Read A Step Farther Out Online

Authors: Jerry Pournelle

Tags: #Science Fiction

A Step Farther Out (2 page)

BOOK: A Step Farther Out
6.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

In these articles you will find that the author is pro-technology, pro-space program, pro-interstellar exploration. And he supports these and other pro-science projects for a strange reason. He can prove that they and they alone will accomplish what the anti-science proponents want. Without space colonies, the third world is dead. Without meteorite mining, people on welfare will presently get nothing.

Read Jerry's SURVIVAL WITH STYLE and A BLUEPRINT FOR SURVIVAL. We have (according to Jerry Pournelle) a hundred years to get out into space and save ourselves. After that, because of the depletion of the necessary resources down here on the surface of the planet-necessary, that is, for getting us off and up—the opportunity will never occur again for the human race.

A science article by Jerry Pournelle has an astonishing amount of writing energy in it. Like Isaac Asimov, Jerry puts himself out where you can see who's doing the reporting. Like Isaac he knows the facts and has the formal training to evaluate and present the data.

Another comment on that training: Jerry's mother once told a group of us that as the years went by, and there
Jerry still in college, taking this degree and that degree, and that training, and that one, and that, and that . . . the family began to be worried.

As they, and we, may see, he came out of it all right. And not only as a brain. Jerry has a tall, lean, tough body which, in its time, served in Korea, achieved a high level of skill in the graceful, muscular art of fencing, and acquired the enduring heart and lung power that comes from hiking in the mountains.

Jerry has been an aide to a mayor of Los Angeles, a practicing PhD psychologist, president (the same year winning that Campbell award) of the Science Fiction Writers of America, and other achievements.

As you have now seen, I've tried to over-praise Jerry Pournelle and what he has written in this book But it can't be done.



These essays were written over a period of two years, but they all deal with the same theme: can Western Civilization, and Mankind for that matter, survive? And if we do, will it be worth the effort?

The view that we are doomed has taken over a large part of the American intellectual community, and has been passed on to a generation of students. If accepted, it is a profound change in the traditional philosophy of the West.

According to FUTURE SHOCK, we are afraid of our future. It remains to ask—should we be? There is another view: that we can not only survive, but survive with style.

I am indebted to my editor, Jim Baen, for the title of this section and the lead column, as well as for his editorial assistance both during and after these were written.

Survival with Style

Suddenly we're all going to die. Look around you: a spate of works, such as THE DOOMSDAY BOOK, EGO-DOOM, and the like; and organizations such as "Friends of the Earth," and "Concerned Citizens" for one cause or another. All have the same message: Western civilization has been on an energy and resources spree, and it is time to call a halt.

The arguments are largely based on a book called THE LIMITS TO GROWTH. Written by a management expert for a group of industrialists calling themselves The Club of Rome, LIMITS TO GROWTH may be the most influential book of this century. Its conclusions are based on a complex computer model of the world-system. The variables in the model are population, food production, industrialization, pollution, and consumption of non-renewable resources. The results of the study are grim and unambiguous: unless we adopt a strategy of Zero-Growth and adopt it now, we are doomed. Western Civilization must learn to make do, or do without; unlimited growth is a delusion that can only lead to disaster; indeed,
future growth is another step toward doom.

Doom takes any of several forms, each less attractive than the others. In each case population rises sharply, then falls even more sharply in a massive human die-off. "Quality of Life" falls hideously. Pollution rises exponentially. All this is shown in Figure 1, which is taken from one of the computer runs.

According to Meadows and many others, Earth is a closed system, and we cannot continue to rape her as we have in the past. If we do not learn restraint, we are finished.

Nor can technology save us. Perhaps the worst tendency of the modern era is our reliance on technologic "fixes," the insane delusion that what technology got us into, it can take us out of No; according to the eco-disaster view technology not only will not save us, but will hasten our doom. We have no real alternative but Zero-Growth. As one ZG advocate recently said, "We continue to hold out infinite human expectations in a finite world of finite resources. We continue to act as if what Daniel Bell calls 'the revolution of rising expectations' can be met when we all know they cannot."

Jay Forrester, whose MIT computer model was the main inspiration for the zero-growth movement, goes much further. Birth control, he strongly implies, cannot alone do the job. It is a clear deduction from Forrester's model that only drastic reductions in health services, food supply, and industrialization can save the world-system from disaster.



Figure 1


The "standard" model of World Three. The projection assumes no major changes in the physical, economic, or social relationships (as modeled in World Three). Population growth is finally halted "by a rise in death rate due to decreased food and medical services." "THE LIMITS TO GROWTH"


Figure 2


It is important to recognize the severe consequences of a policy of Zero-Growth. For Western civilization ZG means increasing unemployment and a falling standard of living; worse than inconvenient, but not quite a total catastrophe. For the rest of the world things are not so simple. Behind all the numbers and computer programs there is a stark reality: millions in the developing countries shall remain in grinding poverty—forever.

They may be unwilling to accept this. There is then the decision to be made—must they be forced to accept? The advocates of Zero-Growth also advise, on both practical and moral grounds, the massive sharing of Western riches with the developing world. Indeed, under the ZG strategy, the West has only two choices: massive sharing with the developing world, or to retain wealth while most of the world remains at the end of the abyss. Neither alternative is attractive, but there is nothing for it: failure to adopt Zero-Growth is no more than selfishness, robbing our children and grandchildren for our own limited and temporary pleasures.

So say the computers.

* * *

I don't accept that. I want Western civilization to survive; not only survive, but survive with style.

I want to keep the good things of our high-energy technological civilization: penicillin, stereo, rapid travel, easy communications, varied diet, plastic models, aspirin, freedom from toothache, science fiction magazines, libraries, cheap paperback books, Selectric typewriters, pocket computers, fresh vegetables in mid-winter, lightweight backpacks and sleeping bags—the myriad products that make our lives so much more varied than our grandfathers'.

Moreover, I want to feel right about it. I do not call it survival with
if we must remain no more than an island of wealth in the midst of a vast sea of eternal poverty and misery. Style, to me, means that everyone on Earth shall have hope of access to most of the benefits of technology and industry—if not for themselves, then certainly for their children.

This is a tall order. Economists say it cannot be done. My wishes are admirable but irrelevant. The universe cares very little what we want; there are inherent limits, and the models of the world-system prove that what I want cannot be brought about.

That, however, is not so thoroughly proved as all that. Computers and computer models are very impressive, but a computer can give you no more information than you have put into it. It may be that Forrester and the other eco-doomsters have modeled the wrong system. At least it is worth taking a look; surely it is against man's very nature simply to roll over and die without a struggle.

Arthur Clarke once said that when a greybearded scientist tells you something is possible, believe him; but when he says it's impossible, he's very likely wrong. That has certainly been true in the past. Surely we are justified in examining the assumptions of those models which tell us we are doomed, and which dictate a policy of Zero-Growth.

* * *

The economists' models warn of four dooms: inadequate food supply; increasing pollution; depletion of non-renewable resources; and over-crowding through uncontrolled rise in population. Let us examine each in turn.

The first, food production, is surprisingly less critical than is generally supposed. This is hardly to deny that there is hunger and starvation in the world. However, given sufficient energy resources, food production is relatively simple. The UN's Food and Agricultural Organization reports that there are very few countries that do not, over a ten-year average period, raise enough food to give their populations more than enough to eat.

There are two catches to this. First, even in the West, birds, rodents, and fungi eat more of man's crops than ever does man. True we harvest more than most nations; but to do so requires high technology.

The second catch is the "over a ten year period" part. The
crop production is sufficient, but drought, flood, and other natural disasters can produce famine through crop failures over a one, two, or three year period. In much of the world there is no technology for storing surpluses. The West has known for a long time about the seven fat years followed by seven lean years, but it took us centuries to come up with reliable ways to meet the problem of famine.

Our solutions have been three-fold: increased production; better food storage, including protection from vermin; and weaving the entire West into a single area through efficient transportation. Drought-stricken farmers in Kansas can be fed wheat from Washington state, beef from the Argentine, and lettuce from California.

All this takes industrial technology on a large scale. Western farming methods use fertilizers. The transportation system is clearly a high-energy enterprise. Even providing Mylar linings for traditional dung-smeared grain storage pits (animal dung is often the only waterproofing material available) requires high-energy technology.

And in the West we waste land because we have land to waste; our agricultural technology produces surpluses.

A hard-working person needs about 7000 large Calories, or 7 million gram-calories, per day. The sun delivers nearly 2 gram-calories per square centimeter per minute; assume about 10% of that gets through the atmosphere, and that the sun shines about five hours (300 minutes) per day on the average. Further assume that our crops are about 1% efficient in converting sunlight to edible energy. Simple multiplication shows that a patch 35 meters on a side will feed a man—about a quarter of an acre.

Granted, that's an unfair calculation; but it isn't that far off from reality. My greenhouse, 2.5 meters on a side, can produce enormous quantities in hydroponics tanks, and there's no energy wasted in transportation and distribution of the food. I do use electricity to run the pumps, but that could be done, if necessary, by hand labor.

In Japan and in some of the oil-rich sheikdoms, hydroponics farming has been carried to fantastic lengths; acres of covered territory, with vegetables growing in the sandy deserts of Abu Dhabi, watered by desalinated seawater.

This is high-technology, of course. The chemical nutrients needed in my greenhouse take a lot of energy to manufacture. The greenhouse itself is made of aluminum tubing and Mylar plastic reinforced with nylon strands. The piping and trays are plastic. All high-technology items, as are the fungicides I use, and even the water-testing kit that lets me balance off the pH in the nutrients.

Given the energy we can produce food. I think few would deny that. It is true enough that if the average Indian farmer could reach the productivity per acre achieved by the Japanese peasant of the 12th Century, India would have few food problems; but he's not likely to get there without industrial help (at the very least a television and satellite-relayed instructions). Moreover, the Japanese have had to move far ahead of their 12th Century output levels.

But I hope the point is obvious. Given sufficient energy, we have the technology to produce food. We may not have the energy; but famine is not a
problem. With sufficient levels of industrialization
could even feed cities from greenhouses on the roofs of city buildings: if 1% of New York City were covered with greenhouses, they could feed 10% of the New York population. One percent of the surface area of Los Angeles would feed 1/3 that city's population.

BOOK: A Step Farther Out
6.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan
God's Kingdom by Howard Frank Mosher
Double Indemnity by Maggie Kavanagh
Wild Horses by Dominique Defforest
The Doctor's Choice by J. D. Faver
Babel by Barry Maitland