Space is the Cure for Climate Change
by Gary Michael Church
The energy problem cannot be solved on Earth; the energy must come from off-world.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), states immediate action on climate change is required if civilization is to avert disastrous levels of global warming. This problem was foreseen in the 1970’s by the prophet of space colonization, Gerard K. O’Neill. Unfortunately, contemporary neoliberal false prophets promote a different view.
In his book, The High Frontier, O’Neill mentioned the warming of the planet and offers space based solar power as the replacement for fossil fuels and the economic engine enabling migration to space colonies.
The time frame for setting up factories on the Moon is at least a half a century. Once production of orbital solar power stations begin it may take another quarter century before power beamed to antennae fields on Earth completely power the planet. There is also a high probability of beam propulsion being developed in concert with space solar commercial energy. The time frame for beginning migration of the majority of the human race into space is a minimum of a century. Once the exodus begins it would accelerate as more mass produced habitats (Bernal Spheres) become available.
The idea of mass producing miles in diameter hollow spinning moons has an undeserved eye-roll factor as zero gravity and plentiful energy make it far less a challenge than it seems. O’Neill proposed a “mass driver” to shoot lunar material off the surface to Libration Point foundries shaping these immense constructs. Plenty of factory space up there and all the energy you need.
A century from now Earth will have a population of between nine and fifteen billion people. Global warming is predicted to cause food shortages and other calamities that will likely keep the population at a lesser figure. Arguments citing the error of Erlich’s “The Population Bomb” and climate change denial will fill libraries but the demographics are now clear. We are in trouble. The deniers will be cursed and scorned by generations to come as some of the worst criminals in history.
The technology to move tens of billions into space to artificial worlds numbering in the tens of thousands by the next century is not science fiction. There is no miracle alien technology, no unobtainium or wishalloy needed, no handwavium required. The engineering challenges are clear and well understood. The effort presently consumed by military projects and a vast service economy labor pool prove the resources are available.
To lift hundreds of thousands of tons at a time off the surface of the Moon without the benefit of yet-to-be-built solar powered beam propulsion seems a chicken or egg first problem. In reality another technology is readily available in the form of Nuclear Pulse Propulsion (hydrogen bombs). Considering the energy required for 10 billion people to live with a western standard living an international new green deal space civil works project is likely the only solution. It would far more difficult to build solar and wind on Earth without contributing carbon that accelerates climate change in a self-defeating feedback loop. Space energy generated by power stations built with lunar resources would be zero carbon.
While notable celebrities have promoted the idea of humans becoming a multi-planet species there are problems with their various visions for the future. The first glaring deficit is the possibility we might go the way of the dinosaur before we ever get off-world. The originator of a “Space Force” may not be viewed kindly by history, but if the concept includes defending the planet from asteroid and comet impact threats he might be redeemed in one sense. Stanger things have happened.
The most efficient path to effect a force of spaceships capable of intercepting impact threats is by way of lunar resources. The work of the late Dr. Paul Spudis detailed the ice at the lunar poles as the critical key to revolutionizing space exploration. Water as cosmic ray shielding enables a “Parker-Dyson-Spudis Continuum” -recognizing the work of Eugene Parker and Freeman Dyson on shielding space travelers and nuclear space propulsion.
The logical progression is the Moon first using Super Heavy Lift Vehicles with their upper stages utilized as wet workshops. By using double-hulled “fat” stages attached to each other with tethers, the outer hulls filled with lunar water, a near sea level radiation one gravity environment is available. They can transit back across the cislunar sea to GEO to be used as commercial platforms or mate with nuclear modules and depart from Low Lunar Orbit as true spaceships.
To remove all nuclear weapons from Earth (into deep space), to power the planet with close to zero carbon emissions, to eventually reduce the world population to pre-industrial numbers; all this is possible, and likely necessary, if our species is to survive. At the same time the superpower nuclear arsenals are removed to deep space, the building of tremendous lunar factories, and generating more space solar energy than all the power plants on Earth combined (and making a “Nuclear Moon” the new home of the nuclear industry).
Space can realize the dreams of many disparate groups in one combined initiative. Space is the solution to the most serious problems facing humankind- and much more not described in this short commentary. We have the technology and the resources. We need only choose to go.
Gary Church, who writes frequently about space travel, has published a magazine article entitled “Water and Bombs” promoting Nuclear Pulse Propulsion. He blogs at Ice on the Moon.