SSPS Redux

Posted: 30th August 2011 by Khannea Suntzu in Uncategorized
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A year ago I wrote this article in my old blog. It has become more poignant than ever, so I needed to clean it up and rewrite it. So here is the new and improved version for September 2011.

SSPS == Space Solar Power Systems


A good year ago I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Milan to attend the conference “Transvision 2010” and my trip, and that of my darling companion Kim, was sponsored by Miss Rothblatt, for which I remain eternally grateful. Milan is beautiful, meeting a selection of Transhumanists there was enlightening – and looking people physically in the eye creates clarity and creates lifelong bonds – and especially meeting Giulio, David, Anders, Aubrey and Martine was quite nice. Almost as nice as Bergamo, aahhhh.

I did a presentation in the Cavalieri Hotel (an unmitigated dump) which went somewhat OK but in part I botched because of nerves. In the months leading up to the trip to Milan I worked hard to mount a compelling argument for the immediate implementation of a worldwide program to develop SSPS. I realize now this is effectively a political impossibility super dilemma, even though the argument itself has gained considerable gravitas and momentum, as we see the world under the strain imposed by economic and industrial shrinkage. What amazed me is that some Transhumanists there argued against creating a space based infrastructure, as I recall because space programmed ‘are all state managed’ and ‘we’ll need to have private space enterprise before we can do effective space industrialization’ (paraphrasing). Needless to say I felt annoyed by that position.

We face major challenges as a collective planetary human civilization. It is not simple to explain or even coherently create a simple list of the causes of these problems. Many of the current problems are currently impossible to solve. We can’t. We face catastrophic problems in the near future (say, between 2015 and 2050) that should be regarded as unacceptable. The world we might enter when they problems mature is likely to be be catastrophic. In other words, we may face a future where billions of people may die, and civilization itself may collapse to a horrific techno-feudal state.

There may be only one way to avoid a major collapse by ascertaining new sources of energy.

To understand this everyone needs to understand the difference between an energy carrier and an energy source.

When I state we need a new source of energy as quickly as possible, many people dismiss this claim as alarmism. It is not. The problem is that right now we have a industrial system and economy that is based solely on petrochemical sources of energy. Oil, Gas and Coal comprise well over 75% of that energy. Total consumption of energy is now about 16 teraWatt of energy, but it needs to be noted that this is consumption that in part includes the benefit of energy density in oil – if we needed to replace oil overnight we’d find that would could not, even if we had access to electrical power more than twice the established teraWatt – oil transports easily in pipelines (gas, electricity, hydrogen, coal does not scale in the same manner) and oil allows mobility with vehicles at a low cost (alternative engine power cost considerably more to generate).

I have very bad news for the environmentalist and “sustainabilist” lobbies – Having to replace oil (even by leaving coal and gas intact) with alternatives will destroy our modern lifestyle. It will annihilate modernity, affluence and stability worldwide. It will eradicate mechanized agriculture, most comfortable types of employment, modern pharmeutical industries (which keep millions alive on a daily basis), it will overnight eradicate the current internet connectivity, it will make impossible the consumption of the vast majority of products we consume and it will make most food products cost several times as much as they cost today.

And no, ‘alternative sources of energy’ are nowhere near a solution. I had a discussion recently with my dear friend Amanda where I flat out claimed this, and she has been in a state of angry dismissal over this a few times. I am sorry but we can’t even generate a fraction of the energy we currently consume with alternative sources of energy. No combination of wind power, current nuclear generators, hydropower, solar power, tidal, biofuel or geothermal can even come close to the gluttony of energy consumption we currently face. NO to my little friends of the Zeitgeist movement – Geothermal is not an option – it currently generates less than 100 gigawatt; we needs hundreds of times that to even start displacing oil, no matter actually growing the energy sources. The only sources of energy that show any promise to me are Thorium nuclear energy (which for instance Greenpeace completely dismisses – they want all types of nuclear power generation outlawed, even Thorium and Fusion, no the were not willing to discuss this, “what are you an agent of the nuclear industries?”) and Solar.

Mike Sneed:
if we just take the US – If the US built 70 new one gigawatt nuclear plants ….. if the US were to build and install (and operate) one million large wind turbines across 5000 miles of coast line ….. if the US also add the equivalent of 15 hoover dams … if it was to upscale its geothermal capacity by a factor of times 50 the current … if the US also collect 2 billion tons of biomass and use that per year …. and in addition to all of that if it were to build a staggering 60.000 square miles of solar if all that were to happen, cumulatively, by 2100 the US would not be producing a third of the power it would need by then. Worse, even if the US did this TODAY, it wouldn’t even be able to replace the fossil fuel usage in the US. (video below)

The above are extremely capital and resource intensive ways to generate energy. In essence, sure, we can generate all the energy we want if we had some spare energy and raw materials to implement energy winning systems. We can in theory pave over entire deserts with solar winning systems. But right now (and I fear, in the foreseeable future) can not. To create nuclear power plants, solar infrastructures, wind turbines, etc. requires a very hefty investment of capital resources, public will and most of all raw materials. Right now we have neither. Money is tight, public (or political) determination needs viagra, and we are competing globally for raw materials in a way that seems frantic. And to do what, we use the former three to build things like this. I can not emphasize my disgust over that latter one.

Insanity

Fusion might be a solution, if it wasn’t certain the current trajectories toward fusion actually producing sufficient amounts of sufficiently cheap (competitive) electrical power (let alone humanity converting our planetary infrastructures to being able to effectively use it and not starve) produce not a single marketable watt of electricity before 2050. And that is if we do not face any budget cuts or external delays before then.

What we need is something that does not tax (or compete with) existing known reserves of mineral resources. Because we need those to build golf courses in the desert. Or bridges to nowhere. Seriously, we do not have sufficient minerals left on this planet.

catastrophic

There are an awful lot of years to experience major global collapse between 2011 and the time a solution is mostly sure (2050 for fusion? 2045 for “The Singularity”?) and we are in safe waters. Right now we are most certainly not. For decades it is bound to become a lot worse. The consequences are also clear, or should be, for anyone who has been paying any attention – we face a moment in near history where we can not feed (let alone offer a humane standard of living) to the vast majority of people on this planet.

It may seem somewhat outlandish to claim that we can (and should) generate solar power in orbit. I however make this claim. I see little alternative actually. We desperately need an almost limitless growth in energy sources. Demand for energy is skyrocketing. The entire third world assumes they can quickly move into a far more plush and humane lifestyle of the first world. China is already building the required cities now it still can. At the same time the developing world is gearing up to a modernist lifestyle, the richer nations are nowhere near to abandoning their consumption patterns, and will take drastic measures to make sure what’s their’s is theirs. And what is not theirs is theirs too.

We need a source of energy that scales. In other words – one where the price of adding more energy winning infrastructure becomes cheaper as we build more. There seems to be almost no such possible infrastructure on earth – the more you add (and this goes for geothermal, wind, solar, bio-fuel, hydro, tidal etc) the most expensive even additional one costs, because of booming prices for building materials and real estate, environmental costs and plain oil speculation. We will still need to invest in all of the above heavily mind you. No matter how they will cost we will need a lot of replacement sources of energy as soon as oil falls away, and we will need them damn soon. And in addition to that we must race towards a source of energy and mature this source of energy between 2020 and 2030. That means – cost effective and expanding rapidly in ten years.

When J.F.Kennedy said “..I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth..” it was the year 1961 and we still used cathode ray computers. He did land a human on the moon (it should have been a woman) in 1969. That was in less than eight years. A single nation created a massive industrial project in just a few years and launched a rocket nearly a hundred meters tall into orbit. Again, with rather primitive technology compared to what we have today. That’s why I say that it is not impossible to state we can actually create the required industrial means to do this.

And what we need to do is this.
1. get equipment and humanpower in space
2. harvest/mine material resources in near space from either asteroids or the moon
3. construct means to collect solar energy from these resources
4. beam the energy back to earth.

This is a tall order. In fact looking at this shortlist it seems almost ludicrous a proposal. There isn’t the political will. There isn’t the money. There isn’t the technological know how. e do not have the required engineers. Even if it would take decades.

Now let’s discuss the alternatives.

I insist that we need to build SSPS. I insist that we need this source of energy, and we need to start developing it now. To not to do is to invite catastrophe, nothing less.

A world where people “start dying” is a world with war and terror. We need cheep food, cheap means to transport, cheap ways to refrigerate, cheap medication, cheap packaging, cheap illumination, cheap ways to build housing, cheap ways to communicate and we need a lot of it. Not having it for well over nine billion humans (and we need a massive amount of luxuries too) means considerable pain. Right now, with existing technologies (or with technologies we are likely to have) this is impossible.

Let’s look at current consumptions of energy to see what we (a) desperately need, (b) when we need it and (c) what would need to retain our current standards of living and (d) what we need to sustain current growth in an environmentally sustainable manner and (e) what we need beyond that to give every human in the world a standard of living roughly comparable to our current one.

Right now over 75% of our energy consumption is based on energy sources (gas, oil, coal) which we won’t have any more by the middle of the century. So to keep our current global energy flow going we need about 12 Terawatt of energy. We cannot do that with existing alternative sources of energy, plain and simple. We might do something like it by building Thorium reactors, but that’s not in the works either. Or maybe it is, but in that case the western world has its had in the sand. But (a) we do not merely need 12 tW of (b) new energy before 2050 (or so) we need to change infrastructures to accommodate the new energy infrastructure – which will be mostly based on electricity. And the process of transitioning from an oil infrastructure to an electricity infrastructure would probably require ‘a bit extra’ in tW for the next decades. So just to retain what we have, “steady state” would require ‘a few extra tW’. (c).

We now make this in a way that is utterly unsustainable. Our global civilization depletes natural resources so fast it is effectively criminal. We are eating the cake and defecating on any remaining cake. To sustainably consume would require extra tW – to recycle natural resources. As is clear this politically unsellable, since it would vastly increase product prices. Consumers will always buy products that are cheaper (manufactured in a wasteful manner) over products that are manufactured more expensive (using recycled materials, or not wasting materials). But over time we’ll all have to – and by then we will HAVE to take the extra cost as we hit irreversible constraints in raw materials. As an example – by 2025 commercial fishing in the world’s oceans and seas will end. Fish will be depleted in a manner than commercial trawling will no longer be affordable. Aside from the sheer wasteful lunacy in commercial fishing today. In essence all fish we’d want can only be produced by breeding fish. The downside is this is more expensive. Expensive specifically in energy. Growing fish in fish tanks (etc.) costs more energy, plain and simple. It is possible to create a closed system fishery farm, but creating it and sustaining one requires a steady and reliable flow of cheap energy. As time goes by the required energy will go down. Who knows, eventually we might ‘print’ or ‘nanofab’ good edible fish, and I assume (hope) the energy cost of generating that fish will have decreased. At best the fish meat involved will no longer suffer in being grown and slaughtered, which is a plus in my book.

So manufacturing (or growing) the products we want (and need) in a manner where we do not irreversibly decrease available natural means (or more likely, there aren’t any available – “the sea will be emptied out”) requires energy. This is true for the market for fish, or the market for ski resorts in desert regions – with enough energy there is not reason to have a lot of them – with energy scarcity having either is at some point immoral – for every ski resort in Dubai inescapably other people will have to face famine and poverty.

The last step (e) all humans having a sustainable lifestyle at a level comparable in dignity or quality is a world requires us to grow ourselves to several tens of tW of energy somewhere near the end of this century. We might argue that all those people in the third world won’t have the economic ability to pay for the energy we’ll sell them, but my reply is that we’d want an investment in energy sources that will go down in price as time proceeds, and end up substantially lower than energy cost at this time. That way everyone can afford energy and become dignified and developed human beings. Better – dignified free human beings, liberated from colonial and corporate and political constraints. Having access to cheap energy has throughout history always meant both peace, stability and freedom as well as prosperity. Increase the cost of energy and society turns dystopian. Reduce the price of energy (which means making it more available) and society actually evolves fast towards a somewhat (arguably) utopian ideal. Even better, everyone’s else’s (and not your) utopian ideal.

So in essence when I advocate implementing SSPS it means I advocate a nicer world. I don’t care what we have to do to get there, ‘make it so’. We have as a species been partying like a bunch of irresponsible adolescents, and the end result has been wreckage.

A world where people die because of famine and poverty is unacceptable. It is not something you want, even if you have nuclear weapons. The desperate have nothing to lose and they will do whatever it takes to survive. Worse, defending against a dangerous world costs an insane amount of military waste. And it is a violent and deceitful process. This is zero sum thinking and it lowers our collective human dignity.

If we persist down this road we persist on the road to ruin. We willingly accept a world where we do not build for the future, a world where we live in the present and deny ourselves a future.

This is no longer ‘alarmist’ and exaggerated. This is a pretty plausible vision for where we are headed.

I realize that right now very people understand what space industry would mean, and even fewer appreciate there is profit in it. The basic premise is however decades old. Space is the next industrial revolution.

If you understand this premise I urge you need to act. If you see a better solution than SSPS, feel free to propose one – but make sure your idea is worth the equivalent of 20 to 30 teraWatt of energy yields. I am pretty damn sure SSPS is by far the best option we have as a species. Currently not acting should be regarded as immoral and criminally negligent. Politicians and industry leaders are especially accountable at this stage – these castes can be alleged to have been co-opted by a viciously and vulgar ‘monetary’ concerns. If politicians do not act to face the challenges ahead, they betray the trust their constituents have placed in them. Politicians have to make decisions to weigh the needs of their constituents (whether or not they have been elected) in the here and now as well as in the foreseeable future. Those who betray this duty – we will find you that day things go wrong.

The time that anyone can say “but I am over 40, I’ll be dead before this become a problem‘, or ‘my constituents/shareholders did not put me in my position to be responsible for this issue’ or ‘i don’t understand what you are saying here’ or ‘i’ll bury this headache in a study comiteeis over. The time for expedient, shill-driven, populist or chair warming incompetent evasiveness should be at an end.

Possible Replies / FAQ

Peak Oil has been “debunked”

No peak oil has by no stretch of the imagination been debunked, even by a long shot. There is overwhelming scientific consensus that Man-made global warming is real, and there is wide scientific consensus that oil is depleting within a manner of decades. Sadly there are parties with a keen interest in debunking peak oil and debunking climate change. These people are what is known in scientific terms as

liars.

The oil business now thrives on engineering public doubt, especially doubt that preys into widespread fear and wishful thinking. As is many people, especially in the US, become very afraid when they pause and consider the very idea of oil depletion. Oil business stands to lose to make a lot less money if states started enacting policies anticipating on that depletion (or climate disruption because of gas exhausts) – say, fossil tax, or carbon emission offsets, or carbon quota caps, or oil company nationalization. That is why these companies seed doubt. I think this should be regarded as a criminal activity, and anyone who has a sense will come to see sooner or later it will be. It won’t be decades until society reaches the point where we conclude that actively and commercially lobbying to discredit resource depletion (specifically arguing we need to start working on weaning ourselves of our petrochemical addiction) is something you should go to prison for. Yes this is a very serious warning. I am all for free speech – but Dante did allocate the lowest two layers in Hell for those who give bad advance and those that betrayed trust placed in them.

Be warned.

Space Based Solar Power Harvesting is far too expensive

SSPS is extremely expensive. It is however cost effective. Things that are hideously expensive can be both cost effective as they can be necessary. All alternatives we are left with do not scale to a world with ten billion people.

Let’s say that to implement the basic infrastructure to create the first energy winning structures (on earth and in space) would cost about as much as the gulf war. It will probably cost less. But then we are still talking over a trillion US dollars. After having expended that money, building launch facilities, creating a cheap launch system for light and for bulk launches, an implementing the very first SSPS we have a thing in space that costs a fortune and produces a Gigawatt of energy. A current nuclear power plant costs something like 10, and produces the same amount, So why the heck would we consider a structure maybe hundred times as expensive??

If implemented we have a gigawatt capacity of a single microwave beam station in place – after that first inception the next structure costs substantially less. The issue at hand is we need energy anyway and we desperately need more of it every year – while existing energy reserves have cost consequences that are almost frivolously dismissed. We get our oil from in many cases from psychotic or open slave-keeping states (such as Saudi Arabia) or from a number if other politically dubious petro-dictatorships (Venezuela, Russia) or from completely collapsed regions (western africa) or at a massive cost (from a mile deep in the sea).

We could add coal to the debate but everyone should agree that burning endless reserves of coal, “no matter how alleged to be clean” is suicidal on a planetary scale. Solar, Wind, Thermal, Geo, Nuclear all come with environmental, energy scarcity, upkeep cost consequences we can ill afford. Plus neither of them scale up to even remotely to keep up with EXPLODING consumer demands. First world nations can barely keep wit their expansion – what if we intend to bring a humane existance to 3 billion Indians and Chinese (and some 5 billion africans, asians, middle easterners, southamericans, Russians?) – Right now we can dream we have solutions, but we don’t. Worse, we have LESS solutions every year. We collectively don’t know it, but we are shrinking our options well into a lethal future.

Plus we might get lucky if we put our best efforts to finding other means to cheaply launch materials into orbit. If we can reduce costs of launching materials into space at 100$ a kilo or less, private industries would be building these structures right now -and soon after people would be leaving the earth-moon system permanently – not because space is so comfortable and safe – but because there are millions of people who loathe Earth and its people and would desire nothing more than to leave permanently. Decrease emigration costs enough and many would get up and leave.

Launching one SSPS in space would give us a single Gigawatt at best – there is no way we can launch the required tens of thousands

Yes we can, and yes there is a necessity. It is quite simple – we need to feed several billion people. It may not make sense ‘in a strict economic perspective’, but essentially we may see wars, terrorism, total collapse and massive deaths if we do not.

We have enough oil to last us hundreds of years

In this discussion there are four things important – proven oil reserves, theoretical or probable oil reserves, irretrievable oil reserves and lying. On the demand side there are the following considerations – current consumption, a concept I’d call “attrition depletion” and future consumption – and a concept I would call populist denialism.

For example – the world has of 2010 has enough oil ready to pump and plausibly retrievable enough to last us somewhere into the second half of this century at current consumption rates. If consumption rates go up as they have for anything like we have seen in the last century all known oil reserves are gone and depleted somewhere in the mid 2020s. Doublecheck what I have just said. Now by developing new technologies we can increase the oil reserves by finding and unlocking “some” new reserves, and we can safely anticipate we can add a few decades, assuming current oil consumption (which is silly beyond words), and at most a decade if we continue to expand energy consumption. That means, in the most sensible scenario’s oil is depleted and totally uneconomical long before 2050. Of course some people may very well use oil after then, but if we all believe we will all be doing that, we are certifiably insane.

This is all complicated by the fact that some countries are lying through their teeth when it comes to oil reserves. The Saudi government Liars have a habit of claiming their have ‘several big fields’ ready to be tapped -and they can lie because they hide their geological data under their harem pillows. Fact remains there have been no major finds in Saudi Arabia since the 1970s, and the major Saudi-Iraqi fields are rapidly declining. Here is another scary detail – population growth in some middle east oil exporting countries is so huge that in mere decades some of these countries may be forced to stop exports rather suddenly, to fuel the needs of their own population – Iran is a great example of precisely that being in the immediate future, since they have been consistently breeding like lemmings over there. Not that I blame them – it’s their business how they lemming, but the rest of the world ignores the implications at their own peril. At some point these people will face a simple choice – flee or die.

The concept of “depletion attrition” is something like – as soon as oil prices increase, demand drops as companies go bankrupt or reduce production rates. As a consequence many people make less shareholder money, less wages and demand decreases sharply. It may seem like a solution out of the selfregulatory bible of dogmatic sadists, but the flip side is that a whole lot of people are suddenly caught off from affordable products – and jobs. This has severe potential consequences we only see a glimmer off at this time. LONG before oil depletes, the cost of plastics, transportation, pharmaceuticals, chemical fertilizers, refrigeration and irrigation will push billions of people out of access to food they can afford.

I KNOW that there are a lot of misguided bastards (and I consciously use harsh language) that think “letting people die” is natural and prudent. I have heard the statement ‘well they should have though of that before, that’s how the market works‘ or ‘nature rectifying overpopulation‘. Aside from the sheer sociopathic blindness (dubious ethics) of said people and their reasoning, the basic statement they make is stupid beyond words. I claim there is a causal relationship, (soon to become self-evident to everyone), between global misery, and suitcase nukes detonation in major rich nation metropolitan areas. I say – attrition through depletion is not an option, despite the unbelievably arrogant ‘neochristian’ rhetoric of Fox news.

We can not afford to slowly let a few billion people die to reduce demand and leave more oil (and other natural resources) “for us whiteys”. A few billion really desperate people, even when dirt poor, would tear this world apart in chronic thermonuclear terrorism. We’d make the Israeli societal paradigm (apartheid+) a worldwide norm.

I can almost postulate a causal link between starvation (and similar undesirable demographic and societal distress) and terror deaths in rich countries. And point in your ears that as technologies advance the first these advances will be used for is not world peace and all that, but for crime, payback, repression and death.

And the oil debate doesn’t end there. Let’s not start about global warming. Let’s not start about democracies rotting from the inside with all the oil money poured into corrupt politicians pockets. Let’s not start about China using its atrocious respect for human rights to happily climb in bed with sociopathic dictators. Let’s not look at people displaced from their lands, or bush meat trade (or overfishing). Let’s not discuss he idea of economic hitmen, or occupational wars. The list of oil related misery goes on and on. The day oil goes away (and we can afford to leave the remaining black curse in the ground) will be the day everyone is invited for drinks at my house.

We don’t have oil to last us decades, and the ride into inadequate market supply means massive hardship for everyone, even if you have the biggest military in the world.

Other Alternative Sources are enough to replace oil easily

I looked at it and it doesn’t look very promising. The only one for which I have some credulity is desert and city roof solar. All solar plans I read assume very little growth in global consumption, and very little acknowledgement of rising costs of building materials. I do not believe we can abundantly replace oil with alternative energies, and even if we could, we’d also have to replace (in a matter of 15-30 years) an entire societal infrastructure of cars, petrochemical industries and pipes. It would be like conduction surgery on society while running a marathon.

We have enough natural gas to last us hundreds of years

No we don’t.

Energy stations radiating energy back to earth can be used as space lasers to destroy cities

No. I will give you a blank guarantee that SSPS by itself cannot be weaponized anymore than any normal satellite sending out CNN or sirius radio. Categorically no. Having industries in space will have the potential to hit targets on earth surface, with great easy, and as such it pays to have infrastructures in space first, before anyone else does.

Rant about Sim City

See above. SSPS systems by themselves can not be weaponized. They can be turned in to weapons – but it is easier to bombard key targets on the Earth’s surface with concentrated masses (a ball of iron will do) by pelting these objects down from a highly elliptical orbit. You can rain down massive objects, a few ton a pop, and make them come down within 50 meters. A precision bombardment conducted by a orbital Chinese industrial presence (or a German, North Korean, Israeli or Mexican one) would allow such a permanent colony to dictate terms to the world. Don’t obey, boom here’s another few dozen surgical strike impacts.

Yes that is an argument to make sure civilized people get there first. Makes sense?





We have enough coal to last us hundreds of years

There is enough coal for about a few hundred years, given current growth rates and about 150 years with extrapolated growth trends. But if we incinerate the coal in this manner, the outlook for the planet is dire. Most coal contains Sulphur and Mercury, and that’s apart from CO2 emissions (some say CO2 is which plants crave). Worse, you can not drive a car with coal. Lose the oil, and we would need to somehow turn coal into propellant, which is about as efficient as using whale oil as a source of illumination. I do not think coal can be a big solution to any energy questions. Imagine using coal to create electricity to fertillize deserts for crops and refridgerate all these desert skiing ramps and aquifer all these Saudi gold course and … nah.

Is this some crazy liberal green plan ?

No it is not, by a long shot. I am talking about an industrial revolution potentially far bigger than any we have seen before. Please realize, this isn’t a hair-brained money black hole scheme – space based industrialization is profitable beyond our wildest dreams. There are asteroids out there, not much further than the moon, which have several orders of magnitude more rare earth minerals (such as platinum) than we can ever hope to win from the earth’s surface. Right now if the right investor stepped forward the mining of a NEA would be already profitable far in excess of the investment.

That is – with current technology. Guaranteed.

However, our current corporation centered paradigms cannot generate the focus, competence, imagination, enthusiasm, scientific understanding or foresight to come up with the required starting capital for this undertaking – or any undertaking in space industrialization. This is as plain silly as a USSR ‘communist’ planned economy used to be. What I advocate is profit, plain and simple. What I advocate is economic growth, increased abundance and prosperity, unlocking massive new consumer markets, stability, political safety. That vision is not a fringe leftist attitude or vain expectation.

Oil Energy companies are producing new sources of energy right now

Seriously – they are not.

Where would we get the money for such an undertaking?

Money is a fictional device in the macro-economy. Imagine this – if it were certain that 15 years from now Earth would be struck by a 8 mile metallic asteroid (say, the biggest mountain on the planet, but in space) all this would be academic. In five years astronauts would be in space building a tractor to move the asteroid in to a safe orbit and in less than ten years we would collectively have a space industry as a side effect. I bet we would be hauling the asteroid in a safe resonating orbit and mining it to a cinder long before it actually hit us. The required technology exists today.

We can if we have to. But because we as a species are stupid and linear and unimaginative we assume we don’t have to. Because god has written us a blank check that we are going to turn up just great. Which may not be true at all.

We have enough uranium to fuel society for thousands of years.

Even if true, which it isn’t, nuclear plants cost a lot more than generally assumed. But a far more compelling argument is – we CAN NOT build anywhere near the required plants to power (or feed) the third world. Think about it. The Sudan is starving. It needs energy. Ok, let’s build a few nuclear power plants there. Genius idea right?

We can’t and we will never implement that widespread a Nuclear risk. Won’t happen. So at least half the Earth’s population will be out of luck and out of energy following that paradigm. It is not that they can afford to buy any, right?

Solar energy generated in deserts alone can power society

Right now solar produces a few hundred Gigawatt, at peak yield (which means – ‘it reaches this goal every few days and less mostly’). The biggest plant produces 350 gW. That is a far cry from the tens of teraWatts we will need soon. Plus, generating energy with solar is very mineral intensive (photovoltaics cost a lot of energy to manufacture, clean and maintain) and they are fragile and susceptible to theft. But what’s more – these things eat up land. There are already major ordnance problems with installing solar energy systems. Imagine the competition for land we’d have with a ten or hundredfold increase of these things (which is what we’d need). I do not think planetary surface solar collection methods will put a big dent in the amounts we’ll need. We may need to invest heavily in them, but in the somewhat longer term we need a far more effective source of energy.

Wind power alone can power society

This is not true. Right now the entire world produces 200 gigawatt of electrical energy through wind. That is not a fraction of what we need, and need soon. Now let’s assume we grow ourselves into covering our wind needs at a rate we’d need, and we also implement overcapacity to offset for days “the wind is not blowing” then we’d also need some kind of energy storage. Energy storage is hideously expensive, uses rare earth minerals and/or is unreliable for a complex industrial society. I agree we will need some wind, but it won’t save our ass longterm. If we bet solely on existing alternative sources of energy, or worse focus exclusively on wind, I think we are acting immortal, infantile and irresponsible. We’d have to somehow generate over hundred times with wind what we do now, and that would be just what we need now, and not half what we’d need by 2035. I think we should invest some in wind (we might globally affordably generate a tW eventually, who knows?) but the real power lies elsewhere.

We don’t need all that energy. We can safely reduce consumption rates and “return to nature”.

Not quite. Obligatory: watch this video first:

We can not revert to a state before the Industrial revolution. You can not convince the majority of voters to abandon what we have. Worse, in a few decades life extension becomes a factor. Imagine that – envision technology by 2050 extending average livespans by a few decades. That is a major factor in this. Some people born today will live to become centuries old, or might live that long if we don’t screw it up. I amk quite certain that by the end of this century robust rejuvenation will all be a statistical certainty and people will generally die from the odd disease, violence or accident rather than from ageing. People with those expectations will be people who remember the past, and will place a premium on a healthy and safe life. Some might naievely think “we should not want people live that long” but I would not suggest putting such policies in practice. Last time I heard describe such policies I think they called “artificially constraining longevity” murder.

In a world where people live “a whole lot longer” (and this has been the consistent trajectory of history) as well as being physically younger it is a bad bad bad idea to constrain, “in a hippie delusional greenpeace authoritarian manner” quality of life. The fact that some grow onions and leek in a communal garden doesn’t mean the vast majority of humans will consent to, or can afford to do the same. I fear that we may have to, or die, sure, but many people will put up a fight if you will try to force an idealized ‘sustainable’ lifestyle down their throats.

I agree we may need to constrain expectations – but if we constrain growth anywhere in the third world, it may translate to massive famine and anger.

Space is too dangerous

Space is very dangerous to soft jelly humans. It is also the ideal place to build large industrial structures. In fact I prefer industries in space rather than on a planetary surface.

It is impossible to lift all required resources from the surface of the earth to build these structures

(I am formulating this answer)

This is all just liberal anti-oil propaganda.

(I am formulating this answer)

This would allow the US and its allies to implement an orbital position of total dominance

Yes. Isn’t it great? My conniving plan is to have industries and tax payers invest trillions to implement means of energy production, and while doing so, my political systems (democracy, transparancy, the rule of law, moderate social-democratic market mechanics, transparancy, humanism, scientific analysis) achioeve unchallenged dominion over the planetary surface. That’s right – as soon as the first state has a number of orbital installations like these it has total dominance over the world – it can use focussed laser arrays to shoot any launch vehicle out of the stratosphere. It can rain balls of weighted iron down through the atmosphere in hyperbolic orbits on precise plots of surface, creation impact detonations the size of hiroshima sized explosions. If Luxembourg now had proposed structures in space, the next day Luxembourg would be emperor of the world.

Likewise – North Korea. The day North Korea has orbital SPSS up and running is the day North Korea can dictate terms of surrender to the US, for reasons that are so obvious I shall not repeat them. And this should be an argument NOT to create these structures?

Hell no, it means I want my political entity (The EU) to be the first building them and I want satanic nightmare states like Saudi Arabia to be the last.

You are a lobbyist for space industries.

If that were the case I am still waiting for their cheque. Please, mister space industry, send me money by cheque ASAP.

Actually no, I am retired, unemployed, living of disability, 100% disabled, not a registered member of any organization, except a local political party (which nowhere in its program has it any interest in space). I do this purely out of idealistic reasons. I see some the big patterns and I am personally convinced that SSPS is by far the only solution to avoid severe and debilitating outcomes to human civilization.

We may decide to do this in a century but not now.

(I am formulating this answer)

If this makes so much sense why are politicians, corporations and organizations doing zilch?

x

This is Science Fiction and utter nonsense.

x

The global super powers/Illuminati/Bankers/Big Oil/UN/Rothschilds/Liberals/Neoconservatives/MIC do not want this or they would have done this long ago.

x

You are not a trained professional in this field.

x

We are not ‘supposed’ to live in space.

x

“You are an idiot”

While at first glance the response ‘you are an idiot, and hence..‘ may sound like a superfluous addition to this list, I emphasize that when proposing initiatives a such as SSPS (and I can name you a few dozen other such implausible counter-intuitive proposals) about 30-50% of all protests comes down to the ‘you are an idiot‘ argument. The fact of the matter is, to the reader the argument sounds so farfetched it strikes him or her as completely incredible – hence the reader confuses his or her own lack of imagination with any expertise in the matter and labels what he or she can’t understand as idiotic. I will not reply to any claims to that effect other than making reference to this answer, and saying, ‘come up with a better line or arguments than that’. If I had any compelling need to be treated with such replies I’d live with chimpansees and had them pelt me with excrement, which would be at roughly the same intellectual level of discourse.

References:
* The teraWatt challenge.
* Hot, Flat and Crowded
* Mining the Sky
* Recent Progress
* Space Tower
* The High Frontier.
* Hardwired ,
* Mitsubishi ,
* http://www.thelivingmoon.com/43ancients/02files/Moon_Rights.html ,
* Riches in the sky ,
* The ethics of off-world mining ,
* The future of space mining ,
* Article on Shizimu Corporation ,
* Shizimu Corporation ,
* He3



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