In August last year I wrote:
Concerned about resource scarcity? There’s plenty more up there. Last year, scientists confirmed that there was water on the moon. And there are metals and hydrocarbons abundant in asteroids. Metallic asteroids possess copper, silver, gold, and all other such elements as well, though not in abundances anywhere near as large as those of their primary constituents.
It’s an age old trope, going back to John S. Lewis’ book on the subject, and one of my greater interests.
I know that Earth is finite. I know that in some limited sense Malthus — my great intellectual nemesis, albeit one who has been proven wrong and wrong again and again — could be proven right. Earth’s resources are limited simply by the fact that Earth is a limited space. If we don’t leave Earth behind, and we continue to expand we will hit Earth’s limits, if not by the end of the century (unlikely, in my view) then by the end of the millennium.
But my key message on this subject is this: Malthus will only ever be proven right if we screw up. It’s a big expansive universe, and we are smart, flexible, ingenious creatures. We don’t know how big, but the amount of resources out there seem far, far beyond the scope of the human imagination. Malthus will always be there with us, a shackle around our necks, forewarning us not to be too gluttonous, or to expand too far too fast, and to maintain an awareness of our access to resources, particularly water and sustenance. Forewarning us, I might add, of the dangers of our own arrogance. But resource pressures are something we can always conquer without resorting to any kind of nasty authoritarianism.
For just as I expected — and not a moment too soon — a cohort of the wealthy are putting their economic weight behind the idea of going out and getting more resources.
From the Telegraph:
Power players including Eric Schmidt, the Google chairman, and James Cameron, the film director, are planning to mine the final frontier: space.
They are among the backers of a new venture that will reach for the riches lying elsewhere in the solar system. Planetary Resources will be a “space exploration company to expand Earth’s resource base” according to scant information released ahead of the start-up’s launch in Seattle on Tuesday.
“The company will overlay two critical sectors – space exploration and natural resources – to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP,” was the bold claim. “This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of ‘natural resources’.”
Mr Schmidt and the internet giant’s co-founder Larry Page are listed alongside Mr Cameron, the director of Titanic and Avatar, among the venture’s investors and advisers.
The company was founded by Eric Anderson and Peter Diamandis. “Since my childhood I’ve wanted to do one thing, be an asteroid miner,” Mr Diamandis told Forbes earlier this year. “So stay tuned on that one.”
While the costs of space travel are high, the hope is that riches contained in asteroids would make the sums worthwhile. Studies suggest that gold and other metals in the earth’s crust originated from asteroids that collided with the planet during its early life.
This is not the end of the road, but the start.
In any new industry there will be failures, some dramatic. Solar energy is a wonderful principle, but Solyndra was a terrible company.
But it is a pleasing start. Human civilisation just took a step in the right direction. And the ghost of Malthus just took another crashing blow.