Re: NANFA-- NANFA-Re:population control-The O'Neill Equation

JHolmes (
Thu, 3 Apr 2003 07:56:00 -0600

You have no idea how many times we throw these ideas around in my classes.
My kids start out thinking I'm a nutcase and then....then they listen, then
you can see the wheels starting to turn, then you can tell. Some of them are
getting a glimmer of what this is about and what it could mean. I thank you
for the title reminder. I knew I got the ideas from somewhere but for the
past few years I have been unable to remember from where.

----- Original Message -----

> Interesting thread.
> I recently dusted off Gerard K. O'Neill's "2081: A Hopeful View of the
> Human Future which hopefully will still happen one we get though the
> crisis era we are in now.
> O'Neill for those of you who never heard of him was the "guru" of the
> space colony movement that Moonman and I still carry a torch for. He was
> also a physicist from Princeton who came up with the idea of building
> self-sustaining colonies in space as a means of solving our energy and
> population problems.
> The energy part of the equation involves beamed power from space to
> replace fossil fuels. That would mean cheep electricity which could also
> be used to electrolyse hydrogen fuel out of water which would be
> continuously recycled back into water again every time you burn it. The
> rationale of putting solar collectors above the atmosphere is that solar
> power is a very dilute source and you need a huge area to collect it.
> Also down here in the "well" performance is hindered by weather.
> Out there- in geosynchronous orbit 22,300 miles from the planet you can
> build thousands of these things- each about the size of Manhattan. One
> powersat provides the energy needs of a modern metropolis. Power is
> converted to microwaves and beamed to earth-based rectenna farms each a
> mile or so across- still much smaller than the areas of desert lands
> that we would have to covered with photo-voltic collectors- you can
> imagine the environmental protests over that one. The receving antenne
> collect the microwaves and convert them to electricity for the local
> grid. They are also cheep and could be easily erected even in
> underdeveloped nations. A nice alternative to stripping forests for
> firewood or burning cow dung.
> The population part of the equation is more complex.
> The anti-population growth crowd was quick to argue that emigration off
> planet could not put a dent in human numbers on Earth and even space
> colony advocates agree that the most significant contribution to
> stablizing and eventual reduction of human numbers will come about as a
> result of the wealth generated by those who invested in or migrated to
> space.
> Increasing wealth generally leads to lower birth rates. Even without
> space colonies the trend will be in that direction because when people
> have the opportunity to choose between large family size and having more
> personal wealth they usually choose the later.
> Our reach into space unfortunately proceeds with frustrating fits,
> starts and stalls. The reason we are not as far along as we ought to be
> is that space flight is mostly a government enterprise. But you can bet
> your bottom dollar once it gets privatized the trajectory will spike
> upward with a vengence- just like the development of private aviation or
> personal computers!
> Look how this internet culture we're emersed in- email and e-bay were
> hardly known to anyone 10 years ago!
> Not even a blip on O'Neill's radar screen when he penned "2081" in the
> early 1980s- though he did mention "electronic mail".
> From the perspective of then we should have been well on the way to
> meeting a substantial part of our energy needs from SPS by now and even
> have a few O'Neill colonies scattered through the Earth-Moon system!
> We're way behind now, but there is growing interest for private
> investment in space tourism- which will most likely roll some of it's
> profits into pure research into processing materials and manufacturing
> in orbit to support the enterprise when the tourist market is slow. This
> leads to the first permanant settlements in space and an explosive
> breakout phase. Let's say by 2030 which is conservative- considering how
> far we expected to be 20 years ago.
> Can we still pull it off in our lifetime?
> You can colonize space with 1970s technology- heck even 1960s- or the
> 1950s! Project Orion- a nuclear pulse ship that was superceded by the
> Apollo Program could have planted a lunar colony or a Mars base (instead
> of a flag and a few rocks brought back) in a single shot!- and there was
> Dandridge Cole's concept of creating huge habitats inside hollowed out
> asteroids!
> Cole's book- "Islands in Space" was a magnificent forerunner of
> O'Neill's ideas- out of print and next to impossible to find even back
> in 1986 when I had the pleasure of being able to borrow it from the base
> library at Sheppard AFB. These things were huge cylinders several miles
> across and 10 or 20 miles long with low human population density - or
> else concentrated in towns or living spaces tunneled into the shell of
> the habitat which left alot of land for parkland and recreations of wild
> places back on Earth. There were scenes of hiking, picnicking and even
> trout fishing! Before someone decides to launch on me about favoring
> sport fisheries over non-game species there's no reason why habitat
> space couldn't be devoted things as obscure as Olympic Mudminnows or
> endangered ones like the Devil's Hole Pupfish!
> The concept of orbital habitats as a future conservation tool is also
> given treatment in O'Neill's other book: "The High Frontier"! I know
> someone is going to lambaste me for wanting to live in an artificial
> world - so environmentally incorrect these days- ah go ahead- I don't
> care- no matter how bad things get here on this planet I will stand
> convinced that dispersal of human life and other terrestrial life
> throughout the solar system and eventually to other stars will be the
> best decision we ever make.
> Think about it- you live in a sphere or cylinder a mile or so in
> circumphrence with interior conditions fairly Earth-like and you can
> even choose the ecotype and climate just by manipulating the light and
> themal balance of the habitat. You can even generate electricity with
> something as simple as a parabolic mirror and a steam turbine. The
> population would be somewhere around 10,000- you could have a very
> simple government and simple laws. You could also move your colony to
> the most remote reaches of the solar system to put distance between you
> and hostile neighbors so not to require much of a budget for defense.
> O'Neill incorprated a fictional account of a writter who visited Earth
> in "2081". He hailed from a group of colonies out in the Kupier belt-
> that zone of cometary debris beyond Pluto- founded by the Society of
> Friends- aka the Quakers. He also posed the question of how many federal
> agencies would be unnecessary in a space colony?
> In his travels this guy, Eric Rawston is visiting relatives on Earth-
> actually somewhere here in western Pennsylvania where he encounters many
> wonders wrought by the transfer of technology and ideas back from the
> orbital colonies. The one I really liked were the "New Towns" which were
> encapsulated communities with controlled climate modeled off the
> extraterrestrial version. "Waterford Pa" with a tropical climate. It's
> actually more energy efficient than conventional towns and cities
> because the larger surface to volume ratio plus passive solar effect
> that captures natural light and heat in the winter.
> So people in colder climates can have most of the benefits of living in
> a warmer climate without all the congestion and higher living costs that
> result when they migrate to places like Florida and California en mass.
> Which brings us to the real benefits of wealth and technology- whether
> we create it here or transfer it back from offworld colonies it gives us
> the power to meet our basic survival needs and the luxury to look beyond
> them to things like pursuing pure research or conserving rare species
> for their own sake.
> Some of the space advocates suggest that we will one day substitute
> minerals mined out of asteroids and lifeless moons for gutting our home
> planet for them. Maybe- but more likely we'll build car bodies out of
> diamondoid composites with nanotechnology and put wings and turbojet
> engines on them . It will be like "Doc" said in Back to the
> Future-"where we're going we don't need roads"!
> Just think of the benefits to both the natural world and humans. Alot of
> fragmented habitats could be rejoined and a substantial tax burden
> alleviated.
> Jeff
> There have been two lines of demagogic argument that have always gone
> down well in history. The first is to tell the poor that the rich have
> too much money. The second is to tell the rich that there are too many
> poor people.
> William Tucker - Progress & Priviledge: America in the Age of
> Environmentalism

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/"Unless stated otherwise, comments made on this list do not necessarily
/ reflect the beliefs or goals of the North American Native Fishes
/ Association"
/ This is the discussion list of the North American Native Fishes Association
/ To subscribe, unsubscribe, or get help, send the word
/ subscribe, unsubscribe, or help in the body (not subject) of an email to
/ For a digest version, send the command to
/ instead.
/ For more information about NANFA, visit our web page,