“In constraining carbon through rationing, we might soon find that we were building a different sort of society, one emphasizing quality of life before the raw statistics of economic growth and relentless consumption. I have no grand plan for how this society might look, nor do I pretend that it would be some kind of utopia. Life would go on, with all its trials and tribulations — and that, after all, is precisely the point. Unless we do constrain carbon, life will very largely not go on at all.” Mark Lynas, Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet, National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C., 2008, p. 302.
Picture God as a senile old coot once lauded as the Picasso of his day. Having lost the better part of his eyesight in the last few years, he has simplified his worldly pallet to four shades: desert tan, basalt gray, the purest aqua blue and cloud-crystalline white. Gone ice’s silvery white, wiped off of equatorial mountains (one degree Celsius), from the Arctic Ocean (two degrees), from the Alps, the Rockies and the Andes (three degrees), and finally from the mighty Himalayas, even from Greenland and the Antarctic Archipelago after a mere four degrees of rise in the average heat on Earth. Gone forest green, tropical or temperate, since the ice fields’ life-giving rivers no longer flow so dependably in summertime; gone the dark brown of good soil either flushed away by floods or blown away to dustbowls by drought.
Given the heat engine of a hotter Earth, rains will conform to the biblical scheme: “For to those who have much, more will be given; but for those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” No more fallow fields, no forests, no living coral reefs and no fish left alive.
Gone all the port cities, flooded no matter how well fortified; gone the bioluminescence of human cities by night. A few smudges of luminosity might close up against polar shores, subsisting any way they can. Instead, there are countless bright flashes out at sea where once deep-frozen and sublimated methane hydrate froths up from square miles of continental shelf and detonates in titanic explosions that interrupt Force 6+ hypercanes with tsunamis and top off the congealing yoke of atmospheric greenhouse gas.
The oceans are the purest aqua blue because there is no oxygen left in the water and therefore no life. On every seashore, the rotten-egg, death-smell of sulfur dioxide has replaced the bracing ozone tang of breaking waves. What biomass subsists on land consists of inedible scrub or mangrove swamp and not much of that; all induced by a mere five-degree rise in average world temps. Six degrees and forget human bioluminescence (industrial cities) for at least a few centuries while the world climate restabilizes from the equivalent of a Permian-Triassic die-off, during which Earth almost became a barren rock. A few humans might survive, reproduce and rebuild, but not many and not at all quickly.
An equivalent drop off of six degrees from the norm would glaze the planet in ice perhaps all the way to the equator.
To ward off this fate, we must start scheduling tranches (“wedges” or statistical pie slices) of conserved energy and reduced greenhouse gas. Each wedge would reduce CO2 emissions by 1,000 metric tons per year by 2050, this according to Robert Socolow and Stever Pacala of Princeton University. If we “inserted” enough of these wedges into our world, say 13 of them, we might avoid the most deadly of these heat death phenomena.
· Double the fuel efficiency of every automobile;
· Halve every automobile’s yearly mileage;
· Halve the number of autos on Earth;
· Make as many (?) habitations as possible energy-neutral;
· 700 one-Gigawatt nuclear power plants (look out for those that go Pop!) Thorium reactors might work better, more cheaply and safely than Uranium ones;
· Fusion reactors? Cold fusion? Impossible? It would neither be the first time nor last that the powers-that-be had been 100% misleading and misled;
· Two million one-Megawatt wind or water powered turbines;
· Dozens of artificially dug, optimized Bay of Fundy tidal power basins generating 3,000 megawatts each;
· Five million acres of photovoltaic solar panels (27 square feet per person on Earth; should I lead by example and go broke lining my roof with solar panels?) This number could shrink as a result of significant efficiency improvements, comparable eventually to that of plants;
· Massive reforestation (X million acres of replanted trees) and burial of those trees once matured, then their replantation. The adaptation of tailored fungus/microorganism communities to accelerate this process and rebuild soils worldwide. Look out for horrific ecological damage from mismanaged mushroom projects: (see to forestall this likelihood);
· End all clear-cutting and massive burns of tropical forests as of yesterday;
· Devote 618 million acres to biofuels as opposed to food (massively inefficient: fertilizer, pesticides and farm equipment create massive carbon release; plus arm yourselves against those you’ve famine-struck!). Typical Republican bullshit;
· Sequester 1,000 metric tons of liquid CO2 underground every year from now on;
· Artificial photosynthesis (biomechanical, in vertebrates, in humans?);
· Genetically engineered coccoliths (plankton) producing calcium carbonate by the millions of tons that suck carbon from the atmosphere to sink it to the sea floor. It seems that Gaia may have managed something similar in the distant past and may also have mixed up submarine sediments to stimulate the growth of oceanic life;
· Loft billions of large mirrors into orbit, or fog the sky with shadow-inducing nitrates and sulfates? Turn Earth into a hellish imitation of Venus on reprieve;
· Orbit solar power plants beaming power back to Earth (beware of unforeseen atmospheric consequences!);
· A massive “cull” of humanity: one Plague or several (natural or weapon-grade?) or some other Apocalypse that would painfully but conveniently subtract 25%, 30% or more of humanity, and probably you and me too, between now and as soon as possible. I’ve been told that even if there were a “small” atomic war (like say that between India and Pakistan), the resulting Nuclear Winter might starve a billion human beings, but would leave us with the same problem by way of six billion survivors free to multiply without control;
· ?... Any other ideas: good crazy or bad crazy? Allow a pool of spent fuel rods to dry out, burn up au China Syndrome, and contaminate the rest of the planet, the way Fukushima Daichi No. 4 threatens to do?
· massive industrial applications of terra preta, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100810122030.htm? Then again, otherwise, instead;
· Some unforeseen new technology; several, complementary and synergistic? By all means, be my guest… As long as your solution does not present more profits for the rich and suffering for the poor into the indefinite future…
In any case, no matter what transformations we may undertake at present or endure soon enough, the Earth will remain torrid for at least another few thousand years until its climate restabilizes naturally with or without the burden of humanity and its civilization.
Thereafter, picture this planet’s civilization dedicated to World Peace. I know that’s difficult for you to imagine, but try. Fair and serene at its surface, it would eagerly exploit the untapped riches of outer space.
· Limitless vacuum and weightlessness for perfect die-casting, crystal cultivation and the manufacture of extra-pure alloys and compounds. For example, perfect ball bearings and gears that would need no lubricants. Glass poured in the perfect dryness of space vacuum would be twice as strong as steel.
· Tremendous new energy reserves tapped directly from the Sun.
· Powerful engines running on temperature differentials between sunlit and shadow surfaces in the vacuum of space.
· Floating oceans of liquid oxygen, frozen water and dry ice (carbon dioxide).
· Giant chunks of raw ore in accessible orbits: at least ten times more ore than that contained in the Earth’s meager crust (a billion times more in Oort Cloud?). Imagine solid veins of pure gold or even more precious water ice floating out there in the silky, pitiless black — splintered heavy, fused and set adrift by some cosmic collision. They orbit in three layers around the solar system, each one more massive and seductive to a ravenous space race, almost as if they had been training wheels set there for a novice interstellar bicycle rider: the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, the Kuyper Belt beyond Pluto and the Oort cloud half-way to the nearest stars…
· Artifacts? Documents? Biology?
Once these resources have been properly developed (a major dividend of global disarmament and world peace), high pollution, high-energy industries will migrate into Earth orbit and beyond.
This said, outer space must not become more polluted thereby. Learner debates on this topic will be crucial.
The skyward uplift of materials management industries, those of energy generation and heavy manufacturing will release much of the world’s acreage for the regrowth of climax ecology. This deliverance of the natural world will help restore it to an approximation of its pre-urban purity.
Learners may fulfill Gaia’s apparent intent by seeding space with life forms of terrestrial origin.
Recent world leaders have militarized orbital space. Against whom, the Martians? A frenzied schedule of military satellite launches prompted the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. The Columbia was doomed the moment NASA withdrew civilian funding in favor of military expenditures. For decades, the militarization of orbital space has hamstrung civilian space research. It has left us enough nukes to sterilize fifty earthly civilizations, enough spyware to film every bit of it in High Def and a junkyard clutter along low Earth orbits.
As we speak, genetic treasure troves are being ransacked in the wild. Corporations lock away a few tissue remnants in giant seed-bank repositories and then seek patents for every biological element (even human cells and their genes) relying on the rulings of reactionary judges.
Some sociopaths among our Victorian predecessors dreamt of doing the same thing with chemical elements. “Pay us for the contractual privilege of breathing. We own the patent rights for oxygen!”
Once those corporations have stripped most biological resources from their natural settings, they plan to reissue the surviving progeny – with or without genetic tampering, changes useful, benevolent or otherwise – then ransom those hostages with imperial royalties. What impudence!
This colossal corporate hijack reminds me of the Consultant’s words in Douglas Adams’ brilliant satire, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Longmeadow Press, Stamford, Connecticut, 1986, p. 299. He is gone now — we’ll miss his hilarious wordplay.
[Note: A management consultant is addressing a crowd of fellow emigrants banished from their home planet because their job skills were considered “redundant” … The population of the planet of origin died soon thereafter because a seemingly redundant skill (that of telephone receiver wiper) turned out to be crucial for public health.]
“‘…Since we decided a few weeks ago to adopt the leaf as legal tender, we have, of course, all become immensely rich.’
“Ford [the protagonist] stared in disbelief at the crowd who were murmuring appreciatively at this and greedily fingering the wads of leaves with which their track suits were stuffed.
“‘But we have also,’ continued the management consultant, ‘run into a small inflation problem on account of the high level of leaf availability, which means that, I gather, the current going rate has something like three deciduous forests buying one ship’s peanut.’
“Murmurs of alarm came from the crowd. The management consultant waved them down.
“‘So in order to obviate this problem,’ he continued, ‘and effectively revalue the leaf, we are about to embark on a massive defoliation campaign, and … er, burn down all the forests. I think you’ll all agree that’s a sensible move under the circumstances.’
“The crowd seemed a little uncertain about this for a second or two until someone pointed out how much this would increase the value of the leaves in their pockets, whereupon they let out whoops of delight and gave the management consultant a standing ovation. The accountants among them looked forward to a profitable autumn.”
Surfing carelessly along the crest of Global Warming, conspirators of greed may bake sterile the Earth’s equatorial zone, overheat or chill the seven seas, turn tropical rain forests, barrier reefs and micro-organic marine colonies into regretted dead zones. As we struggle to restore these air-purifying biomes gone to waste, we will have to dedicate a lot more arable land and sunlit shoals to natural growth.
Will Gaia accept our confession of guilt, act of contrition and tender of restitution? Will she permit us to commute our self-imposed death sentence? Thereafter, will we readjust our lives with that of Nature, temper chaos-driven catastrophes and evolve from simpleton exploiters into subtle caretakers of the Earth?
Someone once compared it to a living tree. Like the Earth, its vital epithelium is a slim outer layer covering a thicker, inner core of dead tissue. The anthrosphere appears to carpet the Earth like a mottled veneer of luminous lichens on the bark of a tree.
The Environmental Preservation Agency of the World Court will exert enormous influence over future events as will its Administrative equivalents locally. They’ll shield the environment from further corporate insult; not corporate profits, meaningless in the long run, from marginalized environmentalists.
It is time we confronted multinational paper, timber and agro-monopolists and challenged their self-serving ads. “We plant x million trees!” They mistreat the World Forest the way some hard-bitten cracker might wear out his back-forty cornfield before moving on to the next. Corporate elites strip-mine old growth forests and then restock some of the devastated ground with methane farting cow herds and timber monocultures of fast buck, forced-growth inbreeds.
The same thing is destroying the remains of oceanic coral reefs: the rain forests of the sea. This mayhem began with the construction of historic ports; it accelerated during the Greater Paroxysm’s frenzied construction of coastal airfields and fortifications. It is coming to an end by overheating and acidifying ocean waters.
The sea-surface microlayer is a molecular membrane of water and air that teems with microbial life and covers quite a bit of the oceans’ coastal surfaces. We’ve flooded it with toxins while its densely packed micro-communities suffered additional heat and ultraviolet stress. Even though coastal wetlands are crucial to our long-term survival, we’ve turned most of them into landfills and parking lots.
Clumsy recombinant genetic projects may lead to unforeseen disasters, especially out to sea. The release of recombinant gene technology into the sea threatens to induce toxic disasters we may never manage to clean up afterwards.
Subtler minds will restore shattered ecosystems, focusing along altitude/latitude boundaries as well as lakes, rivers and ocean waterfronts. This undertaking will be titanic: the global regrowth of wildlife habitats and the reduction of industrial exploitation to the minimum necessary to sustain a comfortable peace economy.
First priority: replant diversified habitats along the demarcation lines listed above. The rest may fill in naturally in their own good time, even though the need to quickly reverse global warming may not permit such finicky regrowth.
Every oceanic plateau, marine highland and land-bound sea shall be declared a Marine Sanctuary, Park or Preserve. These parks will double and redouble in size under the jurisdiction of genuine Environmental Protection Agencies — not some exploitation bureaucracy like Defense, Agriculture, Fisheries, Commerce, Interior or Tourism. In most cases, local Administrations will relieve national governments and international corporations of their environmental manipulations. In turn, the environmental arm of the World Court will oversee them. No longer will ecological concerns be controlled by corporate and government interests whose business it is to devastate the largest landmass as soon as possible in pursuit of trivial, short-term profit.
Some preliminary eco-projects will halt the spread of the Earth’s deserts and reverse their growth. While English speakers speak of desertification, their peace-shallow/war-deep vocabulary offers no worthwhile antonym. “Afforestation” reads too much like “aforestation,” the practice of strip-mining forests for raw profit. Besides, not all biohabitats will take kindly to brute reforestation. Perhaps the term “edenization” will do.
Learners will irrigate mountain and desert regions from nearby rivers and seas. Using solar power and new genetic biotechnologies and filter nanotechnologies, water treatment plants will convert brackish water into fresh. Using bio-osmotic power or Jerold Polack’s liquid crystals, fresh water will be pumped into deserts to irrigate heat-resistant green cover. Such installations, built big, will ensure public access to clean piped water; built small, serve as public fountains from local springs.
As our prejudices grow subtler, we may expect to edenize large stretches of the desert. Learners will make use of advanced irrigation techniques to avoid salt-poisoned soils. Ancient aquifers will be topped off. Many deserts can be watered as a logistical exercise on par with a global war. In the long run, no insurmountable problem should present itself. It may be that the great deserts will expand for a while longer despite initial attempts to reverse their growth.
The disenfranchised of the Earth – be they political refugees or “surplus” population – could migrate to these new lands where they would be housed in arcologies of the kind proposed in the chapter “White Noise.” A watchful World Court will see to their communal charters, political rights and self-determination.
The logistics required to edenize each continent’s deserts will come from a pool of funds collected from that continent’s governments. Each would contribute in proportion to the number of volunteers it sent and reduce its desert area to the minimum required to sustain a healthy biosphere.
Wimps and Prisms may see this project as a convenient way to dispatch political undesirables out in the desert to perish. That kind of genocide will be forbidden. Each colonist will require the life support inputs of an expeditionary soldier. The Israeli kibbutz movement has handbooks that outline exactly what would be needed per capita and per community.
Mountain ranges can be adapted to terrace agriculture. One has but to look at the magnificent terraced fields of Oceania, Asia and South America to see that much more land could be cultivated in this manner. This project will demand much more intensive labor than spendthrift capital. In addition, mountainsides stripped bare should be carpeted with lush ground cover and tree stands, thus moderating floods, landslides, erosion and water-born pollution. These would make excellent work projects for urban youth setting off for summer camp or quest treks.
Priority would go to replanting and protecting areas stripped of vegetation. Learners will micro-manage corporate exploitation to re-establish climax native ecologies. Industrial forestry will be limited to fringe orchard areas while old-growth forests expand outward. If possible, native populations and their guests will administer these areas. Learners will clean up and restock sterilized seas and waterways.
Current dosage rates of pollution will be curtailed. Tolerable maxima will be established for every pollutant, much lower than our “scientific” hope-for-the-best guesstimates. Reversible processes will fine-tune toxin inputs to neutralize their harmful effect. If necessary, major polluters will be fined until they shut down. Funds so acquired will finance cleanup programs for less shitty industries and municipal waste treatment systems of sound design. Urban storm drains will become just that, not sewage flushing systems on rainy days.
Learner gene architects will redesign plankton and marine algae to flourish in changing conditions of oceanic salinity, acidity, eutrophication and warmth. Current conditions are stressing natural strains and becoming less and less survivable. Tailored bacteria and fungi will break down persistent toxins into less harmful substances. Those whose toxicity cannot be minimized to tolerable levels will become Controlled Substances and outlawed.
The World Court will offer generous bounties to whistle-blowers who turn in the hoarders of weapons of mass destruction and producers of omnicide toxins. Gene architects will restock wrecked ecologies and refill barren niches with newly tailored wildlife. Learner naturalists will restore biological diversity after decades of weapon-directed biosimplification.
Genetic engineering scares thoughtful people with its elaborate preparations for horrific new weapons and runaway disasters by deliberate, cumulative error. The absolute prohibition of genetic engineering would merely drive its military research apparatus underground. As usual, military applications are at the forefront of secret research. What did you think would happen while you refused to pay attention?
Gene architecture is a problematical peace technology; it will grow in reward as other peace technologies mature concurrently. However, it would be unrealistic to expect weapon managers to regulate genetic engineering since they are neither able nor willing to address its negative consequences. Without corrective action by slightly more thoughtful adults, their spoiled-child tantrums will prove suicidal in the long run.
The exponential increase of greenhouse gas emissions threatens to cook the planet to such a degree that plants won’t grow anywhere: eighteen degrees F or hotter by 2100 or earlier — almost ten times as much additional heat as that misleadingly predicted by the powers that be in about half the time they predicted.
So be it. We might forget the Kyoto protocols and their recall to sanity. Instead, we might let emitters of sulfur- and nitrate-based pollutants multiply their atmospheric pollution such that its solar dimming properties counteract the greenhouse effect. Let everyone pollute, pollute, pollute! Whoopee! This is what our weapon managers contemplate: balancing the solar regime of Earth by turning its atmosphere into something similar to the pea-soup smog that shrouds Venus. Maintain it without cease from then on, for fear of fallouts from that interruption.
There is a simple test for new technologies. Will the insurance company Lloyds of London (representing the hallowed Free Market) insure it against accidents? If so proceed with caution; if not, drop it like a hot potato. Lloyds will not insure any nuclear power plant at any premium, nor will it insure recombinant genetic engineering carried out in the open. Insurance companies in France won’t even insure communications industries against the health hazards of electrical transmission towers. Will anyone insure high-tension power lines against their biological effects?
Lessons for the wise.
When peace takes root once again, we won’t require so many polluting inputs. Atomic and other high pollution industries will be exiled to Earth orbit and beyond or taxed out of existence. Smaller communities will pay more attention to local ecologies. Finally! The brightest minds among us may go back to elucidating the paradoxes of human nature, of the natural world and of the supernatural.
Data trespass and environmental pollution – both “legal” and not so much so according to current law – will fuel the mobster criminality of the future. This will happen whether or not we regulate it today.
Of course, now that I think of it, the worst criminals will gravitate to the highest-paying crime: the traffic of human flesh; whether or not this involves spare organs, enslaved human/animal chimera, immune and other cloned cells, bioweapons, illegal human fertility or other biomedical technologies yet to be foreseen. Here in the heart of darkness, nightmare criminality will fester. This unspeakable syndic will take root whether or not humanity organizes some rational program of global eugenics to shrink its swarm peacefully and thus ensure its survival. See Population Control.
Drug, gambling and prostitution crimes of today are just warm-up exercises for the data-and-pollution crimes of tomorrow. Its victims suffer multi-facetted punishments even though wealthy racketeers and their reactionary political patrons remain home free and well rewarded. In the same way, the American Prohibition provided a cozy nursery for organized thugs and their police “controllers.” Note how both sides were dominated by psychopaths.
In the pollution law of the future, the burden of proof and cleanup will fall squarely on polluters. These environmental criminals may include organized thugs, government collaborators (like Congress), corporate managers and other powerful groups that profiteer from pollution. We will stop subsidizing those absentee polluters who have managed up ‘til now to evade the worst personal consequences of their greed. Currently, they live in fortified, high-luxury communities carefully tucked away from their own crime and pollution outfalls. That form of high-profit escapism will be brought to a halt.
A few decades hence, the Earth may have become a mosaic of parklands inlaid with lovingly tended squireships smaller, more scattered, and environmentally friendly than today’s cities and corporate agro-complexes. Agricultural freeholds and garden/university townships will flourish. Extended family and volunteer collectives will practice intensive horticulture and aquaculture from just enough cultivable land and shoreline to support local communities. Cottage industries will produce exquisite crafts for luxury export. Each bioregion will support climax reforestation in local parklands as well as intensive restoration projects for soil, flora and wildlife.
We should pickaxe another fault line here. Squireship implies a hereditary succession of proud yeomen and land-loving squires equally intent on fruitful landscapes, sleek livestock and vigorous offspring. This alternative – like that of Hindu castes – might stabilize skills, talents, political order and consumer demand. Nonetheless, it would consign many people to inherited duties and to lesser accomplishment.
A common social alternative is promotion by merit. If administered with grace and imagination, it offers more promise than its caste equivalent. But such systems often go wrong when hyperactive scoundrels seek promotion by abusing their Napoleonic share of skill and hypocrisy.
As usual, neither solution suits every circumstance; a flexible combination of them would be more promising and more challenging. Future agricultural communities may become collective and hereditary while built-up municipalities will offer free market certifications of merit to restive talent. Freedom of choice would be secured by allowing voluntary transfers between these communities and many more whose local arrangements would best suit their circumstances.
We have yet to mobilize our full public health potential against AIDS and older, resurgent epidemics (transmitted sexually and otherwise). This shocking oversight is just another weapon effort at slow-mo’ genocide and mass misery. As we speak, plague, ebola, tuberculosis, malaria, hepatitis, meningitis, polio and cholera resume their grip on humanity. This list of inexcusable pandemics grows yearly while effective drugs and “acceptable” preventives are shrinking back down to a blank page.
Once the cities that remain accommodate their inhabitants in an acceptable manner, great heaps of corporate competition, atrocious living conditions and high pollution will fester here and there. In these last citadels of Capital, Blade Runner visions of dystopia may hold sway.
Everyone accepts this abortive vision as the most likely one for the future of the whole world. We should aspire to do better in all but the worst exceptions.
To be more precise, we should expect the last of these dystopia enthusiasts to assemble in a few cramped conurbations. These last economic ghettos may relocate to the Equator where extra-planetary payloads require less energy to lift into orbit. Hyper-urban space gantries of this kind may materialize in the Andes, the mountains of equatorial of Africa, Sumatra, Borneo and other elevations dotting the Equatorial Zone.
Otherwise, people will choose to live in orbital habitats, in self-sufficient squireships, in small, garden/university communities and in the giant arcologies described above — or as primal hunter-gatherers in the heart of the World Forest. As the needs and desires of this world citizenry evolve, they may migrate from one type of community to the next and then back again. None of these settings would rule out the rest. On the contrary, each would complement and reinforce the others by offering new markets and sources of necessities and luxuries. The only real limitations would be those posed by sustainable surface transport, which local Learners will no doubt figure out.
Domed cities and new recycling technologies (Paul Lackman mentioned the Biosphere experiment) may demonstrate more effective ways to deal with pollution, incoming ultraviolet and heat exchange problems in each of these settings. Routine freight technologies may include super canon, MAGLEV and space elevator payloads once they stop menacing us as cheap strategic weapons. Our customary transport methods will shrink, replaced by others we cannot yet imagine. See the chapter, Plus LTA, Minus Nukes.
The problem is not the lack of scientific soundness of “soft” technologies like parapsychology and New Age research, no matter how much well-financed “debunking” of zero scientific validity has been brought to bear against them. But as long as weapon managers retain control of them, it would be hard to imagine a greater threat than their potential to summon enormous, new destructive energies.
Mega-project technocrats forecast the production of giant orbital solar power collectors/transmitters and moon-based solar power plants. They intend to refine lunar regolyth into deuterium, cement and water; and use these materials to build power plants that would beam raw energy back to Earth. That would be fine, provided that orbital and lunar factories soak up all this extra energy. Forget about microwaving power back to the Earth’s surface through the atmosphere. Such techno-hubris (hoobreess, God-aping pride) could invite unimaginable weather disasters. The ozone layer might tear further apart, Grand Chaos cyclones might blow up and we might have to endure another Deluge or Ice Age for good measure. It's likely that the Earth's Van Allen belt would weaken, aggravating cosmic radiation bombardments, at least until unknown new energy technologies harvested these radiations. Until then, bad news all around.
Energy collected from outer space should be expended on-site to manufacture beautifully finished products from raw materials mined in outer space. These artifacts could be delivered relatively cheaply by free-fall to Earth-surface communities that had become edenic by means of low populations and low energy signatures. Solar energy collected along Earth orbits will power the orbital Birminghams, Coventrys and Glasgows of this new Victorian model — not gigawatt weapon technologies squirming across the Earth's surface.
The near and far reaches of the Solar System would represent the outer colonies of this Victorian model. Braving great peril, enterprising pioneers will cast off from Earth and a few of their survivors will make it back bearing fantastic treasure. At first, expect these space colonies to be plagued by isolation, dearth, primitivism, terror and exceptional lethality.
All puns aside, we cannot expect to explore space in a vacuum. Space colonists will require massive shipments of survival necessities, energy quanta and elite human reinforcements, which only a thriving Earth-base could provide. We will have to dream up many new peace technologies in order to colonize outer space successfully.
Before the bidding begins, ambitious contractors have to study plans, sample soils, pick up new techniques, price innovative materials, satisfy all kinds of bureaucratic requirements and line up skilled craftspeople as well as a good food truck. Like them, we will have to redirect our attention to the Earth itself – the wellbeing of its inhabitants and its ecologies – and fine-tune these titanic details before we may begin to explore the heavens in earnest.
The robust health and matriarchal solidarity of an elephant herd allow it to raise a delicate calf despite what appear to be insurmountable difficulties and dangers. The African savannah: what a harsh environment in which to raise a tender cub! We Earthlings should cultivate hardy utopias and ecotopias. Only a well-run Learner civilization will be able to nurture space exploration into the latter decades of this century.
We may explore other planets with specially trained and equipped colonies of insects and extremophiles (like water bears). Their life-support requirements would be minimal; their curiosity and survival instincts would drive them to explore the terrain of Mars, for example, with inhuman thoroughness, at a fraction of the cost of manned exploration and much more thoroughly than clumsy robots.
Specially tailored multi-species colonies of insects could be dispatched via one or more centralized “nests” with scout patrols equipped with miniature cameras and sampling equipment. Their life support necessities would be issued from these nests; sampling results could be collected, fractionated and transmitted from them back to Earth. Freight payloads, slowly boosted and parked in orbit, could supply these insect colonies. Insect sterilization would delay the biocontamination of new habitats. Or they could operate under pressurized dome tents (perhaps self-propelled) and die out as their oxygen and supplies ran out.
The difference between extraterrestrial contamination and terraforming is largely moot. This problem is critical; future Learners will have to thrash it out in detail. Indeed, we shall have to pay particular attention to the pollution of outer space.
A ballistic junkyard is already cluttering near-Earth orbits with thousands of thoughtless discards and weapon remnants that threaten astronauts with fatal collision. Every collision between large pieces of this whizzing junk cloud worsens the problem exponentially by producing sprays of smaller debris.
An entrepreneurial genius will no doubt earn a fortune by sweeping up this orbital trash and recycling it as precious raw materials for future use in outer space. Land-based entrepreneurs will sort through landfills with much the same intent. As it stands, our best-laid plans involve slowing the orbit of as much of this horrifically expensive junk as possible, so that it will fall into the atmosphere, burn up and disappear from our radar screens. Such a waste!
Outer space offers us a relatively clean slate. Insofar possible, we should restore its purity.
Earth’s consolidated space program will assemble permanent space stations and factory complexes at every Lagrange point: five orbital coordinates where the Earth's and Moon’s gravities cancel out and satellites require minimal fuel burns to remain stationary relative to the Earth-Moon system. Two of those points are fully stable; the other three require periodic fuel burns.
Remote-controlled, long-endurance orbiters, fuel tankers, surface landing and takeoff craft for transit at both ends of the trip, as well as Earth-return vehicles; all of them could be parked at leisure, tethered in orbit or mothballed on distant planets for later use. Giant unmanned spaceships could warehouse massive exploratory payloads and elaborate life support systems. They would orbit other celestial bodies or touch down softly to await future crews. Unmanned modular payloads could swing toward other planets along lengthy, lazy trajectories. These vehicles would supplement chemical or ionized rocket trajectories with gravitational fly-bys and solar wind sailing.
Other projects worth studying include the interplanetary repositioning in optimal orbits of comets and meteors captured and hollowed out to provide exploratory, mining, manufacturing, rescue and trans-shipment bases. There they’d await much swifter, smaller, more specialized human-transit vehicles built more like fast armored cars shielded against cosmic rays by brand new shielding technologies, by a protective layer of melanin-saturated living cells or simply by walls of ice, rock and metal.
This more deliberate project, which would take decades and generations to develop instead of months and years, would eliminate the requirement for a complete life support/exploration/return vehicle package bearing a minimal crew in one costly, pared-to-the-bone and triply redundant spaceship.
Already, NASA has planned to make rocket fuel from the oxidized sands of Mars and generate power and ceramics from sun-kilned Moon cheese and lunar ice. According to the Russian newspaper, Izvestia, the U.S. plans to harvest Helium-3 from the Moon where it is plentiful and bring it back to the Earth where it is rare. This turns out to be a less risky fuel for fusion reactors. Shipping it back from the Moon would be cheaper than refining rare traces of it from Earth dirt. http://www.hindu.com/2004/01/26/stories/2004012600601500.htm.
Heat exchangers may harness the enormous energy differentials between cold shadows and sunlit surfaces ‒ on the Moon for example ‒ and use it as a power source. Space travel will teach us many new tricks we could learn nowhere else.
It might be best to limit space exploration to automated recon probes and well-stocked orbital satellites parked for later use, at least until our methods and technologies became a little less rudimentary.