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April 23, 2008


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Eclipse Now

I'm with you all the way. I've read Kim Stanley Robinson's trilogy and dreamt of settling Mars most of my life. It was a major part of my online hobby until about 4 years ago.

Then I found out that the world was going to 'start' running out of oil round about now.

I still dream about Mars and space generally, but just wonder how we are going to afford it as the world economy is bankrupted for the next decade or so by peak oil. 3 years ago, after a year of research, I formed a team and we briefed the NSW Government on the coming oil crisis. Oil was still at $60 a barrel then. Those were the days!

How are we going to afford the space program when the US government has wasted a gazzillion dollars in Iraq instead of weaning America off oil by a massive solar-thermal program and train and tram upgrade? There's NO easy alternative to oil. NO alternative satisfies the SERVICE checklist I've developed.

However, I still dream of the moon and Mars. Getting a base on the moon for constructing massive geosync solar sats microwaving power down to the earth might even help peak oil, as I wrote today. But I doubt it... it's all just too expensive. A moon base would probably be economically viable in the long term, especially if space-solar became the main energy source for the world.... but who's going to make that decision? It would require economies of scale so vast that I cannot conceive of one corporation being allowed to run it... it would have to be a united international government effort, and we just don't have that kind of political unity yet.

I hope the final oil crisis compels a grand international vision of a moonbased solar industry, but the most likely outcome is international tension and war.

Rustin Wright

I'm not sweating the viability of the cost of getting out into space. The return on investment we've reliably seen from extending our reach beyond earth's surface has been damned impressive. What will we get from going to the moon and Mars? We don't know yet. Though, at the least, the push it will give to robot design will reap huge dividends.

As for who pays, I don't think that we need to have ONE entity pay for it at all. Looks to me like we're already seeing a rampup to something far more like the settling of the American west, with massive government subsidies supporting tens of thousands of private ventures. Will the scale of corruption be just as grotesque as it was in the settling of the west? Probably. But the work will get done anyway. Many people will probably die. More will be ruined. But it will happen. The questions now are when and how.

I certainly understand your concerns re the SERVICE checklist but I suspect that we'll continue in coming years to see more and more of our productive capacity come on line to deal with this properly while also seeing some pretty painless usage transitions (new forms of lighting, new approaches to refrigeration, swiftly implemented mass transit) that will not only cut way down on per capita energy consumption in developed countries, but are being implemented in parallel with increases in consumption among those populations just now becoming developed. Say what you will about China, when they make a decision about infrastructure, it get DONE and they're getting serious fast about things like photovoltaics.

Pollution terrifies me. Massive increases in prices for trace minerals keeps me up at night. War over water supplies is starting already. But energy? Naw; we'll manage.

Will we see lots of pissing and moaning about people having to change their habits? Yes. Will those habits change anyway? Also yes.

I dunno; I think that my experiences of having seen quite a lot of the more aggressive implementations of more ecologically responsible/less energy dependent means of living in the late seventies makes me more sanguine than most in the ecological community. I watched beautiful houses, stores, etc. being built in the Berkeley Heights, in Rutland, Vermont, in poor neighborhoods of NYC, that worked just fine and were joyful places to be. And then, in the mid and late nineties, I saw what could be done with squats on a tiny budget and was delighted again. I *know* how beautiful, practical, and cheap such ways of living are. And things like my visits to the Urban Ecology Center and Growing Power in Milwaukee a few weeks ago bolster my conclusion that more advanced iterations of such approaches are growing in popularity at an accelerating rate right now, this time with sincere government support. (On the municipal and state level, at least.)

Anyway, this has been a long response. I should probably rewrite it as a blog entry. But, in short, as the son of an environmental scientist, as somebody who *has* done his own prototyping and talked with and looked into a lot of the approaches being done now, I simply don't think that the "peak oil" phenomenon is going to be anything like the steep dropoff in supply and consequential social disaster that it is being made out to be. I strongly suspect that we'll have plenty of algae stacks and lightrail systems and greenroof in place in ten years or so to be addressing things just fine.

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