Guest post by Dennis Ray Wingo
First I want to say thanks to Anthony for providing this forum for the discussion of climate in a different sense, that is to focus on Durban and what this conference means from the wider perspective of the direction of our global civilization.
When I was young and beginning in the world of technology I complained to my mentor, my company’s regional manager, about a bad performance review delivered to me by a boss who I and he thought was incompetent. His response was to say that “a performance review can be used as a tool or as a bludgeon”. The same thing is true about CO2 and its role on the global stage as providing a tool whereby the technocrats of the UN and its NGO’s seek to reorganize our planetary civilization In keeping with their desired future.
The fear of the negative consequences of the emission of CO2 is being used as a tool to bludgeon the developed world into economic and political suicide. We in the west are told that we must commit this suicide because we must commit to a “Fair and equitable allocation of the atmospheric space, taking into account the criteria of historic climate debt and population;” [bullet 33g of the FCCC/AWGLCA/2011/CRP.39 document]. We are told that the only just and equitable way to do this is to transfer large sums of money to the Non-Annex 1 world and that we must have peak CO2 emissions in Annex 1 (western civilization) immediately [bullet 33d, bullet 32].
There are two critical assumptions that underpin the entire Durban conference as well as previous efforts; the first assumption is that we live in a limited world and that this wealth transfer and the immediate cessation of CO2 emissions is the only possible path toward a “sustainable” future. The second is that technology cannot solve the problem but politics can. What are these assumptions built upon and are they valid? Is this the only path forward? Are we destined to leave our global posterity in a state of perpetual semi-poverty? Human nature rebels against this doom and gloom view of the future, and with good reason.
I do not wish to seem overdramatic, but I can only conclude from the information that is available to me as Secretary-General, that the Members of the United Nations have perhaps ten years left in which to subordinate their ancient quarrels and launch a global partnership to curb the arms race, to improve the human environment, to defuse the population explosion, and to supply the required momentum to development efforts. If such a global partnership is not forged within the next decade, then I very much fear that the problems that I have mentioned will have reached staggering proportions that they will be beyond our capacity to control.
Who said this? This statement could have very well have been the preamble to the Durban conference but it actually was uttered by UN Secretary General U Thant in 1969 and is included as the introduction to the book, Limits to Growth. The book “Limits to Growth” (LTG) is the touchstone of the environmental movement as well as the ultimate source of the two underpinning assumptions of the Durban conference.
The Limited Earth
The first assumption that the Earth is all we have and that our resources are limited to only what we have here. This is a patently false assumption. In 2005 I was invited to contribute a chapter to a book on “Spacepower Theory” which was commissioned by the defense department as an extension of Clauswitz’s classic “Landpower Theory”, Alfred Mahan’s “Seapower Theory”, and General Billy Mitchell’s “Airpower Theory”. In my chapter on the “Economic Development of the Solar System as the Heart of a Spacepower Theory”, a word was coined and defined.
“geocentric” is defined as a mindset that sees spacepower and its application as focused primarily on actions, actors, and influences on earthly powers, the earth itself, and its nearby orbital environs. (available online at the NDU press here)
The underpinning assumption that the Earth and its resources constitutes all the wealth that exists for humans to access and use is by definition a geocentric mindset and has been falsified by the last three decades of NASA, ESA, and other nations scientific probes sent to the Moon and beyond. Just in the last few years we have discovered billions of tons of water on the Moon to support propulsion, trillions of tons of aluminum, titanium, iron, Uranium, thorium and other rare Earth metals along with Platinum Group Metals, Cobalt, nickel and iron derived from asteroid impacts. In the asteroid belt are untold riches of water, metals and other resources yet to be identified. Just a single small metal asteroid, 3554 Amun, has tens of trillions of dollars worth of metals, and an asteroid of the same type, 216 Cleopatra, has a billion trillion times more resources of the same type. We now know that Mars has extensive water resources and the two rovers Spirit and Opportunity, found in just a few kilometers of driving, enough metallic asteroid fragments to kick start industry on Mars. It is absurd to think that the geocentric mindset of LTG and today in Durban is correct.
No Faith In Technology
The supposed inability of technology to solve our current problems is the other key assumption of LTG and today in Durban. To anyone who understands history and technology this is absurd but here is what the authors of LTG say about technology;
Applying technology to the natural pressures that the environment exerts against any growth process has been so successful in the past that a whole culture has evolved around the principle of fighting against limits rather than learning to live with them. This culture has been reinforced by the apparent immensity of the earth and its resources and by the relative smallness of man and his activities….
(page 156, Limits to Growth)
… We have felt it necessary to dwell so long on an analysis of technology here because we have found that technological optimism is the most common and the most dangerous reaction to our findings from the world model. Technology can relieve the symptoms of a problem without affecting the underlying causes. Faith in technology as the ultimate solution to all fundamental problems can thus divert our attention from the most fundamental problem – the problem of growth in a finite system – and prevent us from taking effective action to solve it.
(Page 159, LTG)
If you think that this thought pattern is one of the 1970’s, here is what Al Gore said in his book, Earth in the Balance in 1992:
It is important, however, to remember that there is a great danger in seeing technology alone as the answer to the environmental crisis. In fact, the idea that new technology is the solution to all our problems is a central part of the faulty way of thinking that created the crisis in the first place.
Unless we come to a better understanding of both the potential and the danger of technology, the addition of more technological power simply ensures further degradation of the environment, and no matter what new technologies we discover, no matter how cleverly and efficiently we manage to get them into the hands of people throughout the world, the underlying crisis will worsen unless, at the same time, we redefine our relationship to the environment, stabilize human population, and use every possible means to bring the earth back into balance.
(Page 328, Earth in the Balance)
Technology and technological development, in the form of the industrial revolution (the faulty way of thinking according to Gore), has done more to lift mankind out of poverty than all of the political systems tried in the entire one hundred and seventy thousand year history of our species put together. It is amazing that this neo Luddite attitude could exist today, but it does, and as an example of how it influences the Durban conference, only 15% of the money from their massive wealth transfer would be applied to developing technology. That is less than their administrative overhead! At the end of the day, this a key divergence between the NGO’s and technocrats of the UN and those of us who see another way, one rooted in finding solutions to the problems that confront us today.
Developing an Alternative
Let us, for the sake of the hypothetical and to put us on the same page as the delegates in Durban, let us grant the following:
- The increase in CO2 and other IR absorbing gasses in the atmosphere are bad and we must do something about it or suffer the secular apocalypse.
- We apply the minimum financial resources of the $100 billion per year as set forth in Durban to the problem.
Let us set as the requirements the following as well:
- Whatever solution is found, it must in the end result in a more prosperous world for all mankind.
- Whatever solution is found, it must also preserve individual liberty and provide opportunity for the further advance of mankind.
Unfortunately the requirements of brevity in this forum preclude an advanced treatment of this but lets lay the groundwork and if the reader wants more it can be provided in the future.
The first area to attack is energy. At the end of the day, energy is the key to the future. Just think that if a megawatt of electrical power was as inexpensive as a kilowatt is today, how many things would be different. A trash compactor could atomize your trash and separate it into its basic constituents for recycling. You could easily create your own hydrogen at home for your fuel cell car. Mining on the Earth could extract metals from base rock with oxygen as the waste product.
Half of the $100 billion per year would be spent on a crash program to develop various fusion technologies, including advanced forms of the National Ignition Facility, Polywell Fusion, Thorium fission, and the “traditional” ITER type Tokomak fusion. Applying this much money to these energy technologies would do far more than all of the political world shaping of the wealth transfer of Durban. Providing advanced energy sources would do far more than solar panels or wind turbines to power a prosperous civilization. Both solar and wind are inherently low energy multiple technologies, meaning that the energy that you get out of either of these is only low multiples of the energy that it takes the make, install, and maintain them.
If we put the proper amount of resources into these energy technologies, then we would “solve” the CO2 problem as a side benefit and we could build a world energy grid that would do more than all the antipoverty programs in place today put together to improve life on Earth. In researching the history of the industrial revolution, human lifespan has been directly proportional to the amount of inexpensive energy available to us. human lifespans in the west went from 35 years of age in the year 1700 to almost 50 years of age at the peak of the age of coal in 1900. Today at the peak of the oil age that number has climbed to almost 80 years in Annex 1 countries. It is also in the advanced energy countries where population growth has dropped to replacement or even below. There is a direct correlation between wealth and population and it is far more fun to make everyone wealthy than to make everyone suffer in poverty as would be the ultimate result of Durban.
Space Resource Development
In just the past few years the Lunar Recon Orbiter, the LCROSS, and other missions have made a very preliminary map of the resources available on the surface of the Moon. It is inevitable that there are upside surprises waiting us there. Despite the problems of NASA in getting us back to the Moon, to the Moon is our first destination. Let us apply the other $50 billion a year to an effort to begin the industrialization of the Moon. In inflation adjusted terms, this is still only 40% of the budget spent per year at the peak of the Apollo program. If it is that important, then we can increase that budget to the full $100 billion a year (we are talking about building a sustainable global civilization) on a multi-pronged effort in this area.
This would not just be a NASA effort or a NASA, ESA, JAXA effort but an effort that would provide the means whereby private enterprise could contribute through their own efforts and funds. Tax relief, prizes, and other incentives. We begin with the industrialization of the Moon and the construction of a transportation infrastructure to allow humans to easily move about in the inner solar system. The resources of the Moon enable this. We move forward to build infrastructure in geosynch orbit that are many times larger than today, to enable communications and remote sensing infrastructure that would fundamentally transform our global society for the better.
These are not fantasies, these are not science fiction ideas, they are 100% doable today. The problem has been that the financial support has not been there, even considering the $18 billion dollar a year NASA. NASA is not designed to lead the economic development of the solar system, nor should it be, this is something that the American people and our fellows in western civilization are uniquely qualified to do. Dr. John Marburger, the head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Bush administration had a marvelous speech on this subject at the Goddard symposium in 2006. In it he said:
The ultimate goal is not to impress others, or merely to explore our planetary system, but to use accessible space for the benefit of humankind. It is a goal that is not confined to a decade or a century. Nor is it confined to a single nearby destination, or to a fleeting dash to plant a flag. The idea is to begin preparing now for a future in which the material trapped in the Sun’s vicinity is available for incorporation into our way of life.
This is the alternative to the Durban failure that should be investigated and I submit that if we did this, our future would be far better in the year 2100 than even the most optimistic scenarios developed in any of these conferences that focus on how to split the existing pie up in a way that supports their political proclivities. We want to build a far bigger pie. Today the average welfare recipient in the United States lives a life style that Augustus Caesar or the greatest emperor of old China would think of as magic. Our goal should be to create a world in the year 2100 where the poor live a lifestyle that George Soros would envy.
Beyond Artificial Limits
For those of us who work in the space business and who develop new architectures for lunar development and beyond it seems absurd that these false assumptions should underpin serious global deliberations at crafting a better future for the citizens of our planetary civilization. This at the end of the day is my greatest objection to the role that climate scientists play in the arena of solutions to the “CO2 problem”. Whether or not you believe that CO2 is the secular apocalypse, one thing is certain, the people that are trained in the arcane science of climate proxies are inadequate in training and incompetent in execution of something as large as architecting a future for our civilization. We must open up the boundaries of the discussion to include energy development on the Earth and resource development off planet as serious and viable alternatives to plans such as the failed ones being drawn up in places like Durban.
There is a future out there, a glorious one, that while it may not solve all of our problems, it will certainly get us beyond these artificial limits to growth.