I have written before about the tendency of billionaires, especially male ones, to use their vast resources for projects that seem unrelated to the wider welfare of humanity. To be fair, I recently saw an article about a project that actually might be useful—creating high-energy transmission plants on the moon using minerals there and beaming that energy back to earth in a clean, non-polluting way.
It turns out this idea is not new; in fact it is fifty years old. Back in the 1970s Princeton physicist Gerald K. O’Neill proposed just such a scheme, but of course back then the technology didn’t exist to realize it. As it happened, one of Professor O’Neill’s students at the time was none other than Jeff Bezos, Amazon billionaire and founder of Blue Origin, his commercial space company. The article says that one of the reasons Bezos founded Blue Origin was to realize O’Neill’s dream. The idea now is to use lunar minerals to create solar panels and transmission stations on the moon, which could then send concentrated beams of power down to earth. We already know from what it takes to create lithium-ion batteries for electric cars how polluting the mining and processing of these minerals are on earth. I suppose the idea is that it is better to make a mess of the moon and keep the earth more pristine.
Of course at the moment this massive project is little more than a pipe dream, but Bezos is already preparing the way to market lunar power to NASA, as a way to support human colonies on the moon. Whether this dream could ever come to fruition is questionable; right now it sounds like a plot for a science fiction novel. But I was a huge fan of science fiction when I was young. Sci-fi has a way in our world of eventually coming true. Whether this scheme to supply earth with clean energy will come to pass soon enough to make any difference to the impending crisis of climate change I can’t say. Bezos is a businessman and I imagine hopes to make a profit doing this.
Until I read this article, I had no idea such farfetched schemes were being hatched. Human ingenuity reaches far and wide in all directions, from the incredibly destructive to the incredibly useful. I have already written about existing ideas to mitigate climate change, from whales to seaweed. None of these seem practical or scaleable to me. This moon power idea is different. Maybe it could work. I could also imagine the great powers of the world going to war over the mineral resources on the moon. I am a big believer in the efficacy of Murphy’s law in human affairs. Murphy’s law states that what can go wrong, will go wrong. But what have we got to lose? The answer is, everything—so everything is worth a try.
All this being said I keep coming back to the notion that the real root problem is not how to ameliorate climate change or capture trillions of tons of carbon out of the air. The real problem is too many people on planet earth. I wrote my last post on the Hopewell culture of indigenous peoples on the North American continent in 500-100 B.C. There was a network of tribes and cultures spanning the entire continent in those days, connected through trade and river routes. But can you imagine how few people there were then, compared to now? The American continent must indeed have been a verdant and fruitful Eden in those early days. The indigenous people had a few cities in what is now the Midwest, and the largest of them was perhaps twenty thousand people.
Yes, there are too many people now by several orders of magnitude, and as far as I can tell little is being done to address this root problem, which is partially a matter of religious doctrine regarding contraception. It is pretty clear that the way Great Nature has organized the reproductive capabilities of all species—not just us—organisms reproduce and keep reproducing until the food sources run out or some predator reduces their number. Human beings are supposed to be more intelligent than, say, lemmings, but in this area it doesn’t seem we are doing any better than nature originally intended—as well as the fact that the predator who could reduce our numbers is none other than us. What happens when a species becomes overpopulated or outruns its food sources is a massive die-off.
Is that our destiny, a massive die-off? Will that be the only way that the population of humans on planet Earth right-sizes itself for the resources available to it? Will the die-off be so complete—such as by nuclear holocaust—that the only human populations left will be small colonies on the moon and Mars, who will no longer have a need to beam power to Earth? I wish I could live an extra hundred years so I can be around to witness the answer.