[ExI] EP, lasers and power satellites

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Mon Mar 5 04:15:57 UTC 2012

On Sun, Mar 04, 2012 at 11:06:21AM -0700, Keith Henson wrote:

> I have never understood completely how you would fix the problems, but

The two most critical areas are energy and food. Fixing energy
is necessary but not sufficient for securing food sustainability.
The third critical issue is sustainable resource base, but it's
not biting yet.

> to the limited extent I do, they involve vast numbers of people
> (nations) doing things you personally think would work in a
> coordinated way.  That strikes me as an exceedingly remote

Yes, the basic issue of progress. The same thing we've been doing
for a couple centuries. It obviously has been working sufficiently.

> possibility.  Laser propulsion isn't likely either but at least it is
> something one country or even a private organization could do.  That's
> a different order of probability.

Radiant energy propulsion (which is essential for space access and
will be coming eventually) by itself buys you only some high ground.
It turns out high ground and storage are not relevant at the moment.

What is relevant at the moment is mass production of thin-film PV and
grid-tied inverters, upgrade of the grid, increasing electrification
to substitute for hydrocarbons where feasible, and building up synfuel
capability. These are ~TUSD/year investments, for the duration of
half a century. 
> > We will have plenty of time then.
> Well, yes.  If we don't solve the energy problem well before 2050,
> chances are most of the race will die of starvation or resource wars
> by then.  (Assuming of course that people have not mostly uploaded
> that is.)

We'd be lucky to have a large mammal upload by 2050. It's not going
to happen until there's a lot of money spent on it -- Markram is having
trouble raising a GUSD. Neuroscience guys are not used to Big Science
budgets, and think their budget is zero sum.
> > I'm sorry, but this power-pie-in-the-sky thing is. Not. Helping.
> I am flexible.  Spent a couple of years working on StratoSolar before
> it got too complex to continue.  Convince me that your solutions are
> more likely to work.

We're seeing them working in Germany. The issue is that it's not
nearly enough in Germany, and the rest of the planet are dragging
their feet.
> Given human evolved-in-the-stone-age psychology that's going to be a
> difficult task.

We may well be truly fucked, but I think it's too early to tell.

I genuinely hope that deployment will pick up speed as people will
be facing first serious shortages, and the connection between these
and energy hunger becomes apparent. People may be stupid collectively,
but they can execute if there's a consensus. The question is how late
it will be by then, and whether depopulation will get bad enough for 
wars sufficiently disruptive to shut down everything. 

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