The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Immigrate to the Stars?

Immigrate to the Stars?

I just don't see it. When I said that human beings use 60,000 times more energy than they did during the Paleolithic, I said that with an eye toward a Malthusian crisis of unprecedented proportions. That is: an inability to produce sufficient goods and services to provide a decent life-style to the entire planet. And if the differential between rich and poor remains the same, or gets even worse? A state of constant warfare against neural-net terrorist cells--and some of their complaints might well be justified if we keep this shit up.

The fact that we can save some children is excellent, but not when millions of other (and browner) children are starving, dying of thirst and disease, and roiling in gut-wrenching poverty. And my friends, unless you've seen third-world poverty up close, you ain't seen poverty. Trust me.

What is true is that energy is a key to lifting the world up. No way in hell do I want to go backwards to animal power. But my brain just short circuits when people imply, or insist, that the current population of the planet, or the populations we are headed toward, are nothing to worry about.

I'm going to be honest here: I think that most of the attitude that we should still "be fruitful and multiply" without concern comes from a limited number of sources:

1) Biblical injunctions. I rarely hear atheists talking this way.

2) Vestigial cultural (and possibly genetic) memories of a time only a few millennia ago when the total world population dropped to a few thousand. We almost went extinct, people. I'd think that would hit an "alarm" button to make Max Babies. It hasn't quite shut off yet.

3) Remnants of a primarily agricultural society, world-wide, in which larger population was pure advantage.

4) Pure selfishness. "I want mine." And screw future generations.

5) A kind of fannish blindness. There was a real fad about cryogenic freezing of brains in the SF community a decade or so back. I noted that most of the people who were most interested in expanded lives were taking TERRIBLE care of their bodies and lives RIGHT NOW. It was really weird to me that they seemed to want to just extend the misery. Whatever kind of tunnel vision that required, I see some of it in the "we'll escape to the stars!" attitude.


Now, don't get me wrong: I am absolutely in favor of the space program, and believe that it is Mankind's destiny to spread off this planet to the rest of the solar system, and perhaps the stars. Hell, PROBABLY the stars.

But in no way, shape, or form, do I think it's a good idea to think that this will ever relieve our population pressure. Why? Because moving billions of people off this planet into space would require technology that isn't even on the drawing board, people. It would require Heinlein's "Tunnel to the Sky" on a colossal scale, and even then it assumes so many things that I could barely even write a novel on the subject.

It would involve discovery or terraforming of suitable planets, or building of suitable habitats. Training of vast numbers of people to survive there...and remember, unless the planet or habitat was almost EXACTLY like Earth, the necessary preparation for survival there would prohibit all but the hardiest, best-trained, and best supplied. And exactly how much does it cost to train and supply someone to live in the arctic? Beneath the sea? Let alone in space.

I have a sense that the model many people use is the "Europeans immigrating to America" model. May I remind you that this was done with off-the-shelf technology? That apparently people had been traveling to the Americas for thousands of years, some on flimsy rafts? Yeah, most of their colonies didn't "take," but I think that that's pretty different from getting a Shuttle to orbit, let alone building a self-sustaining colony, or Terraforming Mars or something.

And let's say that you have ultimate faith in Mankind. I seriously believe we're capable of almost anything. So you believe that we CAN develop the technologies necessary to move billions of people off this planet to a sustainable environment. Maybe that we can terraform Mars or Venus or build a series of colonies. Great!

Don't you want Earth to have the wealth and will necessary to do this? I mean, what is your most optimistic estimate of the point at which a billion people can leave this planet permanently? A hundred years? Two hundred?

Is there anyone out there who thinks that we could conceivably get even a million people off this planet within a generation? Anyone? If you want the human race to survive, then part of what we have to do is keep the biosphere sufficiently intact, and the average level of human wellness high enough, and ourselves resource-rich enough, that when some critical break-through technology happens (cold fusion? Teleportation? Remember: even "Star Trek" level technology would be insufficient to ease world population at the current growth rates) we'll be wealthy enough to take advantage of it.

Otherwise, I believe that what people are REALLY saying is: "let's use up the Earth, and then the wealthiest/smartest people will escape to the stars." Needless to say, the people who have this belief must consider themselves part of this group.

I can't recall a single SF movie that ever displayed a level of technology sufficient to move a million people off Earth within a reasonable number of decades.

Meaning that even if such technologies are coming down the pike, we STILL better act as if they ain't coming at all. In my mind, anything less than that is blindness. And yes, education of women (and education across the board) is a great way to start the process. I'm up for anything that will leave a world for my great-grandchildren to inherit, so long as it isn't an impoverished cinder.

And this, I believe is where a foolish optimism could be as destructive as a foolish pessimism. "What difference does it make? It's all going to hell anyway. Let's party!" is a loathsome attitude. I don't think it's rare, unfortunately. But functionally it's the same as "we'll innovate our way out of any corner. We always have. Let's party!" Which raises the old Malthusian ghost, as well as questions about why we haven't detected signals from alien civilizations. Personally, I think we eventually will make such contact, but until we do, maybe we shouldn't be quite so sure that life is omnipresent throughout the universe, or that intelligence can solve all problems. Maybe we should be just a little humbler, and more cautious.

What am I suggesting? I'd say a variety of approaches, NONE of which involve compulsion. Education, contraception, encouraging adoption, various programs to encourage people to have no more than two children per couple...that's a separate discussion. If we don't find ways to do this voluntarily (and birth rates ARE dropping in industrialized countries, thank God) then it may be done with force. Governments doing it against their own populations, and even stealthf biowar sterilization between enemies.

And of course, there's the biosphere itself. The Gaia hypothesis is pretty sweet. If you look at the Earth as a living being, it certainly calls for you to expand your definition of "life" and possibly even "intelligence." But if you can squint your eyes and see that perspective, then it would make sense that, no, we can't really hurt the Earth, but we can sure as hell screw up our ability to live here comfortably. Just read an article about male fertility rates dropping as a result of pollutants. Hell, maybe we won't have to do a damned thing but continue to wallow in our filth.

Personally, I don't want that. Because I don't believe in the "Great Man" hypothesis, I don't think we need every single child we can possibly pump out of our loins. Rather, we need to care for every child we have, nourish and educate and inculturate them, or risk producing armies of the poor and disenfranchised who have no stake in preserving society. And building more prisons on the far end is, in my mind, a poor substitute for treasuring and disciplining every little boy and girl while they are young.


I see no scenario in which it is an advantage to raise our population from its current six billion, and many in which it is a nightmare. I suppose I can imagine a few in which we break even. But the only one that I'm willing to bet my children's lives on is one in which fewer of them are born, but those who are born have clean air, clean water, plenty of energy, and a chance to work their way from the bottom of society to the top--with plenty of role models who have done just that. That allows for a society healthy and flexible enough that, when those breakthrough technologies finally arrive, we'll be able to organize our resources and will to begin to climb to the stars.

Otherwise? Well, I suspect that the wealthiest and most fortunate .01% of the future ruling class will say: "gee. Who could possibly have predicted how bad things would get? Oh well, we did the best we could with this planet. Let's get on our generation colony ship for a 100-year trip at 1/10 the speed of light...and party like it's 1999!"

Remember 1999? Back in that 50-year slot at the beginning of the 21st Century when we had a chance to turn things around?

Our grandchildren unborn are waiting to hear our answer. And no, I don't think that a hundred poor sick "locked in an endless fight for clean water" great-grandchildren would be better than twenty healthy, wealthy, happy ones.


So my question to readers: can anyone PLEASE describe a plausible scenario by which even ten million people might leave Earth within a century? Going where? With what technology? At what cost?


Anonymous said...

> or the populations we are headed toward<

We are currently "heading" towards a population in the 7-8 billion range.

Birth rates are _plummeting_ across the globe in country after country. Assuming no significant life extension technology, world population peaks in the next 20-40 years and then starts falling. A number of big countries, like Japan and parts of Europe, already have falling population rates because of low birth rates, and other big countries (like China, freakin China which is 1/5th the pop of the entire planet) are set to having falling birth rates within a decade, two at max.

If no life extension technology comes along, then there will probably be a lot fewer people in 2100 then there were in 2000.

Mind you, if serious life extension technology does come along, then all bets are off.

Master Plan said...

Change produces pressures, pressures create change, etc.

I can see no scenario in which any of this really matters much.

Poor people starve and die and then....we have less people.

Smart people innovate and improve...and we have more people.

A scenario in which 10,000,000 people leave the planet for good in the next 100 years?

North Korea releases a genetically engineered plague, many begin to die, it mutates and jumps populations and species. Rich people become concerned (.01% of 6,000,000,000 is 6 million, plus 4 million techs\servants) and build a moon colony. Provided they are working a environment in which disease has essentially killed governmental control, if the Saudis et al can't just buy influence anyway, they have no moral compunctions, this would be fairly easy in terms of materials, people, military forces, economics, etc.

Master Plan said...


Going where? The moon

With what technology? Disposable booster rockets, hydrogen balloons, solar power, space elevators. Water is trickier of course, but not unmanageable.

At what cost? Doesn't matter, money\energy cost in such an environment is essentially meaningless.

Water would be my primary area of concern. However if you've got effectively unlimited solar energy (those mountains of eternal sunlight) then you can do some horribly inefficient things regarding hydrogen and oxygen.

Here's some recent data indicating water might be present on the moon anyway.

100 years is a pretty long time given current computational capabilities.

Mark Jones said...

Move 10,000,000 people off earth within a century? No plausible scenario I can think of, barring a completely unforeseen breakthrough into superscience of some kind.

As for SF films--the Stargate film (and series) had it. The stargate basically IS Heinlein's tunnel in the sky. Move the gate into some facility other than a former missile silo, where you can stage vast numbers of colonists for quick movement through the gate and then fire that sucker up. Assuming you have somewhere (preferably a lot of somewheres) to send them, you can move people offworld as fast as you can shove them through the gate.

Scott said...

Increasing wealth seems to cut birth rate a lot; might be a soluble, finite problem.

Master Plan said...

Moving 10,000,000 people on a floating sea platform, or down under the earth, these seem more reasonable.

Dimensional travel is of course pretty much the hot shit in this sort of think-work as Mark J has noted.

I wonder about the energy costs involved in doing that as compared to energy costs involved in space travel versus the potential utility value of the time scales involved as well.

Shady_Grady said...

I can't imagine a scenario in which millions of people move (or are moved) off the planet. There doesn't appear to be anywhere we've found so far that is amenable to human life.

I think absent some worldwide shock or breakthrough in science, people will continue to behave as they've always done.

In the future if we did find a planet that was perfectly matched to human needs but empty of life, would all of the world's superwealthy want to move there or would they prefer to maintain their wealth and benefits in this world?

It is amazing to me that China and India make up so much of the world's population but I seem to remember reading that those two countries have always made up a pretty healthy share of the world's population.

Human nature being what it is countries that are coming up aren't going to take steps to limit population or energy use unless (absent compulsion) someone can show them why it's in their self-interest.

China in particular seems to have no problem telling the West to back off on energy issues. And China is taking aggressive steps to lock up its resource and energy needs.

Anonymous said...

>No plausible scenario I can think of, barring a completely unforeseen breakthrough into superscience of some kind.<

Do keep in mind that over 100 years, baring nuclear war and the like, some aspects of our life are virtually guaranteed to be completely warped by breakthroughs that today we would consider in the "super science category."

Picture an educated person from 1908 looking at the world of 2008. We have quite a few things that they wouldn't even have theories on how they work. Cars they could understand as souped-up versions of the Model T (which is more or less what they are), but the internet would be essentially magic to them.

Personally I'm betting that the big breakthroughs in the 21st century are going to come from bio techs, not big power projects that will get us off earth (although I expect commercially viable fusion in my lifetime as well).

Anonymous said...

"So my question to readers: can anyone PLEASE describe a plausible scenario by which even ten million people might leave Earth within a century?".

Uh-oh. Selection time. I'm immediately reminded of two speeches. One rather long, and the other even longer, but a very significant ending.

1. Peter Sellers' survival selection speech as Dr. Strangelove as given to the rest of the folks in the War Room with particular emphasis and glee given to the ratios of men-to-women in the breeding department and how much time will be devoted to it.

2. "Ein volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer!".

Anonymous said...

I see the
millionsleave the earth
and colonize some other lucky habitat scwenario
as throw away mentality
yeah we spoiled and soiled
the earth now let's head out
and spoil and soil some place else

if we are intelligent enough
to figure out how to get to another place
and terraform it
then we oughta have the technology
to terra form earth
to a more pristine state

Pagan Topologist said...

This is a great post, Steve. I suspect that our attempts to make ourselves immune to the inexorable process of evolution will end in a way or ways that we cannot imagine. But, we will survive, at least some of us will. And, likely, some of us will live elsewhere. But there is no justification at all, as far as I can see, for not doing everything we can to save the capability that this planet's biosphere has of supporting human life. This is not automatic.

Al Gore has it right, pretty much, I think.

Unknown said...

Steve, a lot of what you say is spot-on. Even if we believe in space travel, it's only prudent to keep the home-base as life-friendly and healthy as possible, for as long as possible.

I agree that the desire to reproduce is largely based on our instinctive awareness of the fragility of life, but I'm not entirely convinced that it was a single near-extinction event or epoch that created that instinct, or that the threat is no longer with us. We don't know how many people are enough people. What seems like too many could pretty quickly become too few. Our hammers are nowhere near the biggest hammers in the universe. And I'm one of those who think that people are a resource, not a plague. Having said that, yep, we shouldn't have more kids than we can feed.

I'm a big fan of the space travel thing as well; I think people could end up being the salvation, or at least the continuance, of this little pocket of life, assuming we figure out how to leave. This planet, and all of its genetic knowledge, is pretty well doomed without some kind of intervention/escape.

Unknown said...

And what suze says about the space colonization idea being linked to a throw-away mentality is often true, but it isn't necessarily true. Many of us think it's a good idea to leave our childhood home; few of us think it's okay to burn that home to the ground on our way out the door. Moving to a new home doesn't preclude loving your old home. Space travellers and tree-huggers can coexist peaceably.

Moving ten million people off earth in a century? Probably not, though as Mike points out, future technologies are hard to predict. (And I'd say there are actually quite a few sf shows and movies that imagine that technology. I would think that a society that can build a Death Star could move a million people from planet to planet fairly handily.) But improvements in technology that allow us to lessen the impact as if ten million people had left earth? That's a lot more doable, it seems to me. Space gates in fifty years? Probably not. People who have been genetically tweaked to thrive on a thousand calories a day eating their high-protein tastee-shrooms while living in solar-panelled smart-condos? Might not be that far away. We can reduce hunger by decreasing the mouths to feed, but also by improving the food we feed them.

It seems to me that population is just one of the factors involved in taking care of the planet, and that just having fewer babies is sort of the old-fashioned approach to the problem. Slow the growth, while drastically decreasing the per capita impact, and aim for a sustainable plateau.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to take a devil's advocate position for people to contemplate.

"Our grandchildren unborn are waiting to hear our answer."

I'm a person who has no children and it is extremely unlikely that I will ever have children. So let me ask you a question: why should I sacrifice and deny myself the use of current resources since I have no stake in the future? Give me a reason to save the planet for future generations of humans who aren't related to me.

Frank said...

Within a Century? I can imagine it.

We would have to redefine what we meant by that but I think we could do something along those lines with technology we have today, let alone what we have 50 years from now.

But we would have to start with the recognition that a) we are not precisely sure of the destination at the start (or perhaps ever)and b) that the journey would be multi-generational.

So given those assumptions, we could build, in space, huge eco-ships: Ships that were an ecology. I think Palo Solari-inspired designs for arcologies on earth could be used as a start.

If you build them in space, there is no need for aerodynamics and no need for escape-velocity power.

All you would need to power it would be a nuclear reactor internally and a sail that would power the ship.

Communications would be important and some steering mechanism. You would also need some ferries to get people to the surface if you do happen to run into a planet you might want to colonize.

So then you just load it up with people, animals and plants, point the ship in some general direction, potentially update your course as new information from Earth came in about potential planets and off you go.

May not be efficient, but it could be done with today's technology.

And there would be people who are up for the adventure. Bunches of them I suspect.

Remember Jefferson Starship's Blows Against the Empire?

What you gonna do when you feel your lady rollin'
How you gonna feel when you see your lady strollin'
On the deck of the starship
With her head hooked into Andromeda
C'mon Hijack
Gotta get back and ahead to the things that matter
Amerika hates her crazies
And you gotta let go you know
gotta let go you know
gotta let go you know
gotta let go you know or else you stay

Hydroponic gardens and forests
Glistening with lakes in the Jupiter starlite
Room for babies and Byzantine dancing astronauts of renown
The magician and the pantechnicon
Take along the farmer and the physician
We gotta get out and down
Back into the future
Beyond our own time again
Reachin' for tomorrow
It's so fine Starshine

Dear Brumus, the ship'll be ours and you got to roll with it
And tho' your master's head's blown off you got to go with it
Roll with the natural flow
Like water off a spinning ball
Out - the one remaining way to go
Free - the only way to fall
The light in the night is the sun
And it can carry you around the planetary ground
And the planetary whip of the sun
Will carry you well past Gideon
And the people you see will leave you be
more than the ones you've known before
Hey - rollin' on
We come and go like a comet
We are wanderers
Are you anymore?

I'd go....

Josh Jasper said...

Hey Frank - an honest question. Do you see a libertarian society on a generation ship, or do you see one with tight social controls? I can't see how people who live on such a ship would have much in the way of personal choice of occupation, economy, etc...

They'd be slaves to the goal of reaching the destination. Presumably, some form of enforced compliance would be needed after that, or everyone would perish.

I can imagine some odd combination of expansive personal freedoms in some areas, while trading for a lack in others (occupation, living space, privacy, reproduction etc...) but the chance of personal conflict devolving into violence is one that a generation ship would have to contend with.

Frank said...


Hey Frank - an honest question. Do you see a libertarian society on a generation ship, or do you see one with tight social controls?

I'm actually exploring these issues as I write a novel based on these themes and no, I do not envision a Libertarian society.

Mostly because I imagine that the society that put this together would have also put in place a governing body based on our Constitution.

I think it is pretty clear that "Blows Against the Empire" imagined a commune that they imagined would make everyone free to do their own thing, but clearly that could not be the case.

There are skill-sets that would have to be refilled over time in order for the community to survive so there would have to be something in place to assure that.

There would also have to be a sense of mission (similar to patriotism) instilled down through the generations or the whole thing could devolve into chaos.

I also think that the designers of such a program would have to build some number of these things with the idea that some percentage would misfire: either be destroyed by some random cosmic event, a fatal mechanical failure, or experience a catastrophic social failure.

And of course the more you sent the more likely it is that one might find a habitable planet.

Exploring the idea of a catastrophic social failure on such a ship would be very interesting creatively.

Steve Perry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Perry said...

Thing with the giant ships is that you still have to deal with human physiology, and unless they are planet-sized, the ships don't do it.

I built one of these ships in a book I wrote years back, using the notion of centrifugal force to substitute for gravity. In theory it might work. You spin the ship, with the "walls" becoming the floors.

It might also have people puking their guts out constantly, and there is the Coriolis Effect to deal with, done on such a relatively small scale.

You might be able to shield the ship well enough to deal with cosmic radiation, which causes big losses in bone mass; even with exercise machines, the lack of gravity will still do awful things to muscles and bones, and within a year or two, you have a ship full of osteoporotic folks whose bodies cannot support their own weight. On the space station, six months, even with exercise, knocks down density by ten or twelve percent. Stretch that into years?

Genetically-engineered humans could be the answer, those designed for zero-gee, but medically, we'd have to figure out how to do this, then breed folks for space flight, which wouldn't be useful if they got to another planet and wanted to go back into the gravity well. There'd need to be another genetic reversal to come up with planet-dwellers. Aside from the medical considerations, there is a raft of ethical questions to consider ...

Frank said...

Steve Perry

Good point. We would probably have to wait until a) we knew what gravity actually was and b) figured out how to generate a gravity field.

So, it seems we couldn't do it today.

Master Plan said...

I'd have to agree with Frank, re: Mr. Perry's comments.

We can do all of that now. Gene engineering. Pills to combat bone loss. Machines for exercise. All kinds of options.

I have not seen any suggestions in these comments that seem to be deal-breakers in the sense that they would make the whole idea unworkable.

Problems? Yes. Of course. But then that's what humans, and really, life in general, are good at working around. Give somebody a problem and now they have something to work on.

Most objections to serious space travel seem along the lines (not *here* per se, just in general) of " would be *hard*!" (said like a petulant teenager).

In a generational ship you'd have a pretty closed social system which would I think work to your advantage, everybody knows everybody, and after a generation or two everybody is related to everybody, heck, if you're recycling systems are good enough after the first person dies...everybody IS everybody as you begin to turn their bodies in to nutrients and eat them, over and over.

Also on a generational ship you've got the ability to engineer solutions to problems that arise over time. No reason not to throw a gene lab on there for instance.

I think selective gene coding\transcription is more likely than out-right "Humans bred for space" type stuff.

Sure it might knock down lifespan by 20 or 30 biggie, you'll need to make room for the next round anyway, and provided everybody has something to do (why bring 'em otherwise) you'll have to be constantly training and cross-training the new generations anyway. It would be hard to justify supporting folks that don't generate work in some way. Dead weight. Resource hogs.

Given that I'd expect everybody to be related to everybody pretty quickly (even just in terms of social networks, to say nothing of kids and marriage) and that they'd be floating in the void in a tin-can I think there would be low probability of social failure as even if YOU wanted to die, there would likely be many people you care about who you'd not want dead, and since it would be a tightly interwoven economic fabric you can't really get away with progroms and purges and such.

For the sake of plausibility we might assume that deep space probes detect something nasty coming this way in 100 years. So we MUST get off the planet if we expect human life to survive. Kinda Watchmen style, one big threat to unify the world. Now all of our resources spent on military hardware are centralized and rededicated to space survival. If we posit that the resources of the entire human race are put towards this single goal....even if we stopped innovating and creating entirely, what's the stumbling block? Not materials, not people, not brainpower, not power, not ideas, not technology, not war, etc, etc.

Shady_Grady said...

Just following up on the great points raised by Steve Perry.

Another twist is that whatever gene engineering which could be done on humans would presumably be heritable so those impacted would pass it on to their descendants. Would such people still be considered "human". What would they look like? Could they even live on Earth?

Anonymous said...

i think i have to go along with pagan topologist on this one. space travel is an awesome undertaking. pretty much going to have to be a coordinated multinational effort to take us beyond the moon or to create a life sustaining spacestation. if we can muster the will to do that then i would hope we could muster the will to save our own home. as to the devils advocate position, my children could all die tomorrow. everyones stake in the future is uncertain. doing the right thing, making a moral choice has its own value. langdon

Josh Jasper said...

Frank - the whole instilling a sense of mission thing sounds almost like a religion, more than patriotism.

And I don't see a necessity of social collapse, but what I think is interesting is the idea of what a counterculture might look like. It might look more like current day libertarianism. I'd think that the ship's government would be more socialistic in nature, wheras people dissenting would be the libertarians; people who wanted their own choices in some areas to be considered.

And of course the more you sent the more likely it is that one might find a habitable planet.

If we don't find an easily terraformable planet before leaving earth, the ship would be a deathtrap, unless it was 100% self sustaining forever.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

If earth's ecology collapses, it would presumably still be easier to build closed environments on earth than to go out into space. You still have lovely appropriate gravity, all the matter in various flavors that you need, and a chance of terraforming an almost-human-habitable place.

The only ways I can think of space making people safer would be something like the magma under Yosemite erupting or a change in the sun, either of which could lead to good sf (the really important thing). What if you knew Yosemite would blow in 200 years? In 50?

I'm not convinced that differences of income (even very drastic ones) have a simple relationship to terrorism. Africa isn't a source of terrorists. Bin Laden was richer than just about anyone. McVeigh and Aum Shinrikio (the Japanese subway gas attack) were at least comfortable. I think terrorism has more to do with a breakdown of empathy and a desperation to have an effect-- and sometimes with a culture that supports it. You can convince people that just about anything is normal if it's been going on for a while.

I'm dubious about the vestigial memory thing. I don't think people have much species loyalty. What we do have in memetic competition, and people will sacrifice their genetic chances for the sake of their culture. But usually, there's pressure to have kids to keep the family and ethnic culture alive.

Another source of the belief that there's no reason to limit population-- the Julian Simon idea that every mouth comes with a pair of hands and a mind.

I'm inclined to think that we're still in the range where if we didn't waste so much, we could still afford a lot more people. On the other hand, we're moving rather slowly on the cutting back waste thing.

I don't think we have to worry about a wildly expanding population. Rights and education for women seems to be the big thing that lowers the population growth rate, though I suspect that pensions and the cost of education make a difference too.

As for the people who are into cryonics being unhappy (did you know that Timothy Leary refused to be frozen because he didn't like the cryonicists?), maybe part of it's the hope that if you have enough time, life might get better.

I don't know how typical he is, but I do know a rather unhappy fan who was hooked on the idea of "getting off this mudball". As far as I could understand, he thought that getting into space would get him away from people. This isn't going to happen until you can get much more advanced tech that will enable to to buy your own space habitat and maintain it pretty automatically.

Marty S said...

Barring the invention of a rejuvenation process, that can restore youth, we are all going to die some time. As human beings we accept that. The same thing is true for the human species as a whole if we stay in the solar system. Eventually the sun will die and so will all life with it. So there are really only two questions.

1) Will we survive as a species by expanding out of this solar system at some point or not?

2) Will we kill ourselves off, before nature does?

Historically the human answer to population pressure/resource allocation has been war. Unfortunately, nuclear war could be the answer we find to the approaching resource/population crisis.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I agree that the people who assume we can innovate our way out of any problem we can create are irresponsible. I suspect they don't know enough about biology or medicine. Even for the relatively simple and well-studied case of the human body (simple and well-studied compared to the environment), it's much too easy to break one thing while you're trying to fix something else.

Much as I like the idea of arkologies in space, I don't think we're close to knowing how to keep them going, and we aren't working that hard on figuring out how.

On the other hand, working on it could produce valuable unlikely answers.

In terms of mere survival, the most important consequence of the space program was weather satellites, and I don't think anyone could have predicted that.

As for what the society would need to be like on a generation ship, I'd like to think it would be kind and sensible-- a lot of social pressure and understanding to do what's necessary, but also a lot of pressure and understanding that hurting people has high costs. Check out The No Asshole Rule, which is about the costs of having bullies at work, and the fact that such behavior doesn't have to be tolerated.

Steve Perry, what about a space ship on a tether (with either another space ship or a big mass on the other end) so that the radius is big enough to make the Coriolis force tolerable?

Master Plan, I'm dubious about manipulating biology with good results being quite so easy as you imply, but tolerance of Coriolis forces should be a lot easier than being able to handle longterm microgravity.

Christian H. said...

So my question to readers: can anyone PLEASE describe a plausible scenario by which even ten million people might leave Earth within a century? Going where? With what technology? At what cost?

They'll probably kill themselves with bad habits, to put it mildly or bluntly, depending upon your point of view.

The main problem is a lack of efficiency due to the false sense of stability with the acquisition of paper, whether it's a real estate note or a treasury note.

The only thing worth anything is the creation of goods and services. Everything else is a useless distraction.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Christian, we have to have the paper. There's too much complex stuff to keep track of without using a symbol system. I have a very small business, but I can't create my goods and services as well without paper records.

The challenge is to use the symbols without being hypnotized by them.

That being said, it's probably seeing how many dangerously hypnotic symbol systems we can think of. It's not just the real estate and treasury notes.

It's laws and degrees, too. And people who we trust too easily because they say the right things.

Steve Perry said...

MP --

"We can do all of that now. Gene engineering. Pills to combat bone loss. Machines for exercise. All kinds of options."

Actually, we can't do any of that now. The stuff your grandma takes for bone loss isn't up to the rigors of zero-G and cosmic radiation. You don't think it has been tried?

Machines for exercise only work as long as you are using one, and even on training-for-Iron-Man regimens on the space station, it doesn't address all the off-hours of no-gravity. They've tried that, too.

Centrifical force from rotation to produce anything close to one-gee to get the weight-bearing effect would require that the ship be huge, else the spinning would have to be really fast. Ever been on one of those CF rides at a fair? You stand with your back to a circular wall, the ride spins, and at a certain speed, the floor drops away and you stick to the wall. Now, try and stand on that wall and walk.

Could be that we don't need a full-gee, but nobody knows what the cut-off would be. Half? Third?

The shielding is possible with a monster of a ship. You can even use water as part of it, but if we didn't have a magnetic field on the Earth, chances are anything higher up the life chain than a roach would never have come into being, that's what keeps up from getting cooked, and even so, it doesn't stop it all -- lot of cancer comes from that.

There are particles that will zip through a hundred-foot-thick wall of lead like a bullet through the air.

This is not to say that all these things can't be addressed eventually. But as we are now, a space voyage of a few years is beyond our ability to pull of with functioning humans.

Ways around it? Robots, with fertilized embryos in suspended animation, to be brought to term once the ship gets where it is going might work.

Suspended animation of adult humans shielded against radiation might.

Of course, we have to learn how to do that first. Eighty years of hibernation is kinda tricky for higher order mammals.

But you and I aren't going to be climbing onto a big generation ship and going to the stars as we stand.

That's just how it is.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

A fannish discussion of space exploration.

I note that it's about as pessimistic about the difficulties as the discussion here. I wonder how many "We must, we will, expand into space" fans there are any more. I don't think I know any.

James Nicoll, who started the discussion, expects a very prosperous future on earth (and uses it to snark at people who write hellhole fiction), so he isn't a pessimist in general.

Master Plan said...

Mr. Perry, I would say rather that we can do all of those things now, but that they are not up to the standards required for an undertaking such as the one Mr. Barnes is requesting.

All of the things you've mentioned are indeed problems, but problems are build to be solved\dismantled.

This is a theoretical case wherein we're given 100 years to get 10,000,000 people off of the planet.

So given that moderately vague set of conditions what makes those problems unsolvable?

Perhaps it is slightly hyberbolic to state as I have that we have everything we need right now to undertake, successfully, such a project, but certainly there is no paucity of ideas or techniques to be exploited.

The world we live in currently is one most emblematic of the "patching" approach. Most of what we do today, due to high levels of complexity and emergent effects, is not likely to be "right" and certainly not likely to be "perfect". However due to some of the goofy tools at our disposal, such as computers, we can patch things, over and over, to the point they don't really resemble what came before (*cough*WindowsVista*cough*).

I think that approach would be applied to such a scenario as we are discussing here as well.

Since we've been tasked by our host to create a possibility for 10,000,000 people to get off the planet, permanently (and one presumes, still living) in 100 years I think we have plenty of ideas to work with.

So to say, we can't do that now, it won't be easy, it's impossible given current understandings, these are a set of issues which make it difficult, etc, is largely not purposeful is it?

Certainly we can say it can't work. Certainly we can say if a man attacks you with a knife you will be killed. So why bother? Why study martial arts? Why invest in science and technology? Why even try to think of ways in which it might work?

Of course we'll encounter problems, and be finding those problems, and by finding the issues you've taken with my suggestions we can then begin to resolve them, no?

You say the pills my grandma takes for her osteoporosis are not up to the task of keeping human bones healthy in space for extended periods. But, they do in fact increase bone density, as does exercise, as does centrifugal force. So reality, of today, where are all of those approaches being attempted at the same time? What are the results of that testing? What are the downsides? Obviously we don't know because they are not being done\do not exist. Thus I propose that they will be effective and if they are not that we can, clever monkeys that we are, engineer solutions to difficulties which shall (not might) arise.

We can say that the only way such a project could possibly work would be to unify the entirety of humanity towards that goal. We can also that, "There's no way that will ever happen, humans are too fractious and enjoy murdering one another too much", but this is besides the point isn't it?

Just because it hasn't happened yet does not mean it can't happen, just because it is impossible currently does not mean it's in fact really actually impossible, and in fact the history of humanity is exactly that, doing things which have never been done before (if this changes some essential underlying nature of humanity may or may not be true) and creating things which were once thought to be impossible.

Robots and frozen embryos for instance can't possibly work because the radiation will effect the robots as it will effect anything and once the robots are beyond radio range (real time comms) they encounter unexpected hazards or situations and be unable to adapt and thus fail.

So that won't work.

Unless we had AI routines. Unless we had human in hibernation to deal with the issues. Unless the robots are biological critters which self-repair radiation damage.

But of course those won't ever be possible or work either for a variety of reasons.

No doubt, this looks like a hard problem, better to not think about it, give up, and resign ourselves to environmental catastrophe, right?


I take your points to an extreme to make a point of my own, hopefully not be be a big jerk, to say "as we are now", yes, we are not living in space at this very moment above the earth, so clearly we are not moving 10,000,000 people permanently off of the planet (to the moon? why other stars and such?) but that's not to say that using current technologies, on a much larger scale (which does take time) we are unable to do this at all ever.

Over time we might even create awesome crazy new shit even, and then patch it, and patch it, and patch it, until it works.

This is the same process we undergo when learning the martial arts, or by extension, anything at all under the umbrella of human endeavor. Update, update, update. Can't bench 250 right now? Keep doing it, eat right, improve your technique, try again next week, next month, maybe even use a bench shirt, steroids, CNS stimulants.

Patch, patch, patch.

It's unlikely we'll get it right the first time, we might need 100 10,000,000 person ships that fail horribly before we find one that works. Evolution. Progress.

Anyway. You are right, right now we are not doing this so clearly we cannot do this right now.

But I don't think that means it's impossible right now (most people right now to do not own HDTVS (nor do they exercise and eat well) but we have the tech to make it so that everybody can\will own an HDTV (and eating and moving right...that's pretty old knowledge) most HDTVs that people do own do not download streaming HD content off the internet or from private providers, but they can do that and thus we can all of us eventually have one that does, no improvement to technology is needed) it just means it's not being done.

Does that make more clear what I was attempting to say?

Robots and embryos is an interesting idea. Tho it doesn't satisfy getting 10,000,000 living adults off of the planet permanently, which I think is what we're being asked to come up with for Mr. Barnes.

I favor building 10,000,000 suits of Tony Stark Iron Man armor myself, the Extemis variety (for any comic nerds out there) to solve the problem. ;-)

Indeed provided we are just trying to get these 10,000,000 recipients of our collective generosity off of the planet and not ever let them come back (Space Jews?) we might not even need to worry about bone loss and such. We might only need to worry about medical responses for when they are flesh sacks with twigs for internal structure. Maybe they never go down the gravity well again. Still meets the parameters of the initial blog post I think.

If we're talking about generational ships which are being sent across time and space to other presumed populateable planets perhaps problems of that type provide solutions to themselves. We'll have plenty of time to ponder the possibilities while we plod along through space.

But suppose we arrive and the planet is not going to sustain life. Then we live in orbit forever? Same issues, no need for bones, we'll make exo-shells instead from capture asteroids iron and return to devastate the earth in another 100 years as metal suited space knights of improbable stature pissed that they exiled us to "certain doom".

And so on and so forth. It's more fun to think of weird ways in which it can work than to poke holes in preposterous potentialities (for me) personally.


Master Plan said...

And one more short bit before I have delicious breakfast.

I think the ideal order of operations for this undertaking goes like this:

First we build a arcology. Self-contained self-sufficient above ground enclosed structure. This provides direct benefits anyway. It's environmentally neutral. So we slow environmental extinction this way while we work on stage two and of course once we've got one of these things we can build more of them.

Second we build this arcology underground, same idea, but new and different sets of engineering challenges (no sun for instance for power).

Then we build this arcology so that it floats on the ocean. Again, new challenges, new improvements, new technologies. We might even begin moving people off of land on to these floating cities to lessen our biospheric impacts and allow our more familiar land-based ecosystems to recover and have breathing room.

Then we build this arcology so that is sits at the bottom of the ocean.

And then so that it floats around underwater like a giant submarine. Still totally enclosed and self-sufficient.

And then we build one that floats in the air.

And then we build one that flies in the air.

And then we build one that flies in space.

Simple, iterative, progressive. Each prior stage provides immediate benefits in case of disasters. Each prior stage provides progressive benefits for building the next and the next. And it's all relatively "safe" in that if the 1st stage fails we just move people back out of the SuperMall and build another one, etc.

Also the combination of the final stages of all of that knowledge should allow space colonists to adapt their space city\mall to new biospheres. Maybe the planet we end up at used to have landmass but is now all surface water\liquid? We've got a solution to be adapted already. Etc.

That's one I've been thinking about for a while that I like quite well. Tho really I'd be happy with the floats above the ground kind. I think a nano-plastic structure filled with hydrogen. So it looks like clouds. Buoyant clouds. Makes for some fun sci-fi images in my head at least.


Anonymous said...

If the 21st century see's decent growth rates (an average of between 2 - 3 % of real growth, which is lower than what the world has been experiencing for the last 20 years) we will have a world GDP somewhere in the 480 Trillion to 1.2 Quadrillion range by 2008.

So by 2008, if it was an existentialist project, the Earth's population could live off of 200 trillion and conceivably spend a QUADRILLION DOLLARS for the Space Survival Project that year alone. You could do a damn lot for a Quadrillion dollars, even assuming no magic-like tech but instead just the bear breakthroughs that would be necessary for 2-3% growth per year.

Lobo said...

I think the best we can hope for in 100 years is a modest base with about a dozen people on the moon and MAYBE an expedition to Mars. And they'll probably be Chinese.

Moving 10,000,000 people off planet will require superscience no matter how it unfolds.

There is a near insurmountable problem with generation ships. The only materials that you have on hand will be whatever you left with. There are no resupply stations in space. There will be no opportunity to salvage materials outside the ship. When an important component of the ship fails for the thirteenth time, will there still be a viable replacement available? Components can only be rebuilt so many times before they are just flat broke. Thermodynamics will cause even the best planned and operated arcology to fail. Water will eventually go away. Breathable air will go away. And the energy problem will start the second the ship loses the ability to effectively grab solar energy. A ship will need to produce tremendous amounts of energy not just to move the ship forward but also to maintain life support for 10 million people.

We could step around most of those problems just by sending genetic material on a fully automated ship. But that ultimately kicks problems down the road, not solve them. What happens when the destination is reached and it's time to reconstitute the embryos? Who's going to teach them how to survive and thrive? How do you teach the basic survival questions like, "Don't eat the red berries, but it's okay to eat the blue ones." Or, "You can hunt this animal, but don't let that animal see you or it will eat you." What happens if our agricultural knowledge just isn't relevant on the new planet?

How do you pass on our shared generational knowledge and culture to them? How do you repair the cultural and developmental disconnect? Or do you just let them grow to adulthood, drop them off and hope for the best?

These are all problems that require superscience.

Master Plan said...

Hmmm, more trouble.

So, for these two, entropy essentially. Provided we've selected our generation ship target prior to launch (probably a good idea), we can accelerate once and use stored terrestrial area materials\energy to do so. So we could also send raw materials, including ice\water along with the initial package I'm thinking.

I don't know where the science\superscience line is set exactly, but that doesn't seem unreasonable.

I very much enjoy the idea of robotically reconstituted people pods but I don't know if that really qualifies as a generation ship, except perhaps in the sense that it would take generations to get there.

"But they'll probably be Chinese"...and? I figure they'll be post-racial post-ethnic miscegenated yellow-brown types with shockingly blonde hair and purple eyes (because let's face it...that's pretty cool).

If you send a populated ship full of live people you'd have to have it include facilities for manufacturing...uh, everything? I would think so. Certainly that would seem a more flexible solution than just large\endless warehouses of every conceivable part.

Provided you've manufacturing, as opposed to repair, facilities then you're mostly down to water loss, yes? And air, and so forth, but, again, you'd likely want to keep these factors in mind ahead of launch? And if so plan for them? Water and spare material are useful as shielding.

Power is a more serious concern of course. But...yet again, fission reactors? Breeder reactors? These are engineering issues not insurmountable problems are they not?

Particularly if you assume an entire world of resources at your disposal.

They would be ugly and unique creatures such speculative space ships, hardly bug-free consumer products.

Where would you consider superscience to begin? Fusion? Anti-matter power? Asteroid mining\capture? Space Elevators?

Lobo said...

One definition of superscience is any science that would require breaking the physical laws of the universe as we understand them. Faster than light travel is one example of superscience.

Another definition would be technology that is possible but far beyond our technical capability to the point where it might as well be magic. An example of this would be the space elevator. It's possible, but we don't have the capability to produce any of the components to create one. We're still stuck at scale models that nobody can even get to work reliably. There is no clear path to that goal. Nobody can figure out exactly how to make it happen. We can't even figure out what kinds of materials would be needed, let alone how to make them. And it may turn out that the engineering problems involved are just intractable. Not every engineering problem has a solution.

Assuming some kind of manufacturing capability in the generational ship doesn't solve the entropic problem. You will still lose material in fabrication, even if it's just a few molecules at a time. Eventually you're going to run out of useful material.

How much water, biomass, and air would be necessary to support a population of 10,000,000 for even 100 years? It takes a tremendous amount of energy to move something into space. There is still a practical limit to how much we can send up at a time. How many trips would it take to move those three things in sufficient quantity? Even spotting the water which we may be able to reclaim from the moon at a lower energy cost, how much biomass needs to be moved? How much air? And storing that material is going to greatly increase the amount of energy you'll need to move the ship. BTW, you'll need to decelerate when you start approaching the destination.

My point is that a generational ship would require tremendous leaps in science across all disciplines to be viable. Materials science, high-energy physics, agriculture, biology, recycling, fabrication as well as sciences which don't even exist except in sf like off-planet mining. There are too many hurdles between here and there to imagine that it will happen in the next hundred years. Even with all the resources on the planet at our disposal, which given our tendencies is just as unlikely, there's no guarantee that the innovations necessary will ever materialize. Just because we've been able to innovate our way out of most problems doesn't mean we always will. As they say, past performance is no guarantee of future returns.

That being said, tomorrow some whiz-kid might release the theory of everything tomorrow and our understanding of the universe will be remade and it will be possible. But it's unlikely and relying on it is foolish.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

If it's just a matter of survival rather than interstellar exploration, then your generation ship can hang around in the solar system. Could be some interesting sf in idea of several (or more) generation ships with different ideas of how to get earth's ecosphere to recover.

I'm pretty sure that "tear it all down" destructiveness comes from hurt pride and disconnection, not poverty. Really poor people are generally afraid of social disruption because their situation is so bad that any change (especially violent random change) is likely to make it worse.

This suggests that we don't have forever to figure out how to not stomp on people's toes. It's been years since someone demonstrated that it's possible to make polio viruses in a lab, and the ability to make (and, eventually to design) is only increasing.

This is just a spooky, entertaining toy-- but I don't think we're that far from home mass production of you-name-it.

Marty S said...

One approach would be to pick a target planet in this solar system, say Venus. Build an artificial environment here on earth, and gradually change conditions in the environment to match those on the target planet. The plants and animals in the environment would presumably adapt to the new conditions. This would not meet the 100 year condition, but would probably be a long term solution.

Master Plan said...


Hmm. Thank you for the definitions, I'll use the second. ;-)

Yes, it's true that things will be required to improve and change from current industrial capabilities in order to build a space elevator. But we've enough theoretical, if not practical knowledge currently to begin the process.

I'm not particularly interested in generational ships as a solution to getting people permanently off the planet. I think the moon is a much more likely first stop for colonization.

Entropy would certainly be a concern, but it is something that can be anticipated and planned for. I am not attempting to argue that these ships would live forever in a perfectly barren void and recycle with 100% efficiency. Just that you could take in to account that you might need more stuff during the trip to...where ever, and thus could plan for it.

To the rest of your questions: I don't know, but that hardly means it's incalculable nor impossible.

It's not going to be easy. It's not going to be simple. It's not going to be fast. It's not going to be sure. But that hardly means it's impossible.

Back to the question:
So my question to readers: can anyone PLEASE describe a plausible scenario by which even ten million people might leave Earth within a century? Going where? With what technology? At what cost?

Plausible is hard, plausible is conditional, plausible is very easy to shoot down (try this one: "Oh...that would never work").

So we must posit a condition to make it plausible. Everybody and every thing dies in 100 years on the Earth, period.

This doesn't address the many other aspects of this post, the environment, moving billions, energy issues on the planet, rich vs. poor, etc. But it does give us a different set of options and greater resources for our theoretically plausible scenario.

So, going where? The Moon, Mars, or simple LEO. I like the Moon, it's close, it's got actual ground to stand on, it's got abundant (if not readily accessible) minerals, power (via the sun), some gravity, etc, etc.

With what technology? There are a great many things which work in labs today that would help with this. Will they all come to fruition and be able to be mass produced? Maybe, maybe not, but they do show possibility. Which is the important part for plausibility. Provided we've a planet worth of industry to use we can start dropping robots up there inside 5 years to lay ground work. We've robots and rockets already after all, we've been to the moon already, we've solar panels and portable nuke reactors already.
We'll need atmosphere and water then, and things to grow things with. We'll use aeroponics for the growing. We'll assume as is currently indicated that we can extract moon-water. We can assume effectively unlimited power from solar and nuclear so we can even do ugly inefficient things like reverse hydrolysis to get water if required. The aeroponics allows us to avoid having to ship soil up there, just nutrient minerals. So now it's down to atmosphere and living space and radiation shielding. I'd look to things like blown concrete domes and very deep holes in the ground for the rad shields. There will likely be an increase in cancers and mutations and such, that's acceptable, so long as it's a viable biosphere.
Again, there *will* be problems, probably hard ones, and getting the 10,000,000 people up there, that'll be tricky, no doubt, but we've only 100 years to do the work in. This is all assuming nothing particularly awesome is created in that time which changes available technology significantly. As you say, to count on that would be foolish.

At what cost? Frankly who cares given a scenario of total death on Earth. Otherwise...who cares? If we're leaving folks behind we're very unlikely to use up so much resources that those of us still on the mudball are going to languish in stone-aged squalor until the next extinction event. The cost is only particularly relevant if we are looking at a geo-political landscape which is similar to what we have now. Like the US, by itself, tries to pull this off, thus depleting our ability to have a kick-ass military, and getting destroyed by militant extremist neo-Amish terrorists in that time.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Sorry-- here's the link I meant to include.

And a further thought. You can't get a world where people's toes don't get stepped on, but you might be able to get a world where people have better alternatives beyond rage and submission. And to take it personally, when I thought about that, I realized that I was expected to submit (to pretty moderate abuse as such things go), a lot of my reaction was rage, and I'm learning to live better than that.

Steven Barnes said...

"I'm a person who has no children and it is extremely unlikely that I will ever have children. So let me ask you a question: why should I sacrifice and deny myself the use of current resources since I have no stake in the future? Give me a reason to save the planet for future generations of humans who aren't related to me."
--I mean this seriously: if you don't feel it, logic won't suffice. The closest I can come is to say that we all stand on the shoulders of countless others who sacrificed and came before. I personally would consider it dishonorable and pointless to not think of those who come after. But that's just me.

Steve Perry said...

I'm not saying travel to another star is going to remain impossible. But we can't do it now, as you've come to realize. And before we can, assuming that we have both the will and money to do it, we'll have to solve the known problems,( which is not the same as solving those we run into four light years out.)

To solve the known problems will require a breakthrough, an X-factor. Making ships big enough to move ten million people, stopping the cosmic radiation and dealing with the gravity problems aren't just difficult, they are buzz-kills.

I don't think a hundred years is long enough. Maybe a thousand years.

Solve those two problems, you can field a ship, but that wasn't the point Barnes was making anyhow.

Going into space to solve our population problems, which is what Barnes was getting at, is not the same as sending a big ship with a few thousand or even a few hundred thousand folks to settle a new planet somewhere. That's a different game. The race might survive somewhere else, but that won't help things at home.

Population control, birth control, those are going to become absolutely necessary some day if we are going to survive as a species long enough to figure a way off the homeworld. One way or another, we are going to have to limit our numbers, or pretty soon, like that time-lapse film of ants eating a mouse, we are gonna run out of rodent.

Soylent Green, but even that won't last forever.

Master Plan said...

Who? Me?

I've been thinking about this. Why build one big ship?

How small can you make a closed loop life support system?
(and since it's not every going to be really "closed" absent that super-tek...)
How close to closed can you make it?

Single family dwelling? Duplex? Apartment building?

Are their economies of scale involved in some way?

And then the same for power. Those Toshiba nuke reactors look pretty sweet for instance.

So then instead of one big monolithic ship you have a bunch of lil ones. Chain 'em together in to a big ring, spin the ring...

Maybe throw some centralized stuff in to the wheel hub.

Then as we make more lil ships we join them to the ring. If we're only concerned with getting off earth, for population support\reduction...then we don't need to go far. In fact we don't even need to go outside the magnetosphere as far as I can tell.

So there's your monolithic engineering supership out of the way and the rad shields as well.

Still not perfect. But it's closer. You could even string your hubs in to bigger and bigger rings until they circle the earth I suppose. Multiple rings even.

And then of course terrorists get control of their attitude rockets and crash them in to each other and such. That'd be a reasonable book I think. Intrigue in High Orbit!

Indeed if we make a robotic factory on the moon we can even get around having to field these population modules from the Earth. Cuts energy costs.

If we're talking about generation ships...yah, not my favorite solution, very tricky.

If we're talking about population reduction...The Moon first, much easier to build and shelter and power.

If we're talking about population reduction that must exist in space itself...small modules joined in spinning rings inside the magnetosphere. Still going to be unhealthy rad levels to be sure.

You might even be able to set these rings spinning and rotating on the "far" side of the earth relative to the sun, for some extra shielding.

I favor massive ugly plagues (zombies are ideal for fiction purposes, the monster of the moment) for population reduction. Because...they happen anyway.

I'm not trying to say we can make generation ships now (meaning, right now this instant we can produce them). I'm not concerned with generation ships for population reduction. I like the Moon for that as mentioned.

I'm positing that if we engage in no technological progress relative to what we can do in labs today right now (not implemented mass manufactured stuff, experimental "might never work in reality" stuff) that we have "enough" technology to make a moon base, and that if we extend this idea to include an entire world of resources motivated towards such a thing (like the military and atomic tech and space-race tech before them I think the resulting civilian applications of the developments involved would also be beneficial, again w.o. crazy new discoveries, just improved development and application\mass-production of what we can already do in labs today) that it's quite plausible to think this can be done. Easy? No obviously not. Quick? No I think 100 years would be a very tight deadline. Etc. etc.

My favorite idea for idealistic future speculative population control is creche breeding. Just sterilize boys and girls when they hit sexual maturity, collect a few sperm and ovum from each of them, and then build test-tube babies in artificial wombs in large creches as needed.

Again, it's a sci-fi idea, not a thing I think we'll implement now, but it has the advantage of eliminating familial and racial privilege. No inheritance. Lots of weird race mixing. It's fun to think about.

Then each creche becomes it's own family so there's still plenty of humanity left, group dynamics, bonding, etc.

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