What role might the space economy and the development of space solar power play if austere
economic policies associated with recession and depression occur? As a Keynesian stimulus they could mitigate both the short term pain by stimulating and maintaining demand in the economy but would also increase the energy available per capita that is a fundamental economic principle.
An Economic Climate of Future Uncertainty
What if our unsustainable global economic system, dominated by the political and technologies of global dependence on fossil fuels, collapses for a variety of reasons having to do as much with mismanagement of economic affairs (that is managing in an unsustainable manner not in the best interests of the majority of the population, or of a sustainable environment) …and of the political economy that has devolved from the fossil fuels energy system? Money has been equated with “speech” by the US Supreme Court and the buying of political influence and campaigns has become another commodity.
The Four Caballeros
We have seen a recent economic collapse in the United States and the European Union that was caused in great part by the increase of un-collateralized debt for real estate that fueled an economic bubble and then collapsed. Something similar happened in Japan in the late 1980’s. That economy has stagnated for some 25 years and its influence as a percentage of the global GDP is half or less of what it was.
Public and private investment schemes in China have resulted in the construction of literally forests of high rise building in the major cities many of which remain empty because they are beyond the reach of the Chinese masses. The economies of these four key global economic powers all struggle with high levels of debt and in some cases economic policies of austerity have been imposed which further squeeze masses of people at the bottom of the pyramid. China’s economy has also been burdened by military spending and aggressive extension of China’s claims over international water against similar claims of its neighboring countries in the South and East China Seas, even as its leaders claim to be following a “soft path to power.”
The US is the world’s largest arms supplier and the US military, although much reduced, consumes hundreds of billions.
These advanced economies have also supported energy wars conducted through the strength of the American military machine in order to maintain control over the lucrative oil fields of the middle east, and the sea lanes and key global choke points for oil and natural gas ships and associated international trade.
The globalism that has been sold as “inevitable” is nothing of the sort. Global Trade agreements have neglected or run rough shod over the differences in resources, technology, carrying capacity of the land, and educational and cultural differences. “Globalism” has been based on an energy extravagance that has overridden these traditional economic differences and that has been based on the abundance of fossil fuels. Great distortions in employment and labor costs and agricultural production have been introduced as a result of a globalized economy where shared expectations and pricing of “global commodities” are moved cheaply by fossil fuels. The unregulated flows of currencies are driven by rampant commercial speculation in the banking, stock market, and other financial institutions. These unregulated currency flows have resulted in the collapse of many national economies and are a matter of economic policy discussion within the G-20 meetings.
Understanding Economics by Voting with your Feet
At the same time as this global economic system has risen and become dominant it has ignored growing evidence of climate change induced by every increasing use of fossil fuels. Economic growth has been driven by the central fact that fossil energy has been available to use and that increased energy use has been correlated with a higher standard of living experienced in all advanced countries. The impoverished masses of endemically poor nations have clearly understood that their chances of a better life are to simply go to a more “advanced country”. The crescendo of migratory flows into Europe and Malaysia is increasing and it is not clear that the European Union is able or willing to defend its borders or its cultural lifestyle.
There is concern among well informed economists and others that watch the markets and the financial system that “a major corrections” lies ahead. What if advanced economies collapsed?
The hopes of an orderly progression to improved social and economic conditions would be very likely compromised. The disruption of the global financial system however would not mean that social expectations would also change at the same rapid rate. Sudden shifts such as the loss of income and employment can produce strong secondary effects that weaken the social and political stability of these advanced countries.
Perhaps Only Economic Crisis Will Force Global Change
In the background is a global energy supply system that is not sustainable and that cannot support the increasing population of the Earth at anything like the levels expected in the advanced countries much less those of the “developing world.” This is the most inconvenient truth; that the world we are living in is unsustainable and that radical changes are ahead. These changes will either be of our own making, with positive and logical intention or whether through neglect, ignorance, and greed a dysfunctional global political, economic and environmental system will continue as perhaps the most depressing
Changing The Financial Structure of Fossil Fuel Subsidies is the Key
A recent OECD report to the G-20 Finance Ministers, ”Mapping Channels to Mobilize Institutional Investment to Sustainable Energy” provides a sobering picture of our economic predicament and economic mismanagement. (https://g20.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Mapping-Channels-to-Mobilize-Institutional-Investment-in-Sustainable-Energy1.pdf) While some 93 Trillion dollars of institutional capital is available for investment only about 1% flows into sustainable energy investments.
Some $500 billion annually goes to subsidize fossil fuel companies in the face of irrefutable evidence of human induced climate change produced by fossil fuel consumption. (Other sources indicate that this figure may be as much as $1Trillion annually.)
What Would The Beginning of Space Economics Cost? The ILD Program
Rough estimates of what it would take to begin to build infrastructure in cislunar space that could lay the foundations for space solar power, a clean sustainable energy source, indicate that
the combined expenditure levels of the leading space-faring countries could be adequate to begin this effort within 10 to 15 years. This cost would be less than that expended before for both the Apollo program or the Construction of the ISS because of expected development of reusable rockets, advanced and miniaturized electronics and small spacecraft and the use for the first time of resources available in space and new technologies such as 3D printing-additive manufacturing.
Current subsidies to fossil fuel companies, (the $ 500B estimated in the Mapping Channels to Mobilize Institutional Investment to Sustainable Energy OECD report is what we will use as a working number), would amount to 25 times the annual NASA budget. NASA’s $18 billion budget is about 45% of global civilian space expenditures. So if we double that, some $36 Billion would duplicate NASAs efforts. At about $45 Billion dollars a year a forward leaning space development program could be initiated that would require a diversion of 10% of fossil fuel subsidies from the leading governments of space faring countries and would effectively double the existing level of civilian space faring expenditures.
That would leave the other 90% of such fossil fuel subsidies ($450B) available for an “all of the above” alternative energy development program to slow down and ultimately replace dependence on fossil fuels.
Over 3 years that would equal a 1.3 Trillion dollar investment, or what the US has expended in energy wars in the Middle East since 09-11-2001. In just four months the fossil subsidies expended would roughly approximate what was spend on the Apollo Program or the International Space Station Program.
If we lay that foundation in the next decade, that level of expenditure could provide the first solar power satellite demonstrations in another 10 years by the mid 2030’s. Fully diverting fuel subsidies to provide global clean sustainable energy of all sorts is within the purview of the world’s governments if the public demands it. Reinvestment in global sustainable energy developments including space solar power is within the purview of the world’s governments. This not only can be done it must be done if we are to avoid the calamity of growing destruction of environmental changes, and the consequences of social and economic instability of our current economic and political systems.
But this alternative energy program is also a Plan B for the economic collapse that is possible and that is feared by many well informed economists and economic observers. The economic stimulus of an all-of-the-above alternative energy programs would also create millions of green jobs. The replacement of fossils fuels will produce some stranded assets but only if these carbon sources are removed entirely from the market. Their value as the heritage resource of the Earth’s biological evolution will have utility for thousands of years for other more carefully constrained purposes. A solar hydrogen economy may be one result of the implementation of space solar power satellites.
The destruction caused from rising seas will also require the migration and reconstruction of many of he largest cities and urban areas. While on one level this is a calamity in material and cultural terms it is also an opportunity to also design and construct cities with energy and environmental footprints that are sustainable. Threats from the current unsustainable fossil fuel economy also lead to new opportunities for long term economic growth and a future not overshadowed by the immanent economic and social problems we face today.
Is a decision to dodge the bullet of climate change and environmental destruction and extinction worth $50 billion a year? $500 billion a year? Perhaps a number even more inconvenient?
We have gladly accepted such burdens in order to keep driving our cars and keeping our jobs.
We can do this.