resistant super-weeds that crop up everywhere? How many people die in hospitals from deadly infections caused by the methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) superbug? What do you know about giant pig farms and cow feedlots? And so on…

Probably the most fundamental law of nature is mass conservation: Mass of anything cannot be created from nothing and mass cannot disappear into nothing.  This law was co-discovered by the Russian chemist Mikhail Lomonosov in 1765, and the French chemist Antoine Lavoisier in 1774. Lavoisier described this law in the first modern handbook of chemistry he published in 1789.

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In 1774, Lavoisier showed that, although matter can change its state in a chemical reaction, the total mass of matter is the same at the end as at the beginning of every chemical change. Thus, for instance, if a piece of wood is burned to ashes, the total mass of ash, carbon in the carbon dioxide and hydrogen in the water from the wood burning is the same as the original mass of the wood piece.  

Here is how the law of mass conservation rules life on the Earth:

Since no chemical element, even hydrogen, can leave the living planet Earth, all Earth’s households, called "ecosystems," conserve mass on average. Otherwise, these ecosystems would perish with no exceptions.

The keywords here are:

  1. "The living planet," in which life put oxygen into the primordial Earth’s atmosphere and created ozone that converts the light hydrogen molecules trying to escape the Earth’s gravitational pull into the much heavier water molecules.
  2. "On average," because the small and young ecosystems can be subsidized for a while with the mass of nutrients and water from their surroundings.  

Actually, the law of mass conservation stated above works only because the Earth is also open to the flow of heat.  Infrared radiation must leave the planet for life to exist.  It is the combination of these two aspects of the planet Earth (she is closed to mass flow and open to infrared radiation) that makes ecosystems recycle all mass on average and export only low quality heat.  Soon, I will tell you more about these finely-tuned physico-chemical constraints that maintain life on the Earth.

The implications of this law are staggering:

  1. Nature knows of no waste and each large ecosystem recycles all mass.  "Waste" is a concept developed by humans to hide our tragic negligence and ineptitude.  One species’ waste is food for another species, so that in the end no harmful chemicals are left to damage a functioning ecosystem.  Nature does not do toxic waste super-sites; only humans do.
  2. A small imperfection in nature’s total recycling enterprise are swamps, lakes, and estuaries that can bury minuscule quantities of organic detritus and remove it from an ecosystem.  Over hundreds of millions of years, this imperfection gave us deposits of coal, crude oil and natural gas.
  3. If all mass is recycled, the biomass plants produce must be consumed by these plants and by the non-photosynthesizing organisms (heterotrophic bacteria, fungi and animals, including Homo Sapiens).  Nothing spare is left on average at the planetary scale after the Earth completes each orbit around the Sun.
  4. Humans disturb natural ecosystems with the greedy monocultures of morphed plants, most of which cannot survive in the wild. We call these monocultures "industrial agriculture." We subsidize agriculture with external flows of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, calcium, sulfur, herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, etc., fossil fuels outright, and often water.   We then call these simplified, open, and always stunted ecosystems "sustainable agriculture."  We can hide behind the fossil subsidies for a while, but in the long run industrial agriculture systems must fail, Monsanto’s claims to the contrary notwithstanding.
  5. Since, on the Earth, almost no biomass is left unspoken for at the end of each year, and agriculture is a primitive caricature of natural ecosystems, the more agriculture there is on the Earth, the less biomass she produces. In addition, industrial agriculture swamps the surrounding natural ecosystems with a widespread chemical pollution that wounds or kills these natural ecosystems.  By area and environmental impacts, agriculture is the largest human endeavor. Therefore, agricultural pollution and emissions are truly global in scale.
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June 22, 2013: This suffocating haze in Singapore is caused by the runaway fires devouring the tropical forest and peat in the neighboring Indonesia.  The vast swaths of natural forest in Indonesia have been burned illegally by investors mostly from Singapore and Malaysia to establish the giant plantations of oil palms for biodiesel, food, and cosmetics.  Cumulatively over 10 million hectares of the pristine tropical forest have been eliminated in Indonesia. The carbon dioxide emissions from burning forests in Indonesia alone rival all of the emissions from all of the sources on the entire Earth.  Of course, agrofuel advocates talk incessantly about the huge reductions of gas emissions from burning biofuels.


In the upcoming installments, I will tell you how we measure with great accuracy that all biomass is recycled on the Earth each year.  I will also tell you about the monstrous damage to the most important ecosystems on the Earth inflicted by industrial agriculture.  Please look at the picture of the haze above, and realize that the lungs of our planet are being amputated in the name of making our breathing easier through the use of biofuels. A haze like this kills infants and elderly outright, and maims other people through allergies, respiratory disease, heart attack, and lung cancer.  It also maims all animals.

The enormity of the biofuel lie is such that I constantly rub my eyes and pinch myself to check if this is merely a bad dream or modern fascism has arrived.  Fascism, of course, is a seamless bundle (from the Latin term fascio) of corporations and state that work together to manipulate and control population.  This concept was formulated by Il Duce some 80 years ago. The modern "democracies," using modern technology and slick propaganda have vastly improved on that rather primitive concept.

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This future oil palm plantation in Indonesia will replace another vast swath of the useless, undeveloped tropical forest.  The forest animals will  burn or be exterminated, just like countless other species. But the clean biodiesel from the palm oil produced on this plantation will power high-tech cars driven by the enthusiasts of a wonderful new green technology that almost eliminates all carbon dioxide emissions.  Congratulations are in order.

Tad Patzek

Tad Patzek is Professor of Petroleum and Chemical Engineering at the Earth Sciences Division and Director of the Ali I. Al-Naimi Petroleum Engineering Center in KAUST, Saudi Arabia. Between 2008 and 2014, he was the Lois K. and Richard D. Folger Leadership Professor and Chairman of the Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering Department at The University of Texas at Austin. He also held the Cockrell Regents Chair #11. Between 1990 and 2008, he was a Professor of Geoengineering at the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to joining Berkeley, he was a researcher at Shell Development, a research company managed for 20 years by M. King Hubbert of the Hubbert peaks. Patzek’s current research involves mathematical and numerical modeling of earth systems with emphasis on fluid flow in soils and rocks that can be hydrofractured. He is working on the thermodynamics and ecology of human survival, and food and energy supply for humanity. His current emphasis is the use of unconventional natural gas as a fuel bridge to the possible new energy supply schemes for the world. Patzek is a coauthor of over 200 papers and reports, and a book.

Tags: industrial agriculture, monocultures