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Extinction is Guaranteed if We Do Not Colonize Space

2013 December 16
by Ian Welsh

The Earth is a dangerous place, and humans make it more so.  There are many scenarios, from nuclear war, to designer diseases, to nanotech goo, too environmental catastrophe where we can wipe ourselves out.  Further, there are events almost entirely beyond our control, like meteor impacts, which could wipe us out.  The Earth is a mass-graveyard: most species which have ever existed are extinct.

The Earth is a single point of failure.  If all self-sustainable human breeding populations are on Earth, we are much more likely to go extinct, and far sooner.

Getting of the rock is about human survivability in the longer run.  Getting out into the solar system, learning how to create habitats and breeding populations, increases our viability. Spreading to other solar systems, whenever we can, will increase it even further.

On the other hand, if we stay on Earth, especially given how incapable we are of acting in basic racial self-interest (as proved by climate change) our odds of an extinction event, and soon, go way, way up.


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78 Responses
  1. gregorylent permalink
    December 16, 2013

    how would anywhere else be any different for humans who have a tendency towards wiping themselves out?

  2. David Kowalski permalink
    December 16, 2013

    Different? Maybe not but with enough worlds colonized we would buy time and likely survive. Hunter-gatherers, as noted by Ian, did quite well for 50,000 years by moving out and thinning out the malcontents with emigration. Easy options and an easy life (relatively) work that way. Kill a woolly mammoth and your group of 20 would be fed for weeks if not months. Meat and fish were plentiful as were berries, grasses, etc. Yes, kind of a paradise for most as we would judge today.

    No stress and a good life led to little stress.

  3. December 16, 2013

    I think that the more we learn about ourselves, particularly with our body’s integration with and complete reliance upon the microbial world as it exists on earth, the more we realize we’re married to this rock for good. Never mind the more obvious requirements such as atmospheric composition or suitable levels of gravity.

    All artificially created environments are limited by our scope knowledge and abilities, and are in a constant state of decay which can only be ameliorated by massive inputs of cheap energy (which tends to destroy the one natural environment that sustains us). We shouldn’t fear the disappearance of our home planet and our someday demise. Killing ourselves through stupidity and apathy (as we’re currently doing), on the other hand, is another matter entirely.

  4. December 16, 2013

    I think that the more we learn about ourselves, particularly with our body’s integration with and complete reliance upon the microbial world as it exists on earth, the more we realize we’re married to this rock for good. Never mind the more obvious requirements such as atmospheric composition or suitable levels of gravity.
    All artificially created environments are limited by our scope knowledge and abilities, and are in a constant state of decay which can only be ameliorated by massive inputs of cheap energy (which tends to destroy the one natural environment that sustains us). We shouldn’t fear the disappearance of our home planet and our someday demise. Killing ourselves through stupidity and apathy (as we’re currently doing), on the other hand, is another matter entirely.

  5. Bruce Wilder permalink
    December 16, 2013

    I guess I don’t think humans are such a great species overall that we should be putting any great effort into preventing our own extinction. Possibly, some of us will, as the post suggests, utilize the new technologies to hurry evolution along, producing one or more new species, which will extinguish their forebears, as homo sapiens sapiens displaced homo sapiens idaltu and other hominids, like Neanderthal. Making a niche out of life off-planet, or at least off-earth, would probably require such extensive modifications to be practical, that an associated speciation event, distinguishing homo spatia from homo sapiens would be entailed.

    I don’t think one can be a realist and not be deeply pessimistic about the chances of human beings organizing the global regulation of energy production and use, to prevent climate change or ecological collapse. The acceleration of technical change combines with overpopulation and economic growth in a way that makes catastrophe from unintended consequences and externalities difficult to avoid — there simply isn’t time now to notice something like the effect of Freon on the ozone before it is too late to do something effective about it; even if the technical means of noticing and responding keep pace with other innovations, the pace at which political will can be mustered does not. And, we ought to anticipate that human power to respond will diminish with erosion of resources and depletion of fossil fuels, no matter the pace of technical improvement.

    I actually think one of the more likely scenarios is that an oppressed graduate student somewhere, in the 10th year of his Ph.D. microbiology program and with the necessary skills and equipment to hand, will decide to engineer a highly contagious, highly lethal flu or similar virus. Think Ted Kaczynski with a pipette.

    Politically, we seem to be well on our way to a neo-feudal regime, and feudalism would seem to require a much smaller population. As long as we are privatizing the profits and socializing the losses, that’s our path. My personal preference would be to socialize everything, all the externalities, and to make life bearable by restraint. At the margin, so much of modern life is marred by excess, that a reversal ought to be a relief from much of what stresses us out and ruins so many lives. It’s just hard for me to imagine a political psychology — I won’t say philosophy or program — which could overcome the authoritarian impulses put into play by the popular forms of disaster capitalism. People are afraid, and that fear, far from motivating a creative response, makes our politics that much more difficult.

  6. December 16, 2013

    *BOOP* Check your admin email.

  7. Michael Berger permalink
    December 16, 2013

    @ David Veale and @ Bruce Wilder:

    Life’s ultimate purpose is to survive.

    Survival means replication. Correction: Not just replication, but the free ability to replicate.

    The ability to freely replicate, when the environmental parameters are such that replication is negatively impacted, means adaptation.

    Oftentimes such adaptation fails. Rarely it succeeds. Yet adaptation continues to occur.

    Life doesn’t care about probabilities, history, or resource utilization factors – it just does what is necessary.

    So, really, it’s not about worthiness, or about handicapping our ability to adapt. It all comes down to what does life want.

    Life wants to survive.

    In order to survive it must be able to freely replicate itself.

    And – in our case – in order to freely replicate itself, it must adapt…

  8. Sunshine McButtercup permalink
    December 16, 2013

    I suspect we already did that a few years back, from somewhere else. Earth was monitored and once it mellowed enough to support human life we hopped on over, leaving the wasteland of Mars behind.

    How many planets do you want to destroy and for what purpose?

  9. Mary McCurnin permalink
    December 16, 2013

    One person’s death is the same as the death of a planet. I am 64. I will be dead sooner than later. If my eyes shut at the same time as everyone else’s, what difference does it make? We are finite, this universe.

  10. December 16, 2013

    Thank you, David Veale and Mary McCurnin.

    I’ll leave aside the rather ambitious energy requirements for off-planet colonization (I am aware of the pro arguments as well as the cons – which I think win the day,) and just add this to Veale’s and McCurnin’s observations.

    Every target “environment” is hostile. Most make Death Valley seem like Arruba. “Terra-forming” being a bit sci-fi for contemporary contemplation, I’ll assume that we’re talking about artificial environments. Anything, anything we could come up with will underline what a true paradise this “rock” is, and why in the world would anyone prefer to leave it – except maybe due a psychological issue with humanity or a “grass is greener” syndrome (which one would be quickly disabused of, I’m sure.)

    Yes, I think that Veale is right. We are married to this “rock,” and frankly I’m not to happy to have this mother of a planet referred to as a “rock.” It may encourage a cavalier attitude towards Her.

  11. December 16, 2013

    As for possibly slinging our DNA out there just for general oat-sowing… I suppose that’s possible, but I’ll not celebrate the effort. I don’t think we’d appreciate our ecosystem being intentionally tainted with who-knows-what-would-happen alien DNA. I hope that if we detect a perfect “Class 3″ out there, we have the fortitude to hold fire.

    (I know that maybe we have been tainted, intentionally or otherwise, but my point is that it would be disruptive… as maybe it was if it has happened here.)

  12. Mary McCurnin permalink
    December 16, 2013

    Extinction is guaranteed even if we clean up our act. That is the beauty of it. The shame is that we dirtied up the place when we knew better.

  13. December 16, 2013

    Life is defined by, is bracketed by, death. I don’t mean this as a sophomoric yin-yang-opposites linguistic thing. Life requires it, lest it become a prison.

  14. Donald L. Anderson permalink
    December 16, 2013

    Today is Not April 1st.
    So this is ill informed. Probably (hopefully) a parody.

  15. Celsius 233 permalink
    December 16, 2013

    Until we are capable of fundamentally changing our nature, we’ll just change our physical location in the universe and continue with our life threatening, bad behavior.
    I do not think we as a species are capable of the meaningful changes which would be required. We (all inclusive) as individuals are capable of fundamental change (rarely), IMO.
    Our present behavior will likely not leave enough time for an Ark of any worthwhile size. At this time we’re a pox upon our species, and most especially our planet, our beautiful home. To leave before we grow up would cast that pox into the galaxy. The gods help any alien species we might encounter.
    “We’re all of us children in a vast kindergarten trying to spell God’s name with the wrong alphabet blocks.”

    ― Edwin Arlington Robinson

  16. cahuenga permalink
    December 17, 2013

    And who’s to know if diverting resources to space colonization might hasten an extinction event?

    It seems the height of human arrogance to assume you can outwit every possible natural catastrophe.

  17. lowfiron permalink
    December 17, 2013

    You certainly have a lot of faith in technology.
    We don’t have it now and we won’t till it’s too late.
    That’s my view.
    It’s a dystopian fantasy anyhow, when we remove ourselves from earth the network that makes us human, a species will be unhooked. We will evolve into some kind of space hominid with accoutrements we invent to sustain us.
    If we try and establish our species on the moon, which might be the best bet because we might be able to go back to earth when it “rebalances” itself. The moon will be miserable and by the time earth is ready for re-colonization we will be a freakish result of moon and technical adaptation.
    Escaping into space is a joke in my view.

  18. lowfiron permalink
    December 17, 2013

    After reading the comments after my initial post, all that’s been said by Mr.’s Wilder, Veale Pedro, Berger & Ms. McCurnin pretty much covers the way I see it.
    I was thinking a crash of the human population will be likely and not a complete extinction in the nearer future. So maybe feudalism will happen and we will be a lot more “uncomfortable” than our first world humanity enjoys.
    Will the habitats rebound while humans are on earth? Does it matter?
    Compulsions and blindness are leading us into a bad future.
    The Earth will ‘recover’, it goes on, there will be something different, like you said, extinction (death) is part of the process.

  19. David Kowalski permalink
    December 17, 2013

    Re: Sunshine McButtercup. great nickname. Is it derived from the song, Build Me Up, Buttercup? Maybe Sunshine Superman or a hybrid of the two? Lyon is best known as the female star of “Lolita.” After “Night of the Iguana” she was largely relegated to low budget movies. She was married five times. Only the last one , a 17 year marriage, took. That, too ended in divorce for Sue.

    All told, Donovan had two well known songs written for his current girlfriend:’Jennifer, Juniper” and “Sunshine Superstar.”

  20. Mary McCurnin permalink
    December 17, 2013

    lowfiron,

    If the population crashes, we are doomed. There will be no one to cool the nukes down. Or to teach the people who would cool the nukes down for the centuries needed. The only hope we have of saving it “all” is to make massive changes.

  21. guest permalink
    December 17, 2013

    I’m with the crowd that asks what’s the point of spreading ourselves out in the universe if we we can’t make do here on Earth which is kind of the ideal environment compared to anywhere else which is likely far from ideal and pretty fuck far away (who’s got thousands of years just to send a handful of people on a trip to the closest potential habitable rock in the galaxy?).
    The richest most powerful country in history (supposedly) can’t even manage decent healthcare for its citizens and could very well implode economically at any moment, and fucked up China, Russian and fuckushimaed Japan don’t inspire much confidence either. This is a world from which to embark on intergalactic colonization? I understand the imperative to leave in order to survive, but let’s face it: if we can’t do something about population and climate change and energy needs, our best hope is for a few thousands or maybe a million or so to survive the inevitable collapse and start from scratch 10,000 years from now after the enviromnent has recovered enough (if it can recover).
    But personally I don’t even get why anyone cares about this stuff. If you believe in god or at least an eternal spiritual dimension to which physical existence is secondary, then don’t sweat it because your existence and the world’s existence will continue somehow. If you think life is just arbitrary and a meaningless happenstance, then don’t sweat it because it’s all meaningless to begin with.
    So many atheists and people who sneer at “intelligent design” (OK to sneer if you recognize it is just the thin edge of the wedge for Xtian creationism, but I’m talking about those who sneer at it on its face) then adopt this equally unproven theory that our genes have desires and are driving us to reproduce and this is some sort of ideal which we should hold up and they somehow get invested in the idea that it is important for them to reproduce to continue the life of these inanimate genetic urges even though individual extinction at death is taken for granted. You can’t have it both ways.
    Almost everyone, even so called Christians who profess the opposite beliefs, in this society seems to have adopted these nonsense psuedo Darwinian beliefs (not knocking Darwin. evolution is obviously a process at work). But the values and morals and meaning-of-life conclusions that have been imputed to evolution or supposedly derived therefrom are just insultingly stupid. Kind of like listening to rightwingers distort and debase Adam Smith.

  22. Everytnings Jake permalink
    December 17, 2013

    Stealing, curiously I guess, from George Lucas, we’re in peril and there are basically two choices, we’re going to get off the rock, or there’ll be adaptation, whether that’s through the natural evolutionary process or as a result of bio-engineering, we are past the point of no return. As Chomsky says, what’s missing from the climate change “debate” are those, presumably Chomsky’s colleagues at MIT, no slouches in climate modeling (was it just 2 years ago that the Limits of Growth was found to be overwhelmingly correct) and who believe, with evidently good reason, that things are much worse than the “debate” admits. I have a friend, no religious nut, who has said for a long time that it will take something along the lines of the return of Christ, hopefully able to persuade more than 12 fanatical followers, to set things aright. I guess reality would tend to preclude any of those three occurrences, and maybe that’s right, but whatever hope there is lies there.

    It’s basically simple logic that, if as Ian points out, we disperse the tribe, it increases the chances of the species’ survival. As a few have pointed out, frighteningly logical too that reducing the population back down to a billion or less is in fact a solution (precluding a more globally humane response). I don’t think the former’s likely, but what else to try? I think the latter’s likely, and would hate to try.

  23. R G Bailey permalink
    December 17, 2013

    Sounds a bit like locusts to me. And impractical. Still, there would be technical benefits, jobs and spin offs, not to mention possibly diverting some tiny part of the budget from the various organs of snoopers and militarists. Worth a try. They aren’t going to spend that type of capital on the rest of us anyway. might as well piss it off in space.

  24. Massinissa permalink
    December 17, 2013

    Go to into space, so we can do capitalist resource extraction/capitalist imperialist warfare there too?

    Sounds like a bad plan. We already ruined one planet: How many do you think it would take before we learned our lesson? Upwards of 10?

  25. December 17, 2013

    “We?” Who is this “we” of which you speak?

    The problem may lie more conceptually, in the notion of “colonizing” — ie: in imperialism itself, which is the leading cause of the persistent miasma in which we (temporarily) exist. Is yet more imperialism really the answer? Are you saying we must colonize space by continuing the imperial program, only we must do it right this time? Really?

    Let us imagine, as many have done before us, what such an effort would entail, and look at it from the perspective of how “we” would respond if it were done to “us.”

    Wasn’t it H. G. Wells who more than a century ago described quite starkly what colonization really looks like — to the colonized?

    Extinction is inevitable — as Mary McC says above — for each and every one of us. Societies rise and fall, whole species wax and wane, and some (most) disappear but for their petrified bones, and even they turn to dust more often than they are preserved.

    Colonizing space cannot in the end ensure the survival of much of anything we now consider of such overriding importance. Given the apparently intrinsic lethality of the Universe, establishing colonial outposts in space may just as well prove our undoing as our hoped-for salvation.

    Of course, the Imperial idea is so strong among so many peoples that if “we” don’t do it, somebody else will, regardless of the risks/lack of rewards…

  26. December 17, 2013

    I know we seem to live in dark times with a catastrophe in our near future, but ffs people. Most of the comments to this post are about how we should just go extinct or let everything collapse because that’s what happened to other species and we can never change and we can never leave the Earth.

    There are both secular and cyclical changes in large, complex systems. There are increasing or constant returns to scale for some systems. There are often new emergent behaviors as you progress through time, space, and levels of complexity and organization. The future does not have to repeat the past. Collapse is not inevitable. Growth is not inevitable. We are capable of understanding these things with our brains and our technology and we are capable of taking action to survive and flourish. There are limitations to our intelligence and abilities, but we have the ability to overcome them through social organization and technology. Our fate is not sealed, and it opens up to much greater possibilities if we get off this dying rock.

  27. bdy permalink
    December 17, 2013

    Folks who imagine they can run off and live in the woods after casually setting the house on fire, poisoning the well, and trampling the crops, deserve what they have coming. The vacuum of space is no refuge for boneheads.

  28. gizzardboy permalink
    December 17, 2013

    A little housekeeping: 1st paragraph: to environmental catastrophe, not too
    3rd paragraph: Getting off the rock, not Getting of the rock
    last paragraph: shouldn’t this be species self interest, instead of racial self interest?

  29. David Kowalski permalink
    December 17, 2013

    China’s policy of encouraging just one child per family and trying to use two children as a limit has reduced but not ended population growth. Both parts of western Europe an the U.S. have strongly slowed growth by the combination of wealth and high unemployment, perhaps coupled with widely available birth control and available abortion (at least as of now). That is certainly threatened in the U.S. Russia has managed the same thing by a lop-sided economy that is great for the few but very hard for the many and a serious drop in health care leading to a much lower life expectancy. Not good at all.

    Japan even managed a small population decline, at least for a while based on prosperity and a social system that makes it difficult for some people to marry (the end of arranged marriages was replaced for most but not the socially inept young).

    None of that is nearly enough. What we would have to do to get the population down to just 1 billion people would be to institute a one child per family rule backed by mandatory sterilization and wait three generations. This is a really tough sell and I don’t see a better alternative.

  30. Jeff Wegerson permalink
    December 17, 2013

    I agree Ian, “we” need all the help we can get. The purpose I see in trying to string out our civilization as long as we can is the gain in cultural evolution. Therefore it matters not how much genetic change might occur in the off-moss adventures as long as they keep creating culture and remember the important stuff from the on-moss culture.

    And it’s not an either-or proposition either. We have to preserve this world AND create the others. As for despoiling other planets, well that would be regrettable only to the extent that there might already be a more advanced culture there that we cause the extinction of or I suppose prevent the natural occurrence in their natural development.

    I assume that any vehicle will have to be very very massive. Likely we go to the moon and build it there for the first iteration jumping off.

    And as always, as the inestimable Buckminister Fuller use to say (paraphrasing): There are a lot of planets out there and many won’t make it. And if we are one, well that happens.

  31. David Moore permalink
    December 17, 2013

    Why the obsession with humanity’s survival? I personally don’t care if humans survive. Other than being at the top of the food chain on a planet near the outskirts of the Milky Way, there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly special about us. I chose early on not to have children because I think I have an idea of where things are headed in the longer term, and they are probably not headed in the direction the optimists believe (and if I’m wrong, then fantastic). But I’m fine with this… I’m happy to close my eyes and go to sleep at the end of this life, whenever it may be. One of the last things I give much thought to is humanity’s long-term survival… it just doesn’t matter in the larger context of things. If folks were really so concerned about the health of the planet they would stop procreating, or at least limit themselves to one child per couple. This would solve most, if not all, of our environmental/resource problems… and yet humans continue to pump out children, virtually guaranteeing our species’ ultimate demise… ah, what sweet irony.

  32. S Brennan permalink
    December 17, 2013

    It’s dammed depressing reading much of these comments, some deeply ignorant [there's a LIQUID ocean of water on Europa folks]…and others describe the helplessness of a prison punk.

    This is what passes as American Intellectual discourse? My revulsion in the face of the mental and physical laziness of what passes for the American “left” increases daily. If you can off no solutions, no hope, just austerity and misery…why should anyone listen to you?

    We are the beneficiary’s of the blood, sweat and toil of our antecedents earnest efforts to provide, material well being, along side hard fought for civil and labor rights increases. We are certainly no worse off than the people who implemented FDR’s reform of capitalism…no?

    Currently NASA invests 1/2 of a percent of the national budget and for that we get protection from extreme weather, land use, climate change, directional guidance, flat screens, new materials, new methodologies…hell, the whole technological revolution of the last 60 years has been fueled by aviation/aerospace’s higher, faster, farther mentality.

    Columbus might have been a warped loser, but he got off his ass and bumped into a new continent we now call home. In the effort to press one frontier, you will uncover new worlds of opportunity.

    My journey away from “liberals” continues…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27uIF5q9POM

  33. December 17, 2013

    Oh please, I’d be willing to bet the people you’re insulting have offered all sorts of solutions, here and elsewhere, to various problems like climate change, population growth, energy resources, etc. I also suspect they support NASA initiatives. That they might not share your Europa fantasy and are more realistic is your problem not theirs.

    Btw, you’re kidding about the Columbus thing, right? Heh.

  34. Mary McCurnin permalink
    December 17, 2013

    Jesus F Christ, I just discovered but for my lazy “liberal” ass the world would be saved.

  35. Celsius 233 permalink
    December 17, 2013

    I just received an update from Tom Dispatch and it’s about possible extinction; ours.

    Along with a refusal to grow up, we’re not going anywhere. And there won’t be a Klatu, so we either act, immediately, or die. I think it’s that simple.
    Dahr Jamail;
    http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175785/tomgram%3A_dahr_jamail%2C_the_climate_change_scorecard/#more

  36. David Kowalski permalink
    December 18, 2013

    What is so crazy about Europa? Early humans spent 50,000 years spreading out , colonizing the world, discovering agriculture and produced this crazy mess we are all in now. Europa seems no more far fetched than that.

    Technology, even screwed up technology, will allow at least some people to greatly accelerate the time Extend things and the ability to colonize some distant planets as well (albeit very “new” ones, will be open. At the same time that primitive life was developing on earth, 3.5 to 4 billion years ago, it was also developing on Mars due to the presence of water. If we ever get that far out, then things can expand back to at least the hunter-gatherer stage and probably beyond to agriculture and livestock. Scattered over planets, small non-violent colonies could be viable.

    I, too, had no children. Many of this could choose that path but in a world where the number of people might be measured at a billion but more ideally in the 100 million range, that choice is welcome.

    Add another planet, add another 100 million. It will take 7,000 planets to bring us up to the present population level. And that will take some time.

  37. cahuenga permalink
    December 18, 2013

    Our fate is not sealed

    It most certainly is and it’s name is entropy. The only question is when.

  38. Mary McCurnin permalink
    December 18, 2013

    exquisite entropy

  39. Miguel Gustav Jones permalink
    December 18, 2013

    I just had a conversation the other evening with an Australian oil guy who works in Qatar about just this. Most people can’t adjust to the kind of verrrry looong view one must take to see this issue as relevant to us both culturally, and as a species. I’ve written a couple of things on this subject over the past few years. The first deals with sociological factors that may limit our ability to colonize other worlds: http://miguelitoh2o.blogspot.com/2010/09/extraterrestrials-space-nazis-or-fluffy.html

    This one deals with issues related to the Fermi Paradox/Drake equation: http://miguelitoh2o.blogspot.com/2010/09/predation-landbridges-technology-global.html

  40. Celsius 233 permalink
    December 18, 2013

    @ Miguel Gustav Jones
    December 18, 2013
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Read the predation link, thanks. Forgot about the Fermi Paradox; sounds about right.
    My own feeling is that we are trapped by our very intelligence; which leads me to question our definition/view of intelligence.
    Buddhism teaches a way out of that trap, but it remains out of reach for the majority. It would seem sentient life itself is one giant paradox.

  41. Everythings Jake permalink
    December 18, 2013

    Also, a radical change in the way we currently live is not mutually exclusive with the notion that we need to get off the rock, the former may give us more time to do the latter.

  42. Miguel Gustav Jones permalink
    December 18, 2013

    @ Celcius 233: Yes, Your comment above regarding changing human nature is largely what I was writing about in both those blogs, and vis a vis your comment on Buddhism, I am currently in Thailand, (a predominantly Buddhist country), and can agree with you on that for the most part.

  43. Celsius 233 permalink
    December 18, 2013

    Miguel Gustav Jones
    December 18, 2013
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    What a remarkable co-incidence; I am a long term expat in that very country (a decade plus).

  44. Formerly T-Bear permalink
    December 18, 2013

    Suppose this will be another minority report.

    Combining this and its preceding post, it seems more likely that social organizations will run out of ability to handle complexity long before any of the dire predictions have full effect. Failure of complexity will cause the current authoritarians to apply their authority to retain power, a police state is assured, dis-equality will attempt to obtain and secure support of an administrative bourgeoisie and populate the personnel for a strict police state. This is inherently unstable and likely to consume all available wealth in its finance until it too collapses as it becomes increasingly impossible to balance the conflicting interests. A world-wide government requires more complexity than authoritarians will allow, it is the achilles heel of the corporate state.

    Environmental degradation will eventually limit population, Malthus’ understanding of applied mathematics is valid and imposes limits without appeal. Population numbers will plummet, likely to preindustrial levels, given the peak availability of fossil fuels. Some technical innovations may provide an easing of those consequences but the current mentality of economic abandon will have to become historic, joyrides will happen only in fiction. Inhabitable areas will continue to exist, competition for control of those areas will be intense as well as being a limiting factor of sustainable population density. Eventually, given time a number of methods of political management will evolve, most of which have already been tried and left a historical record. Those who retain historical memory will have an advantage in coming to those decisions, not having to re-invent social wheels.

    How social groups are formed and how they function will play a decisive role in how those groups survive and more importantly in the quality of that survival. Just the simple manner that food is served indicates the social method of survival and the likelihood and extent of success, e.g. authoritarian style is portions served directly to each member of the group by an authoritarian figure (father, mother or some adult) and no choice is given the recipient as to quantity or selection involved, encourages respect for authority figures; individuate style is food presented and each member of the group selects from the provisions presented what they may want, first come first served relationship with the other members of the group, enforces the concept of ownership; socialized style foodstuffs presented in communal form, each having access to food presentment as meal progresses as need, want or satiety presents itself, provides an inherent trust towards the group as source of wellbeing. The final outcomes vary with circumstance and opportunity, but the fabric of group relationships plays a decisive role in the success of any group, some are of higher quality of living than others, and that quality may well be the deciding factor in survival.

  45. Ben Johannson permalink
    December 18, 2013

    We will never colonize space, so we can learn to accept the inevitable or continue deluding ourselves until the end with thumbsucking fantasies about Mars.

    Either way it doesn’t matter; ain’t nobody gettin’ off earth, ever.

  46. Celsius 233 permalink
    December 18, 2013

    And another thing; we produce mountains, serious mountains, of garbage.
    Why is that? We never did before.
    We’re pretty fucked up, all in all, when one takes a really good look.

    Kudos to T-Bear for his timely post. Says a lot about our present and future. But the future is an ugly vision when contextualized against the present realities (which are not wonderful).
    It seems there is no good outcome…
    Time to die (Blade Runner)…

  47. BlizzardOfOz permalink
    December 18, 2013

    @S Brennan

    Well said, I share your sentiments wholeheartedly. I’m not sure to what extent the types of comments you’re referring to here reflect Ian’s readership, and to what extent they are just internet trolling. But I do think the “humans=bad, we should go extinct” ideology is a dominant one with self-identified radical left types. But that ideology shares roots with the deep pessimism that has spread in the broader American culture.

    You know, as a frequenter of blog comment sections, I have to remind myself to try and avoid the lowest common denominator. It’s a kind of selection bias to, for any given strain of thought that you disagree with, see the very most ignorant or inflammatory comments as representative. I guess my point is, the “Arch Druid” deserves more consideration from “eco-left” opponents than do random commenters lashing out at “techno optimism”; in the same way than Ian Welsh deserves more attention from libertarians than does, say, Salon.

  48. December 18, 2013

    The problem with the Europa fantasy has little to do with Europa itself. NASA or whoever should be funded to send a probe there to get as much information about it as possible but that’s almost besides the point because there’s nothing wrong with such types of inquries for their own sake.

    Let’s look at it from a current practical perspective. How many people have ever been to the Moon? A couple of dozen, maybe? How many have even just been to space? A couple hundred, maybe?

    When you start to think about the daunting challenges (e.g. who goes?, how many?, who chooses?, how to get there, the radiation levels, icy planet surface, harsh climate, surviving long enough to build an “Atlantis”, etc.), the idea that all we need is a dose of “aw shucks can do spirit inspired by the ghost of FDR” to go forth and colonize Europa is a rather fanciful suggestion and, at best, way way way out into the future. It’s especially dubious when you consider that we are not applying that “can do!” spirit to the critical issues facing us right now.

    For example, we know climate change is happening now and a good part of misery is already baked in the cake. What are we doing about it? Mostly nothing except making it worse. We know what’s going on with the environment. What are we doing about it? Mostly nothing except making it worse. We know that if there was honest accounting economic collapse would already be here. What are we doing about it? Allowing our “betters” to continue to rob us blind as they run for the exits. And so on….

    What do we think is going to happen when the “developing world” finally gets that they can’t have “first world” living standards because the latter has hogged the majority of resources, were the prime contributers to climate change and, on top of that, they have to bear the brunt of the negative effects of climate change? Well, we better hope a technological Macguffin appears and we are all booked tickets on the space flight to Europa. Unfortunately our “betters” don’t have to rely on such hopes as they are in the process of building a quite elborate surveillance/police/propoganda state to maintain their interest and status.

  49. December 18, 2013

    10-4. Some believe in God, others believe in Santa Claus and I believe we will figure out how to get to the stars. IMHO, the next hundred years are the greatest threat to this; if humanity can keep from self-destructing, I believe we will be moving into space big-time.

    We have come far in the last 110 years, and it’s easy to forget this. Before Einstein’s 1905 Relativity paper, and Hubble’s red-shift discoveries, the universe was very simple, but just over 80 years ago, Roy Chadwick discovers the neutron, and particle physics began in earnest and mysteries like entanglement and stop-and-start light-beams continue to astound.

    Like the Carpenters’ song goes, we’ve only just begun.

  50. December 19, 2013

    Heh, for once I’m firmly in the S Brennan camp. Most people are not, nor will they ever be so “mature” as to accept/embrace the implication that there is no possibility that their children’s lives will be monotonically worse than their own. That a lot of eco-left environmental doomsayers are…practically *proud* of their ability to accept this is, I’m increasingly convinced, one of the ways in which it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and one of the sources of the extreme weakness of the eco-left.

    Most people’s experience of “human-scaled” history is indeed one of linear upward progression, if with epicycles like the Great Depression or maybe the Dark Ages in Europe. I would not lightly dismiss this perception in order to project a “mature” and “grown-up” pose. Which is mostly what it is: a pose.

  51. December 19, 2013

    As usual, “submit” button runs ahead of “willingness to self-edit” :)

    “the implication that there is no possibility” -> “the implication that there is every possibility”

  52. December 19, 2013

    This is descending into babble. Other than to set up a trite cheap shot at absurdly titled “eco-left environmental doomsayers” (c’mon now…), speculating about “most people’s?” perception or who is supposedly posing is, in this instance, irrelevant navel gazing.

    The already happening climate change doesn’t care about people’s perceptions or poses. Like the melting ice, rising sea levels and temperatures and so on really care…. We can either begin to try to deal with it in an attempt to ameoliorate some of the effects or contiue on with the dominant pose of “Don’t Worry be Happy”.

    In terms of Ian’s “get off the rock” suggestion, it does have merit and is something we can start on now by expanding the space station concept and thinking about, or planning, a Moon colony. This gives us the advantages of learning as we go and being able to go back and forth to Earth as needed. It makes much more sense than throwing a Hail Mary to Europa.

  53. December 19, 2013

    The Universe is still lethal to human adventurers and colonists in space.

    The current difficulties with the ISS, while no doubt manageable over the short term, are merely the tip of the iceberg with regard to the nearly endless problems associated with going farther afield than close-Earth orbit or being out in space for extended periods.

    It is not as if there is a hospitable/habitable place to plant a colony of rough and ready space adventurers within any sort of manageable distance from this poor, tired rock. So far as we know, no such place exists within any distance which can be navigated with current or near-term technology during the lifetime of any likely navigators. If it were possible or even worthwhile to attempt to do so, I suspect it would have been done by now. Instead, we see ratcheting back of human space exploration, let alone colonization, and its replacement with prowling exploratory robots.

    The Chinese just landed one on the Moon.

    But it doesn’t get “us” any closer to getting off this rock or planting viable colonies anywhere in space.

    That “we” might do so — by now or at least soon — is an idea, and perhaps an ideal, from the previous century, when not only was almost any progress in space deemed possible, but advances were moving so quickly that the space fiction film “2001″ from 1968 seemed predictive.

    Technologically advanced societies may have been capable of accomplishing the adventures depicted in the movie by 2001, but they haven’t done it to date, not even close. And it’s not simply because of politics or budget constraints or what have you.

    It’s largely because the community engaged in space exploration recognize there’s nowhere — reachable — Out There “we” might go to plant our extraterrestrial colonies and send our settlers to claim territory, to displace the Natives (if any) and to ensure the survival of the species somewhere off this rock.

    Europa? Sure, why not? Arthur C. Clarke proposed Titan as a likely outpost in “Imperial Earth.” Heck why not? Mars? What ever happened to Mars as a (once and) future home for at least a remnant of humanity? What happened to Mars was what has happened everywhere else colonies were considered. It’s not feasible, and potentially, unprotected exposure to the planet’s very dust would be lethal (not to mention radiation and all the other hazards).

    The point is, there is no place Out There to go. Even if there were, colonization would probably not be the right approach in any case.

    If there is to be colonization it will be right here on Earth; neo-colonial/neo-imperial enterprises are under way as we contemplate our fate Out There, and as conditions deteriorate for the many on Earth, I can easily see re-colonization taking place everywhere that the High and Mighty decide they want, displacing or exterminating the Natives, and all of it being justified by the need for survival of the species.

    Just as in the earlier period of imperialism, colonies, and political, social and economic control of territories overseas was deemed necessary for the survival of the race.

  54. Ian Welsh permalink*
    December 19, 2013

    Interesting thread of “we deserve to go extinct” through these comments.

    As for the rest, space colonization is not yet feasible, no, but it will be, and if it is not, we will likely go extinct much sooner.

    And yes, much of it does come down to priorities: we put vast resources into bubbles and military affairs and consumer goods that are bad for us, and little into space.

    Space exploration will start with space exploitation, of the minerals and water, and whatnot available in space. It will go from there.

  55. December 19, 2013

    Just want to note that I object to the bifurcation here that one either believes we deserve to go extinct or we’re gonna explode into space.

    One can object to either proposition without embracing the other.

  56. S Brennan permalink
    December 19, 2013

    Who’s we…Che?

    “So far as we know, no such place [hospitable/habitable] exists within any distance which can be navigated with current or near-term technology during the lifetime of any likely navigators.”

    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/06/120626-mars-water-mantle-oceans-meteorites-space-science/

    http://www.universetoday.com/93059/large-amounts-of-water-ice-found-underground-on-mars/

    “When you actually watch a robot dig into the soil and find ice it really changes your picture of the planet.”

    Everything we are discovering indicates that Ganymede, Europa, Calisto and Mars have similar compositions to earth.

    Nuclear Rocket engine programs were defunded by Nixon just before test flights were to start. They produce the same thrust as chemical engines and use ½ – 1/12th the fuel. Propellant mass fractions are typically ~ 0.9 for chemical engines. The amount of fuel to accelerate/decelerate is 1/3rd, F=ma => F/m=a, thus acceleration is at least 3 times initially [solid core], leading to much, much, much higher speeds. Speeds of a million miles per day are obtainable. Also, nuclear engines are much more reliable than chemical.
    Type

    Isp comparison
    Chemical (H2/O2) 500 s
    NTR – Solid Core 1000 s
    NTR – Gas Core 6000 s

    Now, I’ve been down this road before, like the extreme right’s climate deniers, the obstructers of progress and science on the left have special leave to create their own “facts”. The “left” is no longer defined by reasoned learning, but by warped institutional loyalties, tribalism and somehow…has intertwined itself with the economics of the 19th century*. I either “Embrace the suck”, or go my own way.

    *I try to refrain from the use of the “neo-liberalism” as the anti-government aspect of “liberalism” was directed at Monarchs, royalty and colonization, NOT Democratic forms of government.

  57. December 20, 2013

    “Reasoned learning”? That’s what basic internet searches are called now? Anyway, there’s nothing wrong with be an enthusiast or hobbyist but stringing together a hodgepodge of factoids doesn’t make a compelling argument. Just because people disagree with you doesn’t mean they are against reasoned learning or that it implies something nefarious about “the left”.

  58. December 20, 2013

    S. Brennan,

    Indeed, who is this “we” that gets bandied about with such believers’ glee? No one dare say, do they?

    That aside, one is free to claim that Mars is habitable and one is free to claim the opposite, using the same data. This has been true for decades and decades. It’s the most wonderful thing. No matter what the robots discover in their wanderings over the surface and in orbit above the Red Planet, the conclusions are always ambiguous, always tantalizing, always incomplete, though many are the enthusiasts and nay-sayers who assert positively that this or that has been proved once and for all and that the colonial outposts on the Tharsis Bulge are just around the corner. Or that human settlements on Europa, Ganymede or even Titan or Triton are all but certain in the near future.

    No, they aren’t.

    While it is technically possible to do a lot of things, and indeed some of those things may be done in the fullness of time, “we” are no closer to colonization and settlement of the Great Out There than we were a generation ago. Or two generations ago.

    Ian argues that the Earth is a dangerous place and if “we” don’t plant colonies and settlements Out There, “we” are doomed.

    When you recognize that the Universe, Out There in its entirety, is intrinsically not just dangerous but is positively lethal to human-kind, and that there is absolutely nowhere — that “we” know of — Out There that can be colonized and settled by human-kind without taking along and endlessly perpetuating (somehow) at least a capsule-version of the Earth, you begin to understand why the ISS is about as close to getting off this rock human-kind is likely to get.

    Why isn’t there even an inhabited outpost on the Moon, for example, something that was technically feasible more than a generation ago and yet has never been attempted?

    Mars could have had a similar sort of outpost not long after a Moon-base was established, but a Moon-base has not been established, and there is little likelihood of there ever being one.

    Why bother when it is so much easier and much less hazardous to the participants to send robot expeditions?

    If there were a genuinely habitable world Out There, one that could be reached within a reasonable length of time and one that could provide for the basic material well-being of colonists and settlers, I have no doubt that colonies and settlements would be undertaken.

    But there isn’t one. Not so far at any rate.

    The technology to go forth has long existed. The problem is that there is no place within reach that can provide what humans need to survive. The water ice on Mars or Europa or Titan is nice, but you still can’t breathe the air (if any), you still need to be protected from the cold and the radiation, and in the case of Mars, the potential destructiveness of the ultraviolet light and the supposedly super-oxidizing dust. There is no known biology on any of these worlds, and so there is no known biosphere within which to live on any of these worlds. Creating a planetary biosphere where there is none might be an interesting experiment, assuming billions of years for the experiment to run its course.

    As for the question of “who is we,” the answer of who it is not is fairly plain. Even if a habitable world were to be located and colonization were to be undertaken tomorrow, the “we” who would set forth would not include more than a handful of picked humans.

    So “we” does not include most of “us.”

    And absolutely none of this has anything to do with political affiliation.

  59. S Brennan permalink
    December 20, 2013

    Che,

    A lot of unrelated detail…and a lot dancing around the question, but no attempt to answer the question. Pourquoi Che, pourquoi?

    You are the one that posited yourself as the sum of all human knowledge with this line:

    “So far as WE know, no such place [hospitable/habitable] exists within any distance which can be navigated with current or near-term technology during the lifetime of any likely navigators.”

    Again, who is WE?

  60. Wyoming permalink
    December 20, 2013

    The concept of colonizing space is an interesting one and well studied. Being something of a technologist I have read a fair amount about the difficulties of actually accomplishing self-sustaining habitable locations off planet. Ian’s desire to do this is not uncommon (as seen in the comments) but there are very practical engineering and physics problems entailed in such an undertaking which are not subject to much in the way of opinion. Reality is what it is after all.

    One can make a theoretical argument that if we don’t spread ourselves across the heavens to some extent that extinction is inevitable. This is certainly true in a long-term sense and perhaps in the short-term if we get visited by a large enough asteroid. But in any probabilistic sense there is not a good argument to making the push to move ourselves off the Earth at this time nor is there likely to be one any time in the next few hundred years (and maybe 10′s of thousands).

    As always, it is important to deal with the near term threats which are probable and which have potentially catastrophic impacts. Impacts like Earth destroying asteroids, the sun consuming the Earth, etc. are not likely to be an issue for millions of years or more. Climate change, in concert with our fast growing population being way over the Earth’s carrying capacity, is not a maybe. It is an existing fact and as it worsens it will slowly crush civilization. If we do not deal with it (and we should have started long ago) all the other things which human effort might be able to achieve will likely never be possible. There is no other option but to see if we can survive the current problems relatively intact. If we can manage that then, perhaps, all our other dreams may once again be dreamed and acted upon. Not until then though. Dealing with our current dilemma’s will require all of our resources (which are dwindling quickly), all of our concentration, great sacrifice (whether willingly or not), and a complete restructuring of civilization. A herculean task.

    The basic reason we will not and cannot make the attempt to colonizes space is that we have run out of time and we do not have enough wealth/resources to make the attempt. We may never have them. The issue of space colonization and eventual colonization of other planets like Earth is very complex and requires us to develop hundreds of, as yet, nonexistent technologies. We would also have to solve the complexities of biology (both human and plant) and human psychology to a deep level of understanding. Contemplate the technical challenges to developing all the industrial abilities needed to be self sufficient in space or on another body in this solar system to the point that support from Earth was not needed in any way. Is it even possible for humans to live their entire lives off Earth and to procreate in other environments that are low gravity and high radiation? Would children there be viable? Will our food sources properly grow long-term in such environments and still produce a diet nutritious enough that we do not die from ill health? There is no bio-diversity in space colonization. If we did not have AGW and a horribly overpopulated world forcing our hand as we do now, answering all of the above questions and making it happen would certainly be a multi-hundred year process. And we might not be able to afford to do it anyway. Or it may just not be possible.

    If one wants to include the possibility of extra solar system travel to other earth like planets suitable for earth like living then the problem gets many orders of magnitude more difficult. It is all an interesting idea and I love science fiction. But actually doing it – ever- is a low probability event. I have read a number of comments from PhD level physicists who do not think it is likely to ever happen.

    We already have our space ship. We are on it. We just have to figure out how not to crash it. Someone above mentioned that everyone seems to think it is extinction or the stars and maybe there was an in-between choice. Actually extinction and the stars are the low probability events. We will not go to the stars and we will not go extinct (at least in any meaningful time frame for either). It is far more likely the in-between will be what happens. When AGW and resource limits get fully kicked in we will likely be down in population by what? – maybe 80-90% from peak? With the technologies we have today we can easily survive with dramatically lower populations here on Earth even in the extremes possible with severe climate change. If we could survive on the moon, or even clear out on far Europa, we could do it here much easier. And you can bet we will make the attempt.

  61. David Kowalski permalink
    December 20, 2013

    Interesting stuff, Miguel Gustav Jones. You have linked to the good stuff or as the (unfortunately) late George, Carlin would have put it, “good shit.” Stuff is merely why our houses and apartments are cramped.

    I prefer the fluff-bunny alien movies, my self. One classic that you missed was The Day the Earth Stood Still (klatu nikto barrata, to you, too).

    The Fermi paradox/ Drake equation is less convincing or at least entertaining to me than the good alien thesis. Technology may be the weapon that kills our species but the cause of the murder of earth and the species living on it is greed.

  62. David Kowalski permalink
    December 20, 2013

    I notice, on thinking it over, that I missed an important point (at least as far as I’m concerned). Greed is manifested on earth in the economic form of capitalism and the free market. The free market is merely an aberration in the history of human “civilization.” Temples regulated trade going back to ancient Sumeria. The ancient Chinese regulated farming and land ownership. The Romans regulated coinage, taxes, trade and a lot of other things. SAfter a brief respite of 700 or 800 years, regulation resumed in the form of limits on derr hunting in the king’s forest (see Robin Hood) and then regulation of entry into the trades, product quality and product weight by the guild. Trade unions and producer groups (co-ops, corporation, and monopolies) completed the picture. If I knew more about the Byzantine Empire, I could eliminate the brief free market period from human history, altogether. What a pernicious myth. The link of a free market economy to Christianity adds to the mistake. “Render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s. Render to God, that which is God’s.”

  63. December 20, 2013

    S. Brennan,

    Actually, if you scroll through the comments, you’ll see that I was the one who asked the question of Ian, “Who is this ‘we’ of which you speak?” Receiving no answer, but seeing so many others adopt the omnipresent “we” to refer to whomever one might deem to be relevant in the discussion, I joined in the merriment.

    As I say, “we” (as in the collective of human knowledge) know of no habitable world where “we” may set down “our” colonies and settlements, without taking with “us” and sustaining indefinitely an Earth-equivalent environment, whether close or far away.

    Perhaps you know of one or more, however.

    So far, you have suggested that there may be some resources on some other worlds within hailing distance that might be exploited on behalf of a human colony or settlement, and they may be reachable with advanced technology which has yet to be developed. I wouldn’t dispute it. But the potential exploitable resources Out There and the technology to find and exploit them are of little use to the expansion and survival of the species in an otherwise lethal vacuum.

    If, as I suggest, the environmental conditions Out There are intrinsically even more hostile than the developing conditions accompanying climate change on Earth, then it is little wonder that the space science community has devoted more resources to robot exploration than human colonization schemes.

    In any case, I question the premise of colonization and extraterrestrial imperialism as the necessary means to preserve human-kind.

  64. December 20, 2013

    @ Che Pasa,

    Spot on comments. The ISS/Moon/robot point is telling. If the people who do this stuff for a living considered human space colonization and/or long range exploration a serious viable option as opposed to an interesting theorectical speculation, an extended ISS or Moon outpost would be no-brainer first steps. “We” (heh) have space stations and have been to the Moon. We could find out how humans deal, physically and mentally with the environment on a long term basis, provide supplies, maintain easy communications, etc. and move on from there.

    As you said, that neither are really being considered other than perhaps private enetprise money hustles and instead cost/energy efficient robots are being used which, makes sense considering their capabilities, should tell “us” all we need to know.

    Also Wyoming had an excellent point and said it much more elegantly than I did. Namely, the time cruch. “We”, meaning all of we, are up against important physical limits (resource, population) and the climate crisis right now and we are doing little to address them.

  65. Ian Welsh permalink*
    December 20, 2013

    As I noted: two challenges,

    1) stabilize earth,

    2) get off it.

    The first is the higher priority, but #2 is as important in the longer run.

    The technologies for #1 and #2 are HIGHLY interrelated. Figuring out how an ecosphere works is required for significant off-world colonization, after all. And, worse case scenario, we may need biospheres right here on earth. It’s one of the projects I would keep permanently funded: we may never /need/ it, but it will teach us a ton along the way, and if we do need it, it may save us from extinction.

    To be sure, we have the technologies to live sustainably well, with 1/5th our current population. Anyone offering to be one of the 80% of the population that has to die to make that work? How about offering up your kids? No?

    Space exploration starts, again, with space exploitation. While you’re saying it can’t be done, private enterprise is trying to figure out how to do it, because there are a lot of very valuable resources out there.

    I’ve read the history of science and technology, and it is full of highly credentialed people saying “it can’t be done.”

    Then someone does it.

    Some things may be truly impossible, this might be one of them, but it isn’t a sure case yet, and as noted, much of what needs to be done for colonization also feeds into saving humanity (not the world, the world will go on), from climate collapse.

  66. Ian Welsh permalink*
    December 20, 2013

    Oh and get off the resource crunch. We have more than enough resources to do both, we’ve just decided to spend them all blowing bubbles and making rich people richer. Sixty percent of the developed world population does nothing but service and administrative work which didn’t exist 80 years ago: most of that can go away. You’ll be better off without tax accountantants and 10 baristas on every block anyway, I guaranteed. Let alone McDonalds.

  67. December 20, 2013

    @Ian,

    Good two-step and I’d agree that step one is way more imortant as it’s critical right now. Step two depends on how long long run is. Who said space exploration can’t be done? It is being done just not by humans for the most part right now except ISS type stuff. The space explotation you mentioned that space exploration is supposedly dependent upon is currently private enterprise mostly doing things we’ve already done (e.g. satellites, cargo, etc.) except for the tourist stuff. Even more what could be considered out there ideas, like asteriod mining, is just a spin on “Moon rocks” type collection.

    The resource crunch is not bullshit. Whether it was useful or not, you can’t wave away the last 80 years like it didn’t happen and put the genie back in the bottle. Those resources have been and are bing spent. Also volunteering for death to manage left over resources has nothing to do with it, though that was a nice taunt, as a lot of people are dying already. It just a question of how many more people will join them.

  68. Ian Welsh permalink*
    December 20, 2013

    Since getting pounds of the rock is important, reducing the cost by 6 or 7 times is an important step: and that is being done by private industry, since people like those in this thread have been systematically helping to make sure NASA isn’t properly funded.

    Or maybe India or China will wind up doing it. Nothing says it has to be America, or the West.

    As for the two-step, I was clear in the post preceding this one that there are two tasks. Guess you didn’t read that post.

    The resource drawdown is real, but it isn’t our primary problem right now. Our primary problem right now is not lack of resources, it is that we aren’t using our resources effectively. We could break much of the resource bottlenecks, but we have chosen not to do so.

    Probably because another bunch of people were saying “no point in doing that.”

    Our entire society is about “don’t do that”. If you can’t monetize it NOW, you can’t do it.

    Fixing climate change is not opposed by funding space exploration, exploitation and colonization. A society which can do one, in a non-fascist way, can do both.

    I sometimes wonder if my commenters even read me. Anyone who does knows I am more than aware of the challenges ahead. I was writing about oil 10 years ago, I have written extensively on climate change, I have… blah, blah, blah.

    If you stay on the rock, odds are good you’re going to wipe yourself out, or you’re going to wind up with the totalitarian state to end all states.

    Not a lot of people who even remember what a rich state and a prosperous society look like. They live in a complete scarcity mindset, unable to imagine doing important, big, things.

  69. December 21, 2013

    “Since getting pounds of the rock is important, reducing the cost by 6 or 7 times is an important step: and that is being done by private industry, since people like those in this thread have been systematically helping to make sure NASA isn’t properly funded.”

    Of course cost efficiency is important which is one of the reasons why robots are doing most of the current space exploration and will probably be crucial in any proposed space mining ventures. Yeah sure, people like those here have been systematically helping to make sure NASA isn’t properly funded….lol..that was a dig worthy of Mandos!

    “……Probably because another bunch of people were saying “no point in doing that.””

    Probably not. It’s because of the people who control the resources are making a fortune off the current situation and have no interest in changing their strategies. I suspect most of the people here are probably enthusiastic supporters of conservation, alternative energy and whatnot.

    “Fixing climate change is not opposed by funding space exploration, exploitation and colonization.”

    As far as I can tell, nobody said it was a mutually exclusive situation. In fact there’s probably more space exploration/exploitation going on than fixing of climate change right now though the latter is much more of an immediate and pressing concern.

  70. RayS permalink
    December 22, 2013

    I think it’s the height of hubris to assume that our species is so unique as to be outside the normal process of Life-with-a-capital-L.

    People die. Civilizations die. Species die. Worlds die. Stars die. IMHO, the entire cultural fear of death is immature, whether we’re talking about individuals, countries, civilizations, races, species, or universes.

    And btw: What, pray tell, has the human race ever done to merit immortality?

  71. Ian Welsh permalink*
    December 22, 2013

    Merit? Who thinks that people or races or nations get what they “deserve”?

    We will go extinct eventually. I’d rather it be a lot closer to the heat death of the universe (or whatever else ends it) than in the next few hundred years.

  72. Celsius 233 permalink
    December 22, 2013

    Ian; Merit? Who thinks that people or races or nations get what they “deserve”?
    We will go extinct eventually. I’d rather it be a lot closer to the heat death of the universe (or whatever else ends it) than in the next few hundred years.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Wow! What an awesome comment! Hear, hear!

  73. December 22, 2013

    The “rich society” of the ’60s and ’70s is something of an illusion which most people living through it well knew.

    There was relative material abundance, certainly, at least compared to the trials and struggles ordinary people endured through the entire history of the United States prior to the remarkable era of prosperity after World War II. There was so much abundance that young people could and many did live on the detritus of earlier eras.

    But it came with a price that seems to have been forgotten.

    The Big Projects — space program, interstate highways, urban renewal, and so forth — were initiated in the 1950′s as part of the realization of the Futurist “Wonderful World of Tomorrow” ideals that had been heavily promoted from the turn of the 20th Century through the Great Depression and all during World War II. These Big Projects, in a sense, were the reward to the masses for Victory, and they were all prepped and presaged well in advance of their realization. Of course the masses could have no reward that did not first and foremost benefit the elites.

    And having those rewards required a level of unity and regimentation of thought and action that was rigorously inculcated in the public throughout the period from about 1917 on. Blame Bernays if you want, but much more was going on that mere marketing. It was as thoroughgoing a transformation of American society as had ever been attempted.

    Americans of the period were building and living in a mirror image of the totalitarian systems and societies that were marketed and hot-and-cold-warred against as Our Greatest Enemies In All History (until the advent of the Current Terrorist Enemy).

    That was the essence of the price paid, but there were so many unanticipated consequences from it that Americans were ready to give it all up for the further illusions of the Reagan “liberation” doctrine.

    We live with that legacy now.

  74. December 22, 2013

    Oops. Previous post obviously on the wrong thread… will attempt to repost on the correct one. Sorry, Ian…

  75. Chaz permalink
    December 23, 2013

    And what’s to say we won’t mess is up whichever other rock we get to. I mean if we can’t look after this one then what?

    I do so love the arrogance that is the human being though. We think we are omnipotent and swan around in this righteous indignation and feel obliged to rule the world and each other always looking down on everything.

    Mother nature always has the last laugh… smiles!

  76. Don Carlos permalink
    December 29, 2013

    Manifest Destiny never loses appeal for Liberals.

  77. January 4, 2014

    @Ian: “I sometimes wonder if my commenters even read me.” At times I wonder if the correct observation is not if my writing is read, but whether the readers actually know how to read, as opposed to react. Still, an interesting discussion, ;)

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