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Mankind Must Go Into Space

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RPGPundit:
Gentlemen, consider this:  mankind must go into space. And I'm not talking about sending a shuttle to go round and round near orbit. Nor am I talking about building a little station in the same orbit.

No, I'm talking about getting to the moon, getting to mars, getting to asteroid belt and anywhere else we can reach, and exploiting the fuck out of them.
 
And I don't mean in a century or two. I mean NOW.
 
Because in a century or two, it'll be too late, and we won't be able to anymore.
Ever.
 
You see, while I don't believe in a Magic Deer actually directing all our actions, I do recognize the clear and majestic evidence of a Grand Architect.  The world, the universe, is perfectly designed. My own take on this Grand Architect is that it is too perfectly designed for this Architect to have any kind of intelligence in the sense that we know it.  No, the Architect is a force, so totally beyond it that to call it God would be an insult, because we humans imagine god basically as a more powerful version of ourselves. We can't help but imagine that God has likes and dislikes, wants us as individuals to do certain things, and some of us even think God gives a shit who wins the football game or who gets the academy award.  Or who kills who in Iraq.
 
I don't believe that. But I do believe in the clear evidence of a divine architecture, that the world was created just ideally for the life in it, and to give us everything we need to fulfill our role as a species, if we dare to.  And that likewise, the solar system was created with everything we will need at a certain key point, and all we need to do to fulfill our birthright and reach into the stars is to go out and take it.  Its a very majestic symetry.
 
And what exactly is our role by the way? Simple: we are consumers.
 
If you like, you can be more melodramatic and borrow the line from Agent Smith (one of the few truly profound lines in the Matrix films), and say that humanity is a virus.  But to me consumers sounds so much more appropriate.
Wherever we have gone, it has been humanity's one unifying principle that we will exploit our resources to the maximum extent possible within the limits of our capacity to do so. And that we have an aching, intense desire to expand to new territories to exploit those new realms.  If we go into space, which we must, we will likewise go as exploiters, because its our nature.
 
Occasionally it has happened that a particular culture has reached the limits of its expansion.  In that case, it will almost always exploit its resources where it is to the best of its ability.  And woe be it if its ability is very great.  A number of ancient cultures collapsed after devouring their resources to exhaustion.
 
And now, humanity as a whole has gotten really damn good at the exploitation thing. We've tapped into fossil fuels, to create the greatest civilization humanity has ever known.
 
Unfortunately, we have run out of room to expand. And our ability to exploit is indeed very great.  Most people seem to get that we are at a threshold, a chance, in between the possibility of societal collapse or jumping forward into the stars.
What most people don't get is that we, all of us, humankind, have only ONE chance to do this.
 
We get one try, and that's it.   If we fail this one, we're done as a species, or at least as an industrial species. And right now its not looking very good.
 
You see, fossil fuels are a limited resource, and we are gobbling them up at a catastrophic rate.  When they are gone, they are gone forever. And when they are gone, so too goes our civilisation, down the drain with the infrastructure, industry and all the luxuries that are so completely and utterly dependent on oil.

Oil hit $62 a barrel yesterday. Statistically speaking, the breaking point is somewhere between $160-200 a barrel.  That is the price where oil has become too scarce to be able to cost-efficiently support the world infrastructure. Once oil hits that price, civilization falls to pieces, almost overnight, as the global economy will hit the greatest depression in its history caused by financial panic, and most oil related commodities get priced out of the market of any but the most rich among us.
 
What's an oil related commodity? Anything made from oil, anything powered by oil, anything transported by oil.  In short, everything. Absolutely everything.
 
So capitalism as we know it goes away, so does the nation-state shortly thereafter. Without the ability to produce the modern equipment used to grow food, or the shipping we use to transport food, or the fertilizers or pesticides we depend on to insure enough food grows, the world slips into a global famine.  The combination of famine, warfare over the scraps that are left, and finally civil collapse as the insfrastructure breaks down once and for all will lead to the deaths of about five billion people, a disaster of absolutely apocalyptic proportions.
 
But the real kicker is this: once we go down, there's no coming back up.

A lot of people think about the collapse of our modern civilization as a possibility, but there's always the unspoken assumption that after some kind of dark age another, possibly better civilization will rise up and "do things right" this time, even if it takes hundreds or thousands of years.
 
Unfortunately, this isn't the case.  Any new civilization that rose up out of the ashes of the old would need fossil fuels to create their infrastructure, and those fossil fuels wouldn't be there anymore, we'll have used it all up.
 
Any new society after ours would be strictly pre-industrial. The very best they could hope for would be a technology level equivalent to that of the very early 19th century.
 
And, by the way, the estimate is that oil will hit $160 a barrel sometime around 2015, if we continue the current trends.  Those trends might slow down a little, we pretty much have to pray that they do, but one thing is for sure: there will be no PERMANENT backslide in the price of oil.  The price of oil in the long term can ONLY go up. The less oil there is, and the more demand there is for it, the higher the price will get.
 
So is there a solution to all this? What about alternate energy sources?  We really have none. First of all, every one of the alternate energy sources we have depend upon oil-based infrastructure systems to be able to manufacture and deliver the energy. Second, most of them would encounter similar sustainability problems. Solar power would require enough panels to cover most of siberia in order to come even close to meeting the world's energy demands, and its cost-efficiency is such that even then it would not allow a continuation of our lifestyle at the current level.  
 
Ethanol, another also-ran for the energy source race, is based off of corn. To manufacture enough Ethanol to power our current civilization we would need to dedicate 97% of our world's usable land to the growth of non-food corn.  You can see the problem with that. Every piece of land used for growing ethanol-corn is a piece of land that can't be used to grow food for people. Even if we drastically reduced our energy consumption, we'd still need to use at the very least all the arable land in the entire third world, and you can bet that the third world won't go for that.
 
There are alternate energy sources that could work: nuclear and hydrogen power, specifically; except these power sources depend on rare minerals (uranium and platinum) that are already massively scarce.  There isn't enough uranium or platinum on earth for nuclear or hydrogen power to be a viable alternative.

That is why mankind must go out in space on a massive scale and exploit. And we must do it now, while we still can.  We aren't going to find any oil out there (unless Mars had some dinosaurs we didn't know about), but we are going to find platinum, uranium and other great mineral riches that will allow us to switch to alternate energy sources, in a way that we cannot if we are limited to earth's own resources.
 
It is the greatest test we ever face.  It appears that within our solar system we have everything we need to go out and satisfy are necessities. We just need the will to go get it, and we need to do it fast, or its all over for us, forever.
 
The astounding shortsightedness of the oil industry, the current world governments, and the environmentalists too, will lead to our doom. Not just ours like this generation's, not just ours like this civilization's even. Ours like humanity's, forever. We will be a galactic also-ran.

If we don't go out now, into the solar system; if we don't fulfill our racial imperative to go out and expand and exploit and consume, and do it with our divine intelligence, then the very best we can hope for our descendents is a future where people once more travel on horseback and sailing ship, where a flu is fatal, where wood stoves heat a home and wax candles light it, and where our great-grandchildren are told of a time when men were like gods who could fly through the air and touched the moon, and threw it all away.
 
RPGPundit August 2nd 2005

RPGPundit:
May I just point out, also that this is the post that Stephen Hawking later expressed agreement with.

RPGPundit

Balbinus:
Well, the thing is, leaving aside the peak oil stuff there is no god, there is no racial imperative and there is no purpose to existence.  

Accordingly, although I would like us to go into space, and although the peak oil thing may be correct, all this is value neutral.

In the long run entropy will get us all.  Sooner or later we will go extinct and will be forgotten as if we never were.  Peak oil merely predicts it may be much closer than we expected, but the ultimate outcome is unchanged.

Balbinus:
Also, the idea that this universe is perfectly designed is tremendously funny.

Have you read Candide by Voltaire?  I really think you ought.

arminius:
I thought coal would keep us going for a while. In fact I suspect it's one of the US's dirty little secrets that we were going to use up the world's oil (basically trading military hardware for a lot of it) while we could, then switch to coal.

Huh, a little research turns up a claim from the US DOE that the US alone has 25% of the world's coal reserves, and those in turn have a greater energy content than the world's known recoverable oil. In other words, once the oil is gone, the world still has energy equivalent to 400% of the current oil supply left, in the form of coal. Then again if the world's hunger for energy grows fast enough, that may only last us a few years more.

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