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In many stories, there is the idea about "planet essence" or something that:

  • Can be extracted from the planet.
  • Very useful for human industry once extracted.
  • Has large reserve, but not very large. (or else water and air will be included). Exhaustion should be real, but not in near future.
  • The extraction make the planet much less habitable for life, for a very long time (geological time).
  • Not very obvious (should not include atmosphere, ocean, ground, fossil fuel, ...)

What is a real life candidate for this "planet essence", and with what mechanic?

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    $\begingroup$ Molten iron in the core $\endgroup$
    – dot_Sp0T
    Oct 13 '16 at 6:20
  • $\begingroup$ @dot_Sp0T I consider it too large. $\endgroup$
    – DTN
    Oct 13 '16 at 6:42
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The earth's magnetic field is caused by movement of molten iron in its core. If someone built an orbital megastructure to generate energy from the magnetic field, that energy would come from the earth's core, accelerating it's cooling.

Assuming some imaginary future tech that could harness this energy on a massive scale, the earth's core could solidify in centuries, providing an enormous amount of power in the mean time. That would likely end plate tectonics and stop the earth's protective magnetic field, so it would eventually kill the planet, permanently.

You could imagine a giant planet sized space station, moving from system to system draining magnetic energy from any planet with a molten core.

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You could use a keystone species like a plant or small animal. For example, a kind of beaver with diamond hard teeth that helps keep plants alive by eating a very tough parasitic plant. (These would vary from place to place though.)

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Assuming you had some way to harness the kinetic energy of the planet, That would be a tremendous source of energy, but your planet will slowly die as the rotation slows, causing weather changes and stuff. The only thing is that the planet can't recover this on its own. It either needs to leach energy from another solar mass (like a moon, but this is also finite and irrecoverable) or get hit by asteroids (inefficient) to recover this energy.

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If one is less focused on the material aspects, information could be a valid "planet essence." The planet could provide you information about itself, and what it will do in response to stimuli. On its own, this will never "run out," but that information can easily be used to harvest energy that the planet knew about and was using for its responses. If you run out of that, then the planet is "dead" because it can no longer act.

This could also be combined with Tezra's solution of a "keystone species." It might be that the planet is only willing to tell its secrets to a blessed few who it trusts to prevent them from being used for harm.

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  • $\begingroup$ So you mean the planet is living, and we extract its energy source? So we make a Dyson sphere? Could you elaborate more? I and not sure what you mean. $\endgroup$
    – DTN
    Oct 15 '16 at 3:18
  • $\begingroup$ @DTN It's definitely along the living planet direction. Think of it this way, you and I might not know who is going to win the Kentucky Derby, but we can try to guestimate based on how the horses are behaving that day. The planet has a multi-million year history of working with horses, it might know a thing or two about them that it's willing to share. However, like any good intel, revealing it reveals the Earth's intel capabilities. Someone untrustworthy could use that to do harm to the planet. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Oct 15 '16 at 4:04
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Lithium might work? It doesn't make the planet less habitable if missing i don't think... but it could be made to suit the rest I think.

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