Read A Step Farther Out Online
Authors: Jerry Pournelle
Tags: #Science Fiction
We haven't even looked at the potential of the seas. True, our fish catches have about peaked out and may be declining—but man was never meant to be a hunter-gatherer.
Our exploitation of the seas is on a par with our use of land before we learned about agriculture and domestication of animals.
Sea-farming is a technology in its infancy; but experiments at St. Croix in the Virgin Islands (supported in part by the Vaughn Foundation which supported research for this book) show that fantastic levels of food production per acre can be achieved. The St. Croix research consisted of pumping cold nutrient-rich water from the sea bottom into pens where sunlight could energize plant growth; food harvested was shellfish and the like.
Other sea-farming enterprises in France and Britain show similar results. Selective fertilization of sea areas can increase sea-plant growth by orders of magnitude; one then introduces edible creatures which thrive on the plants. The production levels are again astounding, ten times what a given land area can produce.
Once again these are high-technology enterprises; but there is nothing far-out about them.
Clearly food production
is not going to be a limit to growth for a very long time. Food production can only be limited by an enforced halt in industrialization and technology; given the energy, technology can easily feed far larger world populations than any projections anticipate for centuries.
* * *
If food production is not a primary problem, but rather an aspect of the energy shortage, pollution is doubly so. We already have the technology to clean up any and all pollutants.
It takes energy, of course. A lot of energy. But given the energy we can, if we must, take pollutants apart down to their constituent atoms.
The California Department of Public Health reports that the cleanest-running stream in the state is the outfalls of the Hyperion Sewage Disposal Plant for Los Angeles County. This is not a sad commentary on California's rivers; there are plenty of unspoiled streams in the High Sierra, but they do contain animal wastes from the deer and bears who inhabit the region.
I have on my desk a bottle of water taken from a sewage-treatment plant flowing into Lake Tahoe. Tahoe's problems are not technological; most of the water in the lake is reclaimed, and is indistinguishable from the cleanest mountain streams. True enough there are certain political jurisdictions which have not adequately cleaned up their act; but one must not blame technology for
I use the Tahoe sewage water for ice cubes when I have a party that will have "concerned ecologists" as guests. It does no harm to show dramatically just how good our pollution-control technology can be.
Again I see no point in belaboring the obvious.
Given the energy resources,
pollution is not a real problem. Certainly pollution cannot be the limiting factor in industrial growth. It is another aspect of the energy shortage.
* * *
If famine and pollution do not define the limits to growth, then what of rising population? The view that we shall in the near future become so over-crowded that we will die of the resulting stresses is examined in detail in another chapter; for now let us look at the long-term prospects.
Throughout history there has been only one means of controlling population growth. It is not war; populations often rise in wartime. Famine and pestilence have of course reduced populations drastically, but the recovery from even these horsemen is often rapid, with birth rates skyrocketing so that within a generation population is higher than it was before the catastrophe. No: the only reliable means of limiting population is wealth.
The United States has a fertility rate below the replacement value; were it not for immigration the US population would begin to decline. (There is a "bow wave" effect from the WWII "baby boom" that distorts the picture, but the "boom babies" are rapidly reaching the end of their fertility epoch.)
France, Ireland, Japan, Britain, West Germany, Netherlands; where there is wealth there is decline in the birth rate. David Riesman in his THE LONELY CROWD pointed out many years ago that the Western nations were probably best described as in a condition of "incipient population decline," and it seems his prophecy was true.
Now it's true enough that if we manipulate exponential curves and thus mindlessly project population growth ahead, we will come to a point at which the entire mass of the solar system (indeed, of the universe) has been converted into human flesh. So what? It isn't going to happen, and no one seriously believes that it will. Obviously
will stop population growth
On a slightly more realistic scale, I have calculated how long it takes, at various growth rates, to reach "standing room only" on the Earth: that point at which there are four of us on each square meter of the Earth's surface (even counting the oceans and polar areas as "standable" surface), Figure 3 shows that those times are surprisingly near -if we have unlimited population growth. Yet the fact remains that as societies get wealthier, their ability to sustain larger populations increases—but their actual population growth declines or even halts.
Of course there are powerful religions whose adherents control large portions of the globe, and which condemn birth control and seemingly all other usable means of population limitation.
Yes. And I'm no theologian. But I cannot believe that any rational interpretation of scripture commands us to breed until we literally have no place to sit. Realistically we are not going to increase our numbers to that point: and, realistically, no religious leader is going to order it done.
"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth."
"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth UFOs the earth."
Area, sphere: A= 4 π
Radius, Earth: 6.371 x 10
Area, Earth: 1.700215 x 10
Standing room area requirement: 50 cm
= 2500 sq. cm.
(About 4 people/sq. yard)
Number of people when Standing Room Only:
6.80086 x 10
Present population: 4 x 10
Assuming growth rate of 2% a year, it's SRO in 2584
At 1% growth, we get there in 3186 AD
At 4%, we get there in 2283.
QUERY: At what point will the command be fulfilled?
I will leave theology to the theologians; but the command was, "Multiply and replenish the earth, and subdue it;" and surely there must come a time when that has been
When there can be no doubt that we have been sufficiently fruitful? And surely dominion over the wild things of the earth does not mean that we are to exterminate and replace them? Surely even those of the deepest faith may without blasphemy wonder if we are not rapidly approaching a time when we shall indeed have replenished and subdued the earth?
I cannot believe that we will continue to breed until we have destroyed our world; and frankly, I think of no more certain way to insure that the developing countries continue to increase in population than to condemn them to eternal poverty through Zero-Growth. So let's leave the bogeyman of unlimited population expansion. We have the technology to limit family size when, inevitably, there comes the time when everyone, no matter what his religious conviction, believes that the earth has been replenished and subdued.
Of course we have not reached that time: but the areas of uncontrolled population growth are the poorer areas of the world. All experience teaches that wealth will induce them to smaller family sizes, fewer children, control over population.
Wealth requires energy. The correlation between increase in Gross National Product and increased consumption of energy is about as well established as anything we know. There are those who search for exceptions—but they generally do not find them, and when they do there is always a very long "story" that goes with it. Common sense tells us that if we wish to become wealthy we will need the means of production; and productivity requires machinery, and that requires energy. Indeed, you could make the very definition of wealth the ability to dispose of great quantities of energy.
Exponential Notation: 10
= 100, i.e., 1 followed by 2 zeroes.
= 1,000, 10
= 1,000,000, etc.
Mosquito taking flight—1
Man climbing one stair—10
Man doing one day's work—2.5 x 10
One ton of TNT exploding—4.2 x 10
energy use, 1957—2.4 x 10
Converting one gram hydrogen to helium—6.4 x 10
Saturn 5 rocket—l0
One megaton, as in bombs—4.2 x 10
Total annual energy use, Roman Empire—l0
Annual output, total US installed electric power system, 1969—5.4 x 10
Thera explosion (largest single energy event in human history)—10
Total electric power produced, world, 1969—1.6 x 10
Total present annual energy use, world—10
One Solar Flare—l0
Annual Solar Output—2 x 10
Quasar, lifetime output—10
* * *
Thus we see that of our four dooms, three are aspects of the energy crisis: given sufficient energy we will not be overwhelmed by problems of food, pollution, or even overpopulation. But can we find the energy? Will not generating energy itself pollute the earth beyond the survival level?
At this point I must introduce some elementary mathematics. I will try to keep them simple and work it so that you don't have to follow them to understand the conclusions, but if I am to halfway prove what I assert I simply must resort to quantitative thinking. Failure to calculate actual values, blind qualitative assertion without quantity, has been the genesis of a very great deal of misunderstanding and I don't care to add to that storehouse of misinformation. Besides, only through numbers can you get any kind of "feel" for the energy problem.
The basic energy measurement is the erg. It is an incredibly tiny unit: about the amount of energy a mosquito uses when she jumps off the bridge of your nose. In order to deal with meaningful quantities of energy we will have to resort to powers-of-ten notation. Example: 10
= 100; 2 x 10
= 200; 10
= 1000; and 10
is 1 followed by 28 zeros.
Some basic energy events are shown in Figure 4. Note that a number of natural events are rather large compared to man's best efforts.
It takes a billion ergs to climb a stair, and a day's hard work uses 100,000 times more; yet a ton of TNT exploding contains a hundred days' work and more, while converting one gram of hydrogen to helium will yield more energy than each of us used in a year—and by "used" I don't mean each of us directly, but our share of all the energy used that year in the US: dams, factories, mines, automobiles, etc. I need hardly point out that there are a lot of grams (a gram is one cubic centimeter) of water in the oceans.
Nor need we worry about "lowering the oceans" when we extract hydrogen for fusion power. True, some rather silly stories have asserted that
might, but a moment's calculation will show that if we powered the Earth with each of 20 billion people consuming more energy than we in the US do now, the oceans would not be lowered an inch for some millions of years.
Of course fusion might not work Given the present funding levels we may never achieve it, or the concept itself may be flawed, or the pollution associated with successful fusion may be unacceptable. Are there other methods?
One possible system is pictured in Figure 5. It is an Earth-based solar power system, and the concept is simple enough. All over the Earth the sun shines onto the seas, warming them. In many places—particularly in the Tropics—the warm water lies above very cold depths. The temperature difference is in the order of 50° F, which corresponds to the rather respectable water-pressure of 90 feet. Most hydro-electric systems do not have a 90 foot pressure head.
The system works simply enough. A working fluid-such as ammonia—which boils at a low temperature is heated and boiled by the warm water on the surface. The vapor goes through a turbine; on the low side the working fluid is cooled by water drawn up from the bottom. The system is a conventional one; there are engineering problems with corrosion and the like, but no breakthroughs are needed, only some developmental work
The pollutants associated with the Ocean Thermal System (OTS) are interesting: the most significant is fish. The deep oceans are deserts, because all the nutrients fall to the bottom where there is no sunlight; while at the top there's plenty of sun but no phosphorus and other vital elements. Thus most ocean life grows in shallow water or in areas of upwelling, where the cold nutrient-rich bottom water comes to the top.
More than half the fish caught in the world are caught in regions of natural upwelling, such as off the coasts of Ecuador and Peru.
The OTS system produces artificial upwelling; the result will be increased plankton blooms, more plant growth, and correspondingly large increases in fish available for man's dinner table. The other major pollutant is fresh water, which is unlikely to harm anything and may be useful.