Space is the place for industry!

Probably, you have heard something about ‘global warming’, ‘greenhouse gases,’ and some kind of ‘carbon tax’.  These are symptoms of our growing awareness of the fragile nature of our planet’s ecosystem.  Even though ecology is now an accepted discipline, it is a long way from having a complete understanding of all of the things that affect our home.  Most people feel that we should err on the side of caution when it comes to protecting that home, even going so far as buying hybrid automobiles and compact florescent lamps.  Even though the human race’s impact on our climate is still controversial, there can be little doubt that we are not going to be able to expand our industrial base enough to provide everyone on the planet a standard of living equal to that enjoyed in the United States today.

Why?  Because the United States uses nearly one quarter of all the energy consumed every year, yet only has a population of about 300 million people, while there are over six billion fellow human beings riding this spaceship with us.  You can do the math on that.  We already have experienced what happens when energy starts getting really expensive, and all indications are that we ain’t seen nothing yet.  Does this mean that we are doomed to a future of declining standards of living, fewer benefits from technology, and conflict over dwindling resources?

Only if we choose so!  We have an alternative to polluting ourselves into another Stone Age, destroying the life support system of Starship Earth, and poverty from paying for energy.  We are in the midst of plenty, far more than we can conceivably use for many thousands of years.  All around us are mineral and chemical resources, and energy, energy, and more energy.  Where?  Starting about 100 miles over our heads, on the other side of the sky.  Space, which will probably not be the ‘final frontier’, but which will suffice for now.

Our local star, the Sun, produces millions of times the energy we consume worldwide every year, pouring out so much that we have to be shielded from it to avoid turning into puddles of grease.  That is one of the reasons for protecting our ecosystem, because without the ozone layer, tanning would take about 5 seconds.  Most of the plants that we eat would not grow, and strange critters would start showing up, the result of rapid mutations.  Almost all of the energy that we use today comes from or came from the Sun.  Petroleum is sunlight which was captured by plants, and then concentrated by the heat and pressure of the Earth beneath us for millions of years.

Hydro power, the kind that come from the dams that kill the fish, is a result of sunlight heating the oceans, which lifts water far over the land areas, resulting in precipitation.  Wind is a side effect of that process, so even wind power comes primarily from the Sun.  If we were to utilize that energy in space, it would be undiminished by our atmosphere.  And we would not have the by-products and waste here on our home that are a result of every material process, but outside of our ecosystem, where they can’t hurt us, or anybody else, for that matter.

No matter how expensive it is to make things in space, eventually it will be cheaper than making them here on Earth, simply because the penalties for using energy in large quantities will be prohibitive.  And I’m not talking about legal penalties here, but the one’s that Nature imposes upon us.  When we overdo it, Nature has ways of restoring the balance, without any regard for our welfare.  If we disrupt the ecosystem too much, it will cease to support us.

Rather than spending our resources and energy trying to figure out how to do things here on Earth in such a way that they will not have so much impact on the air conditioning, we should be learning how to do them outside, beyond the atmosphere.  Pumping carbon dioxide into the ground will work for a little while, but it is not a final solution.  The final solution is we stop burning stuff here on Earth.  Period. Buying an electric car may seem like a way of protecting the environment, but where does the electricity come from?  For most parts of the U. S., it comes from coal.  Replacing our gas burning cars with electric ones will mean building many, many new coal-fired power plants.

Unless we get the power from outside, and bring it in.  There are ways of collecting the energy of the Sun in space, and then transferring that energy down to the Earth’s surface, safely and cleanly, with much greater efficiency than any feasible collection system working here in the atmosphere.  Converting sunlight to electricity is not easy, unless you have lots of energy to work with.  We can cover vast stretches of the world with solar panels, or we can put a few solar power satellites in orbit, and build a few receiving arrays, and get our power from off-planet.  Most people don’t know this, but the batteries in electric cars wear out after a few years, and solar panels are only good for about 25 years.  So we are looking at making substantially larger investments to stay where we are, if we don’t invest in the future.

The future is off-planet, at least when it comes to energy-intensive, resource-hungry, dirty industrial processes, or producing large quantities of energy.  Our future is off-planet, because that is where the new wealth will be created after a few years.  And there could be something off-planet which will decide our future for us, if we do not have the means to deflect it.  Large rocks, some a mile or more across, are still floating around the Solar System, and running into one of those would make life much more difficult.  It might even kill us, just as one did the dinosaurs.  We can’t even see all the junk that is out there, and we often don’t realize that we are going to have a near-miss until after it happens.

To have a future, one that is certain, one that is brighter than today, one that is worth striving for, means getting off of this rock, and learning to live outside, to work, and to create the things that we need, outside of our ecosystem.  We are fouling our nest right now, threatening the future of our children.  We have a choice, all we have to do is think outside the box.

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