Creating A Solar Civilization
Creating A Solar Civilization
We are now on the cusp of a choice: whether to expand
beyond the Earthly nest to become star~farers, or
risk being trapped on this planet as terrestrial
catastrophes undermine our future hopes.
Our lonely planet floats in the velvet night of space like a rare oasis, where life thrives and the human species has emerged to look out among the stars and wonder. Though the Earth is a relatively safe place for life, this is a deceptive mask that hides a much darker reality. We know better now than to pretend that we are safe in our Earthly nest from natural disasters and extinction level events.
In 2006 Stephen Hawking, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, father, grandfather and best-selling author of A Brief History of Time, called on humanity to look to a future in space. While on a lecture tour in Hong Kong with his daughter Lucy, Professor Hawking warned that we must reach for the stars in order to survive, citing dangers such as sudden global warming, nuclear war and a genetically engineered virus potentially threatening the future of humanity on Earth.
The human race has rocketed from the Stone Age to the space age in a dizzyingly short period of time, from chasing mammoths over cliffs to tourism in the International Space Station. The human appetite for adventure and exploration in space could prove to be well founded, in the light of the innumerable giant asteroids that fly around the Solar System and come crashing through the atmosphere from time to time to strike our planet. The last mountain-sized rock to visit Earth 65 million years ago abruptly ended the reign of the dinosaurs. Unfortunately for them, they had failed to develop a space program, leaving only a legacy of fossilised bones. In the face of cosmic dangers and Earthly threats, we may need to give greater thought to our future survival. Should a killer asteroid strike a hammer-blow to the Earth and knock our species off the evolutionary tree, we too may leave naught but a legacy of fossilised bones for our troubles.
A Danger to Ourselves
We now possess the technology to expand into the Solar System, a move that would increase the survival prospects of our species, but will the present window for space remain open? Many civilizations have risen through history to challenge infinity, only to topple down again, leaving naught but ruins for archaeologists to ponder upon. Though our present global civilization appears invincible, our growing population and hungry technology are stressing the planet’s ecology and should there be too much critical environmental damage, our civilization could also be at risk. Jared Diamond has explored this question in great detail in his book Collapse, in which he warns that our global civilization could be at risk for the same historic reasons. Should one key nation in the global economy undergo collapse, this could begin a knock-on effect, like a row of dominos and bring our whole house of cards economy tumbling down in a heap.
As the World’s societies and economies are now globally interlinked, the impact of a collapse would also be global. Should economic decline lead to the loss of our present technological edge for space, there is no promise written in the stars that our species would again be able to build a space program. The plight of the survivors of such a collapse would be terrible, knowing that they could have been star-farers, but became prisoners on a rock in space. Their fate would make a mockery of all our present industrious efforts to build this amazing civilization, which we are so proud of and think could never end. If our window of opportunity to expand into space should prove to be narrow, then inaction now would threaten the future survival of our species. Until we establish a sustainable human presence beyond Earth and begin to open the way to the stars, we are at the mercy of a rather dangerous and unpredictable old Universe, just like the dinosaurs.
Toward a Solar Economy
One daunting challenge along the road to successfully establishing a human presence beyond Earth, is the extremely high level of expense involved with space development. If, however, expanding into space helps to ensure our survival, our success would be an insurance policy that we may not be able to afford to live on Earth without. Our star is absolutely and extravagantly wasteful with energy, throwing out huge volumes in every direction. The Earth has captured a mere micro percentage of this energy, which has been the fuel for life and the natural production of all fossil fuels.
Our Solar System is also highly abundant in raw materials among the asteroids and planets and once we access the unlimited energy-well of our star directly in space, there will be no lack of energy for industry above Earth and across the Solar System.
When industry has been established in space, a stage in development would eventually be reached where there would no longer be any need for further supplies from the Earth. Once the Solar economy achieves a sustainable presence beyond Earth, it would press on to far outgrow the economy of the Earth. I describe a sustainable presence beyond Earth, from where there would be no danger or risk of human society in space failing and falling back to Earth, as the Solar Economy Liberty Line. Once the principle of the Liberty Line is accepted, then the most logical plan would be to aim to secure this level of Solar development, so that humanity is no longer dependent on the Earth. This will allow our civilization to grow and at the same time permit the Solar society to plan for a much gentler approach with our presence on Earth. Then life can begin to recover from the centuries of human industrial endeavour, allowing evolution to continue its amazing pageant and produce an endless number of new species of life.
In this future we can look toward designing a Solar economy and society that simply bans poverty and demands that all children have a healthy and creative life in an excellent environment. A focus on Earth alone can never hope to deliver this basic vision, because the Earth is unable to meet all our needs, let alone our desires. We now need 2 Earths to keep our game going and this is predicted to grow to 3 Earths by 2030 and 4 Earths by 2050 (World Wildlife Fund report). Our demands on the planet are steadily bleeding the Earth dry and the blood of life is flowing increasingly fast out of Nature. Geologists are now seeking to give our era a new name, because so many species of life are going extinct in what is now being described as the sixth great extinction event in the history of planet Earth; and the process has only just begun.
We cannot turn the clock back to the Middle Ages on Earth and any attempt to do so may simply bring on catastrophe with the deaths of many billions of people, if not wars that go nuclear. Rather than marching off into another Dark Age, in which we may all perish in a nuclear winter, we can consider the prospect of a Golden Age that includes the whole Solar System. Our challenge, then, becomes a much simpler task of connecting the need for a space survival insurance policy with the amazing Solar economy that is waiting to be realised.
There would be many immediate spin-off benefits from the massive effort required to expand human industry into space, including the employment created, technological advances, new discoveries, cultural opportunities, new vistas for the arts and the construction of vast astronomical instruments to search the stars for life. Most manufacturing in the future could be located in space, where automated factories would produce any desired product. As the Earth is located at the bottom of a gravity well, there would be little expense involved in delivering products from space to Earth and beyond the Liberty Line, there will be no cost at all.
Another benefit of expanding human society into space could be the complete sidestepping of a tragic collapse of our global civilization, which may otherwise be just around the corner. Failure to undertake maximum effort to expand into the Solar System could result in the total loss of all that we have gained and that would be an exceptionally high price to pay for inaction. The investment involved in extending our society and economy into the Solar System would generate fabulous wealth, the like of which has never been seen before in human history. If we direct our progress wisely, we could also create a new society in space and on Earth, which is fully inclusive and turns poverty and starvation into spectres of the past only found in history texts and museums of the dark age of indecision when we nearly lost the lot.
Cities and islands in Space
Until very recently, planning was underway in the United States to return to the Moon and establish a lunar base for scientific and industrial research, but as a location for permanent human settlement, the Moon presents a number of difficulties. The gravity of the Moon is only one sixth that of Earth and a long-term lunar resident would develop lighter bones and weaker muscles, making a visit to Earth for a day at the beach by lunar denizens a hazard to their health. Scientists working at the Moon base would need to regularly return to Earth to maintain their Earth-gravity fitness, or spend many hours each week in an exercise program. Also, the Moon’s 672 hour-long night would limit access to solar energy from the Sun for two weeks at a time, though this may be overcome by a girdle of solar energy collectors around the Moon, providing a continuous supply of free energy for bases on the surface and deep underground. Using the same mining techniques on the Moon that are used on Earth, it would be possible to tunnel six times deeper or more into the Moon than on Earth, because of the lighter gravity, opening the way for a vast sub-lunar network of activity.
Mars offers more hope for human settlement, but the red planet is far from ideal, with its gravity just over a third that of Earth. The same problem arises as described with the Moon’s lighter gravity, where any future Martians would also develop lighter bones and weaker muscles, turning a holiday on Earth to climb Mt Everest into a serious health risk. This situation would be comparable to a resident of Earth attempting to visit a planet with a gravity that is three times that of Earth, making them think thrice before stepping into such a heavy gravity environment, where any part that sags, would sag a whole lot more and the heart would struggle to pump blood to the brain from where it pools in the ankles.
Regularly returning to Earth to maintain Earth-gravity fitness would hardly be an option, with Mars being so far away and at times on the far side of the Sun. There may also be a political powder keg waiting to explode, if the prospect of raising children on Mars looks like it will happen. With their lighter bones and weaker muscles that will have adapted to the Martian gravity, Mars kids would be taller and they could be seen as freaks. Raising children on Mars could lead to the birth of a new human sub-species. This may ignite a monster human rights debate, with people outraged at the thought of using children as human experiments, even drawing comparisons with the NAZI experiments on humans during World War Two.
The gravity on Venus is only slightly less than Earth, so it would feel the same as walking on Earth, but with a surface temperature that can melt lead and gale-force winds howling through the planet’s poisonous atmosphere, there is hardly a welcome mat out for human settlement. We could design machines and robots that could survive on the surface, undertaking research, development and mining, but a remote camera may be the only safe way to visit our sister planet. In time we may tame the violence of Venus and turn the planet of passion into a pleasant land, but that may be in the far distant future.
One option for human settlements in space that overcomes zero gravity and less than Earth-gravity problems, is the construction of orbital space settlements in the form of a wheel, also called a torus, where Earth-gravity is generated on the inside of the wheel by rotation, called centrifugal force. People would be able to walk around the inside surface as if they were on Earth. If you have seen the space station in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, you will have an impression of what an orbital space settlement would be like, though they would be much larger and offer far wider open spaces.
In the 1970s Professor Gerard K O’Neill of Princeton proposed that we build very large orbital space settlements in the form of a drum and much research has been undertaken into these designs since then, including studies by NASA. O’Neill proposed that his space settlements provide residents with an Earth gravity, for exactly the same reasons described above. In his 1920 book Beyond the Planet Earth, the Russian writer and space visionary Konstantin Tsiolkovsky also suggests that human settlement in space needs to be in orbital settlements generating an Earth gravity (The High Frontier p.59).
Orbital space settlements scattered around the Solar System could in time offer living space for a population much larger than that of Earth and also overcome the less than Earth-gravity problem of Mars and the Moon, by providing the best of both worlds. Earth-gravity space settlements located above Mars would allow humans beyond Earth to maintain their Earth-gravity fitness, commuting to the surface of the red planet to pursue projects, or accessing projects via robots and remote control systems.
With all human settlements in the Solar System maintaining an Earth-gravity standard, there would be an easy flow of travel between human communities around the Solar System, as well as to Earth, without fear of broken bones or strained heart muscles due to gravity differences. The health concerns for anyone living in the lesser gravity of Mars, who would like to visit Earth, may also make travel insurance totally unobtainable and therefore restrict Mars-gravity denizens to a Mars gravity environment. Earth-gravity orbital space settlements would offer Solar citizens the freedom of the Solar System. In time this liberty can extend to human settlements around other stars, which may become very relevant if a swift way is found to travel across the oceans of space. Star systems for human settlement would not need to possess Earth-like planets, just stellar energy and raw materials to build cities and islands in space.
Building orbital space settlements will be the result of serious space development, as part of a Solar economy that wins the Liberty Line and secures a sustainable presence in the Solar System. Beyond the Liberty Line, any number of space settlements can be built, at no cost to Earth. This future will not be achieved by small bootstrap space budgets. Serious space development that will deliver the whole bounty that the Solar economy has to offer the Solar society, requires the whole boot to make a giant leap to the Liberty Line and win the freedom of the stars.
Beyond the Liberty Line, automated production in space could produce any number of orbital space settlements, with no cost to Earth. Physically, it would be possible to build lifeboats in space where the human population of Earth could take shelter in the event of a major catastrophe, such as the arrival of a monster asteroid, even a planet from deep space, which is too large to turn aside or mine into oblivion. Like the mythical story of Noah, selections of the animal populations may also be given shelter in these celestial arks, until the Earth is safe to return to.
Much research is currently underway, both in the International Space Station as well as around the world, into a range of food crops that can be grown in space, including wheat, sweet potato, peanut, soybean, pinto bean, winter squash, beetroot, papaya and bananas. In time all the produce that can be grown on Earth may be harvested in the celestial fields that we build. With the potentially unlimited manufacture of built environments in space, Solar agriculture would also be vast and able to meet all human needs. The skills developed by growing food for space settlements could also be put to work on Earth, perhaps in the not so distant future, to begin eliminating starvation and poverty from our home planet.
Security in Space
In 2006 Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institute warned that the equivalent of a car bomb in space could take the economy back to the 1950s. “We are in an unusually good moment for the US in space, and it won’t last. It can’t last.” (New Scientist 23 June 2006). In early 2007 China successfully blew up one of its own satellites, increasing the volume of space junk above Earth, but also giving a clear message about China’s ability to strike any target in space.
Human settlements in space would be fragile bubbles in a vacuum and highly vulnerable targets in a conflict or terrorist attack. Space is already dangerous enough with the need to design for solar radiation, cosmic rays, meteoroids and asteroids speeding through the Solar System, without having to add human threats to the mix. In the current environment it would be necessary to include the full range of security precautions in space developments as are now filling airports around the World, but there is also another and long-term solution to this problem that could be considered.
In 1967 the nations of Earth signed The treaty on principles governing the activities of states in the exploration and peaceful uses of outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies. When the Apollo astronauts went to the Moon in 1969, they left a plaque behind declaring, “We came in peace for all mankind.” Their spaceship, Eagle, landed on the Sea of Tranquility and the site of the Moon landing is called Tranquility Base. Human hostility has not yet exploded from the Earth to infect the celestial realm and it may be hoped that this will never happen, but wishing alone will not make it so. We now have an opportunity at our fingertips to lay the foundation of a whole new society in the Solar System, building on peace and cooperation, just as the International Space Station has brought many nations together. This same spirit of cooperative exploration could extend to a future Moon base and the first human expedition to Mars. The chief of NASA in 2006, Michael Griffin, invited the space agencies of Russia, Europe, Japan and Britain to participate in the United States proposed Moon base, as well as the Mission to Mars (New Scientist 19 July 2006).
Once human settlement and development expands into the Solar System, all the problems of Earth may soon follow, including conflict and terrorism. The only way to stop this happening would be to tackle the problem at its source. It may be more effective, in the long-term, to ensure security in space by working toward peace on Earth. Achieving such peace may only happen by making social and economic changes that allow the Human family to become a fully inclusive society. As we strive to ensure our survival by extending the human adventure into the Solar System and toward the stars, we can also start to view all the children of the Earth as members of the same Human family and just like a family, take a proactive interest in their welfare. Because of limited resources and fierce competition for them, on Earth alone this simple view may never be possible, but with a view to the Liberty Line and the Solar economy that can be created, this vision for peace on Earth would be within reach.
The alternative could be to witness conflict and or terrorism in space that would cause a great deal of harm to the space program and potentially strike a fatal blow to the effort, locking the celestial gates. Our choice now is to consider how we can create an economy that serves the needs of all members of the Human family, leaving none in poverty or to starve. If we neglect this challenge, the alternative could be an inevitable gold rush by nations and corporations to lay claim to the wealth of the Solar System. Unfortunately, with no alternative vision for our future in space, the result will predictably be the perpetuation of the conditions that create starvation, poverty, conflict, war and terrorism on Earth. Extending the old ways of Earth into the Solar System may simply serve to end our dreams for a future beyond Earth. We now have a golden opportunity to write a new chapter in the human saga, one that is completely different to the blood-soaked pages of human history.
All children have parents and a vision for space that will offer health and happiness for their children, can hope to generate goodwill on Earth, which will lead to a more peaceful world and maximize security in space, by reducing and even eliminating the causes of conflict and terrorism. Gerard K. O’Neill calculated that the asteroid belt alone could provide enough raw material to build orbital space settlements with the equivalent land area of 3,000 Earths (The High Frontier p.16). There is an equal volume of raw material located in the orbital La Grange points of Jupiter. Where conflicts on Earth are driven by territory, whether Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, China’s desire to own Tibet and take over Taiwan, or Indonesia’s occupation of Papuan west New Guinea, the prospect of much vaster territories across the Solar System may serve to release the pressure-cooker demands for land on Earth. With predicted sea level rise swamping island and coastal nations around the World, the demand for land to relocate drowning communities will increase many-fold.
Nature’s Drive for Expansion
Many have written on the giant statues of Easter Island, including Jared Diamond in his 2006 book Collapse, seeking to understand what happened with the Polynesian population of a few thousand people on this small isolated island in the vast South Pacific Ocean. The Easter Islanders developed a civilization with a growth industry in statue building, where the statues became steadily larger over the years and the largest of all were left lying unfinished in the quarries, when their house of cards came tumbling down around them.
The Easter Island civilization was so focused on honing the skills involved in carving, moving and erecting their giant statues, that they were blinded to the needs of their environment. When all the trees were cut down, the degradation of their island led to the collapse of their hard-won civilization in an orgy of civil war and cannibalism, with the survivors pushing over and breaking many of the great statues. When a Dutch trader discovered Easter Island in 1722, a diminished people were found struggling to survive. The explorers were amazed at the sight of the great statues, wondering who could have made them. Is the fate of Easter Island a warning for the modern world? Why were the Easter Islanders so blind to the need to care for the environment, which they depended on for their survival and prosperity?
Unfortunately, the pattern of behaviour on Easter Island has been repeated many times through history, where civilizations have risen up, built mighty works, but were blind to the needs of their environment. Jared Diamond cites similar examples with the Maya and the Anasazi, but there are many more. We can wonder if the situation is being repeated in the modern world, where a growing and demanding human population is causing immense damage to the global environment. It may be wondered why human societies keep repeating this same pattern. One possible explanation could be found in the natural laws of the Universe.
When our cosmos began in an explosive birth called the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago, all the laws that would determine the unfolding of events in the baby cosmos were in full working order, causing matter to form, stars to ignite and shine, planets to exist, life to evolve and at least one conscious species to emerge and wonder about it all. Where did the laws come from? Cosmologists now suggest that the Universe is located in a super-cosmic environment that they describe as the multiverse and that our universe is one of an infinite number of other universes. By logical deduction, the laws of our Universe must originate in a situation that transcends our cosmic home. Though particular outcomes are not pre-determined, we live in an Earthly nest where patterns are being played out, patterns driven by natural law that originates in the transcendent realm of the multiverse.
When James Lovelock was working on the Viking missions in search of life on Mars in the 1970s, he came to realise that life doesn’t fit into existing environments, but actually shapes the environment to improve the situation for life. In his Gaia theory he states, “This postulates that the physical and chemical condition of the Earth, of the atmosphere, and of the oceans has been and is actively made fit and comfortable for the presence of life itself.” (Gaia p.152). The Earth began as a poisonous and hostile planet, but through the functions of life has been made into a pleasant and comfortable place to live. Natural law, working through life, has kept a balance through time, so that no species oversteps their bounds to endanger others. The balance can be devastated by an asteroid’s arrival, as when the dinosaurs received their departure ticket, but life resurged in greater diversity than before and opened the way for the arrival of a conscious species of mammal to run the gauntlet of survival. Where natural law, through means such as instinct governs the natural world, it must be wondered why the human species is not subject to the same rules as other animals. As our species became conscious, we appear to have been liberated from the long-standing control mechanisms that govern all other species of life. Or have we?
Though we have a strong sense of liberty to do as we please, is natural law still actively working through human society and creating outcomes that we can observe in the world? The working of natural law is not a conscious process, but is an outflow of patterns that create diverse outcomes. All that we observe in the Universe and experience in life is the working of the patterns of Nature driven by natural laws. Some aspects of life are cooperative, as James Lovelock observed and describes in his Gaia theory. Other aspects are more competitive, as revealed by Charles Darwin in his theory of evolution. It is through the competitive survival of the fittest that new species emerge and are refined, but the competition cannot happen without the ground of life’s cooperative processes being in place. The same outflow of patterns that used early life forms on Earth to transform a poisonous planet into a pleasant place to live, would also have wired into it the potential for consciousness to emerge. Life confined to a planet, however, would be at risk of extinction, as when our star becomes a red giant and expands to the orbit of the Earth over the next 5 billion years.
How would natural law change the patterns that govern life to enable the spread of the seeds of Nature beyond a planet and maximise the chances for life’s survival in the cosmos? Life has filled the Earth to the brim of the atmosphere and if it could by itself, would expand into the Solar System, so that we would see strange life forms floating in space, soaking in energy from the Sun and feasting on incoming comets. We do not see life beyond Earth, but does this mean that the drive for life’s expansion ends at the brim of the atmosphere?
We can then wonder why a conscious tool-maker appears on the scene that is able to build the means to take life beyond Earth. The tool-maker appears to be freed of the bonds of instinct, enabling different behaviours that are all too frequently damaging to Nature, but does this mean that a deeper drive of natural law is not at work? If Nature’s drive for expansion includes expansion beyond Earth and the only way that this can happen is for a conscious tool-maker to emerge from Nature that can build the means, then we may need to consider the role of the tool-maker in a larger scheme of Nature that includes the expansion of life beyond Earth.
If the whole force of Nature from the beginning of time and through the evolution of life has been to deliver this moment when a conscious tool-maker could build the means for the expansion of life from a planet into the cosmos, then to resist this primal drive of Nature would be akin to fighting Nature and the whole momentum of the cosmos toward ever greater levels of diversity. The price of losing a fight with Nature may be greater than we would like to imagine. We were in a prime position to begin the expansion beyond Earth in the 1970s, by building solar power stations in space and launching industry beyond Earth, but we chose to focus on burning fossil fuels and fighting wars. We have burnt so much fossil fuel that now we are warned that we may trigger a runaway greenhouse effect which could result in a dead Earth, which James Hansen describes as the Venus syndrome (Storms of My Grandchildren p.223). If the Earth was ready to give birth to life into the cosmos, the naturally sequestered fossil fuel may be described as a birth booster, but we used the birth booster too long in clinging to the Earthly nest and now the Earth is dying, at risk of stillbirth, which could end in the death of both mother and child. Radical surgery is now called for, to free the child of life from the womb of the Earth and run with Nature’s expansion into the cosmos.
When we observe civilizations building great works, we may actually be seeing the working of the patterns that could in time lead to the building of the means to take life beyond Earth, as with the Egyptian pyramids, the mediaeval cathedrals, the skyscrapers of the modern era and also with the statues of Easter Island. In effect, the Easter Islanders may have been gripped by a pattern of natural law that was for them an evolutionary dead-end and highly destructive for their society, as they could never build spaceships. Jared Diamond points out how Europeans in the 1500s woke up to their destructive behaviours toward the environment and changed their ways, as did the Japanese in the 1600s, replanting their rapidly disappearing forests and in so doing avoided much environmental degradation that would have undermined their chances for survival and future prosperity (Collapse p.294). This illustrates that human society is not always held hostage to the working of natural law and if the Easter Islanders had awakened to their plight, they could also have acted to create an entirely different future for themselves, by preserving their forests and natural environment. Ultimately, the prosperity of a lands economy depends on the health of its ecology.
If these simple observations prove to be correct, it can be wondered if the Universe is offering us a clear message for our survival and future progress. To ensure life’s survival and the future of our species, we may need to awaken to the need to fly from the Earthly nest and expand into space. To ensure our survival in space we may need to raise our awareness of how we relate to all members of the Human family. By raising our awareness we can achieve peace on Earth and change from a juvenile stage of development where the emphasis is on growth, to become a mature and conscious being, with a level of awareness much better suited to survive in space and to roam among the stars. Part of the process of this level of human evolution, it would appear, is the need to make a conscious choice, individually and collectively. The Universe is a harsh mistress and we may swim against the currents of natural law at our peril. Clinging to juvenile behaviour and failing to shift our conscious outlook to one of mature awareness as a star-faring civilization could, unfortunately, result in an evolutionary dead-end for our species.
If the whole momentum of Nature is toward expansion beyond Earth, then we may wonder if our current strife is purely a lazy chick syndrome, with our refusal to learn to fly from the Earthly nest and gain the liberty of the stars. We missed our first opportunity for expansion beyond Earth in the 1970s. Will we blow our second chance, now that we can see the consequences of clinging to the Earthly nest too long?
Solving the Carbon Crisis
In his 1977 book The High Frontier, Gerard K O’Neill poignantly commented on solar power stations in space, “If this development comes to pass, we will find ourselves here on Earth with a clean energy source, and we will further improve our environment by saving, each year, over a billion tons of fossil fuels,” (p.162). O’Neill suggested that oil and coal should be preserved for more valuable uses, such as plastics and fabrics (p.56). Unfortunately, the world was not interested in this alternative pathway into the future. When faced with a fork in the road for human progress, humanity turned away from the high frontier and chose the low road into the carbon sludge. As a consequence, so much carbon has been released into the air as carbon dioxide (CO2), it is now presenting a dire risk to life on Earth and potentially, human survival. CO2 in the atmosphere has now reached 391.8 parts per million (ppm), compared to the pre-industrial level of 278ppm and 180ppm during the last Ice Age. The current level of CO2 is set to skyrocket due to human emissions and release from natural deposits in permafrost in a fast warming Arctic region and many other sources. This will have a tragic impact on our planet’s biodiversity, as evolution cannot produce new species of life fast enough to replace those that are already being sent swiftly into extinction due to human activity.
There is a simple solution to the carbon crisis, if we are ready to get back to the future and begin the transition from our current house of cards carbon economy to a solar powered society that could last as long as the Sun shines. It is possible to crack carbon from CO2, but this takes a lot of energy. We have an unlimited energy-well with our star and by building solar power stations in space and beaming this energy to Earth, we would be able to remove excess carbon from the air and sea, which may even prove profitable, if the carbon can be used as a resource. This could be the safest and most efficient way to win back a safe Earth.
A Safe Earth
By building solar power stations in space, we will also be able to launch industry beyond Earth and look toward constructing orbital space settlements. With much of Earth’s industry relocated into space, the industrial pressure on our planet’s environment will be greatly reduced. It will then be possible for humanity to step more gently on the Earth. Rather than guzzling fossil carbon fuel and poisoning the planet, transport systems could be totally electric, powered with solar energy. Fleets of airships able to reach any location on Earth could replace jet planes and cargo ships. People may travel more than ever in this future, but at a slower pace. Even space travel may be leisurely, with airships transporting spaceships high into the atmosphere for the journey beyond Earth, where they could be launched into space. Large floating islands in the upper atmosphere could also be built as a spaceport.
In the long-term and with much of Earth’s heavy industry located in space, Earth based solar power generation may prove adequate to meet the energy needs of our planet. Bringing power from solar power stations in space may prove to be a temporary measure to meet the carbon crisis emergency. Though the main method proposed to bring power from space to Earth is by a microwave or laser beam, there may be other ways that can be used. If the beam were received at a high altitude floating island, a power cable could be run to Earth, with the weight of the cable reduced along its length by the use of buoys, like small airships. It would even be possible to run a cable all the way into space, with the weight of the cable being reduced by the use of air jets along its length. This may seem like an extravagant use of energy, but when the detail is considered that our star is an unlimited energy-well that we can draw on, then such a suggestion could be entirely realistic.
There have been many proposals to build an elevator from Earth into space, but the problem is always to design and make a cable that will not snap under its own weight. After all, it would be a very long cable. In the light of the suggestion to reduce the weight of a cable with air jets along its length, an elevator into space may become a reality sooner than later. The journey from Earth to space could begin by airship, rising to a high altitude floating island, which I call a sky island and then continue by a space elevator or spaceship to low Earth orbit. From low Earth orbit the journey could continue to the Moon and orbital space settlements by shuttlecraft.
One nagging fear with a space elevator would be that the cable would snap and it will come crashing down to Earth like Jack’s beanstalk. Who would want to be under such a monster when it fell? With the weight of a cable supported by buoys in the atmosphere and air jets in space, the fear of the cable snapping would be reduced, but never fully removed.
In the world at present we have come to embrace competition as the primary way to run business enterprises in the bear-pit of the survival of the fittest. This way of life focuses on the individual’s competitive abilities to be a winner. Is this the best way to run a world? The exceptionally high levels of poverty and starvation that now exist around the planet, even in the midst of wealthy nations, is not a good look or necessarily a sign that the ferocity of competition delivers the best outcomes for all members of the Human family.
As we look to the design of the Solar economy and shape of the Solar society in the light of the Liberty Line, we can consider quite a different approach to our values. To dedicate our actions to delivering a healthy and creative life for all Earth’s children is to seek a level of honesty in human behaviour that has not been possible in competitive environments to date, where the winner takes all. Our care for all children will also open our hearts to a higher level of love, as we work toward realizing our vision. If we accept that this level of honest compassion is essential to achieve the peace on Earth that will build the goodwill among people that translates into security in space and keeps the celestial gates open for space development, then we have the basics of celestial values that can guide the conduct of all who are keen on human survival in a cosmic context.
As we aim for the stars, we can also practice the arts of fearless compassion on Earth as a necessity, not an option. If this is the way to the stars, then people will be needed who also share the celestial values of honesty and love for all life. Only when our love is strong will we fight like a parent who must save their child and reveal strength that they never imagined was theirs. One person may have an idea and ten people may share a vision, but ten million people will be needed to inspire a new way in the world that will save the Earth and open the way to the stars.
Imagine a future where the vision for peace on Earth and in space is succeeding, where our Solar economy is being built on a foundation of compassion that allows all to participate and where our love for the Earth translates into the care that heals the damage that the industrial era has caused to our planet. While there is homelessness in wealthy nations, starvation in poor countries and escalating environmental damage around the planet, there is much work to be done toward achieving peace on Earth. As individuals acknowledge their role in creating a better world and take responsibility for the future, the world will begin to change.
Each participant in the vision for a Solar civilization would need to see the connection between ending poverty on Earth and delivering security in space and as they work to build the bridge from Earth into space, they would also work for a better world for all Earth’s children. In this way development, conservation and human welfare will merge in the hands of people who see the connection between survival and star-faring. In essence, none can be left behind, if we wish to deliver security in space. Without a vision for peace on Earth, we may find that the celestial gates will simply be locked against us, as conflict and or terrorism undermine progress beyond Earth. Security fears may even force a lock-down, when the threat is too great, leaving humanity trapped on Earth. The key to the celestial gates may simply be the dedication to peace on Earth.
In May 2006 the Voyager spacecraft left the outermost layer of the heliosphere surrounding the Sun to enter interstellar space, 9 billion miles from Earth. Launched on their tour of the planets in 1977, Voyagers 1 and 2 should not be the last craft from Sol to head out to the stars. Of the many propulsion systems now available to send an explorer to the stars, one method could prove highly effective.
In 1986 Robert L Forward proposed using solar sails for stellar exploration. The sails would be large, light in weight and driven to a high velocity by a powerful laser beam. As the robot explorers would be tiny and filled with nanomachines, the journey could take decades rather than centuries. This is such a simple concept, that its application may in time be inevitable for the first wave of stellar exploration. Once the Solar economy had expanded beyond the Liberty Line, there would be no cost to Earth for a stellar exploration program. There could potentially be an unlimited number of stellar explorers, mass-produced in automated factories and sent out from Sol to explore distant star systems.
Because of their high velocity, the first stellar explorers may be limited to fly-by missions, but would return the most amazing amount of information to Earth on alien star systems. As the robot explorers head away from Sol in every direction, they would also serve as a giant and expanding eye for astronomers to gaze ever deeper into the cosmos, especially in the search for planets with life and extraterrestrial civilizations. When a way is found to reduce the velocity of the robot explorers arriving at their destination, it will be possible to design craft that would contain a host of tiny machines that could, once making rock-fall, set their machines to work using local raw material and stellar energy to build larger machines and construct a communications station to send an endless stream of information back to Sol about the new star system. The machines would also be able to make copies of themselves and construct their own automated factories, building robot explorers to send out around the new star system and return all this knowledge to Sol. In this future, the Universe will become a much smaller place, with only time dividing Sol and the distant stars.
One potential method to slow the velocity of a stellar explorer with a solar sail, would be to design the material of the sail to be a solar energy collector, with the energy running down the rigging to the probe, where it can be stored and used. As our stellar probe approaches a star system, it could swing around so that it heads toward the star with the sail working like a parachute. If a laser can be included in the design of the probe, then the energy collected from the new star could be used to direct a laser beam to the sail to further slow the probe. The double effect of the stars solar wind and the onboard laser could be enough to slow the velocity of our stellar explorer, so that a suitable rock could be found to land on and begin the construction of an interstellar communications base and local exploration craft.
A Stellar Web
Once the stellar explorers from Sol can build automated factories in alien star systems, then our stellar robot outpost could mass-produce their own stellar explorers to send on to other stars by solar sail, a process that could continue from star to star, with the numbers of Sol star stations growing in the hundreds and thousands and eventually, into the millions. Each star station could be in communication with each other, as well as with Sol, creating a great communications web among the stars, sending back observations and discoveries, as well as serving as early warning stations for any dangers that may lie out there in the stellar deeps. With the computing capacity of each star station, powered by the local star, the most complex problems could be put to the stars to ponder upon and reply. It is quite amazing to consider that human civilization could expand among the stars, creating a web of communication, using simple advances on our current level of technology, all in the blink of a cosmic eye.
Once this method of stellar exploration had begun, it would be self-sustaining, with the stellar web from Sol spreading among the stars at the speed of a solar sail. If genetic information could be included with each stellar explorer, then they would also become star seeds, spreading life from Sol into the cosmos.
By current rules of physics our stellar communication would be confined to the speed of light, with years and decades stretching out between question and answer, though information could flow continuously. Should a quality of quantum mechanics, such as quantum entanglement, allow instant communication between the stars, then our challenge will simply be to reach the stars to create a vast computer network that grows in power each moment a new star is brought on-line.
How many stars could our stellar robot explorers reach? Considering that beyond the Liberty Line there would be no cost to Earth with the program and that beyond Sol the robot explorers would be on their own and literally self-sufficient, a very basic calculation reveals a rather startling sum. If we were to send 100 swarms of stellar explorers to 100 star systems, the first wave of stellar bases would see 100 stars drawn into Sol’s stellar web. In the second wave, if each stellar outpost dispatched 100 swarms of stellar explorers to 100 stars, the Sol web would number 10,000 stars. A third such wave would draw one million stars into the Sol web and a fourth wave would reach 100 million stars. The fifth wave would have the potential to reach ten billion stars and it may be imagined that we will have already started sending galactic explorers beyond our Milky Way galaxy.
Should we discover a fast way of traveling through space, manned missions will kick the alien dust and establish branches of the Human family among the stars. If it turns out, however, that it will take centuries, or even millennia to travel to the stars, would we still go? Human history reveals a great willingness to venture into the unknown, whether the Polynesians who reached Easter Island in ocean-going canoes, the Vikings who sailed to America, or the voyages of sailing ships lasting many months to reach and settle distant lands like Australia. Once human communities became accustomed to living in orbital space settlements scattered across the Solar System, it would not seem such a burden to launch a community numbering thousands of star-farers on a voyage across the deep oceans of space, which could take many generations to complete.
The star-farers would be in constant communication with Sol, just as if they were located in the Solar System and should quantum physics permit instant communication, there would be no lag between question and answer, not to mention news reports and the latest fashions. The migration starship could even be re-supplied on a regular basis by smaller and faster shuttle craft.
The interstellar society with an intergenerational community would be as normal as any community on Earth, pursuing cultural activities and scientific research, such as developing a faster way to travel to the stars. Our fleet could also be in touch with other star fleets heading out from Sol and the great web of communications spreading among the stars. As a robot outpost will have been established at the destination star system for many decades and will have become firmly established with automated factories and armies of robots able to perform any task, the human star-farers would only have to provide the robots with the preferred design and a city could be built, or rebuilt, well before the arrival of the generation that would become the first human settlers in the new star system.
As human settlement could be in giant orbital space settlements, the selected star system would not require an Earth-like planet. With energy from the star and resources from around the new system, Earth-gravity orbital space islands could be built and the human settlers would have the liberty of the new star system. In time new intergenerational fleets may set out from the new star, following the trail of the robots spreading out among the stars and building the highway for the children of Sol to follow.
Where is ET?
Astronomers are able to detect and describe hundreds of planets orbiting distant stars, but no alien civilization has yet been found in the cosmos. The stars are silent and there could be four possible reasons for this. First: extra terrestrials are out there, observing our progress and waiting to see if we learn to fly from our Earthly nest as mature star-farers. Second: many conscious species may have come close to expanding into space, but failed to become star-farers and lost the race. Three: there are star-faring civilizations in the Milky Way, but the cosmos is so vast, they are too far out to see. Four: a final prospect is that we are the first conscious species and if we expand beyond Earth, we will become the first-born.
In the Solar System there is a sister planet to Earth, called Venus, which once had as much water as Earth. It is possible that life began on Venus, but this would have been cut short when a runaway greenhouse effect caused all the planet’s water to evaporate, rise into the atmosphere and be whisked away into space by the Solar wind. Now Venus is a planet where the rocks glow in a heat that can melt lead.
James Hansen began his career with NASA studying Venus, but then transferred to Earth sciences when he became concerned about the future of our planet. Hansen is still with NASA, as head of their Goddard Institute for Space Studies. He was one of the first scientists to warn the world about climate change. In his 2010 book Storms of My Grandchildren, Hansen warned that the current level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is enough to trigger a runaway greenhouse effect. He calls this the Venus syndrome (p.223). If Hansen is right, we may one day find the husks of failed extra terrestrial civilizations on Venus-like planets, where like us, they burned their fossil fuel too long and as a consequence, brought on the demise of their society and their planet. It would be heartbreaking to find such failed civilizations among the stars. Do we need to risk joining such a fate?
Among the Stars
If we had acted on serious space development in the 1970s, we could have entirely avoided the current environmental crisis, by building solar power stations in space to access the unlimited energy-well of our star directly and leaving all the carbon fossil fuel that we have burned naturally sequestered away in the belly of the Earth. By making the transition from an Earth-based carbon economy to a star-faring Solar civilization, we could have kept a safe Earth for future generations. Unfortunately, our collective focus in the past four decades has been totally on Earth and how we can solve all our problems on Earth alone. As a consequence we have totally failed to keep a safe Earth and now we must face the price of our inaction. The wise old scientist Albert Einstein once said, “You cannot solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it; you must learn to see the world anew.” Will we solve our many problems by continuing to focus on Earth alone, hammering away with the same old thinking that created the current crisis?
Unfortunately, old habits die hard and if we would win back a safe Earth, we must find a new consciousness with which to understand our problems, see their causes, identify the solutions and work out the path of action that will solve them. We cannot expect our current crop of leaders to suddenly awaken to a radical new way. They are leaders of State and industry because they succeeded with the old ways. If we will commit to a survival presence beyond Earth, it may need to come from many individuals deciding that we must now build a new highway into the future. Like any movement aiming to win a better world, change will only happen when enough people demand it. When faced with the challenge of building a sustainable presence beyond Earth, it may take as many as 10 million people to roll out a new way that will deliver survival. They will be highly inspired people, all with a hard head for survival and a fierce heart for the stars.
If ten million people can move as one to demand action on a future beyond Earth, as well as winning back a safe Earth, they would be a powerful force for good in this cosmos. Ten million people could become directly engaged in raising funds for space development and toward building the future they believe must happen. All attempts to open the high frontier have left humanity floundering on Earth and at risk from multiple crises of our own making. If we wish to build a bridge from Earth into space, people with vision and determination will be needed, folk who will not be turned aside by vested interests beating the old drum of fear and compliance.
We may have no more than ten years to figure out this problem, know what we must do and inspire 10 million people on Earth to act for human survival. If ten million people can be won to this vision and successfully work together toward achieving it, then many more will have the confidence to join the mission. Failure is not an option, as failure to survive is terminal. We do not have to surrender into the night of the perfect storm of catastrophes that now threaten our civilization. We can rage against the storm and even build our way through it, with unlimited access to stellar energy. The Earth may become a very dark hell, but if our will is strong, we can fight our way to victory to win back a safe Earth and a star-faring civilization.
One day, in the distant future, the children of Sol scattered among the stars will look back on this time in human history with wonder and remember when humanity faced their darkest hour, rose to the challenge and created a most amazing future. Just as the butterfly gains strength to survive by breaking out of its chrysalis, so the Human family must also undertake the struggle to break free of its Earthly husk and learn to spread our wings among the stars and fly on the stellar winds across the oceans of space, from star to glittering star. We may find planets where life has sprung into amazing diversity and wherever there is no life, we may spread the seeds of Earth, to take root on countless worlds among the stars.
We may also encounter extra terrestrial star-farers and if the observation regarding the need for peace on Earth to deliver security in space proves true, we may find that the cosmic ways are not red in stellar tooth and long in cosmic claw as many have imagined, but are of a lighter and higher order of awareness, maturity and culture. If this way beyond Earth proves true, the greatest gift of space will be to herald a reign of peace on Earth, where the values of the celestial realm, of honesty and love, become the values that guide human society on Earth and across the star vault.
What is the vision that will inspire a fearless heart? What is the cry that will awaken the individual to the inner challenge of finding the strength to break free of the Earthly chrysalis? What is the song that will inspire ten million people to seek the celestial realm and spread the wings of stellar liberty? Fear rules so much of life, in a world where order is maintained by constraining liberty and fear becomes a cage surrounding all too many lives. Time, however, is not our friend in this challenge of the chrysalis, if we would survive, thrive and know our destiny as star-farers. The bars of fear must be broken and cast aside, if we would open the celestial gates and build the bridge from Earth into space.
Survival With all our eggs in one Earthly nest, an extinction level event could send our race into the fossil record, just like the dinosaurs. Even economic decline could result in the loss of the cutting edge of space technology and leave our race trapped on a rock in space.
Expansion If the whole momentum of Nature is toward expansion, then we may wonder if our current strife is purely a lazy chick syndrome, with our refusal to learn to fly from the Earthly nest and gain the liberty of the stars.
Diversity By building solar power stations in space, we will have direct access to the unlimited energy-well of our star. We can use this energy to crack the carbon from excess carbon dioxide in the air and sea as a resource. This will be the key act to win back a safe Earth and begin to restore our home planet to a state of good health and a renewed era of natural diversity.
Prosperity A giant leap to the high frontier would bring us in sight of achieving a sustainable presence beyond Earth, which I call the Liberty Line. Beyond the Liberty Line there would be no further cost to Earth, where all subsequent space development would be essentially free and the return to Earth on the investment would be infinite.
Politics A vision could be launched and driven by ten keen people with a hard head for survival and a fierce heart for the stars, but politically it will take 10 million like-minded people, moving as one, to successfully demand action on a giant leap to the Liberty Line.
Compassion Security in space may be delivered through a vision for space that includes the health and creative opportunities of all Earth's children. If 10 million people will work as one toward such a vision, this may be the way to deliver peace on Earth, security in space and an amazing creative future for humanity among the stars.
Creativity Knowing that we will survive, that we will send poverty into history, that we will build orbital space settlements across the Solar System, that we will send robot explorers to the stars and that we will prepare for the first stellar migration, will open the flood-gates of human creativity.
The Art of Fearless Compassion
There is only one enemy that blocks our way and locks the celestial gates against our expansion beyond Earth and among the stars. This is fear, which is the hidden enemy within. Only when we conquer fear with love, will we begin to find a fearless spirit that will liberate our hearts from the cage that imprisons us. Love is therefore the key to the celestial gates that will open the way to the stars and in the experience of life, this love is expressed as compassion in action. Only when we discover and live the art of fearless compassion, will we find the strength generated in the hearts of enough people on Earth to break out of the Earthly chrysalis, spread our wings to know the joy of stellar liberty and discover our beauty, so that we will also know how to restore our mother Earth to her former state of riotous diversity.
James Hansen “Our planet, with its remarkable array of life, is in imminent danger of crashing. Yet our politicians are not dashing forward. They hesitate; they hang back. Therefore it is up to you.”
Storms of My Grandchildren 2010, p.277
James Lovelock “We are deeply impressed with the power of our weapons, but they are puny compared with the most powerful weapon of all: creative intelligence.”
The Vanishing Face of Gaia 2009, p.157
Wallace Broecker “we can no longer expect Mother Nature to take care of us – the planet is ours to run, and we can’t retreat from our responsibility to run it wisely. It would be good if our descendents looked back on this challenge we face now as the one that will allow us, as a species, to grow up.”
Fixing Climate 2008, p.269
Jared Diamond “Our television documentaries and books show us in graphic detail why the Easter Islanders, Classic Maya, and other past societies collapsed. Thus, we have the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of distant peoples. That’s an opportunity that no past society enjoyed to such a degree. My hope in writing this book has been that enough people will choose to profit from the opportunity to make a difference.”
Collapse 2005, p.525
William Takaku “Nature is culture. We must learn from Nature. When man sees himself as separate from Nature, he is doomed.”
Australian Broadcasting Commission Radio National program,1993 interview
Gerard K. O’Neill “I think there is reason to hope that the opening of a new, high frontier will challenge the best that is in us, that the new lands waiting to be built in space will give us new freedom to search for better governments, social systems, and ways of life, and that our children will thereby find a world richer in opportunity by our efforts in the decades ahead.”
The High Frontier 1977, p.232
Charles Birch “The problems that beset each nation and the global community will be resolved either by human intelligence or by the modern horsemen of the apocalypse; famine, environmental destruction, disease and war. The choice is ours.”
Confronting the Future 1975, p.350
Neil Armstrong “That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”
Speaking from the Moon to a global audience, 20-21 July 1969
Albert Einstein “You cannot solve a problem with the same consciousness that created it; you must learn to see the world anew.”
Charles Darwin “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having originally been breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”
The Origin of Species 1859, p.460, 1985 Penguin edition
Storms of My Grandchildren James Hansen, 2010, Bloomsbury
The Vanishing Face of Gaia James Lovelock, 2009, Allen Lane
Fixing Climate Robert Kunzig & Wallace Broecker, 2008, Sort of Books
Collapse Jared Diamond, 2005, Allen Lane
The Elegant Universe Brian Green, 1999, Vintage
Beamed Power Propulsion to the Stars Robert L Forward, 1986, AAAS article
Gaia James Lovelock, 1979, Oxford University Press
The High Frontier Gerard K O’Neill, 1977, William Morrow & Co
Confronting the Future Charles Birch, 1975, Penguin
Beyond the Planet Earth Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, 1920
The Origin of Species Charles Darwin, 1859
Creating A Solar Civilization was originally written in 2006 and for many years has been hosted on the web site of the Italian space organization, Technologies of the Frontier. The current revision is a stepping-stone to a larger writing project, to include research and insights gained since 2006. My thanks go to Dr Jennifer Bolton, a research scientist, for assistance with this revision and who is also collaborating with me on the research and direction of the new project.
Born in 1952, Kim Peart was raised in Tasmania, where he trained as a visual artist, launched a Viking Society in 1975 and became a life-long space advocate in 1976 when joining the L5 Society. He went on to found the Southern Cross L5 Society in 1981, now the National Space Society of Australia, which was given a national launch at the observatory at The Rocks in Sydney in early 1982. After a journey to India, Kim became a human rights defender and urban environmentalist, gaining an entry among Tasmania's top 200 movers and shakers in 2007 at number 123. Kim now lives in Queensland, with his partner Jennifer, where he pursues visual art, research, writing, space advocacy and is pursuing a presence in the virtual worlds of Second Life and InWorldz with art galleries, space displays, Earth care, Viking history, West Papuan self-determination and Australasian independence. Many of Kim’s articles have been published in the Tasmanian Times and more recently in the Independent Australia.