So many headlines of the past few years have a common background theme: the dependence of modern economies on a steady, dependable supply of energy, and the consequences of our current fossil fuel dependency for global stability and climate. Clearly this cannot continue forever. Worse still, most of the people of the world do not even live under modern economic conditions as yet, and as China, India, and other similar nations continue to progress, world energy needs will almost inevitably double or triple from their current levels. So where is all that energy going to come from?
In the November 1, 2002 issue of Science, Marty Hoffert of NYU and 17 co-authors have published an analysis of the energy options that will be available to meet world demand a few decades from now, under the constraint of constant or reduced carbon dioxide emissions. While there are many short-term measures that could make a difference, the only long-term viable alternatives seem to be fusion and space-based solar power.
Fusion is still a gambit, and could take decades before it energizes. Space-based solar power relies on mostly existing technology. Nanotechnology will of course improve the efficiency of such power systems, but it and the economic drive to build solar power satellites will reduce the cost of escaping gravity. With the economic drive to increase our energy output and the feasible and affordable means to do it – we will go into space. This economic drive will encourage large investments of cash into long-term sustainable space technologies.
For me the greatest prospect of migrating into space is freedom. Not only political and sociological freedom, but also means freedom from living on a contrained flat gravity-fixed surface. Combine all of this and you gain the ability,to create and inhabit any environment your imagination can conceive with freedom that only utopian anarchists imagined. Of course, virtual realities will be extremely sophisticated offering compelling cyber-spaces t rich in knowledge and interactivity.
What this all means is that as space access becomes increasingly affordable, more people are likely to become highly motivated to go there – perhaps to escape the repressive regimes of earth that may inevitably form to “keep the world safe” Like the new world, space will offer a release valve, of an over-populated and stangled earth, for a species that has outgrown the womb.