Talk:Earth Population

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This entry is an excerpt from a much longer paper I am writing on future work for NASA. I started work on it because interest in our return to the Moon has been very low (around 4%) and my efforts to do anything about that have not produced results.

The idea is to look at all the clearly defined problems of the 21st century, such as this Population Bomb and Hubbert’s Peak. Look at major strengths, such as Moore’s Law. And, look at the major trends, such as the 21st century the century of biology. Then look at space project that make since in this rather harsh universe.

So far this analysis has produce powerful long-term justification for our return to the Moon, but no short-term ones. Meanwhile, some of the alternatives like Earth science from space show powerful short-term advantages. We are certainly approaching a crossroads.

If anyone here has any ideas on strengthening our return to the Moon argument within the context of this analysis, I would very much like to hear them.


--Jriley 15:45, 16 December 2007 (UTC)

A little discussion at last

Well, Tom, you have not gotten much of the controversy that you were seeking up till now, so I want to help you out. I agree that industrial use of Luna will only help in the long term. On many other points I disagree.

You wrote: "what will stop the exponential growth of human population?" It could very well be nothing in the next thousand years. The exponential growth of industry is something that can happen with appropriate resources available. These resources are available in the solar system off Earth.

Your "Figure 1 has three critical parameters: Peak Level, Peak Date, and Sustainable Level." but you do not show how the population bomb is dependent on these things. It seems like a case of garbage in, garbage out.

You wrote that: "Starvation related to climate change crop failure is already present." but all cases of starvation prevalent in a country that I have read about are related to military force preventing people from doing their traditional farming.

You wrote that: "sustainable level of population closer to four billion" but this is just a guess and fails to take into account the possibility of new ways of growing food. Desert areas could be irrigated with salt water from the sea to grow salt tolerant crops if there were a market for more food. The problem is not the lack of food but the lack of money to buy it.

You wrote: "[Population] is here assumed to be somewhere between two and six billion people." which is where you agree that the sustainable level number is just a guess.

You wrote that "No significant fraction of Earth’s population will ever physically move off his planet. [because]...our experiences in building large facilities in space, like the International Space Station, show the project cost is also way too high." You like that argument so much that you repeated it: "...large constructions in space, which our experience with the International Space Station (ISS) demonstrated is difficult and very expensive." but it is false. What our experience with the ISS really shows is that sending human beings into space to work in space suits is not an economic activity and that having insufficiently developed infrastructure in space prevents people from doing cost effective work.

You wrote about [solar power satellites]: "First, they require low-cost launch of mass to Low Earth Orbit (LEO)," that is the false argument that has caused many billions to be wasted on hopeless schemes that were imagined to promote low cost access to space. For low cost access to space first a large market is needed which could be provided by life support structures and industry in space first constructed by remote controlled devices with lunar materials. Then there are a number of technical solutions for access to space that might work.

You wrote: "there are environmental concerns about the microwave links." but rational study of the numbers does not show serious harm likely to result from space based solar power being transmitted to a rectenna on Earth. The beam is less intense than sunlight on a power per unit area basis. A bird could fly through it without harm, as I recall reading.

You wrote: "Losing it [returning to the Moon] now will cost us our uninterrupted experience of manned space exploration." Actually losing manned space exploration would be the best way to return to the moon with remote controlled devices. Reinventing "the entire technology from the ground up" would be a good way to get rid of the tradition bound errors of manned spaceflight that have been preventing progress in economic space development so far. - Farred 04:49, 20 August 2013 (UTC)***

The references I give at the end of the entry are still good. The peak number estimate is now up a little, now around 10 billion, but the idea of a peak and drop to a sustainable level is still the most reasonable model. The exact value of the sustainable level is not predictable at this time simply because it depends so strongly on what we do now and how badly we damage the Earth's ecosystems as we go over the peak.

We do have new data from LRO showing that the need for radiation shielding for humans in space is about twice what we had assumed before. This makes space exploration and settlement even more difficult.

I have seen no breathrought designs for either propulsion to LEO or power on Earth that could effect the basic curve by much. It is now 2013. The population peak will be about 2050. That 37 years. That is not much time.

The bottom line is still: On a sustainable Earth we need a vision of human beings expanding into space simply to provide a positive vision of the future.

If you have an alternative model, all you have to do is find some references and draw a graph. I do not think you will find anything you like much better than this one. (You might note that no one would even take the time to make a counter argument in 2007.)

If there is interest, I would like to work out a new lunar settlement design on Lunapedia. The major changes:

1. The habitats are buried deeper, 5 meters. 2. A million people on Earth participate in the experience virtually. 3. The primary product is water. 4. The location is near (but not on top of) the south pole.

Many of these new concepts are described in the five short stories in "Hard Squared Science Fiction, Vol. 01" (Goggle it). I would be happy to send you a review copy in .pdf if you like.

Thanks, Tom Riley -- 13:02, 20 August 2013 (UTC)

You write: "The references I give at the end of the entry are still good." but they seem as bad as ever to me. The "United Nations World Population Estimates" link was dead when I tried it. I have looked at Limits to Growth in the first edition years ago. The graphs in the book were not explained as definite functions of known quantities then and your graph is not now. Your edit summary: "All you have to do is draw your graph" is incorrect. I do not have to graph a prediction of population. Your graph is irrelevant because of lack of evidence that departures from linear growth follow any particular relation to data, and lack of evidence that there is a particular sustainable level. To the extent that it agrees with population figures since 2007 it is merely a straight line extrapolation. You apparently believe that there will be a population collapse after 2050. Your belief is not evidence. I believe that when resources become scarcer and more difficult to obtain the price will go up, new sources of the resource will be found at the new higher price, and usage will decrease because of the higher price. I do not know what the peak population of Earth will be, but it will be affected by changes in technology that occur before the peak is reached. There could be economic disasters between now and 2050 that will make the housing bubble look tame, but the world economy is likely to recover each time and march on to higher population levels. If it does not recover there is no use in our talking about it. We will be dead before 2050.
You seem to propose that a vision of human beings expanding into space is the most that a space program can hope to provide to benefit Earth's population. I disagree. Industry on Luna is subject to compound growth once it is established to the point of being able to make tools to be used by remote controlled industry. This industry could build launching devices such as the Eddy Current Brake to Orbit device. Materials launched into orbit from the moon could not only build space habitats and space based solar power plants, but also eddy current brake to orbit devices orbiting earth. So, your lack of knowledge about advances in "breathrought (sic) designs for either propulsion to LEO or power on Earth" is irrelevant. Industry on Luna can provide the power generating capacity, the large market for transportation to LEO, and the large orbital structure to accommodate that market with cheap transportation. Your idea that the "primary product is water" for a lunar base is a little hard to take. Mining water ice on the moon is a means to an end, not the end itself. Check out the article on eddy current braking to orbit and see if you can find any errors in it. If not, then do not claim that there can be no breakthrough in propulsion to LEO. - Farred 19:03, 21 August 2013 (UTC)

The Limits to Growth book was not a complete waste. The definite number picked for a "Sustainable Level" of population was a complete fiction. The idea that there is one particular level of population that is sustainable is wrong. The level of population that strains the natural support systems to the point that there is a drastic reduction in population varies with technology and cultural adaptation. However, people cannot blindly expand industry to deal with increased population without reaching limits in some resources that can potentially cause economic disasters including large reductions in population. It is good to think about these things.

Unlike the graph in the [Earth Population] article a human population will not home in on some level after a collapse. Mayan sites were abandoned long before the Spanish came to America. We do not know what caused their decline. The government of Khmer King, Suryavarman II, that built Angkor Wat collapsed with the destruction of most records. Mycenaean civilization collapsed and the barbarians did not keep a good history of causes. We simply do not have good data on the causes and results of culture collapse. We can predict that if the production and delivery of antibiotics and vaccines is disrupted in an economic collapse; scarlet fever, diphtheria, whooping cough, typhoid fever, and polio would likely return as serious problems for all people. Cities could be abandoned. Instead of reaching a bottom at one billion people, a collapse could deepen. Drawing pretty graphs and pretending to know something about population growth and decline can usefully stimulate thought, but trusting predictions based upon fiction would be an error. - Farred 12:27, 23 August 2013 (UTC)

Tom Riley wrote above: "The population peak will be about 2050. That 37 years. That is not much time." Let us hope that we have a little more time before any disastrous culture collapse. There might be various economic troubles through which we must persist. A shining star of hope is the fact that the central idea of Limits to Growth is limited to describing Earth-bound economies. Space faring economies are exempt for a few centuries anyway and can grow with abandon. We do not know how much time is available to launch a space faring economy, so let us get a clear idea of what is needed and build the minimum system with deliberate haste. I cannot complete the detailed design of a system for landing remote controlled industrial equipment on Luna. I wait for the exploration phase to reach the stage of landers on Luna. I wait for missions to demonstrate key planned industrial activities. I see diversion of efforts into building the massive Space Launch System. I see continued waste in astronauts sent to a space station with too little capital investment for a person to do economic work and no plan for any future economic work. It seems best to me to let the International Space Station expire when current international agreements expire. A human being working in a vacuum in a space suit is a bad idea of which the failings have been amply demonstrated. Let us get remote controlled devices to build an indoor environment on the moon so people can work there doing what people do best. Let us expand lunar industry to the point that its profits can help Earth before Earth becomes helpless. - Farred 13:44, 23 August 2013 (UTC) A link was added by - Farred (talk) 01:46, 10 August 2016 (BST)

The vision

It is nice to provide a vision of people expanding into space as a positive and hopeful vision of the future. Just so people will not get the idea that they are being conned, the vision should represent reality, the real hope of resources in space being used to help Earth. Space based solar power and space based facilities for economic transportation are nice. We need a development plan that leads to these things. Remote controlled probes should analyze the particular nature of the resources available on Luna. Plans for industrial use of those resources should be demonstrated on small scale. When we are fairly confident that we can build the initial infrastructure that we need to manufacture a robust industrial base, a transportation system should be built to haul the initial infrastructure to Luna. Cargo for Luna and a lunar lander can be launched from Earth separately and integrated with an Earth-moon inter orbit tug at a remotely controlled station in orbit. The expense of on orbit integration will be mainly the expense of learning how to do it. This expense will be spread over a large number of loads. The main expense of lunar manufacturing will eventually be wages for the crew operating the lunar base by remote control. At some time it will be convenient to have facilities for people to live and work on Luna, but not many.

Only two things are necessary for this to become a reality. 1) There must be international agreements to share the expense and benefits of the lunar operations in some mutually beneficial way among space faring nations with some consideration given to other nations. 2) There must be the political will for a continued reasonable level of financing that could ramp up to perhaps 15 billion dollars a year within a few years and continue on for perhaps fifty years before first electrical power is delivered to the grid. That is in the neighborhood of 700 billion dollars over fifty years. That is difficult but the research and development in the first 15 years should determine that this can actually be done with a risk level that should be attractive to private investment. If after the first 15 years it is determined that this is not likely to bring in the expected profits on schedule, that would be the time to give up further work on this plan. Money would be lost but knowledge gained, something like the space program that people have had during the last fifty years. The prize is so great, access to the energy and material resources of the solar system and protection from the population bomb, that I do not understand why people are not jumping at the chance. - Farred 03:38, 28 August 2013 (UTC)

Pick a number out of the hat.

The 15 billion dollars a year written above is not complete guess-work. It is in the same order of magnitude as the current NASA budget, and the most That I would hope for. NASA ought to keep up its work on aeronautics but the [budget for] work on the astronaut program could all be turned over to developing industry on Luna. Some people might want to continue deep space missions, but it seems to me that after current deep space missions are completed it would be better to do future deep space missions with industrialized resources on Luna. That would cause delay but the potential returns are much better than possible with missions launched from Earth. If only 5 billion dollars a year can become available I would still suggest fifty years before first electrical power is delivered to the grid, because I do not know how the rate of industrial growth on Luna would depend upon the budgetary support from Earth. People have written about closure in parts production for such an industrial colony, being able to produce each and every part that is used in the production process. It does not seem like a serious problem to me. Each and every piece of technologically sophisticated equipment on Earth was produced by some less developed piece of machinery with human skill in a chain that goes back to people making tools using tools of sticks, stones, bone and leather. People have dexterous enough robots now on assembly lines in car factories that they could build the tools needed to industrialize the moon. I have written of at least one way to protect such dexterous robots from the lunar vacuum and dust. As soon as an indoor environment can be built on Luna, there should be indoor robots that can do their production tasks with less capital investment. Five billion dollars a year for fifty years is only 250 billion dollars and that might be enough. The crucial thing to do is the exploration, research and development that will answer the questions of how long and how much money. There is much scientific effort and much engineering between here and now and there and then. The fifteen year effort I suggested for making the determination of feasibility might be completed in ten years, but it will never be finished if there is not a determination with budgetary support to finish the task.

I liken the task to building the Panama Canal. It was an enormous technological task when built. The canal was not run to get a return on the investment and repay the principal. It was run with charges to pay for the operating expenses. The United States benefited greatly from the increased shipping near our port cities. All humanity would benefit from space based solar power, space habitats, and runways in orbit that space craft can land on. - Farred 03:46, 31 August 2013 (UTC) I [filled in] an omission above in brackets. - Farred 23:40, 16 May 2015 (BST)

This talk page has been a particular target for vandalism. It may be that the vandalism was intended to disrupt discussion for which those opposed to the prevailing argument have no logical answer. - Farred (talk) 01:46, 10 August 2016 (BST)

The vandalism on Talk:List of Lists amounted to 1120090 characters as compared to 58674 characters on this page. It is possible that this was just the result of mindless robots doing their search engine optimization programs or advertising some illegal sale over the internet. - Farred (talk) 00:16, 11 August 2016 (BST)