terence preston yorks

Ongoing Projects

   This page shares several continuing attempts to understand our world, somewhat less formally than what is sketched within my experience or publications pages. These creative examples tend neither to have found publishers for most of their results, nor the effective collaborators to opimize their wider utility. Each has aspects, nevertheless, that have already produced substantial value, and could do much more.

Categories:  Research /Art / Teaching

Discovering the most comprehensive set of consequences from human use of energy and materials [Modifed from my currently emerging memoirs]

   Working towards a Ph.D. at Texas A&M University in a program targeting ongoing human hunger around the world all too uniquely included a fuller consideration of the cumulative consequences surrounding previous and alternative strategies. Since fossil fuels had been revealed by the Whole Earth Catalog folks, among others, as increasingly problematical, at many levels, I had been exploring one of the possible solutions as it might apply to food production, for which there wasn’t much in the library at that time: utilizing solar energy, beyond photosynthesis.

   Putting together a set of working hypotheses convinced my bosses to send me to a meeting of the International Solar Energy Society, to check out what the latest light-concentrating possibilities from a more natural energy source might be. That trip in Gainesville, Florida in 1972 provided fascinating interactions with a rather small group of experimenting mavericks (and several even more so coincidental extracurricular tangents), but little in the way of immediately useful tools. Instead, it was a presentation by a NASA scientist that would most resonate with increasing depth through the rest of my life. The iconic moment came when he put up a graph that showed rising American energy consumption appearing to be intersecting with the net total of photosynthetic fixation, from solar energy, by all forms of plants.

   Perspective for this came from having grown up in the midst of classic heavy industrial pollution, with that taking place among struggling regrowth from a centuries-old, quite thorough rape of the land, experientially balanced by traveling enough to have experienced what clear air, water, and natural growth capabilities had really been. Among my recent reading had been Limits to Growth, Paul Ehrlich's Population Bomb, Eugene Odum’s Fundamentals of Ecology , and Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac. Their essences made overall numerical sense within the rest of the deep scientific education that I was in the process of completing. There were always absolute constraints, and at no matter what the scale examined, among even the cleverest of assemblies in our theoretically infinite universe, wherever and whenever one looked carefully enough. Political movements were then afoot to do something about their piecemeal underlying issues, even within the highest levels of government. At that moment, they were accelerating in hopeful parallel to those against military idiocy, in which I had so actively been participating. What was missing had been a more definitive and fundamental equivalent to the red line for engines in the fine automotive machinery that I was increasingly starting to understand. In that one graph was revealed what I eventually realized could be called a conclusively integrating green line for our planet.

US energy use versus natural flows

   This quietly spoken man had started his presentation with cumulative observations of heat island effects from cities on local weather patterns, using extensive data that he had assembled, with particulars from his own studies in the St. Louis area. An immensely greater mass of buildings or pavement made from concrete and other heavy materials had replaced the long-evolved native vegetation cover near that city's center. These added their heat-absorbing and storage characteristics to the more directly active releases of burned fuels from air-conditioners, lighting, and vehicles. Their summed energetics had raised central city summer temperatures, relative to what it had been under natural vegetation, by as much as ten degrees, with those differences especially noticeable at night. That combination of human activities was also demonstrably changing cloud cover and precipitation, with pattern differences reaching both far overhead and many miles downwind.

   Those readily provable conclusions led him also to wonder about still wider scale impacts.  From that, he straightforwardly realized that if total releases of energy by humans from fossil fuels even came close to the sum of natural energy flows—and certainly if they began exceeding all of what nature had been processing—this would represent a clear threshold. It would be one that the entire planet, including all the life forms upon it, would regret our crossing. Natural photosynthetic fixation processes that had evolved over so many years would have a total that logically represented a most stable overall level of interacting with incoming solar radiation reaching ground levels, within its overall constraints from interacting locally with other available natural resources. The graph above parallels the summary sketch that he presented. I refined it by subsequent government calculations for energy flows, and overlaid my own estimated total for combined harvests of solar energy by nature and agriculture. Those additions each confirmed the simplified estimates that he had presented separately.

   My own distillation for this summary would become that it represents the results of a four billion year practical experiment with possibilities. In the background, there was quite simply, an absolute upper limit that the Earth's life functions could absorb, which should have been and be obvious, yet has been consistently overlooked.

     His conclusions at the time reiterated how current, clearly unsustainable, energy and material use patterns were undermining long-evolved, environment-stabilizing feedback mechanisms. The global results of these changes could rapidly become wildly variable, with their more immediate side effects having already become quite visible and measurable. Ever increasing overall costs for obtaining fossil fuel supplies should begin reflecting practical difficulties in finding or delivering more. These difficulties just added to those from end uses, being accompanied by consequent pollution of many forms. Each was leading to magnified health effects, although most were quite insidiously difficult to trace. On the other hand, all of the problems were unavoidably directly connected to utilization rates, and that critical total could not be meaningfully changed by simply shifting energy sources. By extrapolating from the well-proven local examples, he was already clearly suggesting what would eventually become tagged as “global warming”, among other vital related issues. He finished by explicitly stating that Americans needed to reduce our energy throughput by fully 90 percent.

   The speaker’s name was W. R. Cherry, at the time president of the Society. Curiously, there seems to have been no formal publication of what continues to be such vital information. His is the image at the center of a quick shot I made at that meeting.

W. R. Cherry

   Even without controversial titling, widely disbursed energy use at greater than natural levels must surely have serious effects at the planetary scale. This was quite obviously critical to him, adding immediate further credence for me to others' warnings that humanity needed to dramatically change course. Paul Ehrlich, like Malthus before him, recently had captured national attention with how population growth would threaten human survival, but like his predecessor, featured overly dramatic conclusions with short timescales, too tightly limited to food supplies, which have been repeatedly been sidestepped by temporary stopgaps.

   Cherry's more subtle presentation, instead, uncovered something more profound, albeit insidiously appearing more slowly and unpredictably in detail for results obvious enough to sufficiently catch public attention. This was especially the case when that attention was being dominated by assumptions and immediate profits derived from staying the longstanding behavioral course. This conceptual complexity of deeper truth is more difficult for most to grasp, particularly because it contains mathematical elements. These cultural problems do not change how the underlying facts continue to be increasingly dangerous for almost all known forms of life, everywhere on this planet, or how they serve as a multiplier for other consequences from continuing human population growth, too often at exponential rates.

   My own subsequent work expanded Cherry’s sketches in many ways. One summary appears below, with its information from at least somewhat more complete data sources for what has happened since. Within both particular graphs, I have also included a suggestion from personal and others' research that, since humanity keeps reducing the area in wherein natural systems can operate, and is simultaneously removing essential components from the rest, overall biological productivity has been declining proportionally. This decline may well be steeper than I have estimated, since appropriately detailed inclusive data have never been collected in the field. From solid data for smaller areas, however, Eugene and Howard Odum had calculated in the 1950s that, if stable ecosystems were to be maintained, animals could consume at most ten percent of their annual increment in plant biomass. Humans remain as just one species among them.

continued US energy use versus natural flows

   Meanwhile, Americans’ total use of energy almost certainly exceeds the governmental estimates on which these summary charts are based. By no means all the associated wastefulness during energy production and use are have been included in the statistics from which they are derived.


   These contentions fell ever more logically into place in the years that followed. These would become increasingly compatible with other data, some directly monitored, even though most remains rather thinly available. Powerful people do not want it either to be collected or fairly analyzed. Getting such pointers more widely into either the scientific community or the public eye is also not easy, as would be repeatedly underlined by subsequent bitter personal experience. The breadth of the concepts does not fit easily into common formats. When they briefly do, paralleling what the Club of Rome was publishing, they would too soon sink from view, despite increasing confirmation of the ideas’ accuracy. Waiting for inspiration on how not to overreach, even my own formal report from the meeting stuck to the more mundane progress reports about solar technologies. For the wider issues, I was expecting that similar conclusions would soon be expressed in some other context, since they seemed so clear, and that others more talented that I would be clearly publicizing them. Instead, they continued as too difficult to express briefly and/or in a way readily graspable by those without the requisite background.

   As an integral part of further hypothesis testing, I have been acting upon his message at the personal level, honing in and trying to provide examples towards being able to stay within the lessened energy use that Cherry had calculated was so necessary. That has had many very practical values. Through becoming more thoughtful with energy and material use at the daily choice level, the requisite more attentive lifestyle has not just coincidentally become notably more comfortable, as many other astute researchers looking into practical compensations from increased efficiency have predicted and proven. Meanwhile, the more commonly found surrounding wastefulness is both inherently noisier and unnecessarily more costly, in so many ways. In the end, the process of taking even a little more care with resources consistently allows one to create a net result of additional beauty and overall satisfaction, one place where more continues to be better still.


Among the more specific projects that continue to evolve --

bison on the Flying D in Montana

   ...  and on to art  ...

Rbt Earl Keen 4th of July CD cover photo

  • Trying to Make Sense of It All:  A tangent memoir
  • The introduction for the currently 400+ page, thoroughly illustrated, typeset manuscript says early on,
       "While celebrating the winter solstice before our fire in 2007, a physician friend intensely suggested bringing together my sometimes outrageous set of car stories. These emerged, during a more than a year of unpaid hours, as one appropriate center for tales from an occasionally adventurous life in the twentieth century. Their way carried through privileges of driving, or riding in, some of the best road machines, albeit rarely looking pristine; interacting with some of the time’s most important people, along with many others at least as interesting; weaving among vital historical trends; and pulling together globally valid scientific observations. This expanded into a longer set not just worth telling, but by pairing modest skill with user patience, generated coverage of a life even worth reading or listening to. Like an interesting gravel road, its many imperfections are not all to be discovered ahead."

    Washing our Studebaker when I was a kid.

    Status:  Eventually, still sometimes wielding a hose, I grew beyond this picture by my father, and leave the shadows. This is that story, now looking for a publisher.

       Pre-press samples and reservations may be arranged by subscription.


    Overlooking Trondheim

    Status:  images integrated with text; more than half printed as fine quality examples. Searching for a quality publisher. A CDROM version, with full-computer-screen-sized images, is complete.  Contact the author for more information. The Nordkapp visitor center at 14:30, 11 February



  •  A Photographic Portfolio
    More of my images, including several from the book, are now posted in a collection.

    Status:  Viewable, with fuller quality prints and use permissions available.






    Unfinished Business


    intended for wider, albeit scientifically literate, audiences,
    but have not yet found a formal publisher

    draft of  
    2016 Long-Term Trends With And Without Grazing In The Sagebrush Ecosystem In Wyoming. Yorks, T.P., Fisser, H.G., Laycock, W.A., and Capels, K.M. [low resolution version: 642 kb file]
    2016 Long-Term Trends With And Without Grazing In The Sagebrush Ecosystem In Wyoming. Yorks, T.P., Fisser, H.G., Laycock, W.A., and Capels, K.M. [high quality resolution: 52 MB file]
    2009 Effectively Comparing Land User Impacts. Yorks, T.P.
       [begun in 1994; submitted to various possibilities as it evolved]
    2009 Reducing energy consumption by 90%, with increased comfort. Yorks, T.P.
      [submitted to Orion in 2005]
    2016 On Prairie Dogs and Coexistence with Other Species, Yorks, T.P.
       [originated in 1994 and submitted to various possibilities as it evolved]
    2004 On Lightening Aircraft, Yorks, T.P.
      [submitted to the VP at Boeing most associated with innovation; received not even a reply]


    Yorksite Home Page / Education / Experience / Publications / Quotations / Slow Blog / Photographic Portfolio / Web Trolls

    Keen cover image by Michael Sabin, © 1974, modifiied by Arista Records, © 1997;
    other images, text , and site design © 1998, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2017 by Terence Yorks (contact), all rights reserved;
    further distribution or postings in any form without written permission is strictly forbidden

    page updated 26 July 2017