Up to: Sustainability
We technological optimists do scientific calculations and conclude that the necessary technologies can be developed. Students of economic history tell us that similar problems have been readily solved in the past when the new technology was needed. However, the pessimists still worry and tell us that this time it may be different - maybe the technologies can't be developed. They then claim that the only safe course for humanity is to assume that the technologies cannot be developed and scale down our society to make do with the technologies we already have.
The optimists point out the enormous costs to society of scaling it down and consider counting on new technology to be much the safer course.
This is about all that can be said at such a general level, so let's consider some of the many possible studies:
The cost of pumping water can reasonably be estimated, because the Corps of Engineers is experienced in this area.
Now consider getting metals from ordinary rock. The second law of thermodynamics imposes a minimum energy cost for the separation. Athough a few people have made much of this, they evidently didn't do the calculation. This cost only goes up logarithmically as the concentration goes down and won't amount to much. Oh well, I actually did the calculation of the second law costs. The actual costs of mining and crushing all that rock will be larger and can be estimated, but the chemical processes for extracting iron and aluminum from complex silicates on a large scale have not been developed. Maybe, say the moderate pessimists, it can't be done. (The strong pessimists are absolutely certain it can't be done.)
Industry will not be motivated to develop the processes for a very long time - probably hundreds of years. There is still too much ore that is much easier to handle.
If the Government were to pay for developing the processes and demonstrating them, we would feel more secure. Even paper studies would be helpful.
Is it worth what is likely to be a large cost, say a few hundred million dollars, just to feel better?
It seems to me that it will be worth even a large cost, if the alternative is that the pessimists develop the political power to shrink our society. They are good at epithets like "technofix" for jeering at proposed new technologies
Perhaps that can be considered unlikely.
I am curious whether people think it would be worthwhile to spend money on studies designed to assure ourselves that problems can be solved when the problems in question are hundreds of years away. Paper studies might not cost much. Send me email.
The small number of hits on this page suggests to me that not many minds would be eased by showing that problems that won't arise for a long time can in fact be solved. Therefore, the studies are unlikely to be done, and people offer arguments largely based on their temperaments and on what can be concluded from purely scientific considerations. That's quite a lot.
Up to: Sustainability FAQ
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