outer space will have to be colonized
July 6, 2002 10:18 PM   Subscribe

outer space will have to be colonized "The United States places the greatest pressure on the environment, with its carbon dioxide emissions and over-consumption. It takes 12.2 hectares of land to support each American citizen and 6.29 for each Briton, while the figure for Burundi is just half a hectare." ....meanwhile...its too hot (we're wondering why) here in mid-america - lets go to the mall and forget about it..
posted by specialk420 (25 comments total)
 
incentive. we need an impetus before the one called, most simply, "too late".

I recall a short story where a guy tricked big corporations into believing that there were vast gold & other mineral deposits on the moon (or some big asteroid?), purely for the purpose of instigating space travel, mining and colonization.

come up with a good enough story and plant a transmitter on pluto, and you might be able to fool the SETI people. altho in that case the US would most likely just send a mission to blow the fsck out of it.
posted by dorian at 10:33 PM on July 6, 2002


The space colonization idea is just an attention getter. How much energy, industry, waste, and general earth-destroying activities would it take to move even 200 million people off planet and sustain them? What this article doesn't go into are practical solutions like how much energy can an person use a year without being a burden? Or waste. Or food.

When the shit does hit the fan I doubt anyone will be playing tennis on mars. They'll be living in ultra-compact apartments and eating something like soylent green (soy+lentins not people). Those Tokyo apartments are going to seem like mansions.
posted by skallas at 11:03 PM on July 6, 2002


"Earth's population will be forced to colonise two planets within 50 years if natural resources continue to be exploited at the current rate"

Easy. We won't be able to exploit natural resources that aren't there. Our loss. The planet will wins.
posted by Bearman at 11:04 PM on July 6, 2002


This stuff is all written under the assumption that technology ceases to advance from this point on.

It's ridiculous.
posted by dopamine at 11:05 PM on July 6, 2002


er, the planet wins...
posted by Bearman at 11:07 PM on July 6, 2002


Just plugging along assuming that technology will fix all the problems technology caused might be a bit ridiculous too.
posted by Bearman at 11:09 PM on July 6, 2002


Right. I vote we all go back to being hunter-gatherers.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:22 PM on July 6, 2002




This stuff is all written under the assumption that technology ceases to advance from this point on.

You are the technology brother! This information is reaching you via technology! What do you do with that information?

Technology, as a tool, can only advance as far as the human using it can wield it.
posted by crasspastor at 12:01 AM on July 7, 2002


Don't forget, people, that global population will peak and then decline likely sometime in the 2nd half of this century. Most of the increase is going to be in places that are already stressed (e.g. sub-Saharan Africa), though it's unclear to what extent the AIDS explosion will impact this. Most of the industrialized world, such as the US, is already in numerical population decline, offset by immigration.

Of course, the scolds at the WWF are predicting a handy date of the End of the Earth sometime before that peak.

Can we just drop the space colonization hyperbole? Obviously we'd have trouble getting even 20,000 people off the planet by mid-century let alone billions. Even if launch costs were to fall by 99% the effort would bankrupt the world economy. As a solution, it's not going to happen; it's classic attention-getting chicken-littleism.

Revealing wording: In a damning condemnation of Western society's high consumption levels.

Ah then.

No doubt some specific resources are going to become highly stressed: fresh water sources, for example, or ocean fish. Those resources need careful management. Other resources are easily substituted. Wind and solar power are becoming economically viable, finally, and are beginning to substitute where fossil fuel energy production is more expensive. Hyperefficient gasoline engines may be on the horizon. Sandia Labs just came up with a way to make incandescent bulbs (infamously hotter than they are bright) 10 times as efficient.

New technology will make some things better. Meanwhile, mature industrial societies like the US are heavily invested in older technology. Newer development will not be required to use the less-efficient methods. Then there's the question of how much per-capita "consumption" in the US is attributable to our higher rate of industrial production, and our higher rates of personal productivity due to lower unemployment that (say) most European nations. Clearly few Americans are choosing to "consume" more simply because we prefer being wasteful, but because costs are low and we're comparatively rich. In any event, the idea that per-person consumption will simply continue at the present level or that all developing societies will consume at the US rate is a rather arguable assumption.

And certainly the decline in elephant and rhino population can hardly be laid at the feet of the West.

I just don't think this kind of scolding advocacy works with a lot of people anymore. Do they have actual solutions for specific problems? I'd hope so, considering how serious they believe them to be.
posted by dhartung at 12:03 AM on July 7, 2002


Aww crap, so you're saying that the aluminum can I just tossed into the recycle bin isn't going to save the world?

Call me crazy, but there just might be an alternative to colonizing outer space.
posted by jaden at 12:04 AM on July 7, 2002


if this is true, I want to stop paying my Social Security...NOW! ; )
posted by stifford at 12:08 AM on July 7, 2002


Hmmm, I wonder how long until we're forced to feed on our dead?

Soylent Green is people!
posted by Trik at 12:50 AM on July 7, 2002


Even if launch costs were to fall by 99% the effort would bankrupt the world economy

Current launch costs are ~$10,000 a pound for orbit. I will assume half of the 20,000 people are men, half are women, and all are adult. The average American woman is between 138 pounds and 144 pounds (depending on source of data). That means 1.38 to 1.44 million pounds of woman to be shot into space. The average American man weighs between 170 pounds and 180 pounds (again, depending on source). So that's 1.7 to 1.8 million pounds of man to be launched. The grand total is 3.08 to 3.24 million pounds of human, which, at 1% of $1000 per pound, is just under a third of 1 billion dollars. Hardly budget breaking stuff, even for just one country, let along the world economy.

But I am leaving things out of course. Like baggage. Assume each person has twice their own weight worth of baggage and supplies to start, bringing our total launch costs to 1 billion even. Also, even with fanatic recycling, there is going to be a need for water, and I have no idea how to estimate how much, but let's assume these people really suck at conservation and recycling, and need a 50% resupply every month. NASA estimates 66 pounds of water are needed per person per day, along with 2 pounds of oxygen. That's 40.8 million pounds a month, with an initial cost of 4 billion, and a resupply requirement of 21 million pounds. That's a cost of 2.1 billion a month.

Food can be grown in wastewater, but not meat, and not anything special, so some food supplies would be needed, and there would be the cost of mail and other delivered items as well. I will assume, for ease of calculation, that 100 pounds of extraneous items and 200 pounds of food are shipped in each month per person, for a total of 6 million additional pounds, and let's add 1 million additional pounds for maintenance materials and upkeep, just to be thorough. That comes to 28 million pounds, or 2.8 billion dollars a month at a hundred dollars per pound.

So, we come to 1 billion dollars to launch people, 4 billion to launch the water and air supply the first time, and 3 billion dollars a month to maintain. That's expensive, but it would not bankrupt the world economy by any means, nor even our own. Even at 10% of current launch costs it would likely be possible.

And that money wouldn't be entirely disappearing into nowhere, there will be research and tourism the offset costs at first, and as for the future, I can't even begin to speculate.
posted by Nothing at 2:58 AM on July 7, 2002


it would still take half a century to get them off the ground
posted by techgnollogic at 5:08 AM on July 7, 2002


you know how many babies are born in 50 years?

all of them, pretty much. 20,000 space people won't change anything on the ground. the environment won't even notice. dhartung was talking about moving the billions necessary to accomplish anything. we couldn't afford that, period. meanwhile, your measley $5B + $3B/month would clean a lot of stuff.

so your argument rests on this theoretical freebie 99% cost drop and still won't solve anything. do not mess with the dhartung.
posted by techgnollogic at 5:18 AM on July 7, 2002


Nothing, we are clearly on the same side as regards space issues. My bankrupt statement was linked to "billions" rather than "20,000". I was simply taking the idea of moving people off the Earth (faster than they're born!) off the table for the purposes of discussion. As a means of "saving the planet" it's a non-starter. Thanks for doing all the math, but you were arguing against something I didn't say.
posted by dhartung at 10:41 AM on July 7, 2002


But if what we're seeking to accomplish is an "insurance policy" so that the human race will persist in the galaxy, sending a large enough gene pool somewhere else is a good place to start.

Of course such an endeavor would also include plant seeds and embryos of every last extant animal.
posted by crasspastor at 12:10 PM on July 7, 2002


So take a sufficiently diverse DNA catalogue (w/samples... and not just people, critters too!), proper digital constructs of a few choice intellects, and sufficient robotic manipulators to put it all together... load all that into a nuclear-powered deep space probe and seed some far off class M. Would be much lighter and cheaper than actual people... Hell, send a few off in all different directions to stack the odds. Of course, once you got those suckers slinging ion around the galaxy what's the use of cloning and birthing dirty little people all over again? You can't really get too freaked about the future of earth when you realize how insignificant it is... the lengths we'll go to just to satiate that survival instinct can get pretty ridiculous, can't they?
posted by techgnollogic at 1:45 PM on July 7, 2002


What we have here is a bad case of the watermelons ... (green on the outside, red on the inside). These enviro-alarmists, being socialists at heart, are entirely blind to the fact that the resource disasters they preach will be almost automatically solved by the economic phenomena they ignore, or prefer to believe don't exists.

If the enviro-alarmists are right that we are facing adverse trend lines, than the supply of water, food, fuel, etc., will start to decline rapidly, causing their prices to increase rapidly, causing (a) investment in other sources of resource goods to be incentivized and (b) consumption to decrease ... meaning that new supply-demand equilibria will be quickly reached, rather than disaster occuring.

In other words, Americans will drive SUVs getting 15 MPG so long as the cost of doing so is less than the disposable income allocable to transportation. If food and water become scarce, then disposable income declines. If steel and gasoline become scarce, the cost of driving an SUV increases. If C02 concentrations become bothersome, then governments will pass taxes and fees either (a) across the board, which will reduce available income or (b) targetted at big cars, which will increase cost. Reduction in conventional SUV demand makes it worthwhile to invest in electric SUVs with real power trains, and in the infrastructure to convert gas stations to recharging stations, etc.

All this talk about climate change of 4 or 5 degrees being technologically unmanageable just simply ignores the reality of economic history. Huge swaths of the world which were economically useless or limited were converted to year-around productivity by air conditioning which lowered ambient temperatures of economic activity by 20 degrees or more. There has never, ever, in human history been a technological development or environmental condition which has not created its own tools for management, and it will be so in the future, just so long as the watermelons are left in the patch, not allowed to fiddle with the levers of public policy.
posted by MattD at 7:43 PM on July 7, 2002


It's important to keep in mind when reading predictions like this that it has been predicted every single year for something close to 40 years that we will use up the world's oil supply in 20 years.

I think the "we don't know what technologies will be created in that time" answers part of the problem with the argument being made. Every year, those who predict we'll use up all of the world's oil supplies are "technically" correct. If no new oil was found and drilling and mining techniques did not improve and if the economics of the cost of oil did not provide greater incentives, yes, they are 100% correct. Any of those factors change (and in some cases it's almost impossible to think they wouldn't) then the whole argument crumbles.
posted by billman at 10:18 PM on July 7, 2002


All this talk about climate change of 4 or 5 degrees being technologically unmanageable just simply ignores the reality of economic history.

You're ignoring what a few degrees of glacier melt is going to do to worldwide coastlines. Building dikes is old technology and arguably could save many coastal cities. The question is what is wiser to treat the cause or the effect. Both is the best answer, but hoping that treating the effect only will make a difference is pretty foolish.

In other words, Americans will drive SUVs getting 15 MPG so long as the cost of doing so is less than the disposable income allocable to transportation.

That's assuming we're always paying the real cost of what we're doing. As a driver I know full well that I'm getting a free ride to dump my exhaust into the atmosphere. You also assume that when emissions become 'bothersome' something of great importance will happen. Recent history shows that politicians nudged by powerful lobbies know which scientific reports to stand behind. Global warming has been called a myth by the US president.

Yes, this article is alarmist and the space part is pure attention getting nonsense. Calling these people socialists shows your prejudice more than anything. Its a shame the WWF has to resort to this to get people's attention. Personally, I think people would be shocked enough without the hyberbole.
posted by skallas at 10:33 PM on July 7, 2002


Sorry about that, I guess I got carried away with the idea of launches at $100 a pound. You (dhartung) are right, of course, it is no solution.
posted by Nothing at 1:16 AM on July 8, 2002


So take a sufficiently diverse DNA catalogue (w/samples... and not just people, critters too!), proper digital constructs of a few choice intellects, and sufficient robotic manipulators to put it all together... load all that into a nuclear-powered deep space probe and seed some far off class M. Would be much lighter and cheaper than actual people... Hell, send a few off in all different directions to stack the odds. Of course, once you got those suckers slinging ion around the galaxy what's the use of cloning and birthing dirty little people all over again? You can't really get too freaked about the future of earth when you realize how insignificant it is... the lengths we'll go to just to satiate that survival instinct can get pretty ridiculous, can't they?

The shit that dreams are made of. Ridiculous or no. We're still humans and we are unique with or without emperical comparison. No other planet has us.

Our history will be sifted out. The energy with encoded Earthly messages will one day be captured. And one day it will be (could be) studied. A history will be (could be) written about us.

How far could have humanity come without its dreams and inventiveness? Why don't we here on Earth make ourselves the self-declared custodians of knowledge? I mean fuck, we're capable of it right? We're capable enough to even have this discussion.

It's insane the Luddite you find when you scratch the suface of a capitalist conservative (sometimes by way of religious fundamentalism -- which goes which ever way the going political propaganda takes them. as they are the only, by default, unified sector in society).

Yes, this article is alarmist and the space part is pure attention getting nonsense.

Attention must be gotten though, no? Therefore, what if? What if it's high time for our global society to begin making plans to insure itself? Think of the preoccupation the people of this planet would have if there was a bonafide excitement about spacefaring itself. That very meme might very well be what saves the world in the long run, sooner or later.

It really comes down to education. Education free from the constraints of tradition. A good fine, liberal arts education, in a place where it is legal to seek such. And many who wish to see a good fine, liberal arts education be legal for everyone else, the world over.

Think of the solutions if those who subjugate decided to educate instead. No, not agitprop. Teach people that they aren't powerless. Don't tell me or them it's a pipe dream. There are plenty of you here. Disagree with idealism all you want. But keep in mind, it's the child within you who dreams. It's the memory of how easy it was as a child that keeps you going as adults. To one day have that carefreeness again.
posted by crasspastor at 1:59 AM on July 8, 2002


How much could we accomplish if a powerful, charismatic leader declared a national mission to get into space and stay there?

First of all, there are amateur rocket builders that are currently flight-testing new, highly efficient engines in the Arizona deserts. I don't have links right now (the one news article I had bookmarked seems to have disappeared) but keep an eye on Slashdot or Spacedaily.com ... both are excellent resources. There's also a freak that's going to try to put himself into orbit with a hydrogen-peroxide-powered roman candle... *rolls eyes* Anyway, filter the nuts and other various granola out, and you've definately got some sweet bits sitting around.

Science fiction has a nasty way of becoming science fact when it's got a hard-science base. Look at the communicators in the original Star Trek and then look at your cell phone. (Mine's one of those tiny new Samsung flip-phone thingies.) There's several pieces of near-future science fiction that looks at ways to actually build a reusuable HOTOL (HOrizontal TakeOff/Landing) or VTOL (Vertical blah blah blah) spacecraft. The one that immediately pops to mind is Firestar by Michael Flynn.

I dunno about you, but I'd line up like I was waiting for a new Star Wars movie for a chance at a job with a company that was really moving towards a permanent presence in space. I can think of a lot of uses for a permanent presence in orbit that would be profitable to any company with the balls to do it, and an increase in space-borne capacity would benefit people down here in the form of little things, like sattelite repair and the burst of new jobs that comes with any new industry.
posted by SpecialK at 11:14 AM on July 8, 2002


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