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Authors: Jerry Pournelle

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BOOK: A Step Farther Out
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Nor am I merely having a laugh at some silly people. There is a great deal to be said for conservation: but it is not a goal in itself. Look: why
shouldn't we
have heated swimming pools? What's
with big, comfortable, fast automobiles? Why is it evil to have throwaway flashlights, electric can-openers, warm houses in winter, air conditioning, patent medicines, luxury foods, electric typewriters, plastic models, fiberglass yachts with Dacron sails, pocket computers, my own postal scale in my office so I don't have to go down to the Post Office before mailing this manuscript—all the myriad conveniences, yea, luxuries of this marvelous modern civilization?

True, they may cost too much; we may not be able to afford wasteful items; and we may of necessity be forced to put away some of our luxuries. If so, then we must; but these new anti-technology intellectuals who have so much influence over the next generation would do it
Look at Carter's energy policy. See Schlesinger on conservation. Look at the research budgets.

That brings us to my previous point. The trend is against technology and high energy; against development, and in favor of the "Small Is Beautiful," "Only One Earth" philosophy of the appropriate-technology movement. But surely, Pournelle, the Appropriate Technology movement is the best insurance against the knockout that so worries you? Making people self-sufficient, in small groups, building communes, conserving energy, taking care of one's own wastes, reducing the dependency on The System—

If you'll believe that you'll believe anything. Leaving out whether it's possible, either physically or politically, to insure against disaster by inducing large numbers of people to be "self-sufficient," if the Appropriate Technology movements succeed,
world will vanish because they
it to vanish. One of their goals is to suppress the kind of technology and development I want. They
"labor-intensive" industry.

The doomsters, neo-Malthusians, appropriate technology advocates, "ecologically concerned," and all the others, have set Zero-Growth as their goal; and my world is doomed if they succeed.

We need not envision either war or Vacca's knockout to imagine a world in which my vision of man's vast future remains the mere ravings of a science fiction writer. Merely continue as we are now: innovative technology discouraged by taxes, environmental impact statements, reports, lawsuits, commission hearings, delays, delays, delays; space research not carried out, never officially abandoned but delayed, stretched-out, budgets cut and work confined to studies without hardware; solving the energy crisis by conservation, with fusion research cut to the bone and beyond, continued at level-of-effort but never to a practical reactor; fission plants never officially banned, but no provision made for waste disposal or storage so that no new plants are built and the operating plants slowly are phased out; riots at nuclear plant construction sites; legal hearings, lawyers, lawyers, lawyers . . .

Can you not imagine the dream being lost? Can you not imagine the nation slowly learning to "do without," making "Smaller Is Better" the national slogan, fussing over insulating attics and devoting all attention to windmills; production falling, standards of living falling, until one day we discover the investments needed to go to space would be truly costly, would require cuts in essentials like food—

A world slowly settling into satisfaction with less, until there are no resources to invest in That Buck Rogers Stuff?

I can imagine that.

I even see trends in that direction. Mr. Carter has said no to plutonium, a decision we could live with; and followed that with an energy message that in a full hour had not one reference to the word "fusion," while out at Livermore and Los Alamos they are laying off people whose entire professional lives have been spent in fusion research. Our President has told us we will have to make sacrifices, but he has given us nothing to sacrifice for. We shall insulate our attics, but mostly we shall use the energy crisis as a means for redistributing income and increasing taxes and increasing the bureaucracy. (And we shall penalize hell out of those who, like myself and Poul Anderson, long ago insulated and learned to keep our automobiles in tune. . .)

Where is the innovation? The imagination? I expected a lot more from the President's energy message. I expected at the very least a massive research campaign: a Manhattan Project in agricultural research to develop plants capable of harnessing larger fractions of the solar energy falling on them; another to develop means for extracting energy and fertilizer from our sewage and trash; a specific plan to insure the safety of nuclear power plants while also assuring investors that the plants will be built, will not be unreasonably delayed by perpetual hearings and court challenges; perhaps a promise of restoration of some of the funds for fusion research; more funding for the ocean thermal energy system; something for the "slow" breeder, which uses the uranium-thorium cycle and doesn't produce any plutonium and can't be used to make bombs or terror weapons; something. Perhaps not all of the above, but something.

Instead we were promised an income-leveling tax system and told to tighten our belts while insulating our attics. Make do. Expect less. The "spree" is over. There's only one Earth. . .

Now- look: conservation is not going to get us to space. At best conservation can save us about half what is used for space heating: a few' years' growth increase. There's nothing wrong with that, but there's nothing right about it either. I hate to say this, but the only problem with waste is that it's costly. Suppose, just suppose for a moment, that we suddenly discovered a million years' worth of fossil fuels. Better yet, suppose, just suppose, that we really had workable solar power systems of great efficiency such that they could supply us with all the power we ever wanted at trivial costs. Would it be worthwhile insulating the attic? Obviously not, unless it could be shown that an uninsulated attic was somehow harmful to the rest of us. There's nothing good
per se
about conservation, and nothing bad
per se
about throwaway cigarette lighters or Cadillac's. It happens that at the moment we may not be able to afford them and perhaps we'd best do without; but surely not-having-Cadillac's is not a positive goal? Surely not the only positive goal?

But aren't we going after solar power? And won't that ultimately solve all problems? Yes, to both; but we won't get it in time. Sony: we may not get it in time. Solar power is risky and expensive technology. It is inevitable that some form of it will eventually power the Earth, but that may take far longer than Mr. Carter seems to believe.

Freeman Dyson: "In the very long run we must have energy that is clean and perpetual. We shall have solar power. In the long run we must have energy that is obtainable and available in large quantities. We shall have fusion. In the near term we must have energy that is now available. We have fission power. For the present we must have energy that is cheap, convenient, and easily obtained. We have coal, oil, and natural gas. Nature has been kinder to us than we had any right to expect."

I wish I were that confident; but I am not. The trends, in my judgment, do not augur well for us getting to the long run; and trying to skip the near term and long run and jump directly to the very long run is comparable, in my judgment, to Congress ordering Goddard to send a ship to the Moon by 1935 or give up those crazy rockets.

We could do it. We could spiral down until we have so few surplus resources that Roberto Vacca's knockout becomes possible; to a point where we have little, and many seethe with discontent, and suddenly it all explodes in riots, or war, or chaos; and when we recover from that (some of us) we will find that the business of living takes all our talents and energies; and our grandchildren will curse our memories.


It doesn't have to be that way. Here is another future.

 * * *

First, war. Consider the following sequence of events. DeGaulle gives China the atom bomb, and when asked why says he has done nothing that Richelieu didn't do: when threatened with a European enemy, aid the Turks (or some other Asian). The Soviets begin a new Berlin crisis. The Chinese attack a small Soviet island at Ussuri. The Soviets back down on Berlin and begin moving troops in massive numbers toward their eastern frontier. After three weeks of buildup they retake the island. The Chinese glare at them across the river.

Marshal Gretchko goes to diplomatic parties and makes dark hints. In ten days there maybe nuclear war. He hopes the West will understand. The West makes no response at all.

The Soviets discover their nuclear weapons are very dirty: following atomic war with China most of the population of Japan may die from the fallout. In the US knowledgeable people get out their Bendix fallout radiometers and dosimeters and buy new batteries for them and make a few other preparations.

More Soviet troops move to the east, a massive deployment until over a hundred divisions are on the Chinese border.

Henry Kissinger takes satellite photographs of the Soviet deployment to China. Ping-pong teams begin moving back and forth. Lin Piao, the most dangerous man in China, dies in mysterious circumstances that may never be known to Westerners.

Nixon goes to China.

It all happened, in that sequence. Add this: a few years later the Soviets declassified their fusion research and brought the bag over here in the hopes that we could make use of it. (We immediately classified what they gave us, putting a blanket over the blackboard.) Soviet experts privately say their need for fusion energy is great; they have a lot of development to do. They also build a fast breeder fission reactor based on US technology (we have yet to build one, of course).

Suggestive of what? This much: that at least some officials in the Soviet Union are now convinced that games against nature have a higher payoff than conquest; that they couldn't run China when they had it, and can't now; that if their system were introduced into western Europe (Hungarian joke: "The Soviets have crossed a cow with a giraffe to produce a marvelous animal that feeds in Budapest and is milked in Moscow") European production would not only fall, but the
economy would be worse off.

Give it a couple of generations and possibly, just possibly, the dinosaurs will die. It takes skillful diplomacy by the West, but it's possible. If we can discourage the dinosaurs until the technicians are in control of the Soviet Union, we will have peace. My private opinion is that the best way to discourage the dinosaurs is to remain so strong that they have no expectation of winning—Cato's advice. "If you would have peace, prepare thou then for war." I realize that is not universally accepted, neither among the ruling elite in the US, nor among you, my readers.

But assume the dinosaurs are contained, and the trends toward cooperation continue; that we do not end in war. It is possible.

Next, the energy crisis. We know how to produce the energy. Solar Power Satellites could be delivering power to Earth well before the end of the century. Geo-pressure zones can relieve the natural gas crisis. At the AAAS meeting in 1978 the fusion scientists announced that we could, given money and luck, have a working reactor delivering commercial power before 1995; it isn't inevitable, but it's certainly possible.

Princeton University recently announced that through the use of highly advanced technology—neutral beam currents—they were able to achieve temperatures of 60 million degrees. This unexpected breakthrough (it wasn't thought they'd do that well for several more years) could lead to a working fusion reactor before 1990—if we want one.

And after all—as the dollar plummets, it is going to become obvious to all that when your energy system is to pay $50 billion and more each year for foreign oil, you can afford
alternative; that research is cheap at the price. Perhaps the western states' senators will exert enough pressure to get the fusion budget restored. After all, Carter backed down on canceling all those waterways plans; and it's even possible that someone will appreciate the need for research without regard to electoral politics. Isn't it?

We could have working reactors before the year 2000.

Then there are the ocean thermal systems: at the moment they're getting paper-study money only, and although it's widely announced that a demonstration plant will be built, the fact is that nothing beyond paper has been funded; but suppose the money comes through to bend tin and cut metal, and the plant is built. It won't be commercial, but from it we should learn how to make commercially viable plants; and we can build research stations as described in my book HIGH JUSTICE.

And—we could go to space. This year the Congress asked, pointedly, why NASA proposed no new starts; why there was nothing bold and imaginative in the national space program. The administration may have bought Zero-Growth, and true, Vice President Mondale while a Senator each year introduced a bill to kill NASA entirely, abolish all its research and development; but the Congress seems to have taken new interest in space. Only one of the shuttles has been canceled. We do have a shuttle commitment, if only because we have treaty obligations to the Europeans who have developed Spacelab. The
will never go to space, but others will. It is possible that commercial firms will be given the opportunity to rent time in orbit at reasonable rates.

It has been the historic role of government to explore the frontiers and build roads to them; perhaps the Congress will recognize that space is not essentially different from California in that respect.

There is so much going for us. Biologists are fairly sure that a massive research effort will double the efficiency of plants. The computer engineers continue to produce their marvels. We have discovered geo-pressure zones.

And we can afford the research: indeed, given the alternative of $50 billion annually now, and $100 billion a year expected, as the price of imported fuels, we can afford
we can pursue all our lines of research, fund them well, and confidently expect to save vast sums when even
of the many routes to energy independence pays off.

BOOK: A Step Farther Out
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