Growing Into an Interstellar Civilization

by Paul Gilster on October 9, 2012

While I’ve often opined in these pages that a Solar System-wide infrastructure must emerge before we can contemplate interstellar flight, the obvious question is how we get there. Stephen Ashworth (Oxford, UK), who writes the insightful Astronautical Evolution blog, recently tackled the subject with such vigor that I asked him for permission to run his essay verbatim, especially since it grew out of a discussion right here on Centauri Dreams. If you’re trying to do something spectacular — like growing a global civilization into an interplanetary one and boosting wealth into the realms needed to push to the stars — how would you go about it? Ashworth’s vision for the ‘ten-billion-times growth factor’ makes the needed transformation. Is it a logical extrapolation or does it push too far? A lively debate should grow out of this one.

As a lifelong jazz buff, I can’t resist adding that Stephen is to be heard on tenor sax playing jazz standards at the Monday evening jam sessions at either the Ampleforth Arms in Risinghurst, or the Chester Arms off the Iffley Road, for those of you in the neighborhood. I now have a can’t-miss music scene — Ellington, Gershwin, Cole Porter — for my next trip to the UK, with interstellar talk to follow. Life is good.

by Stephen Ashworth

The ten-billion-times difficulty

Paul Gilster reports on his Centauri Dreams blog that, just before setting out to go to this month’s 100 Year Starship Symposium in Houston, he received an e-mail from someone whose grasp of the difference between interplanetary and interstellar distances was less than perfect. “We’re already going to Pluto”, said the writer. “How much harder can it be to go to a star?” Gilster mused: “I could write a whole book in answer to that question. Wait – I already have…”

Regular reader Joy often posts comments from a more skeptical or reality-check point of view. This time she responded in the comments section:
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Velocity x 1000 = energy x 1,000,000
x Crewed spaceflight duration 100 x longer than the longest space station missions
x Mass of vehicle 100 x anything we have orbited
I reckon it to be merely 10,000,000,000 times harder
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Regular reader Astronist (a.k.a. Yours Truly) produced the following response to Joy’s calculation:
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Joy said: “I reckon it to be merely 10,000,000,000 times harder.”

Given determination, patience and the resources of the Solar System, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem:
Present-day human population x 1,000,000 – this is John S. Lewis’s estimate (in his classic book Mining the Sky) for the population of a developed Asteroid Belt. Say 3% growth for 470 years.
Present-day wealth per person x 10,000 – this is 2% growth for 465 years.
Multiply these together to get an economy 1010 times more powerful than that of today, thanks to the power of that fashionable bête noire, exponential growth.

Taking the resource of solar power (380 × 1012 TW) as indicative of our actual physical room for growth (and remembering that the biggest growth factor for a starship identified by Joy was propulsion energy), an economy well over a trillion times larger than at present is conceivable (asteroidal matter for space colony construction can be expanded if necessary by dismantling small moons). Thus we would still at that point possess only 1% of the ultimate economic power of a fully developed interplanetary civilisation.

About the year 2500, therefore, Joy’s growth criterion could be met, assuming continued faith in material progress and success in finessing our way through all the stresses and strains of growth.
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However, within the confines of a blog comment I did not have sufficient space to specify the practical details of how our global civilisation might grow to a multiglobal one with a million times the population and ten thousand times the wealth per head than today.

An omission which I shall now try to make good.

Scenarios for growth… or decline

In considering future growth in space, a number of different scenarios suggest themselves.

How will growth be driven forward?

  • Will it be driven primarily by government, through a continuation of the present-day space agency monopoly, certainly on manned and on lunar and planetary spaceflight?
  • Will the space agencies be disbanded and further progress managed entirely by commercial enterprises?
  • Or will some balance between government and commerce acting in concert drive future progress, thus the private-public partnership model?

This gives us three broad options to choose from.

Secondly: what will be the economic and social conditions on Earth over the next few centuries?

  • Will we face a “perfect storm” of overlapping and multiplying crises in overpopulation, climate change, rising sea levels, peak oil, militant religious and ethnic fundamentalism, social security burdens for a greying population, cheap and easy access to weapons of mass destruction, and the “existential risks” of genetic engineering and self-replicating machines?
  • Will we face such an abundance of entrepreneurial ingenuity, new sources of energy and multiplying wealth creation that war, poverty and deprivation become things of the past?
  • Or will the future be a crazy patchwork of both of the above: with immense new sources of wealth as new technologies go to market, but at the same time immense new problems deriving both from old conflicts and from the stresses involved in adapting to new ways of life?

There are therefore another three broad options, making in combination nine distinct scenarios.

However, eight of these scenarios involves extremes of one sort or another: of monopoly by bureaucrats or buccaneers, of wealth or poverty. Others may wish to explore these. For the present I should like to develop further the “middle way” scenario: a creative community of public and private institutions acting in concert, yet with no overarching master plan, and a set of new technologies which both multiply wealth and introduce new problems, yet whose benefits on balance exceed their drawbacks.

This scenario is therefore based on the pattern of past history: progress arises as an evolutionary, system-level phenomenon, not one governed by any one institution or single clique of middle-aged men in smoke-filled rooms, and the new technologies of the past 200 years have on balance indeed benefited humanity despite all the problems they have brought in their wake.

While others may disagree, to me this seems both the most plausible vision of our future, and the one most likely to achieve the result of expanding civilisation to the stars.

A scenario for the ten-billion-times growth factor

Within this middle way scenario, I would envisage the following sequence of events for the future of manned spaceflight merging into Solar System colonisation.

    1. Government exploration missions to low Earth orbit, and establishment of an outpost there. (Now complete.)

    2. Based on the exploration in step 1, private enterprise now markets low Earth orbit for commercial passenger spaceflight, dominated by space tourism but also featuring commercial space manufacturing and university-funded science, and creates a growing, economically self-sustaining low Earth orbit infrastructure. (Now just beginning, and dependent upon SKYLON-type vehicles for full success. Expect this phase to unfold during the 2020s, with ultimately thousands of passengers flying to orbit and back every week.)

    3. As low Earth orbit becomes more populated and costs of access fall, a market will appear for lunar flyby trips (Space Adventures has announced it already has one committed client for a flight around 2015). These are best satisfied by adapting existing space hotel designs for injection into Earth-Moon cycler orbits, thus ensuring that full solar flare protection, repair facilities and buffers of consumables can be built up in cislunar space. (Late 2020s to 2030s.)

    4. The growing space hotel system and the demand for translunar propellants create a large-scale market for volatiles, especially water, in orbit which can be satisfied by robotic mining of the near-Earth asteroids; again, government exploration, in this case robotic asteroid exploration, will be needed to develop the technologies towards commercial sustainability. (2030s to 2040s.)

    5. Based on the infrastructure in steps 2, 3 and 4, governments, singly or in collaboration, now launch new exploration missions to the Moon very much more economically than could have been achieved with an Apollo-style system, and establish one or more outposts there. (2050s.)

    6. Based on the infrastructure in steps 2, 3 and 4, the construction of solar power satellites to serve Earth now becomes economically attractive, and the conversion of Earth from fossil fuels to solar power begins. (2030s to 2050s.)

    7. Based on the exploration in step 5, private enterprise now markets the Moon for commercial passenger spaceflight, dominated by space tourism but also featuring lunar surface science, and creates a growing, economically self-sustaining lunar surface infrastructure. (2060s.)

    8. Based on the infrastructure in steps 2, 3 and 4, government now launches exploration missions to Mars and Venus, and establishes outposts there. (2080s.)

    9. Based on the exploration in step 8, private enterprise now markets Mars and Venus for commercial passenger spaceflight, dominated by science and colonisation. Interplanetary transport will use a network of cycler stations based on several decades of experience with Earth-Moon cycler stations. (Into the 2100s.)

    10. Outposts on Mars and Venus grow into colonies, and meanwhile the cycler stations also grow into substantial transit cities, supplied from asteroids rather than from Earth. (First half of the 22nd century.)

    11. Based on the existing interplanetary infrastructure, government now launches exploration missions to the Main Asteroid Belt, Jupiter and further afield. (Mid-22nd century.)

    12. Based on the exploration in step 11 and several decades of experience operating interplanetary cycler stations, private enterprise sets up mining and construction ventures in the Main Asteroid Belt to create self-sufficient colonies there. New cycler stations link these colonies with the inner planets. (Mid-22nd century.)

    13. At the same time, private enterprise sets up cycler stations to serve Jupiter and Saturn, serving growing colonies on the respective giant planets’ moons and among the Jupiter Trojan asteroids. (Late 22nd century.)

    14. The interplanetary economy is now growing independently of Earth, but at the same time the commerce (material, energy, information) between the colonies and Earth enriches civilisation at all locations. (The state of play at 1 January 2200.)

This scenario thus completes the transformation of civilisation from monoplanetary to multiplanetary status, and sets up the conditions under which economic and population growth may now proceed without interruption until the limits of the carrying capacity of the Solar System are reached.

Clearly, those limits will one day be reached, and the transition to a low-growth society must be faced. Those who call for such a transition are correct. However, their timing is wrong. I estimate that growth can continue at typical present-day rates for a few thousand years. The society that will face the transition to a low-growth economy will therefore be very different from that of the present day.

At some point a few centuries in the future (I suggested the date 2500 above – as good a guess as any), the first starships will be able to depart, carrying our descendants to the stars. By this time, I assert in all seriousness, almost all of our descendants will be living permanently in space colonies. Why? Because we need to grow, and that is where the greatest opportunities for growth are.

Perhaps the biggest question so far unanswered is how humanity will change in coming centuries under the influence of genetic and information technologies. While genetics may modify us, principally in terms of improving disease resistance and extending our lifespans, information technologies, it is often claimed, have the potential to create a superior order of machine beings which are more intelligent than we are and more capable than natural humans in every way. Humans may be confined to Earth forever, or may even vanish completely, driven extinct by competition from the superior machine intelligence they have created.

This, however, is a topic for another essay.

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{ 92 comments }

Eniac October 15, 2012 at 21:17

Paul:

Comparisons to historical colonizations should not be ditched. They provide a window to understanding the human psyche and what drives us. Colonization of space will be done only when the drive to do so is powerful enough to overcome what holds us back.
Governments, especially useless bureaucratic socialist ones, will never have that drive.

As I recall, the voyages of Columbus were underwritten by the Spanish crown, which probably qualified as a bureaucratic government, if not a socialist one. Entrepreneurship they were not.

ljk October 16, 2012 at 9:37

Raimo Kangasniemi said on October 15, 2012 at 9:46:

“If we would have found even primitive civilizations on Venus or Mars, we would have colonies there already.”

What exactly does this mean? If had found intelligent aliens living on Venus or Mars, we would send expeditions to be friends with them for trade? Or become their conquerors or exterminators? Or tried to convert them to our religions?

I agree that when we learned via the first Mariners that our two nearest planetary neighbors seemed inhospitable to even simple forms of life that the major space powers essentially stopped serious work on manned missions to those worlds. On the other hand, one might think that with Mars having no sophisticated inhabitants and at least being a place we could land, live, and work upon, it would be an even bigger incentive to colonize the Red Planet.

However, we must never underestimate the lack of education and interest in place beyond their districts when it comes to politicians in control of the national purse strings. Plus by the early 1970s our culture had changed enough that colonizing space smacked of imperialism and just plain downright outdated uncoolness.

Note how that attitude prevails even today. Which is why we who are interested in and promote space must do much more to enlighten the masses on the subject. Otherwise we can whine for another forty years or more why there are no colonies beyond Earth or probes heading to Alpha Centauri.

Astronist October 16, 2012 at 16:13

Rob Henry: “I think the real message should be that strong economic growth and flexible outlook is our best defence against unexpected crisis generated from our great population expansion. And that includes increased vulnerability to the environmental alterations wrought by nature, such as a large meteorite strike, solar flare, etc.”

Thank you. I agree completely!

Raimo Kangasniemi October 16, 2012 at 16:41

ljk, it means that we would have had a very strong incentive to get and contact the natives, which would have superceded any budgetary constraints. What would have happened afterwards… I think most of your examples could have happened, depending on their level of civilization minus deliberate extermination.

Beyond practical goals, ending our “cosmic loneliness” is one thing that drives some of our current scientific exploration of exoplanets and SETI and could be a bigger boost eventually in our interstellar expansion than the more pragmatic among us might think.

Torbjörn Larsson, OM October 16, 2012 at 17:17

Throwing money on a scale problem instead of an economics problem is as daft as Kurzweil throwing bits on the problem of intelligence instead of an algorithmic problem. It won’t work.

On the other hand, if we get to planet system colonization we are already on our way to other systems. The large step on the exponential scale of resource requirements (here distances is the proxy) is not the stars but the Oort cloud. And it has plenty of exploitable resources with low risk, quite the reverse of planets which are expensive (deep down gravity wells) and risky.

Peter Simmons October 17, 2012 at 6:31

Astronist: ‘… the collapse seems to have been a false alarm’ ah, been getting your facts from the denier websites I see. No, that’s a lie, it’s actually the opposite, the warming has not only continued but the last decade was the warmest on record. I know it’s reassuring to read these things, but only for those who want reassurance over truth. Further, the ‘number of astronaut seats’ in Earth orbit is not spaceflight; when people talk about populating the galaxy on the strength of a few astronauts floating temporarily in Earth orbit, and a very few obscenely rich spending everyone else’s money on a ‘different’ holiday, they are extrapolating a little too much.

Rob Henry: I’ll ignore the patronising tone, but you make the mistake of thinking in human lifespan timescale, our existance as a species has not been ‘for so long’ as you state, but for a blink of Earth’s time, other species lasted much longer, many millions of years, in fact some are still around despite the rabid hominid’s technology. ‘What if anthropogenic warming has already passed its tipping point’ I do believe it probably has, it might just be possible to row back, but on the present level of awareness [and exhibited here] I doubt we’ll m,anage anything but panic measures. You seem to think that the only threat is a ‘sudden’ collapse, but slow inexorable doesn’t seem to bother you. You appear to think global warming is ‘one demise scenario’, and .a story’, interesting that tens of thousands of highly trained scientists in a wide range of disciplines have gathered data, facts, over the last decades, and are convinced this ‘story’ is anything but. It’s fact, no matter how you deny it, and year on year we experience climatic deterioration. Just because you haven’t been flooded out yet, or gone without food for weeks, had your home destroyed or lost your family, doesn’t mean it isn’t happeneing and there’s nothing to be concerned with. It just means you don’t put much importance on phenomena that don’t affect you. Where have I encountered that before…?
James Jason Wentworth: ‘when I was a wee lad in the 1970s, there was equal certainty that the human race was about to be wiped out by an ice age’ no there wasn’t. Wee lads sometimes don’t take things in adequatemy. You’ll be about the age of my children then. I had already started campaigning on environmental issues in the seventies, and remember it well; it was a media-invented scare story, principally the tabloids [if you believe stories in tabloids I suggest you need to widen your reading] that we were heading into another ice-age, born of journos inability to understand complex scientific issues, and going for the quick soundbite. It was only ever surmise by a few scientists, and wouldn’t have been noticed by anyone if the tabloids hadn’t been looking for something juicy to sell their rags. It is also the first bit of disinformation trotted out by deniers of climate change who don’t actually know much about the subject, and has largely been dropped even by them. Try this http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php where you will find answers to this and all the other lies put about by vested interests. You may eventually understand how one area of the planet can be hotter and drier than ever before, while another is freezing or drenched in rain causing major flooding [which part of 'a month's rain in 24 hours' don't you get?]. Global warming doesn’t mean everything getting hotter everywhere, the planet is warmer, which makes the climate erratic and unpredictable. Much of the heat is absorbed by the oceans, this has been measured, OK? Heat water, and it expands, thus sea level rise [also measured] from heating the oceans. More heat in the oceans means more evaporation, means more rainfall. Where this falls is down to an increasingly chaotic weather system. Many in the UK have experienced unprecedented flooding, while across the midwest of the US, extreme drought has killed cattle, soya and corn and reduced the crop to a fraction of what it was. Other areas have had extreme cold, unaffected by a 1 degree rise in sea temperature. But that 1 degree represents a massive amount of stored energy as the oceans are so vast. Again, http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php might help you understand; there are simple explanations and more complex [scientific] explanations.
Finally, Rob Henry, the old theory that only economic growth will make us able to cope with emergencies is a myth. Poor countries, that is less developed, emit far less carbon than so-called ‘advanced’ countries. Richer means more economic activity, which means more stuff to make us feel rich, means more pollution, means more diminution of resources, means a worse crisis. The only way to mitigate our effects is to simplify and live ecologically. How we manage that in our greed-driven capitalist world is imponderable, your solution of fast forward to even more ‘weath’ certainly holds no promise of a lessening of our polluting output, exacerbated by our fast growing population. Noticed how China now has millions of car owners where once it had millions of cyclists? China is a case in point; growth has increased environmental degradation enormously, and the Chinese are only now waking up to the fact as cities grow daily and more and more of the rural population move to them.

It’s not rocket science!

ljk October 17, 2012 at 10:35

Raimo Kangasniemi said on October 16, 2012 at 16:41:

“Beyond practical goals, ending our “cosmic loneliness” is one thing that drives some of our current scientific exploration of exoplanets and SETI and could be a bigger boost eventually in our interstellar expansion than the more pragmatic among us might think.”

While I understand and agree with your statements about ending humanity’s “cosmic loneliness”, I am not so certain that most others in the public have truly gotten this concept yet.

While we might want to find other minds beyond Earth primarily to learn more about the Universe from a new and different perspective, the general consensus on aliens as far as most other levels of the public are concerned is that they will be our saviors, conquerors, or exterminators. While these last three scenarios are certainly not impossible, they are what get focused on, no thanks in part to no less a person than Stephen Hawking.

To me this shows that as a species we are still too Earthbound both literally and intellectually, thus the whole cosmic loneliness thing is still a bit much for a society that thinks of itself as The Most Important Beings in the Cosmos.

Rob Henry October 17, 2012 at 17:32

Peter Simmons,
Here is my problem. Publication bias is a very real effect and, though it is common to argue any obvious implication of this, there seems mush less debate on the more subtle effects that it may place on the collective mindset.

We may debate clearheadedly over whether man made global warming is real, and achieve meaningful consensus, but totally forget to explicitly examine the following questions.
1) What level of confidence do we have that it is the greatest threat to human civilisation?
2) How much of our surplus wealth should we apportion to lesser but more pressing problem?
3) What are the costs versus benefits of procrastination?

That last question can be used as a dangerous excuse to do nothing, but the more we study a problem the more able we are to use a better and more targeted response. If we really have past that tipping point of global warming (something that we both acknowledge as possible) our optimal course of action would be incredibly different than otherwise. Likewise if the problem just seems too big currently, and new technologies are unquestionably our best hope, how much should we impoverish ourselves by trying to solve the problem with existing technologies, and thus reducing our potential to employ any other methods.

I also find it interesting that we have a completely different takes on lessons that can be drawn from the example of the global distribution of environmental degradation. While I am composing this reply I am immersed in the sounds of the morning chorus of tui (a native New Zealand bird with a beautiful call). Tui have only recently returned to the city because of money we spent upgrading our environment. Everywhere you go where per capita incomes are high you see a similar story. It seems that poverty and low productivity are the real problem not wealth. I can see how CO2 emissions look like an exception to that rule, but the reason is clear. Our energy infrastructure was largely built at a time when CO2 release seemed like a minor issue.

PS you got me diametrically wrong on my belief in the stability of our modern society, just reread the second paragraph of my previous post here. Actually, on rereading it myself I see you were right about the silly patronising style in which I wrote it. Please ignore that and note the substance. Sorry.

Rob Henry October 19, 2012 at 0:15

I feel that I should have also expressed the pressures I felt behind the tone of my October 14 comment above.

To me an appropriate scientific definition of denial is not the questioning of scientific consensus, such as that advocated by astronist. This would always be an important part of science, but it is made essential by the (regrettable to my mind) adoption of the paradigm approach by scientists. True denial is denying the existence of the questions themselves, and I felt that Simmons, at times, did just that.

Peter Simmons October 19, 2012 at 8:19

Rob: I’m less convinced by your example of the Tui as you clearly are. What caused the Tui to leave the city? By ‘money we spent upgrading our environment’ I take it you mean the city environment was cleaned up. This doesn’t in any way mean that ‘poverty and low productivity are the real problem not wealth’ but quite the reverse; the problem wouldn’t have arrisen without the city and it’s drive for wealth [cities are a threat to the environment per se since they cram millions into a small space who then have to have services such as energy, water, food, housing and consumer goods transported into them. They are net degraders of the environment, as nothing is sourced locally but with huge cost from, sometimes vast, distances. Likewise every other city and the global trade which sustains them.
Compared to a simple rural existance sourcing everything locally including growing food and making everything for one's needs from local materials, city living is clearly a problem. Spending some of the wealth on cleaning up some aspects of the local city environment so that one species returns, in no way makes a case for wealth being necessary for environmental improvement or balance, merely that you have rowed back from the dire situation the [wealthy] city had caused.
China, which I mentioned before, is now starting to tackle environmental degradation, although it’s principally so people don’t become angry and start another peasants revolution. They are starting to get angry as they see cancer rates increasing rapidly, and lung diseases affecting city dwellers; a planned copper manufacturing plant was recently blocked and stopped by local people blockading the site. When the country was ‘poor’ ie. industrially undeveloped, there was no such pollution. Now, China has taken in our pollution by selling us goods we can’t make as cheaply, and negating all the environmental legislation we introduced for industry, which is now largely replaced by far more polluting Chinese businesses. So getting rich is possibly the bigger threat, but rich countries’ constant need for consumer goods, toys for the kidults to play with to take their minds off serious issues, is still more of a threat than poor countries with largely rural economies. It’s the constantly wanting more that is the problem, it’s unsustainable in a finite world.
Finally, there is no debate, clearheaded or otherwise, over whether man made global warming is real, I don’t class the idiot blatherings of denial websites as anything but an irritant, and irrelevent. I am aware that there has been a lot of denial coming from New Zealand over recent years, so it may be that you have got the impression there is something to debate from this undercurrent, but believe me [or if not me, http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php there is absolutely no doubt that we caused it and it is a major factor in our future.
If it is way past the tipping point and there’s really no point in trying, then I guess a big party should be planned, numbers unknown, for the big day. But as this is mere conjecture, it’s probably best to err on the side of optimism, despite feeling pessimistic, and do everything we can to at least mitigate the effects to come by trying to make our societies as sustainable as possible in the interim, to make survival of some at least a possibility. Unless, that is, one thinks homo sapiens isn’t worth saving for any reason and would be best consigned to history as other species have been. Waiting for ‘new’ technologies to solve the problems we have created isn’t an option. From a slow start, the degradation is speeding up, and will continue to do so. End of the century if we’re lucky, most probably sooner.
Peter

Peter Simmons October 19, 2012 at 8:28

Paul: ‘Governments, especially useless bureaucratic socialist ones, will never have that drive.’ You mean the ones which care for their electorate and try to make their lives easy, rather than capitalist free marketeers who go for the mega profit. Although I’m not a socialist, I think I’d prefer the former to the latter any day. In fact we are experiencing the latter currently in the UK, it involves increases of tax for the poorest members of societ, and tax breaqks for millionaires. Yep, I’ll put up with bureacracy any day if the criminals without a conscience and with only the desire to make more money for themselves and their class were consigned to history. Give me bureacracy over greed any day.

bigdan201 October 19, 2012 at 10:41

I meant to get back here sooner.

…So, it was still a case of tapping into existing wealth – the existing trade networks in North America – and trying to find an alternative way to the wealth of Asia. (Timothy Brook’s “Vermeer’s Hat” has an interesting chapter on this.)
… Mars surely offers more than Antarctica in the long term, but less – in comparison – to us immediately than the Americas did to the explorers, conquistadors and settlers after 1492.

These are valid points. However, the lack of an existing trade network, however rudimentary, should not be seen as a barrier to colonization. A more fitting example is Alaska, a vast and barren wilderness that was settled for its gold and oil. While there was Russian and Native presence, it still serves as a historical model for the colonization of a challenging frontier spurred on by resource wealth.

I’ll be sure to check out that book.

bigdan201 October 19, 2012 at 11:21

Peter Simmons, the debate on anthropogenic global warming, and global warming in general, is far from settled. Unfortunately, there is too much money and politics involved to come to clear scientific conclusions.

We know that the earths climate has oscillated significantly in past centuries without any possible human influence, see: medieval warm period and little ice age.
That’s not to say that pollution is harmless, but the level of impact has not been determined.
And considering the amount of wilderness that still exists, and the precautions that the environmental movement has already put in place, I’m inclined to believe we have well over a century before we reach a drastic tipping point. Another point in favor of this is that increased evaporation leads to increased cloud cover, which increases the albedo of the earth, thus having an off-setting effect.

In any case, space is the answer. Moving populations to off-world colonies will reduce the burden of an ever-increasing population. Mining resources off the earth will significantly slow their depletion here, as well as reduce ecological damage. And space colonization will act as both a sociological pressure valve and an insurance policy for our survival. Remaining earthbound indefinitely is not a viable option in my view.

And the expansion into space will have a strong capitalist component.

Paul: ‘Governments, especially useless bureaucratic socialist ones, will never have that drive.’ You mean the ones which care for their electorate and try to make their lives easy, rather than capitalist free marketeers who go for the mega profit.

You’re putting too much faith in bureaucracy. Even with the best intentions, socialist policy can be misguided and inefficient, while the invisible hand of the marketplace is not. And bureaucracies, whatever their purpose, tend to drift towards self-continuation and self-appeasement. Excessive bureaucracy has always led to bloated ineffectiveness, NASA being a perfect example.

That’s not to say there should be no government regulation – deregulation of the marketplace is exactly what caused the catastrophic collapse of ’08 in my own country. I favor the mixed-market economy.

And it will be private enterprise, with government support, that will make space colonization finally happen. We’ve already entered the earliest phase of this.

Rob Henry October 19, 2012 at 16:05

The reasons that the tui returned to Wellington City are complex but, where I live (the Miramar peninsular), only the following small part of it could be said to be targeted to that problem: possum eradication. And even that was more to protect the extensive avenues of pohutukawa trees that line many of the major streets here (the choice to plant them was because they are awesome bloomers around Christmas, and another part of our continually upgrading of the environment).

A bigger reason, albeit a facilitative one, is that our city is interlaced with thick bands of protected forest called “the Town Belt“. About a thousand acres of it. Also, recently, citizens have taken to planting indigenous rather than exotic trees in their own gardens.

Notice how our wealthy city has always been closer to the native bush environment than any farm, but that further upgrades were necessary for the return of the tui (they seem much fussier than other birds that have always been here).

Rob Henry October 19, 2012 at 20:30

Bigdan201 wrote “the debate on anthropogenic global warming, and global warming in general, is far from settled”, and tries to use as evidence “We know that the earths climate has oscillated significantly in past centuries without any possible human influence, see: medieval warm period and little ice age”. Such thinking illustrates twin and obfuscating follies. Let me explain…

1) science can never really prove anything, it is the consensus that is important, and at the moment we have that strongly in favour anthropogenic global warming being real.
2) the evidence you cite is for a new problem, namely how big is the problem of natural climate instability (at least, as it relates to human mortality, morbidity, and civilisation) in comparison to manmade factors.

I believe this second question to be incredibly important, despite the paucity of debate on it so far. Some researchers note the freakish climate stability (as indicated by ice core proxies) of the last 10,000 years, the period over which human civilisation arose. This begs the question, were we lucky or are such unnatural conditions the only ones under which civilisation can arise? Thus it is even possible that this problem is so large that it subsumes that of manmade instability factors. Let that new debate begin…

bigdan201 October 20, 2012 at 10:03

There have been notable skeptics on anthropogenic global warming, and controversies related to it. But I’m not outright denying it. I’m questioning its role.

Basically, where does natural climate instability end, and human influence begin? How might they be interrelated? The second question you listed is important, and I’d like to see a better understanding of it. Until then, it will continue to be difficult to gain an accurate understanding of earths climate.

Whatever the case may be, space is the solution.

Eniac October 20, 2012 at 15:27

Peter Simmons:

If it is way past the tipping point and there’s really no point in trying, then I guess a big party should be planned, numbers unknown, for the big day.

… to make survival of some at least a possibility.

So, what exactly do you imagine will happen on that big day, on which almost everybody perishes?

Have you thought about alternatives? It is not humanity’s nature to simply lie down and die. About the worst that could happen, in my view, would be that some of us would have to move up from the coast, and we may have to start growing food in Alaska, Canada and Siberia.

There are people living on the equator and people living near the poles. However serious this global warming is (and I am not saying it is not real), I do not think it is expected even by the most dire predictions to be more than a handful of degrees C, far less than the climate differences that already exist, locally.

If we are really convinced that using less CO2 will mitigate global warming noticeably, by all means, let us work towards it. And, by all means, let us study the predicted effects so we have a better idea what we need to do to accomodate. But stirring panic and predicting imminent doom is not helpful here, or anywhere.

I recall the Coming Ice Age, Nuclear Winter, Acid Rain, and the Ozone Hole, all of which have come and gone and we are still here. This, too, shall pass. Let us have a few years of dropping temperatures (inevitable due to short term fluctuations) and you will see much less talk about global warming. We will then find another, more worthy, doomsday scenario to contemplate.

Raimo Kangasniemi October 20, 2012 at 19:14

Eniac, we are not talking about a few degrees, even when the few degrees would greatly change the world. The best case scenario with our current (in)action is 4 degree Celsius rise by 2100 on average and twice that on the poles. It’s probably too conservative. A worst case scenario in the short term is over 10 degrees Celsius average by 2150 or so.

Even in best scenarios with rapid and direct action we are looking at 1.5-2.0 degrees Celsius rise. Even then the glaciers will be melting for centuries to come.

It’s very likely that we have to start terraforming with Earth.

Rob Henry October 20, 2012 at 21:07

@Eniac, yes all those problems are real and still with us.

@all, our only real large-picture choice is whether to continue advancing, or draw straws for the small brave new population that is all our planet could hold over all its natural cycles and with 100% sustainability policies that brook no allowance for future system improvements. I bags that advancement be our “plan A” option, and set that as the basis for our planning!

Eniac October 20, 2012 at 22:43

@Raimo: Upon reading what you wrote right after ” we are not talking about a few degrees”, I had to scratch my head. It appears we are both talking about a few degrees. Perhaps I had a few fewer in mind, and you a few more, but that is really a nuance.

The part I do not get is the one about the “need” for terraforming. Could you be more specific? Are you seriously claiming a few more degrees, even 10, would make the Earth uninhabitable? How so?

Raimo Kangasniemi October 21, 2012 at 13:57

Eniac, when it comes to even a degree change in temperature, we are not speaking of nuance, but a global emergency.

10 degrees more wouldn’t make the Earth unihabitable, it would just lead to a huge mass extinction, the death toll in human lives would optimistically be in the hundreds of millions and pessimistically in the billions. For the survivors, Earth would be habitable, but not a comfortable place to live in. It would be a planetary catastrophe.

To stop global warming we could well need geo-engineering already. The difference between large-scale geo-engineering and bona fide terraforming is largely in the terms used. The same technology that is used to stop Earth from warming – orbital mirrors etc – could be usedto make Mars warm.

ken anthony October 21, 2012 at 17:50

The topic is going interstellar and people here are talking about global warming???

Humans take their environment with them and to a lesser extent adapt.

I think it’s fair to say we will have to substantially get experience in our own system before venturing on. Material in the oort cloud may provide stepping stones to the nearest stars with colonies sending their children outward to form new colonies farther out until we come to the oort cloud of a new system.

Meanwhile others will look into technologies to leap past them.

Rob Henry October 21, 2012 at 18:32

Raimo Kangasniemi,
I think you are missing something very important in this dissuasion. To show it, let us think that one bit of knowledge has filtered back from the future and it is that the Earth’s human population one hundred years hence is just one million.

Now suppose rather than panic, we use Bayesian statistics to see the most likely causes, and where we should spread our money to optimally alleviate consequences. Now have historically seen large drops in global population, even though events such as WWII hardly placed a dent in it and, my offhand guess is that it increased during WWI. All the really large dips in our history have been produced by pandemics, such as the black death, black flu or Plague of Justinian. Much smaller drops have been caused by climate disruption.

In short, even in these bizarre circumstances, it is unlikely that global warming comes out tops in our spending priorities.

And as for your allusion to 5-10 degree shifts causing mass extinction, the main evidence for that is the disappearance of mega fauna at the end of the last ice age. Unfortunately there is an alternate explanation, as this is when human populations firstly began a massive expansion in terms of geography and numbers. It also seem that my homeland (New Zealand) was only hit by this same type of extinction >10,000 years later, and it seems too much of a coincidence to me that in coincided with the late first human habitation here.

Raimo Kangasniemi October 21, 2012 at 19:27

ken anthony, an Oort cloud colonies on the larger members of the cloud might be able to develop and keep up economy that would be large enough to produce surplus so that they could do some slow colonisation, but I’m pretty pessimistic of us getting through the interstellar void that way. Most Oort colonies could probably barely hang in to keep on existing.

In the very long term we might wait for near passes of other stars inside the Oort cloud, colonize whatever bodies orbit these stars and use any future close passes of these stars to other solar systems to colonize those systems.

Gliese 710 is a good candidate, it will pass through the Oort cloud and could come as close as half a light year to the Sun (but probably passes us from the distance of one light year.) That will happen millions of years to the future.

Not exactly the lightning speed colonization that was once envisaged to bring the whole Milky Way under humanity’s rule in 5 million years (and estimate from around 1969) but if we could create a stable solar system wide society, we could wait for events like this if the interstellar void would otherwise be too difficult for us to cross over.

Rob Henry October 21, 2012 at 19:28

Ken Anthony says “The topic is going interstellar and people here are talking about global warming???”, and I can see how the connection looks oblique, but it is not. They are powerfully connected through the “doomsday argument”

The doomsday argument USUALLY pertains to humanities continued existence and goes like this… if humans expand into a type II civilisation (which could hold a million times our own population, each member of which has a thousand times as much personal power available as outlined by astronist above) it should last at least until our sun dies about 5 billion years hence, so then what is the chance that we find ourselves born into its first millennia of technological civilisation. The answer is that it is about a million million to one against, unless some (calamity) prevents us from reaching our destiny.

HERE the doomsday argument counts you as a citizen of any intelligence in the universe, and asks why you look so privileged in proximity to its beginning. The most obvious answer is that you are not, and around a million million civilisations (self) destruct for each that survives. If this simple (simplistic?) reading is correct then survival can not depend on any factor that is as simple or easy to mitigate as global warming, QED.

Paul October 22, 2012 at 2:10

Raimo posted:
“Paul, if we would eventually have private companies rich and big enough to drive the colonization of the solar system and our interstellar expansion, they would be in effect governments into themselves and also large “bureaucracies” which they would need to operate, just like democratic governments do.”

Raimo, as someone who has worked at a very large corporation, I can agree with this statement. The difference between large, inefficient, bureaucratic companies and large, inefficient bureaucratic governments is that sooner or later the inefficiencies of the company catch up with it and a smaller, more capable and nimble company steals its market share and customer space and said large company goes bankrupt.

Large, inefficient, bureaucratic governments on the other hand…………

Paul October 22, 2012 at 2:20

Eniac posted:

“As I recall, the voyages of Columbus were underwritten by the Spanish crown, which probably qualified as a bureaucratic government, if not a socialist one. Entrepreneurship they were not.”

Eniac, that really is not a good counter-argument. The Spanish crown did underwrite it, but based on the decision of a reigning monarch. Historical comparisons to our current obese and stifling bureaucracies would be like comparing apples and oranges.

Really the point to my post was that this is all about what will drive human beings to the stars. Currently we do not have sufficient drivers, nor access to orbit, and until we do…………………

Eniac October 22, 2012 at 21:48

10 degrees more wouldn’t make the Earth unihabitable, it would just lead to a huge mass extinction, the death toll in human lives would optimistically be in the hundreds of millions and pessimistically in the billions. For the survivors, Earth would be habitable, but not a comfortable place to live in. It would be a planetary catastrophe.

Sorry, Raimo, these are just a bunch of unbelievable claims not supported by a shred of evidence, unless there is some that you forgot to mention. For a start, I would like to know what about the gradually warming weather it is, specifically, that causes the “mass extinction” of humans.

Eniac October 22, 2012 at 22:31

@Rob:

@Eniac, yes all those problems are real and still with us.

They may well be, but none of their predicted catastrophic consequences has come to pass, at least not in such a way that I would feel inconvenienced by them, much less “mass extinct”. Not even enough to bring them back into the news, apparently.

ljk October 23, 2012 at 10:38

Raimo Kangasniemi said on October 21, 2012 at 19:27:

“In the very long term we might wait for near passes of other stars inside the Oort cloud, colonize whatever bodies orbit these stars and use any future close passes of these stars to other solar systems to colonize those systems.

“Gliese 710 is a good candidate, it will pass through the Oort cloud and could come as close as half a light year to the Sun (but probably passes us from the distance of one light year.) That will happen millions of years to the future.”

By then the human race will either be long gone or so transformed that it might as well be an alien species with no doubt alien motives. In the latter case in any event it will either spread out into the galaxy and settled it unopposed or met the celestial neighbors with numerous potential outcomes.

In the worst case, our distant descendants have devolved back into their stone age ancestors, where life’s greatest ambitions are finding food, shelter, and mates. That may be good enough for some, but for a species that once had the potential to literally reach the stars and transform existence, it would be worse than a death sentence.

Rob Henry October 23, 2012 at 15:06

Eniac, I see you favour the assessment of potential for civilisation destroying events by trail and error. Que sera, sera.

Eniac October 23, 2012 at 21:38

Rob:

I see you favour the assessment of potential for civilisation destroying events by trail and error. Que sera, sera.

No, not really. What I favor for any assessments is reason. When I see a lot of unfounded claims from corners with a bad track record, I dispute them until I get convincing arguments based on reason. So far, here, I have not gotten any. See my very clear query to Raimo, two of my posts back. What are we all going to die of, specifically? Warm weather? Perhaps you can supply a reasonable answer in Raimo’s stead.

Keep in mind, there is no shortage of doomsday scenarios. If you are going to be worried about them, you have to chose very carefully, lest you waste your effort on those predicted by ancient Mayan calendars or fundamentalist religious types. And then be surprised when the real End arrives, unexpectedly.

The only reasonable way to chose is reason. I am not saying global warming from excessive CO2 production is not a reasonable expectation. It is. But mass extinction among humans from it? I do not buy that one. It is like with the Ozone Hole. While it may in fact exist, it just doesn’t seem to make as much of a difference to us as we feared.

Rob Henry October 24, 2012 at 15:04

Eniac, I think that the human race would probably prove hard to eradicate given its innovation, and geographic spread. It is the robustness of our civilisation, especially since the start of our technological age, that I question. As others repeat ad nauseam, anything that has a tendency for exponential growth has a tendency for sudden collapse. Our collective intelligence might be expected to overcome any given proximal cause of collapse, but it seems ridiculous to assume that it would be the expected result for it to solve all challenges that it ever encounters until our sun dies.

If I had to pick a favourite, it would be that a wave of organic farming nonsense spread over Europe, whereupon pest numbers exploded, riots destroyed the cities, and third would countries imploded after their next drought since foreign relief was no longer possible (all Americas food aid going on a vain effort to save Europe). Here, as in most scenarios, the majority would die of hunger, but lowered resilience to disease and lowered hygiene standards (also a hallmark of the organics craze) would result in a greater potential for infectious disease, particularly pandemics.

Eniac October 24, 2012 at 23:19

Rob: Good point there about the dangers of organic farming. This is the sort of problem we need to address urgently, rather than pointlessly worry about warmer weather :-)

Eniac October 24, 2012 at 23:31

Rob: I agree that civilization is a lot more fragile than the human race itself. However, I also think that civilization is much more robust than you seem to think, and it would take a lot more than warmer weather for it to crumble. Even organic farming, in my view, is not up to the challenge. It would take something more along the lines of global nuclear war or an incredibly deadly superbug to throw us back to the stone age. Or Middle Ages. Or, Hmmmh, where to exactly? In any case, I agree, most of us would probably perish under such a scenario.

Peter Simmons November 8, 2012 at 6:06

Eniac: I’ve been away but see a few other answers to your ‘points’. No scientists predicted another ice age; it was journalists, never dedicated to truth but to circulation, who took what was talk of possibilities by a few as science gradually learned more about ice ages, it was never a prediction, Ozone hole; was never claimed as an imminent danger to the planetary ecosystem or us, but millions with skin cancer proves it IS a danger to hairless apes, especially if they like to lie for hours in the sun’s rays, in Australia I understand you can be made to cover up on the beach. It hasn’t gone away either, still appears over Europe and I believe there’s a permanent arctic one. This site will fill you in on current news and information, there’s even animated images of the hole expanding and contracting, and why it’s important. Just because journalists take their eye of the issue, doesn’t mean it’s gone away.
A nuclear winter is what would happen if we had a nuclear war, since we havn’t I really don’t think that’s a point at all, is it? As for acid rain, what about that don’t you understand? It’s been corroding for decades, but was never claimed to be a threat to survival, just to plants, especially trees, and millions of those have been killed by it.
BigDan: All your questions have been answered already by science, you just don’t look in the right places. Try http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php which may help. You claim not to be against the idea that the cause of climate change is us, but then trot out the same old denialist insinuations like ‘a lot of money and politics in it’ as if there isn’t money involved in everything – including the denialist agenda funded by big oil – and scientists too have to eat, so need paying, so of course money is involved, it just isn’t the issue you think it is. Politics, well, in order for governments to bring about changes they had to be convinced, and they have largely been convinced, by the science, and are acting at long last, some more than others. But politicians didn’t originate this issue, they fought against it for years until the truth eventually got through to them and was unarguable. It may be too late.
If either of you want to know exactly what ‘only a few degrees’ will mean for us, have a read of ‘Six Degrees’ by Mark Lynas, by the time you get to six you won’t be thinking in terms of ‘only a few degrees’ you’ll be thinking ‘holy shit!’. Long before it reaches 6 degrees of warming coastal towns and cities will be under the sea, which coincidentally includes most nuclear power plants and rather a lot of capital and major cities [New York, New Orleans, London, Barcelona etc. etc. It also includes the Malvinas and other low-lying islands round the world, most inhabited, and add to that the increased catastrophic rainfall that can occur anywhere any time and drop a month’s rain or more in 24 hours, much arable land will be flooded, and that’s where our food comes from. Already the ‘breadbasket’ of the US central plains is highly restricted, having had the longest most severe drought ever, and grain crops are reduced massively, so no more surplus stored in vast warehouses as once was, ready to be shipped to the starving in Africa etc. the cupboard is bare and likely to remain so.
The fantasy of moving the billions of Earth’s human population to another planet is just not going to happen, there isn’t time, technology or wealth to afford it, even if it were possible to cross vast interstellar space in a tin can carrying millions at a time of thin-skinned, vulnerable humans.
Civilisations have come and gone before and many have left no trace. We will leave a lot of traces, but we are no different from the rest.

Peter Simmons November 8, 2012 at 6:26

Rob Henry: You appear to be living in the 1980s, but it’s now 2012 and ‘a wave of organic farming nonsense spread over Europe, whereupon pest numbers exploded’ is so aberated and backward that I wonder if you’ve been paying attention. Organic farming has spread widely, even to America, although it seems that the FDA think its dangerous and raid organic growers and destroy their crops so backward is the US in some respects. And yes, you can watch it yourself on youtube, search for FDA raid organic growers. In Europe, a lot of organic food is grown and when it’s grown properly no outbreaks of pests results, it’s a question of balancing crops, and encouraging natural predators. Simple example: ladybirds [ladybugs in the US] are bought to release onto crops to kill and eat aphids and other insects which would eat the crops. I do it myself, it’s not rocket science. It just means not drenching the soil with poisons thinking that will solve the problem of pests, only they tend to evolve quickly into immune species and so Monsanto [which controls the US government] and other chemical giants have a constant market for new inventions, when the solution is already with us; we work with nature and accept a small loss, or disregard it and face a collapse. As for your ‘America feeds the world’ idea, I’ve already covered that, you have no reserves. The present drought hit the grain belt [you obviously don't live in Texas] of America, it’s no longer a question of feeding ‘starving Europe’ or Africa, more ‘how do we feed America?’
Hallmark of the organics craze indeed! LOL, where do you get your silly ideas from, Monsanto? We stand more chance of being harmed by GM .products. than from practising a farming practice which is sustainable and which has served humans for millenia. Progressive people now no longer think drenching the environment with poisons is a good idea, no pandemics here in the UK mate, and organic farms tend to have wildlife [rarely seen on chemical farms since the idea is to wipe everything out] including birds which eat many of the insects that devastate crops. It’s called balance, but I can see how it’s difficult for Americans to understand since you are regularly drenched with dissinformation that pollutes your minds and makes you think organic farming is a crazy fad that leads to diease and not the best way of growing food that’s good for us and good for the environment on which we depend. All rounf the world farmers are rejecting GM as the con it is, forcing farmers to buy seed every year from the chemical companies where once they collected and stored their own. I would personally rather live in a country covered in organic farms where wildlife flourishes and nature helps us to grow food, rather than a country where nature must be controlled or destroyed so humans can get every last bit of profit out of a depleted and ravaged soil with few micro-organisms left to do their job. Anyone for a dustbowl?

Peter Simmons November 8, 2012 at 10:57

‘I agree that civilization is a lot more fragile than the human race itself.’ Yes it is, it’s global and extremely complex now, and what happens in one area affects others, one of the reasons the banking collapse was so threatening was its domino effect.
‘However, I also think that civilization is much more robust than you seem to think, and it would take a lot more than warmer weather for it to crumble.’ No one can know how robust the civilisation is, until it’s tested. We aren’t talking about ‘warmer weather’ we are talking about major shifts in global climate, you must have noticed some signs of this unless you were born yesterday. Major coastal and lowlying flooding will mean more refugees than ever before, climate refugees, and they will be fleeing those areas which presently grow a lot of world food.
‘Even organic farming, in my view, is not up to the challenge.’ What challenge is that? Organic farming offers no challenge to civilisation but offers a means of helping to avoid it, as non-organic argro-agriculture has huge carbon costs manufacturing fertilizers and pesticides etc. as well as topsoil destruction and runoff.
‘It would take something more along the lines of global nuclear war or an incredibly deadly superbug to throw us back to the stone age. Or Middle Ages. Or, Hmmmh, where to exactly?’ It won’t be the middle ages, the few survivors might be able to survive as hunter-gatherers for a few thousand years while the Earth recovers, but who these days has those skills? A few remaining modern hunter-gatherers stand the best chance.
‘In any case, I agree, most of us would probably perish under such a scenario.’ For sure, you got that one right. We wouldn’t need a superbug, although that’s always a possibility since we can transport any disease carrier round the world by plane very quickly these days, we would mostly starve as more and more farmland went under water, and of course war, for water and food, an efficient way of reducing numbers.
You two seem to be on the same wavelength re organic farming, maybe you read the same misinformation websites. It’s spreading rapidly as more and more farmers realise the chemical way [laughably called traditional!] is not working any more and disease is followed by disease. We still have potato blight so long after the Irish potato famine, organic growing offers a number of solutions to this and other food crop pests. It’s natural, sustainable, and harmless to the ecosystem. It strengthens and nourishes the soil the natural way with fibre and nutrients, and encourages wildlife which aid in keeping disease low. The idea put about by proponents of chemical farming that organic means small, pockmarked produce is very far from the truth, you do get divergence from the supermarkets’ ideal shape and size, but when did nature do as supermarkets demanded? And what’s the problem with a curvy cucumber or a not quite straight carrot? Must we all conform to an ‘ideal’ dreamed up by suits obsessed with profit?

Peter Simmons November 8, 2012 at 11:11

‘If this simple (simplistic?) reading is correct then survival can not depend on any factor that is as simple or easy to mitigate as global warming, QED.’

Oh wow! You have the answer to mitigating global warming, get in touch with the UN immediately, they will welcome you with open arms and make you head of the IPCC and you can be the saviour of the human race! Or not.

How do we ‘simply’ mitigate global warming pray? It proving a tough one you see, because not only are all governments convinced and actively seeking solutions and plans of action, but year on year our emmissions continue to rise, so it looks as if the rise and rise is unstoppable, it’s just not in us to voluntarily go without, as all the calls for ‘business as usual’ and ‘more growth’ as solutions for the downturn in the global financial system. People want more and they want it soon, or sooner. Greed and selfishness drive most of human activity, and it is rare to find a human minimising their carbon footprint by simplifying their lifestyle and WANTING less. They are usually sneered at as damn hippies or treehugging greens, by all the smart go-getting capitalist believers carving out their little bit of wealth. So I’m intrigued you have the solution.

Please share it.

Peter Simmons November 8, 2012 at 12:09

Eniac: ‘It is not humanity’s nature to simply lie down and die. About the worst that could happen, in my view, would be that some of us would have to move up from the coast’

So speaks someone in the rich world who hasn’t paid attention because it all looks too remote. The poor of the world, most living on less than a dollar a day, are already suffering, and dying, from climate change, but so also are rich nations; Europe has had its share of climate catastrophes, and will get many more, the US too as ‘unprecedented’ floods in one state are matched by two year long drought in others. If New Zealand and Australia have escaped all effects so far I would be surprised, but it might explain why so many deniers come from there. Some of us moving up from the coast, reads to me like millions of climate refugees moving to higher ground. The most human settlements are near or on the coast, or in fertile valleys, both stand to be inundated. You too will lie down to die if you haven’t eaten for weeks.
‘So, what exactly do you imagine will happen on that big day, on which almost everybody perishes?’ That was what we call irony in the UK. There won’t be ‘a day’, it will be gradual and accelerating. This is reality, dreaming of interstellar civilisations isn’t.

Peter Simmons November 8, 2012 at 12:20

ljk: ‘In the worst case, our distant descendants have devolved back into their stone age ancestors, where life’s greatest ambitions are finding food, shelter, and mates. That may be good enough for some, but for a species that once had the potential to literally reach the stars and transform existence, it would be worse than a death sentence.’

Why? What are people going to do if they reach other planets? Find food, shelter and a mate by any chance? ie. do what hominids do. Why is this so special on a different planet to the one we evolved on? What is gained if we have trashed this planet and have to escape, only to trash another? Will we have learned anything? Will living on another planet be that different? Won’t humans continue to do what they have always done; fought, struggled, built, lived, killed, eaten, loved, hated, talked incessently, planned, fantasised, invented, argued, tolerated, aged, died? The answer is usually ‘because it’s there’ when asked why we would want to go to the stars, but I’ve never been tempted to climb a mountain, although some spend their lives doing so. And because it’s there is no answer to that either. Unless we deem ourselves so superior that it is our duty to populate the galaxy, and clearly I don’t, what reason is there? After all, it will cost massively to even start the first step, when there’s barely enough to go round already and many things are shelved through lack of finance. How can anyone justify spending on a dream by a few, when there is so much suffering and privation here on Earth? Isn’t it selfish elitism that consigns the many to hardship and early death so a few superiors can dream their dreams and attempt to make them reality? What if it fails and turns out to be impossible?
I doubt if the poor of the world waste too much time thinking about space, their final fronteir is feeding their existing children and not having any more, only they can’t afford contraception and the rich won’t share with them.

Rob Henry December 9, 2012 at 19:22

Peter Simmons, wow your reply was late.

Organic farming never does or has claimed to be run according to analytic data that maximise soil stability or the possibile sustainability at a particular crop yield rate. It has always being about putting your trust to mother nature and accelerating the rate at organics are recycled. The first factor means that spread of these principles is likely to lead to a collapse in crop yields. The second factor gives a bioreactor type environment from with new diseases might emerge.

And you seem confused that I have claimed to solve the global warming problem, when I have merely shown that the probability of us solving it must be a million million to one against if it really is the only problem facing us given premises that are often assumed the STARTING point for dissuasion of forums discussing interstellar colonisation.

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