Conservationists and environmentalists often talk about the ecological footprint. That is the area required to provide one’ s way of life. Those with a higher lifestyle have a higher footprint than people with a lower lifestyle. Continue reading Conservation and space colonization
One of the most important issues in any given human society, is the management of its waste disposal. And space settlements will be no exception. Of course space colonists could simply dump their waste into outer space, but this will be inefficient since this also means the loss of valuable resources. Waste management of space colonies should be based on reduce, reuse and recycling. In this post we will discuss several policies which could be implemented to achieve these 3 R’s. Continue reading Waste disposal, recycling and leasing
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.