In the world we live in we are constantly being bombarded by messages that resources are running out and that energy is scarce. This message is often stated by both sides of the environmentalist argument; some businesses use this so that they can ensure that scarcity is maintained by goods having a limited lifespan and wear out more quickly than they should, so that we purchase more and some of the environmentalists want us to stop using everything because it might damage the environment.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Resources and energy are not limited. Even though fossil fuels may indeed be running out, and burning them for fuel is far from the most efficient use of what's left, the universe is full of plentiful resources, more than we have any likelihood of needing, if we only develop the methods to obtain them.
Earth may be the easiest place to support life in the Solar System, but it is not the only place we can live, with sufficient technological investment, although it is doubtful that any significant numbers of people could be supported off world and, even if they were, it is still probable that the numbers who would emigrate off-planet would not be sufficient to actually drop population levels. Millions would have to leave the planet on a regular basis just to keep up with current birth rates. This is unlikely to happen without the construction of space elevators, or an enormous drop in birth rates.
Even without off-planet emigration there are still enormous, completely empty areas of Earth which could be converted into somewhere to live, especially by using buildings such as arcologies.
An arcology is a large habitat designed to support high population density in a self contained building. These habitats would be largely self contained, housing not only people, but power, business, retail, commercial, educational and recreational facilities, and quite possibly food growing as well using technologies such as hydroponics. The name arcology was coined by architect Paolo Soleri and is a combination of the words architecture and ecology. An arcology aims to eliminate the inefficiencies and waste caused by suburban sprawl and is effectively a city in a building. The "ecology" part of the name comes from the arcology concept being more environmentally friendly than typical urban sprawl.
Currently, living in such a manner is likely not preferable to many people as compared to living in their own dwelling. Arcologies may not truly exist today, being more common in science fiction, but are an increasingly likely option in the future and may become accepted. Indeed, an arcology is merely an extension of how many city dwellers currently live, as the concept is not that much different from some apartment complexes which already host business and recreational facilities as well as residences. The arcology would thus be an elaboration of this type of building. If the arcology is truly self-contained, they could also be built in areas that would not be suitable for current cities. Whether built in existing urban areas, or currently unusable regions, an arcology would leave more ground available outside for the production of food that requires extensive areas of ground.
Building arcologies may mean less space is needed for living and can instead be used for food production. Another potential option for the future is by using vat grown, or in vitro meat, as an alternative to raising animals to eat. In vitro meat is not currently available for consumers and is as well vastly more expensive than normal meat production. Costs should fall in the future, and the costs of traditional food production could also trend upwards, making vat grown meat a viable alternative. Like arcologies, this is again not currently an option that would be preferred by anyone who isn't suffering from a shortage of food. Hydroponics could similarly be used to grow plants used for food, which would allow more food to be grown in less space.
Earth's resources are, naturally, limited, although still substantial. One of the biggest sticking points is being able to get to and develop these resources, especially mineral resources, without making huge holes in the ground. Earth is not, however, the only source of resources and energy; there is a universe of abundant resources and energy out there. All that needs to be done is to develop the requisite technologies needed to obtain them; an area that has not as yet been sufficiently developed.
Solar energy is a great potential future source of vast amounts of power. This would not be from the pathetic fraction of solar energy that can be obtained from Earth-based, land intensive and inefficient solar farms currently used, where the Sun's radiation is mostly blocked by the atmosphere. Even with the atmosphere, the energy from the Sun that reaches the planet in one year is double the amount that will be produced in total by all of the non-renewable resources throughout their entire life - that's the total amount of energy that will be produced if all the known resources are used up, not merely the energy consumed in one year, or the total that has been used to date, and that's only the energy that Earth actually receives.
Instead, solar power would be generated in space where the Earth's atmosphere does not get in the way and land usage is rather less of a problem. The Sun generates vastly more energy than is used and more than has been used in total in human history.
Credit: NASAThere are currently a couple of notable problems with generating space based solar power. The first is the problem of transferring the power to Earth once generated. It is all very well having practically limitless power available, but it's useless unless it can be sent to where it's needed. One way would be using a microwave beam to transfer the power to Earth based collection stations. This is, admittedly, rather dangerous for anything that gets in the path of the beam - it's a potential death ray. A more science fiction approach, although looking to progress into becoming science fact, is by using wormholes to transfer the energy directly to Earth without it having to actually go through the intervening space. Another alternative would be to store the generated power in some sort of "battery" and then ship said batteries to Earth. This has the disadvantage that either the batteries would constantly shipping back up again or new ones would need constantly manufacturing in space.
The second problem is where to have the solar panels. A large array of solar panels in space would behave in a manner rather reminiscent of a solar sail, and would run the risk of being blown out of the Solar System on the solar wind. This would require that the solar array have station keeping engines to prevent this from happening.
Another place for constructing solar farms is on the Moon along with a Lunar base. It would likely be even more difficult to get the power to where it is needed from the Moon though; an orbiting array could be placed in geo-stationary orbit, so that it is constantly above the same spot on Earth. No such thing is possible with the Moon.
Solar power is probably the most currently feasible energy source for the mass production of power, unless something like cold fusion can actually be cracked.
There are plentiful mineral resources located off Earth. The Moon is the easiest to reach currently and could be mined for light metals and silicon useful in construction, space craft and electronics, but it is not the only source of minerals. The asteroids contain plentiful resources, including heavier metals than are found on the Moon. As well as being in the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter, asteroids can be found in plenty of other locations in the Solar System, including many which either cross Earth's orbit or orbit comparatively near to us.
Two asteroid mining companies, Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, have already been set up with the intent of eventually developing asteroids for resources and NASA has stated plans to tow an asteroid into Lunar orbit, as both a base and for mining. Asteroid composition does vary, so some are more useful than others.
Only The Beginning
These are just a few of the things that can be done to start with. They are predominately the options that are currently more easily done, but there are many other possibilities for the future as technology advances and a space presence becomes more widespread and permanent.
The gas giants themselves could be mined for gases, including hydrocarbons.
Water, usually in the form of ice, is quite plentiful - there is even ice on Mercury.
The Kuiper Belt beyond the orbit of Neptune has several dwarf planets, including the former planet Pluto, and many minor bodies that are rich in volatiles.
In the future technologies such as nanotechnology could change the shape of everything.
A Universe of Abundance Awaits
Scarcity is not real. Abundance awaits, but this will not be reached without intent. All that is needed is to invest in the development of the required technologies; often, a fraction of the amount that is wasted elsewhere could greatly advance the progress of what is needed to be done to attain these goals.
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