All posts by Mordanicus

Space advocate, author, classical republican, classical liberal, religious humanist, religious naturalist.

Alternative for Abortion

This post describes a personal opinion of the author, and is therefore not necessarily representative of Republic of Lagrangia or the space movement in general.

Although I am a proponent of humanistic secular liberalism, I happen also to be pro-life, i.e.  I oppose abortion, which I consider as a violation of the right to life, a fundamental right in classical liberal theory. Since I do not believe that this right can be denied on developmental state, I reject the slaughter of animals and consequently I choose to be a vegetarian. The idea you can be both vegetarian and pro-abortion, is in my opinion hypocritical.

However, unlike (some) many christian pro-lifers, I do support abortion in a very few situations: in case pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, the (mental) health of the mother is at stake or in case of serious defects of the foetus. A further difference between me and many “conservative” members of the pro-life movement, is that fully support both adequate sex education and the use of contraceptives. It has been proven that proper sex education (as opposed to “abstinence only”) reduce both teenage pregnancies and subsequent abortions.

Abstinence maybe an effective tool to prevent unwanted pregnancies, it is unrealistically to believe that abstinence only will solve this problem. Whatever you might want, people are going to have sex before and outside marriage, and it is in contradiction to liberalism to impose legal prohibitions against non marital sex.

The first step to eliminate the evil of abortion is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. Contraceptives are essential for this, one thing the government may do is to distribute free or cheap (female) condoms in public spaces. Of course condom are not the miracle solution, although they may do a great job. People may forget to buy or use a condom from time to time, and condoms may break during use.

An interesting new way of contraception is discussed in Robin Baker‘s book Sex in the Future. Baker proposes a system in which people get sterilized at young age (16 or 18 for instance) and that their gametes would be stored ex vivo. When a couple wants to start a family they would retrieve their gametes from the storage and became pregnant through in vitro fertilization. Of course this program should be entirely voluntary, although it would be quite effective.

Another topic discussed in Sex in the Future, are artificial uteri. I discussed this in a previous post, although very shallowly. There many prospective uses for artificial uteri, we can think about career women who want to have children, but do not want to be pregnant because of their job, women with defective uteri or no uteri at all, male same-sex couples who want to start a family etcetera.

In these particular examples the pregnancy will start with in vitro fertilization, although scientists who are experimenting with artificial uteri (on animals, of course) usually transfer embryos from their natural environment to the artificial one. As far as I know, no scientists has ever succeed to establish a full ex vivo pregnancy. The possibility of transferring a foetus from a natural to an artificial uterus has a few prospective uses.

One example would be in case of pregnant woman who has died before her child was sufficiently developed to survive outside the body. Another example would be in case a woman who wants an abortion, but doesn’t fulfil to the requisites I mentioned above. If artificial uteri were available, a woman would be able to choose to terminate her pregnancy without killing her child.

In case the woman does not want to have a family, artificial uteri would enable the father to raise his child, provided he is both known and willing to have a child. Otherwise the child would become a warden of the state from the moment he or she is transferred into an artificial uterus.

Some pro-lifers suggest that adoption should be an alternative for abortion. I agree with them only partially. Their plans still force women to carry on their pregnancies to term, since giving up a child for adoption can only happen after birth. Artificial uteri will free women from this kind of compulsion.

Public transportation in O’Neill cylinders

In a previous post I discussed the spatial planning of the interior of O’Neill Cylinders. In a note I promised to make another post about (public) transportation inside O’Neill cylinders. For the sake of the argument, I will assume here that the chosen spatial planning is either the Broadacre cityGarden city or Colombia design. Further I want to recall that a O’Neill cylinders has a length of approximately 35 kilometers and a diameter of 6 kilometers (specific dimension may vary among different sources, however the difference is usually only a few kilometers).

A key feature of the design of the O’Neill cylinder is the alternating arrangement of “valleys” (stripes of land) and windows, three of each. It follows from the given dimension that each valley is approximately 3 kilometers wide and 35 kilometers long. Gerard O’Neill himself proposed that there would be parallel to the valley’s heartline a subterranean maglev line. This would function like most subway systems on Earth and would enable (long distance) rapid transit in an O’Neill cylinder. However this system, would not quite suitable for short distance travel, therefore a second transportation system is required.

While the maglev subway will serve as the core of the framework of intra-habitat transportation, there will be finer second network. What requirements do we look for? Ideally we would like an on-demand service, great amount of privacy and the ability to choose our destination. However do not like to waste a lot of time for searching for parking lots. Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) is a proposed idea which would combine the best of private and public transportation.

In order to show what a PRT system might look like, I have selected two YouTube videos about personal rapid transit systems. The first YouTube video (of 8.45 minutes) is about the personal rapid systems as designed by Swedish company Vectus.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1rf_lOb3b0&list=PL4229DA20757B7CD6

This second YouTube video (5.55 min) is a promotional video of Vectus, in which they explain how their product will work.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5W3OSZu9oA

Yes, I do realise that Vectus is a commercial company which seeks to sell its concepts. Nevertheless, I think that this “sales man videos” give a clear picture how PRT systems would operate in practice.

The prospects of personal rapid transit systems are bright. They will enable to establish the first car-free society in history without sacrificing the individual freedom of movement.

Space settlements and foreign policy

Introduction

When space settlements are reality, they will have to interact with other human communities, whether these are other space settlements or terrestrial communities. Especially in the early days of human space colonization, almost every space based community will be dependent on both the Earth and other space settlements, since it will be highly unlikely that one (small) space colony can be entirely autarkic. Therefore space based communities are required to maintain international relations and so they are in need of a foreign policy. In this post I will, for the sake of the argument, assume that space settlements will be sovereign entities, which are free to manage their own affairs.

Relations with terrestrial nations

Basically we have to distinguish between international relations with terrestrial nations on one hand and with other space settlements. This reason for this distinction is simple, for the next few decades, and probably for the next century, Earth will be the most populous entity in our Solar System and for obvious reasons it will also serves as man’s center of culture and civilization.

The first space settlements will depend on trading, especially mineral resources, with Earth for their economic survival. Additionally, the early settlements will have to rely on the importation of many specialized goods from Earth, at least until the moment these can produced in outer space. This means that the Earth as a whole has huge potential of power on space settlements.

It is easy to imagine that Earth will demand low prices for the resources they buy from Space Settlers, while asking for high prices on the goods they sell to Space communities. If terrestrial parties are able to play out space communities against each other, the Earth will probably be able to achieve its aims. One way to counter this is for Space Settlements to develop their economies as fast and as diverse as possible, in order to weaken their dependency on importing goods from Earth.

Another way is for Space Settlements to organize themselves and to act as a unity in their relations with terrestrial nations, much like how organizations as OPEC operate. This strategy is especially advantageous if space settlements are able to play into the differences and conflicts among terrestrial nations and to exploit them to their own advantage.

Relations between space settlements

Inter-settlement relations differ fundamentally from terrestrial-space relations in certain aspects. Trade between settlements will, at least during the early years, be limited. The abundance of mineral resources in outer space (recall that we believe in colonizing the near earth asteroids instead of, for example, the Moon), means that most Space Settlements will be self-sufficient regarding these. The most likely goods to be traded among Space Settlements are agricultural products (because this will be much less expensive than importing these from Earth), and when Space economy became more developed there will be a shift to more specialized goods, which will replace importing from Earth.

A complicating factor in inter-settlement relations are the great distances between space settlements. This will reduce the chance of escalating conflicts, but also hinders cooperation between Space Settlements. The abundance of resources reduces potential for conflicts, therefore war between (coalition of) Space Settlements is quite unlikely during the early decades. Most Space Settlements will probably tend to avoid interference with the domestic affairs of other Settlements.

Suggestions for foreign policy

How should Space Settlements shape their foreign policy? Our advise is basically: avoid meddling with the internal affairs of other communities, both terrestrial and space-borne. As we have argued earlier, Space Settlements shouldn’t join the UN, a statement we want to repeat here. A policy of strict neutrality regarding conflicts between terrestrial powers, will improve the reputation of Space Settlements as peaceful and non-threatening political entities.

Also should Space Settlements abstain from purely terrestrial questions, such as global climate change. There is absolutely no reason for Space Settlements to join, for instance, the Kyoto-protocol or similar treaties. By avoiding getting involved with purely terrestrial affairs, Space Settlements will avoid irritation by terrestrial governments and this will subsequently reduce the emerging of hostile sentiments among some terrestrial groups.

Further we of Lagrangian Republican Association, believe that Space Settlements should also refuse to act as mediators in conflicts between terrestrial nations/parties. If Space Settlement are able to get known as peaceful and neutral communities, some will be tempted to ask them to mediate in purely terrestrial conflicts. However this would be a violation of a strict non-interventionist foreign policy.

Also by acting as a mediator, Space Settlements risk to lose their reputation as neutral states, especially if negotiations are without result or if one of the conflicting parties believe that the results are not fair in some way or another. Since it is almost impossible to determine whether such party is right or not, this risk is in our opinion to great.

Ocean thermal energy conversion for Japan?

Introduction

On march 11, 2011, Japan was hit by an earth quake and a tsunami which resulted in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Consequently the public opinion in Japan turned 180 degrees against nuclear power. Even their government began to consider a nuclear free future. But Japan is so heavily dependent on nuclear power, that last summer two nuclear power plants had to be restarted in the face of massive public opposition. The question of this post is what are the alternatives for Japan? I will discuss solar power, wind power and Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC). [However, both wind power and OTEC are in fact indirect forms of solar energy since both winds and the oceans are powered by the Sun.]

Wind and Solar power

These are the “classical” kinds of alternative energy sources. Both options require a lot of space, and the intensity of solar radiation depends on altitude (lowest at the poles, highest at the equator). Japan is roughly located between 30 and 45 degrees north, which is a good point to start with. Currently Japan, together with Germany and China, is one the biggest producers of photo-voltaic cells. Yes, solar power is clearly a major alternative for Japan, but there are some other issues. First Japan is a mountainous country and has high population density, so relatively few land area is available for massive solar farms. To some extent this can be solved by placing solar arrays on roof tops, however this will only be a partial, but very important, solution for Japan’s energy problem.

Another important potential energy source is wind power. There are two main problems with wind power. First it is notorious because it is very irregular, secondly in order to be efficient wind turbines have to place at a minimum distance from each other. This means that in a given area only a fixed number of turbines can be placed. As we know in Japan land is a scarce commodity, although this can be solved by placing wind turbines at sea. In theory Japan has the potential to meet its entire energy demand through wind power alone, but then they have to deal with the irregular supply of energy. Some kind of grid energy storage is needed. Note that solar power has the disadvantage that it is not available during the night.

What is Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion?

Surface water of the oceans has a higher temperature than water a thousand meters below the surface, this difference in temperature represents a difference in energy (as heat), which can be used to power a heat engine. The basic idea is to heat a working fluid with the heat from surface water, subsequently this working fluid is vaporized. Then we can use this to drive a turbine, which produces electricity. Thereafter we let the working fluid condense by cooling it with cold water, which we have pumped up from a thousand meters below the surface of the ocean. In a closed cycle we let the fluid flow back to the evaporator, while in an open cycle we “dump” it somehow into the environment. A more detailed explanation how OTEC works can be found here.

Other proposed applications of OTEC are for instance mariculture, desalination and mineral extraction. Regardless whether these applications are practical, we should ask our selves where the best location for OTEC power plants are. This map shows that Japan is relatively close to one of the best (i.e. the locations with the highest difference between surface water and at a debt of a thousand meters), and this spot also covers a large area. Therefore this area contains an enormous amount of power.

Synthetic fuels

Traditional power lines are impracticable, so energy has to stored somehow. One way to do this, is by producing hydrogen through electrolysis. But hydrogen has some severe drawbacks. First the very low density of hydrogen gas requires either storage under high pressure or liquefaction to very low temperatures,  which might cost more energy than can be delivered. The storage problem of hydrogen is one of the greatest obstacles for the transition to a hydrogen economy.

An alternative for hydrogen would be the production of synthetic fuels through the Fischer-Tropsch process from hydrogen and carbon monoxide gas. CO gas can be obtained by electrolysis of CO2 from the atmosphere or sea water. There is also current research of creating fuels directly from water and CO2. Both methods will produce hydrocarbons, like methane gas [main component of natural gas], or alcohols like methanol. These synthetic fuels can easily be transported and because the synthesized fuels are chemically similar to “mineral” gasoline, they do not suffer from the transition paradox. This is the problem that no one will buy hydrogen cars if there are no hydrogen gas station, but no one will build hydrogen gas station if no one drives hydrogen cars.

Once the synthetic fuel is produced, it can be transported by tankers to where it is needed. This also solves another problem: the energy production can now be fine tuned to the demand. During peak hours more fuel is burned, and when energy demand is low we can simply turn off some generators.

Conclusion

Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion is an option, which deserves consideration if Japan really wants to phase out nuclear power. Unlike wind power OTEC is a reliable and predictable source of power. In combination with synthetic fuels it also offers the possibility to make Japan self-sufficient in respect of its energy supply. Of course Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion in combination with the production of synthetic fuels is not only a solution for Japan, but it is also interesting for emerging economies like China and India.

See also:

http://www.nrel.gov/otec/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synthetic_fuel

The next link is a critique of the hydrogen economy, and prefers an “electron” economy.

http://phys.org/news85074285.html

Line marriage as an alternative of the State?

After reading “The moon is a harsh mistress” I was wondering whether line marriages can be an alternative for the (welfare) state. As a person with some libertarian leanings (however, I am NOT a libertarian myself) I believe one should investigate whether there are plausible alternatives for the “state” and whether these alternative should be preferred above the state.

But I will first give a short impression of Heinlein’s concept of line marriage in The moon is a harsh mistress. In this novel the Moon is colonized by humans, the Lunar government is set up and run by the United Nations, while Lunar society is highly anarchistic. The primary purpose of the Lunar government is to ensure the delivery of grain to Earth, and the local population is mostly left on their own. All necessities of life are to be bought, even air.

In this harsh environment, it is not surprising that people are seeking cooperation. One of the forms described, and the only one actually discussed in detail, in The Moon is a harsh mistress, is the line marriage. In this kind of marriage multiple people are married together, and in the course of time new spouses are allowed to enter the line. In theory such marriage can survive for generations, even if the original spouses have been dead for centuries. Since the potential durability of a line, all wealth collected by it, will be kept together. The particular line described by Heinlein, is highly self-sustaining, they produce their own food and recycle their own water.

Since the bond between the spouses, of both sexes, is based on mutual affection the members are ensured of assistance whenever required. Younger spouses take up the care of the elderly, children have virtually no worries about being orphaned.

Personally I do not believe that the Moon is the proper place for human settlement. When the age of space colonization will seriously begin, space habitats would be build in the neighborhood of the Near Earth Objects. And these first space colonies will be the initiative of either corporations or governments, therefore the governance of those early space colonies will be rather bureaucratic. Only after a few decades, as predicted by O’Neill [1], some private individuals will start their own small space colonies.

In chapter 11 of The high frontier, O’Neill describes how five couples and their families leave their own space habitats and travel for months to the asteroid main belt. Instead of group of five separate families, we can easily imagine how a family of a line marriage travel to the Belt.

In the neighborhood of asteroid, especially the smaller ones, there will be enough resources for a group of people to survive for generations. Barter with other groups in the Asteroid Belt will enable a group to meet all their material needs. And since distances between several group is large, the development of large conflicts is unlikely and if one group get into to trouble with a neighboring group/tribe/clan they can move with all their belongings to somewhere else in our Solar System, space enough. Therefore such settlers will not have great need for establishing a powerful government. The only reason to do this is in case of an external threat, but this unlikely since due to both the self-sufficiency and large distances military operations are almost futile to begin with.

Notes:

[1] The high frontier, chapter 11.

Vertical farming?

Introduction

World population is expected to grow to nine to ten billion people around 2050. And all this people need to be fed, but arable land scarce. Most land suitable land is already in use, so the challenge is obvious. One of the proposed solutions is urban vertical farming, i.e. growing crops in skyscrapers. In this post I will question whether vertical farming is actually a good idea.

Advantages

The Wikipedia article on vertical farming mention several advantages of this mode of agriculture. First there is the preparation for the future argument: since there will be more people, we will need more land for agriculture and one way to do this by stacking up several layers of greenhouses. The second argument is about increased production, since indoor conditions are controlled we can produce crops all year round. Which means a multiplication of productivity with several factors. Related to this argument is the fact that indoor farming in a skyscraper will eliminate most weather related problems. Ordinary greenhouses, however do this already.

The subsequent argument mentioned is about conservation of resources, which means that by switching to vertical farming large pieces of land can be “recovered” and brought back to a more “natural” state. Also deforestation and desertification will be halted, and the need for fossil fuel powered plowing, planting and harvesting will be reduced, saving fossil fuels and reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

The next argument goes that by indoor agriculture less pesticides and the like are needed, therefore food will be healthier. The last argument I want to mention is the energy argument. The proponents argue that by employing methane digesters the farm will be able to produce some of its own power needs.

Critique

Well, its true that by using  organic waste as an energy source, some reductions in external power supplies can be made. But I do not think that will be quite significant. From the second law of thermal dynamics we know that in a closed system the total energy is constant, it can only change from one form to another. If we subsequently extract energy from such system, the amount of contained energy in the system is lowered. What crops do is, energetically speaking, converting solar energy into chemical energy (stored in sugars and starch). Should we initially consider a vertical farm as a closed system, if we then remove some crops (for sale) and the farm will lose energy, which should be replenished. With only biogas from organic waste from the farm, we will still lose energy. What we need is an external supply of energy.

Since vertical farms will put layers of crops atop of each other, they have to replace sunlight with artificial light. Some research shows that with proper lighting will increase production in comparison with sunlight (this is due to the fact that plants will only absorb light of certain frequencies, and all other frequencies [notably green] will be reflected). And this lights have to be powered. A lot of energy is required, for heating the building, air circulation, pumping water and lights. Actually there is only one energy source suitable for powering vertical farms, and it is not solar, bio or wind power. The answer is probably not the one which is favoured by vertical farm proponents. Only nuclear power plants are able to provide a stable and reliable power supply for vertical argrarians.

Since the members of the Vertical Farm movement are eager to point out how environment friendly their ideas are, it is quite remarkable to see that they do not tell how they want to power their plans. They only mention energy recovery through bio methane gas and saving energy by reducing transportation. But this is not enough, we need a good plan about how to power such structures and how to finance it. History provides ample examples of nice plans, but which failed because the were not properly explained (the notorious Freedom ship is a classic).

Alternatives

The need for feeding nine billions people is out of the question, everyone acknowledges this. The actual question is how to do this. Vertical farms are one solution, but what are the alternatives? My favorite is the saltwater greenhouse. This concepts relies on the Sun to evaporate seawater, which is thereafter liquefied and used for the crops, but for more details you should check this link.

The most suitable places for saltwater greenhouses are large pieces of desert. The Sahara is on the first place of candidate locations. The world’s largest desert is sparsely populated and receives more solar energy than any other place on this planet. Further its location is strategic. Only a modestly small proportion of the Sahara is needed to generate enough energy for the entire world. What I mean to say is that unlike the vertical farm concept this plan is much more realistic, it is clear how it is powered. And unlike vertical farms, it can be done at small-scale, after which it can be scaled up. Therefore it is possible to test in practice before investing large sums of money into the project.

What about the energy cost of transporting food from the Sahara the rest of the world? Well, energy enough in Northern Africa, I would say. Just converting solar energy into some fuel. There are a number of methods to produce so-called synthetic fuels. Actually there are plans to build large solar farms in North Africa which should be linked to the European Superlink.

But there are other solutions for solving the global food shortage. First we should note that a lot of the world agricultural production are crops for feeding livestock, by consuming less or no meat we need less land to feed the world population. Secondly we have to understand that the food problem is actually more about distribution rather than production, in fact the total world food production is enough to feed everyone. But since there is unequal distribution of wealth in the world, some people do not get what they need. Perhaps we should solve this problem politically rather than technologically.

Vertical Farming in space

This post, however, is about vertical farming on Earth. But this concept might have more potential for space colonization, I will work this out in an upcoming post on this blog.

References

http://www.verticalfarm.com/

http://www.seawatergreenhouse.com/index.html

http://www.economist.com/node/17647627