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PETRILLO’S COMMENTARY: The Mold and I, a View from Space.

January 10, 2020


The photograph above shows the San Francisco Bay Area taken from space. It demonstrates not only the beauty of this corner of the earth but a marvel of technology. When, however, I look at the photograph it only makes me sad.  I cannot help but notice the extensive grey-white areas surrounding the bay and snaking off into other areas of the photograph. They remind me of mold in a scientist’s petri dish devouring the agar until it is all consumed and everything dies.  Those grey areas in the photograph show the highly urbanized lands within the Bay Area where we humans have for the most part replaced much of the flora and fauna of the area with a built environment.  We have exhausted the resources in the area that could otherwise nourish us for ages.

Rather than cannibalize themselves like the mold in the Petri dish does after consuming all the agar, we humans developed a technological prowess allowing to seek out additional resources and energy so that we may convert them into substances of use (chemically and mechanically) ultimately producing waste and energy (usually in the form of heat.) Good for us. But, alas, with our good fortune comes hubris.

We, the organisms in the dead zone, now having not learned (or ignored) the fact that we lived in a mostly in a closed system and must use our technological prowess to better integrate ourselves into the cycle chemical and energy exchanges instead exhausted those resources and energy closest to us and now send out filaments (roads, railroads, electric transmission lines, etc.) to remote areas in order to transport resources and energy back into the dead zone so that the remaining organisms living there (we humans)  can continue to flourish for a while. Meanwhile, the resources and energy at the source are eventually used up.

Waste in the form of unusable garbage and waste energy builds-up everywhere in the grey urban areas as well as the less urbanized resource and energy producing places. Like with the mold in the petri dish, this can go on for a while until all the resources are exhausted. Before this occurs, however, the organisms ( us) slaughter one another in competition for the ever more scarce resources (or in the case of the mold devour one another). In our case (humanity) this may be a good thing if it reduces demand enough the resources have an opportunity to renew themselves but in a closed system like the petri dish or ultimately the earth, as long as we continue to produce more consumers, devour more resources and generate more waste we are bound to die.

A stable population, renewability, and technological advances that promote a reduction in per capita use of resources and energy is “good” technological advancement. Whether humanity, as it has evolved, is the organism that can recognize develop and implement the “good” technological advancement remains to be seen. If not, then, like the mold setting about to devour the last bit of agar in the Petri dish, it is time to be getting ready to begin chanting kaddish.

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