On October 14, I followed with Billions and Trillions Revisited. I noted that the average U.S. Department of Energy annual budget for renewable energy research over the past decade was under $1 billion. The brand new nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS H.W. Bush, which will be commissioned on 10January09, cost taxpayers $4.5 billion. This will be our tenth Nimitz-class carrier. I have a problem with big ticket Defense expenditures in these days of rinky-dink terrorism, but, let’s face it, the decision to build came a long time ago. Watch, though, how compelling justification is provided for much more in the future.
But to go on, the profits of the top four oil companies alone were $100 billion in 2007 and Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz in his book estimates the cost of the Middle East wars to be $3,000 billion or $3 trillion. In June, the International Energy Agency said that the world needs to spend $45 trillion to halve planet-warming carbon dioxide by 2050. We have a growing problem because it’s hard to focus on Peak Oil and Global Warming when oil is selling for $40/barrel and it is cold outside.
Well, anyway, we are beginning to enter new territory: quadrillion dollars. A Katrina victim is suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for $3 quadrillion. NASA once reported that an ounce of anti-matter would cost $2.3 quadrillion to manufacture, if they could do it. All this is meaningless, of course, but five years ago, CNN.com reported that global warming solutions could cost up to $18 quadrillion, which was the highest end determination of expenditures required by 2100 of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But who takes them seriously? Not the G8 nations.
There is, though, at least one almost official sounding sum from the Bank of International Settlements: $1.144 quadrillion, which was the amount of outstanding derivatives worldwide at the end of last year. That would be equal to about $170,000 for each of the 6.7 billion people on Planet Earth. Mind you, this is funny money, for the current value of all the stocks and bonds around the globe is less than one tenth of a quadrillion dollars. Derivatives are unregulated and high-risk credit bets. Think Bernard Madoff. Warren Buffett, in a 2003 Fortune magazine issue, called derivatives the equivalent of financial weapons of mass destruction, and, surely enough, they exploded this fall.
But a quadrillion is 1,000,000,000,000,000—and only has 15 zeros. I calculated in SIMPLE SOLUTIONS for Planet Earth that the odds of any of us being born were 1 chance in 1 with 34 zeros. A googol has 1 followed by 100 zeros. There are many stories, but the most accurate one is that the founders of Google misspelled googol, and, anyway, google.com was available, and googol.com was not. For the record, the largest number with a name is the googleplex, which is one followed by…ah, this is getting too scientific. So we have a long way to go before our economy runs out of numbers.