The Limits to Mankind


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    Reverse Engineer post=2478 wrote: Seriously, I’ll go check out the blog and see if I can’t insinuate myself in there and recruit a few new Diners. Sounds like a good Blog to do some Fishing of Commenters

    All you really have to do is register at the site, and then go to this Article Submissions Form, and try to submit your article.


    Thanks for the pointer for submissions Ash. I do have to think on how to reconfigure here though, because I do not want this to be a discussion of 2012 prophecy but rather the observable effects of geotectonic energy release. Might happen today, might take a bit of time.



    This limits to growth idea may unduly dismiss the promise of stellar expansion, this drive being the logical result of natural planetary limits. The human economy is not necessarily a closed system confined to the planets surface.
    Humans have reached the technological sophistication required to exploit offworld resources, although the density of known offworld energy sources may not yet be sufficient to enable cost-efficient interplanetary travel without some breakthrough in cold fusion or ionic propulsion.
    It seems possible to tap molecular hydrogen directly from jupiters upper layers for terrestrial use at EROEI loss of less than -50:1 for non-fusion applications as enabled with contemporary propulsion technology, but this will likely be improved upon. If it does become energetically exploitable with a goodly positive EROEI, such an extraplanetary source should last for billions of years. The transit times for hydrogen cargo vessels are still prohibitive at maximum attainable velocities of 0.08C. It would also require significant financial investments, about half of what was spent on the banks so far, to enable an intergenerational offworld colonization project for lebensraum. We could start with the moon, not much arable land, but there’s moondust containing water and tritium to exploit and plenty of solar radiation, it may become energetically viable to mine metallic resources there.
    There is a UN treaty prohibiting any nation from claiming the moon and annexing it as sovereign territory, but this treaty was never fully ratified. Mining asteroids for rare space metals may also become profitable, large corporations are contemplating the exploitation of previously unreachable resources now that the costs of attaining orbit are declining by use of space-capable aircraft.
    Plus, I’m not certain that some sort of exploitable zero-point potential does not exist. It would surely help if it did. Presenting such vague potentials as certainties to absolve all conceptual limits on energy is somewhat premature, but its not provably impossible yet that such a free lunch may be edible.


    Harvesting enrgy from Jupiter at positive EROEI is a crock of shit. The Best we can do on Mars is drop a lander down encased in balloons, so the chances we can pull endless tanker space trucks from Jupiter to the Earth and land them all is pretty fucking small here. We’ll be lucky if we can keep enough Trucks rolling on the surface of the Earth to distribute out what the earth has, fuhgettaboud what we can yank off Jupiter here.

    Good grief man, NASA is DEAD already. You think Richard Branson can fly some Virgins to Jupiter and collect up Methane to fly his private Jet? Ain’t gonna happen.



    NASA is underfunded to death, but perhaps there are more advanced private space programs up and running in secret, maybe employing those technological advances in propulsion which should have occurred by now, which must have occured by now.
    If you’ve noticed, there’s been suspiciously little activity in official space exploration since the moonlanding, too little to make sense even if the initial phase of resource exploitation is highly unprofitable for commercial purposes.
    The uses of the hugely expensive ISS seem limited to zero-G science experiments, now there’s plans to incinerate the whole station on re-entry around 2015 after it was just recently completed short a few modules. Its as if they’re not really trying, deliberately sabotaging all endeavours to space exploration.

    Stellar expansion of the human economy may truly absolve all energetic and material limits to resource consumption and human population someday, limits of ingenuity notwithstanding. And this seems the only thing which would absolve absolute limits to planetary growth, having more planets to exploit/care for.
    I find these dreams better than memorising that antihumanist rubbish plastered over the georgia killstones, such a limited vision.

    I’ve come to vehemently despise all neo-malthusian proposals to population control, but there are eventual limits to how many people this planet could sustain without biosphere denaturation, maybe around 12-15 billion with zero waste factors and another century of technological advance, but for now the species may have overshot carrying capacity as related to the growth of cities at 7.2 billion people strong.
    I’m just thinking ahead as to where all these surplus people should emigrate to, rather than plotting to kill them off. It does require space exploration to become energetically profitable, so tapping hydrogen from local gas giants would be a logical stepping stone.
    Also, it should become perfectly possible to harness solar neutrinos for energy, give it a few centuries.

    And considering the veracity of cosmogenic catastrophes, projects for interplanetary colonisation would be required for the species to avoid going extinct by a random gamma-ray burst or to eventually outlive the solar system at its death. The probability of natural extinction only approaches 0% by stellar expansion, whereas the ever-increasing probability of technotrophic autoextinction for this species as confined to this planet should vastly decrease in the epoch of stellar expansion.


    The question of economic growth and whether it can be sustained in the long run is something that is a very difficult question and one I personally go back and forth on. A major part of the problem has to do with defining economic growth.

    The general idea of economic growth tends to be measured in consumption, which is itself measured by aggregating purchases over time. The purchase is not the consumption. The utilization is the consumption. Obviously this cannot continue to grow indefinitely.

    But suppose we look at this from an accounting side instead? Instead of utilization and depletion of purchased resources as being the metrics, suppose we look instead at production and distribution? It doesn’t make sense to talk about consumption of houses for example, but it does make sense to talk about production and distribution of these. More to the point it doesn’t make sense to talk about consumption of apple trees, but it does make sense to talk about consumption of apples.

    So suppose we define economic activity as production and distribution of useful modifications to our environment (useful modifications to our environment being Belloc’s definition of wealth)? This *sounds* like the same definition as the economists use but I don’t think it is. For example, I think urban permaculture would show up in economic metrics very differently in a consumption-based vs a production-centric approach (the utility of an urban lot transformed permaculturally goes well beyond the resources consumed). In this view is it possible for perpetual growth? Perhaps. The definition here doesn’t seem to be as subject to the problem of physical limits as the standard definition.

    However, at the same time, I think that such perpetual growth would still be an illusion. It would be like running up the side of a hamster wheel not really realizing we aren’t actually going anywhere.


    Supergravity post=2535 wrote:
    I find these dreams better than memorising that antihumanist rubbish plastered over the georgia killstones, such a limited vision.

    I’d prefer to believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and Skittle Shitting Unicorns, but I have Mr. Realist RE Angel sitting on my shoulder all the time telling me that the likelihood of any of this coming to pass before we get a catastrophic collapse of the current set of technological systems used to run the world is exceedingly small in probability at this point.

    Greece and Spain are already on the cusp of a catastrophic collapse. Dominoes are falling here on a monthly basis, whereas any kind of spectacular techno-fix would take decades to implement, even if one was on the shelf somewhere. We are OUT OF TIME to replace the fossil fuel based systems of transportation and food production here.

    NASA is defunded because it was a DEAD END. We can’t drop anything but the smallest of landers onto Mars, and once down on the surface we can’t lift them back up into orbit. Mining on Mars is near impossible, since no Caterpillar Back Hoes would work, insufficient Oxygen in the atmosphere to run a diesel engine. So every mining machine would have to be Nuke Powered, unless of course you have a pocket sized Zero Point Energy device. If such a thing does exist, now would be a good time for the Illuminati to pull it off the shelf but I don’t see that occurring either.

    The REALITIES we currently are faced with do not indicate a Star Trekking, Final Frontier end game for Homo Sapiens. The more likely end game from all indications would either be Extinction or REVERSE ENGINEERING our way to a low energy footprint society.

    If I am going to Prep Up, I’m going to go with the MOST LIKELY scenario here, and that is not mining Jupiter for methane or hydrogen. The likeliest scenario is that we gotta figure out how to make a go of it on this planet without the Carz and the Trucks and JIT delivery. This will not be an easy transition of course, and yes you get your Malthusian knock down of the population resultant from this. Unfortunate outcome, but pretty well carved in Stone now.

    The Georgia Guidestone Carving notwithstanding though, I do not think it is written in Stone WHO gets sent to the Great Beyond here in the greatest percentages. It is IMHO possible still to make sure the RIGHT people get their Ticket to the Great Beyond FIRST. I stay realistic here because loading up on Hopium isn’t going to get the job done that needs to be done here. The INQUISITION will get that job done.



    NASA may be ‘dead’ but the Google billionaires are now investing in an
    asteroid mining venture.

    It’s a total waste of money from my point of view but that isn’t going to stop the rich predators from ‘doing what they do’.


    I don’t expect any breakthrough progress towards space exploitation anytime soon for obvious reasons of global economic collapse, but the space program could have yielded more results by now if more resources had been spent on it since the 60’s, when both energy and credit were plentiful. The kind of resources spent by the superpowers on their nuclear weapons programs might also have gone into building a first colony on the moon. We could have been into the 2nd moonbubble by now.

    To be fair, those Mars landers were outfitted with delicate chemical analysis labs to search for life and evidence of vulcanism, no commercial interest in ores or suitable mining sites was evident in their mission, those rovers were only intended as one-shot science missions.
    Their missions weren’t total failures as I recall, one rover lasted far longer than anticipated on its solar cells, until the dust storms hit.

    The lack of oxygen in neighbouring planets’ atmospheres necessitates alternative energy generation other than combustion to operate industry there, but existant technologies may be adapted to supply energy wirelessly from orbital generators to ground machinery.
    Tesla was confident of this concept, wireless electromagnetic energy transfer should work in most atmospheric media and between planets.

    An orbital powerstation could be built around Jupiter to convert the harvested gasses, methane, ammonia or hydrogen into electromagnetic energy to be beamed by microwaves or radiowaves back to reciever stations on earth, the moon or other sites.
    Jupiter or one of its many profitable moons should also contain layers of liquid oxygen, so conventional combustion of methane or hydrogen would be possible on site, creating useful molecular byproducts for cargo transport, and the energy could be beamed straight to a receiver array close to home with minimal loss.

    But this notion was just to conceptually delimit the material and energy inputs of the human economy so that its limits are not indefinitely confined to the planet, but with the collapse I don’t expect there’ll be resources to spare for space exploration for the remainder of the century, maybe never again if global peak energy and peak technology are substantiated and become irreversible declines.

    I also wanted to mention the idea that economic activity may be definable in a way that does not require moving masses, so avoiding irreducible thermal friction and thermal waste. The economy could otherwise never become infinite in activity in a finite space, since the thermal waste, even if infinitecimal per movement, would heat up the planets atmosphere, or the universe, to infinite temperatures. And this thermal waste cannot itself be captured or dissipated by any apparatus within the economy which does not itself create thermal waste of equal magnitude in the process. If economic activity requires moveable mass it cannot become infinite at all then.
    So maybe information alone, defined in some format of usable wisdom, can somehow be traded around and counted as value-energy without requiring any external matter or energy inputs attributable to price fluctuations, assuming infinitecimal waste factors, no value externalisations and the usual gravitational heuristic of singular dimension.
    The other possible economic delimiter besides expanding to the cosmic scale, stellar expansion, would be expansion into the subatomic scale of economy. A new fermion particle has been isolated recently, manipulation of which should eventually lead to breakthroughs in the field of quantum spintronics and advance computation a millionfold, they say.

    As Reverse Engineer reminds us, if it is theoretically possible for neutrinos to interact at all with masses like the earths core, they should also be harvestable for energy someday.

    I was interested in the dark rift idea some time ago. But Ash’ arguments are probably correct; the galactic plane, although relatively thin compared to the core, is at least dozens of lightyears thick at its thinnest part, focused particle streams, x-ray or gamma spikes channeled from the active galactic nucleus should nowhere become intense enough to pose any significant harm to the planets core or biosphere.
    According to the fossil record, the periodicity of this transit across the rift, which has presumably happened many times for our solar system, is not correlated with disruptions to life on earth. Geomagnetic polarity shifts are also not correlated to mass extinctions in this way, no indications of periodic surface bombardment by cosmic rays wiping out all muticellular life on this planet, which would be expected in the prolonged absense of a geomagnetic field, but apparently this damage is prevented somehow, likely because the field never drops to zero for very long during any shift.

    There is a rumor about a deep space probe which was sent into the leading edge of the dark rift and was instantly fried by the intense proton streams, supposedly indicating that this dark rift zone is superdeadly, but its only a vague rumor. Its about as likely as the rogue brown dwarf planet-x slingshotting through the inner solar system and ejecting planets from orbit. Millions of people believe that one, without astrophysical evidence to back it up.
    Gamma ray bursts are altogether more lethal and more certain to exist, if one ever goes off within 200 lightyears the planets surface will be thoroughly sterilised. Fortunately no stars in the vicinity seem capable of producing one.

    Then again, a combination of exotic physical interactions may influence the Earth’s structural stability on rare ocassions.
    I suppose that the Earths mantle could fluctuate in density, it may have changed over time by the solarmagnetic field attenuating the cores angular momentum, or phaseshifting solar neutrinos may interact with the earths interior by changing the rate of radiometric decay of mantle isotopes somehow.
    In addition, I have this theory that the prolonged operation of a misalligned planetary electric grid may accidentally trigger a geomagnetic polarity reversal by compressing field lines or somesuch, why not.


    I am not opposed in general to a space program although I think we are fast approaching a time when we can’t afford one. I would also point out that it isn’t just a lack of energy or resources. It is also waste within those resources. Would we be better off with 68 Skylab equivalents? Or one ISS? That costs about the same…..

    A second major issue is what it would take to sustain a lunar colony. I find it highly unlikely that such a colony would be self-sufficient and therefore would require regular shipments from earth, whether these are for solar panels, or system components or whatever. Such shipments are likely to be energy intensive. There isn’t a good way of getting components to the moon in the event of a global economic collapse. I think it would be very unlikely that we’d be able to create a sustainable lunar colony, or even one we could sustain from earth post-peak-oil.

    Mars is of course somewhat different. While the Mars landers have provided a lot of interesting scientific results, the challenge of setting up any sort colony there is beyond what we could have done I think even with a lot of additional resources. Right now we don’t even know how to land a manned space capsule on Mars, much less with enough fuel to lift of again. The atmosphere is too thin to use parachutes and too thick to use retrorockets. There is no reason to think we can even put a man on mars and return him safely to earth, much less establish a colony there.

    The problem with asteroid mining, mining energy from Jupiter, etc. is that you have massive energy costs of getting the infrastructure in place and it is unlikely that the metals and energy will be worth it. How much energy does it take to pull the methane out of Jupiter’s gravity well? how much energy do you get from it? I would be seriously impressed by an EROI over 1 for such a project even before transfer to earth would reduce efficiency. So I don’t see this as much of an energy source.


    Good points. There’d be 80% probability of the first lunar colony suffering a catastrophic logistical or systems failure within 50 years of operation and being abandoned. Limits of complexity, but the second attempt should be more successful.

    In thin atmospheres liftoff needs a different approach, maybe laser or plasmakinetic levitation powered wirelessly by orbital microwave arrays. Landing might still need balloons, whatever works. Other methods of magnetic levitation could work in a thin atmosphere, but all rely on intense energy cosumption for lifting or descending anything heavy.
    but nothing concrete as such.

    Jupiters gravity is severely restrictive, initial orbital construction would be difficult, but the energy for the syphoning of materials into the orbital processing station might be supplied by jupiters own magnetic field, manipulating the winds to blow resources upwards in an electrostatic vortex. Otherwise some of its moons should be more exploitable [except for Europa; attempt no landing there].

    Mining the asteroid belt for rare space metals should become monetarily profitable at some demand function, especially if involved in an energy-sourcing application or economotively leveragable.

    Some parts of the georgia gravestones aren’t too bad, the ideal of humanity living perpetually in balance with nature seems reasonable, only that biostatism is unnatural when enforced by collectivism and oligarchical ecotechnicians.
    The part that states to guide reproduction wisely and select for fitness and diversity is more an appeal to the rule of biocracy and scientific eugenicism than a guide to humanity, to guide the reproduction of other people wisely.
    I disprove of all steady state economies which require coercement of a steady population and an end to free reproduction, but it may not be possible to have a worldwide socio-economic system where the pop could remain stable without coercion, fertility restriction, or deliberate assaults on reproductive health. The demographic transition seems to work in richer countries, it should work everywhere where prosperity happens.
    If it does occur that absolute planetary carrying capacity is reached or surpassed so that every additional human[s labor] would become a burden on the biosphere or the material economy, without possible relief of further technological innovations waste-reductions or efficiency improvements, then space colonisation, if feasible, would work to increase the total sustainable number of people offworld, the earth could then have some sort of loosely enforced population cap and stable material throughput while stimulating planetary emigration to the colonies. But its true that any provisional manufacturing of offworld carrying capacity requires costly terrestrial inputs and an operational earth economy.

    It might be equitable to set productivity increases expressible in declining labor time as a metric of growth, so that the average labor day in the year 3000 would last 5 minutes when everything is optimally automated. Eventually the whole planets production would be handled in the last remaining minute of labor time used by the technician who maintains the planetary ai brain which controls the armies of droids and bots who collect and assemble all energy and material for human consumption. The human economy would consist of unvaluated production of unautomatable creativities. The elimination of labor would make the monetary valuation of work and the concepts of money and credit obsolete.


    How do you propose to deal with the issues of differences in potential energy between the energy at the asteroid belt and Earth? I would assume that chunks of asteroids launched at the earth would be moving very fast by the time they’d get here…..


    i’ll see RE’s skittle shitting unicorn and raise him an andrew basiago:

    grav, i expect a full report!


    I listened to some of that interview with Andrew Basiago.
    Its the most preposterous story since Bernanke’s speech about QE.
    His paper ‘The discovery of Life on Mars’ is hysterical, those blurry misrecognised rocks shouldn’t pass for evidence of rocks, let alone evidence of life.—andrew-d.-basiago—the-discovery-of-life-on-mars—12-12-08.pdf

    Basiago’s highly fantastical story in the interview has him involved in a Darpa project pegasus as a child, where he believes he was forced to participate in both forwards and backwards time travel experiments, multiverse travel along divergent timelines, and physical teleportation experiments to New Mexico and to Mars, where he encounters sentient humanoid and animal species living on the inexplicably habitable surface. The martian surface is described as having comfortable parameters for atmospheric breathability, pressure, temperature and radiation exposure, completely counter to recorded scientific observations, and suspiciously no mention of lower martian gravity.

    Basiago also mentions martians visiting a darpa base in a superluminal spaceship, the legend of Tesla’s lost technologies which darpa used for quantum-access, an astrophysical catastrophe wrecking the solar system and destroying atlantis 10,000 years ago, the existence of reincarnation, and how he participated in an out of body experiment where reality is revealed as a quantum hologram projected by a higher dimensional matrix machine.

    His story may contain the highest number of sciencefiction and techno-mystical elements ever combined in a single fiction.
    Although not all technical elements of the story may be totally physically impossible, the unusual congruence of all elements existing simultaneously in the experience of a single person would not likely occur in an average universe.
    Survival of humanoid life exposed on the martian surface should be more impossible than backwards timetravel, which is deeply impossible in most cosmologies.


    so basiago’s not 48 going on 48, then.

    that’s too bad. 😉 lovely chap all the same.

    thanks, grav – you’re the best.

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