Editor’s note: Marshall Brain – futurist, inventor, NCSU professor, writer and creator of “How Stuff Works” is a contributor to WRAL TechWire.  Brain takes a serious as well as entertaining look at a world of possibilities for Earth and the human race.  He’s also author of “The Doomsday Book: The Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest Threats.” 

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RALEIGH – In July something incredible came to life in Las Vegas. You may have seen the utterly gigantic, utterly unbelievable, truly unique spherical screen that lit up in the gambling capital of the world. At this point the hype has died down, but in case you missed it, you can watch this video to see what the MSG Sphere is all about: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKCY1Ph7T0k

The scale of it is so immense that it’s difficult to capture in a video, but this sphere is more than 500 feet in diameter and more than 300 feet tall. When you watch the video, look at the size of the cars on the adjacent highway to comprehend the enormity. Or to think about it another way, you could put a 30 story building along with about 100 average size two story houses inside of this sphere. And then the whole thing can light up like a humongous LED TV has been melted to wrap over the sphere.

So now this sphere exists. More than two billion dollars have been invested and it exists. Here is the question we can ponder in this article: Should humanity be building objects like this given the current climate emergency and the many societal emergencies that planet Earth is facing?

There are at least three reasons to ask this question:

  1. This sphere wastes a huge amount of electricity to light up the 57 million LEDs in its immense LED surface. If this sphere did not exist, then the planet would be burning that much less electricity.
  2. It took a huge amount of money to buy the 57 million LEDs, and the LEDs’ electronic controllers, along with the enormous spherical structure that supports them. Why not instead spend that money on something useful? For example, use the money to build affordable housing so that we can solve the affordable housing crisis in America.
  3. This sphere serves no useful purpose. It is not making society better in any important way. Why not instead build things that are useful, or build nothing?

$2.3B MSG Sphere lights up Las Vegas – https://www.constructiondive.com/news/msg-sphere-las-vegas-aecom-construction/688255/

“On the outside, the exosphere consists of approximately 1.2 million LED pucks, spaced eight inches apart. Each puck contains 48 individual LED diodes, with each diode capable of displaying 256 million different colors.”

So there are 57 million individual LEDs covering the sphere. If each LED uses half a watt, and we light the whole thing up for just one hour, it is burning 28,500 kilowatt hours of electricity. For comparison, the average house in North Carolina burns about 1,000 kilowatt hours in a month.

Humanity has spent an enormous amount of money on a useless LED sphere that burns a gigantic amount of electricity for no societal benefit. Why?

The question we should be asking: Is it time for humanity to stop doing this kind of useless extravagance and start focusing on human well-being and a healthier environment?

Why not shut off all the useless lights in Las Vegas? New York City and other big cities can be just as bad: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5re1-5O8Eo

Squishmallows are another example

In the same category goes things like Squishmallows, pictured here:

Squishmellows. (Photo courtesy of Marshall Brain)

Costco and many other retailers have sold millions of them. Yet they serve no useful purpose. They are purchased, they sit in houses or apartments for a few years, then they end up in landfills. Human labor and materials create them, then they enter a strained supply chain to get to the United States, then they are trucked all over the country. All of it is an enormous waste.

Should humanity stop wasting time, energy, and resources on something so completely useless?

The toys and waste of the wealthy

This article points out that wealthy people excel at this sort of waste:

The richest Americans account for 40 percent of U.S. climate emissions – https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2023/08/17/greenhouse-emissions-income-inequality

“The richest 10 percent of U.S. households are responsible for 40 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to a study released Thursday in PLOS Climate. The study, which looked at how a household’s income generated emissions, underlines the stark divide between those who benefit most from fossil fuels and those who are most burdened by its effects.”

How do they emit so much? One way is with “toys” like private jets and superyachts:

From Private Jets to Superyachts, Here’s the Climate Impact of the Rich and Famous  – https://time.com/6208632/celebrities-climate-impact-private-jets-yachts/

See this video for details on superyachts: https://youtu.be/TrrYro65IPQ?t=42

Does the planet need superyachts and private jets? Of course not. So why don’t we ban them?

Other things we could ban

What else could humanity ban if we wanted to get a handle on climate change? Perhaps the most important thing to ban is beef cattle, because of the gigantic amount of methane that cattle produce globally. This article lays out the case for banning beef cattle:

The case for banning beef worldwide – https://wraltechwire.com/2022/06/03/doomsday-climate-change-and-cattle-the-case-for-banning-beef-worldwide/

The benefits of a beef ban would be profound. Here are the big three benefits:

  1. A huge reduction in greenhouse gas emissions
  2. A huge reduction in destructive pressure on the Amazon Rainforest
  3. A huge reduction in the amount of agricultural land needed to grow human food.

Another thing to consider is nuts like almonds:

The H2O case for banning almond trees in California – https://wraltechwire.com/2022/08/26/doomsday-or-nuts-the-h2o-case-for-banning-almond-trees-in-california/

“The point is, we are at the point where we are about to suck our reservoirs like Lake Mead (and many others) down to dead pool status. We are sucking our underground aquifers dry as well. We don’t need to do this. There are easy solutions to these problems if we think about them rationally. Either start banning irrational crops in arid regions where water is scarce, or raise the price of water so that growing the crops in arid regions no longer makes economic sense. Either way, we can start to gain control of the water scarcity problems we see in the American Southwest.”

Single-use plastics are causing huge problems in the world’s oceans and are also causing microplastics to enter our bodies. A global ban on single-use plastics would be hugely beneficial for planet Earth. See this video for details on just how awful the plastic problem has become: https://youtu.be/DZ32lSQjWU0?t=30

Imagine if humanity could get its act together and start banning the many things that make absolutely no sense today. We have discussed seven in this article:

  1. Giant LED spheres and other lit displays
  2. Squishmallows
  3. Private jets
  4. Superyachts
  5. Beef cattle
  6. Almonds and other irrational crops
  7. Single-use plastics (and likely many other plastics)

There are probably hundreds of things that fit the same profile and that humanity can easily do without. Everything we ban takes a little more load off the global ecosystem.

Sources

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSiOzEx9uj0 – “It was pretty incredible”: Sphere Las Vegas workers react to dazzling light show
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKCY1Ph7T0k – Sphere lights up Las Vegas skyline with massive LED display | ABC News
  3. https://www.omnicalculator.com/math/area-of-a-circle
  4. https://www.energybot.com/blog/average-energy-consumption.html
  5. https://worldpopulationreview.com/state-rankings/households-by-state
  6. https://nuclear.duke-energy.com/2022/05/13/at-35-harris-nuclear-plant-continues-to-grow-along-with-the-community
  7. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5re1-5O8Eo – Spectacular Displays in Times Square
  8. https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2023/08/17/greenhouse-emissions-income-inequality/
  9. https://time.com/6208632/celebrities-climate-impact-private-jets-yachts/
  10. https://youtu.be/TrrYro65IPQ?t=42 – Inside Jeff Bezos’ $1 Billion Fleet of Luxury Superyachts
  11. https://wraltechwire.com/2022/06/03/doomsday-climate-change-and-cattle-the-case-for-banning-beef-worldwide/
  12. https://wraltechwire.com/2022/08/26/doomsday-or-nuts-the-h2o-case-for-banning-almond-trees-in-california/
  13. https://youtu.be/DZ32lSQjWU0?t=30 – The Problem of Plastic Pollution in the Rio Motagua, Guatemala