I’m fascinated by the fact the Earth-system is a massive conduit of power, with energy flowing into the system in the form of sunlight, flowing out of it as infrared. The flow involved is simply extraordinary: 120,000 terawatts. That’s 10,000 times the amount that flows through our industrial civilisation – all the world’s reactors, turbines, cars, furnaces, boilers, generators and so on put together. Yet so firmly are we tethered, and so smooth is the flow, that we hardly notice this torrent thundering past and through us. It just feels like the world.
So here’s an image to try and capture the immensity of the flow in which we are embedded. Picture Horseshoe Falls, the most familiar, forceful and dramatic cataract in Niagara Falls, in full spate.
Now increase the height of the falls by a factor of 20; a kilometre of falling water, a cascade higher even than Angel Falls in Venezuela.
Now increase the flow by a factor of 10. Instead of 30 tonnes of water falling over each metre of the lip of the falls every second, allow 300 tonnes of water per metre.
Finally, widen the falls. Stretch them until they span a continent, with billions of tonnes of water falling over them every second. And don’t stop there. Go on widening them until they stretch all around the equator: a kilometre-high wall of water thundering down incessantly, cutting the world in half, deafening leviathan in the abyss.
That is what 120,000 terawatts looks like. That is what drives the world in which you live.