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by Jerry Pournelle

Editor’s Introduction

After the hasty troop evacuation of Saigon, the impeachment of President Nixon, the Manson murders and the ensuing chaos, the seventies were a time of growing cynicism, hedonism and fear of the future. Environmental activists, like Stanford professor Paul Ehrlich, who wrote The Population Bomb in 1968, were proclaiming doom and gloom, foretelling of the death of the oceans and even mother Earth. I saw Dr. Ehrlich speak at San Diego State University in the late sixties; there he gave his doom and gloom speech before thousands of impressionable students. He preyed on fear, predicting there would be widespread famines in the United States in the seventies.

He further claimed in The Population Bomb that “[b]y the year 2000 the United Kingdom will be simply a small group of impoverished islands, inhabited by some 70 million hungry people.” And that India was foredoomed to starvation and catastrophe. “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.”

The Club of Rome forecast The Limits to Growth claimed that “[w]e are running out of the essentials for modern civilization: oil, metals, lumber—just about everything.” Stewart Brand was championing “Small is Good” and the end of Western Civilization as we know it. To top it off, we were engaged in an arms race with the Soviet Union that looked as if it at any moment it was going to end in a thermonuclear holocaust that would extinguish civilization, if not mankind.

Jerry Pournelle’s early Galaxy Magazine science columns were a beacon of light during the Jimmy Carter era of malaise and the OPEC Oil Crisis. The Apollo space program days were over and inflation was on the rise. Jerry was one of a few optimistic voices in the land, promising a better future and wealth for everyone. Unlike most prophets, Jerry had detailed plans on how to do everything he claimed—good plans that he was willing to shout from the rooftops.

Jim Baen and Jerry Pournelle always had a great writer/editor relationship. Jim became managing editor at Galaxy in 1973. He succeeded Ejler Jakobsson as editor of Galaxy and If in 1974. Baen was very knowledgeable about science and he loved to throw ideas out to Jerry who would then run with them. Both men had similar political views and shared the same taste in science fiction.

Jim Baen, through diligent hard work (certainly not with Galaxy’s financial clout, since the magazine paid both poorly and slowly), managed to turn the magazine around; he not only doubled the readership, but published quality stories from new and established authors.

In the first issue of Far Frontiers, Jerry describes how he became a columnist for Galaxy and met Jim Baen:

Way back when I decided to make a career out of writing, the traditional route was to build a reputation by writing for the magazines, and when you became well known enough, go for the real money by getting a book contract. It was true then, as now, that you can’t make a living writing short fiction.

That hadn’t always been true. Stuart Cloete (Rags of Glory) once told me that The Saturday Evening Post paid him $4,500 for a short story—and that was in 1948, when a graduate chemist’s annual starting salary was no more than that. In those times writers could support themselves from sales of short works; but in the 1970s those days were long gone. By the time I was trying to break in to this business, everyone knew that the object was to build a reputation fast, then get book contracts.

Of course, it took time to build a reputation. People—and contrary to rumor, editors are people—remember stories, but not authors. You have to write a lot of stories, or articles, before anyone knows who you are. However, it’s different with columns. People often remember who wrote a column even though only one has been printed. Short of winning several awards, the fastest way to build name recognition in the science fiction field is to do a column.

The next step was to find someone who’d let me write one. It didn’t take long to decide: Galaxy Science Fiction under Ejler Jakobsson didn’t enjoy all the glory it once held when Horace Gold founded it, but it was important to the science fiction field—and it didn’t have a science column. Willy Ley had been the science columnist, and he had died (absurdly, only a few months before Apollo 11).

Somehow I convinced Jakobsson to let me give it a try. Alas, it was nearly a disaster. Ejler wanted rewrite after rewrite, change after change, each accompanied by hours of telephone discussion. I was grateful for the chance to do the column, and indeed I was learning quite a lot about magazine style and procedure; Ejler was a good teacher. However, he couldn’t leave well enough alone, and the endless rewrites were driving me batty.

Suddenly everything changed. Ejler Jakobsson left Galaxy. The managing editor, a newcomer virtually unknown in the science fiction, took over the post. He wanted me to continue the column.

That’s how I met Jim Baen.

Some partnerships click. Larry Niven and I have known from the very first story conference that we ought to work together.

It was the same with Jim Baen. He had suggestions for changes that obviously improved the column. He also made editorial changes in my style—and did it so well that it was only by accident that I discovered he was making any changes at all.

The really fun part, though, was putting the column together. Usually I’d choose the topic, although sometimes Jim would suggest something. After we agreed on the subject, we’d spend a couple of hours on the phone discussing it. The result was wonderful. By the time we were done, I’d understand the subject—often through the need to explain it to Jim.

I needn’t pile Pelion on Ossa. Baen and I hit it off, and working together we produced what many reviews said was the best science column in the business.

When Jim left Galaxy to become the science fiction editor at Ace Books, he missed the magazine world; thus was born Destinies, a magazine that looked a lot like Far Frontiers.

Then Jim left Ace Books, and Destinies died as well. For over four years I did a column for Analog, but my heart wasn’t in it and eventually I excused myself—

And came the day that Jim Baen called to tell me he had become Jim Baen Inc., and had his own publishing company.

“Doing a magazine?” I asked.

“Well, I wouldn’t have time. . . .”

“Alas. If you did, I could do the science column. I confess to missing our long conversations on the state of the sciences.”

“I miss them too.” Jim sounded thoughtful. “I don’t have time to do it alone. Want to co-edit with me?”

It wasn’t quite that simple. Even together we don’t have time to do a magazine; but we solved that problem by enlisting the aid of Managing Editor John Carr, and Senior Editor Betsy Mitchell.

Thus was born Far Frontiers (later changed to New Destinies) and thus was reborn “A Step Farther Out.”

THE VIEW THAT WE ARE DOOMED has taken over a large part of the American intellectual community, and has been passed on to a generation of students. If accepted, it is a profound change in the traditional philosophy of the West which looked forward to progress.

According to Future Shock, we are afraid of our future. It remains to ask—should we be? There is another view: that we cannot only survive, but survive with style.

Suddenly we’re all going to die. Look around you: a spate of works, such as The Population Bomb, Eco-Doom, and the like, and organizations such as “Friends of the Earth,” and “Concerned Citizens” for one cause or another. All have the same message: Western Civilization has been on an energy resources spree, and it is time to call a halt.

The arguments are largely based on a book called The Limits to Growth. Written by a management expert for a group of industrialists calling themselves The Club of Rome, Limits to Growth may be the most influential book of this century. Its conclusions are based on a complex computer model of the world-system. The variables in the model are population, food production, industrialization, pollution, and consumption of nonrenewable resources.

The results of the study are grim and unambiguous: unless we adopt a strategy of Zero-Growth and adopt it now, we are doomed. Western Civilization must learn to make do, or do without; unlimited growth is a delusion that can only lead to disaster; indeed, any future growth is another step toward doom.

Doom takes any of several forms, each less attractive than the others. In each case population rises sharply, then falls even more sharply in a massive human die-off. “Quality of Life” falls hideously. Pollution rises exponentially. All this is shown in Figure 1, which is taken from one of the computer runs.

According to Meadows and many others, Earth is a closed system, and we cannot continue to rape her as we have in the past. If we do not learn restraint, we are finished.

Nor can technology save us. Perhaps the worst tendency of the modern era is our reliance on technological “fixes,” the insane delusion that what technology got us into, it can take us out of. No; according to the ecodisaster view technology not only will not save us, but will hasten our doom. We have no real alternative but Zero-Growth. As one ZG advocate recently said, “We continue to hold out infinite human expectations in a finite world of finite resources. We continue to act as if what Daniel Bell calls ‘the revolution of rising expectations’ can be met when we all know they cannot.”

Jay Forrester, whose MIT computer model was the main inspiration for the zero-growth movement, goes much further. Birth control, he strongly implies, cannot alone do the job. It is a clear deduction from Forrester’s model that only drastic reductions in health services, food supply, and industrialization can save the world-system from disaster.

It is important to recognize the severe consequences of a policy of Zero-Growth. For Western Civilization, ZG means increasing unemployment and a falling standard of living; worse than inconvenient, but not quite a total catastrophe. For the rest of the world things are not so simple. Behind all the number and computer programs there is a stark reality: millions in the developing countries shall remain in grinding poverty—forever.

Figures 1 and 2

The “standard” model of World Three. The projection assumes no major changes in the physical, economic, or social relationships (as modeled in World Three). Population growth is finally halted “by a rise in death rate due to decreased food and medical services.” “THE LIMITS TO GROWTH”

They may be unwilling to accept this. There is then the decision to be made—must they be forced to accept? The advocates of Zero-Growth also advise, on both practical and moral grounds, massive sharing with the developing world. Indeed, under the ZG strategy, the West has only two choices: massive sharing with the developing world, or to retain wealth while most of the world remains at the end of the abyss. Neither alternative is attractive, but there is nothing for it: failure to adopt Zero-Growth is no more than selfishness, robbing children and grandchildren for our own limited and temporary pleasures.

So say the computers.

I don’t accept that. I want Western Civilization to survive; not only survive but survive with style.

I want to keep the good things of our high-energy technological civilization: penicillin, stereo, rapid travel, easy communications, varied diet, plastic models, aspirin, freedom from toothache, science fiction magazines, libraries, cheap paperback books, pocket computers, fresh vegetables in mid-winter, lightweight backpacks and sleeping bags—the myriad products that make our lives so much more varied than our grandfathers.

Moreover, I want to feel right about it. I do not call it survival with style if we must remain no more than an island of wealth in the midst of a vast sea of eternal poverty and misery. Style, to me, means that everyone on Earth shall have hope of access to most of the benefits of technology and industry—if not for themselves, then certainly for their children.

This is a tall order. Economists say it cannot be done. My wishes are admirable, but irrelevant. The universe cares very little what we want; there are inherent limits, and the models of the world-system prove that what I want cannot be brought about.

Their view is not so thoroughly proved as all that. Computers and computer models are very impressive, but a computer can give you no more information than you have put into it. It may be that Forrester and the other eco-doomsters have modeled the wrong system. At least it is worth taking a look; surely it is against man’s very nature simply to roll over and die without a struggle.

Arthur Clarke once said that when a gray-bearded scientist tells you something is possible, believe him; but when he says it’s impossible, he’s very likely wrong. That has certainly been true in the past. Surely we are justified in examining the assumptions of those models which tell us we are doomed, and which dictate a policy of Zero-Growth.

The economists’ models warn of four dooms: inadequate food supply; increasing pollution; depletion of nonrenewable resources; and overcrowding through uncontrolled rise in population. Let us examine each in turn.

The first, food production, is surprisingly less critical than is generally supposed. This is hardly to deny that there is hunger and starvation in the world. However, given sufficient energy resources, food production is relatively simple. The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization reports that there are very few countries that do not, over a ten-year average period, raise enough food to give their populations more than enough to eat.

There are two catches to this. First, even in the West, birds, rodents, and fungi eat more of man’s crops than ever does man. True we harvest more than most nations; but to do so requires high technology.

The second catch is the “over a ten-year period” part. The average crop production is sufficient, but drought, flood, and other natural disasters can produce famine through crop failures over a one-, two-, or three-year period. In much of the world there is no technology for storing surpluses. The West has known for a long time about the seven fat years followed by seven lean years, but it took us centuries to come up with reliable ways to meet the problem of famine.

Our solutions have been three-fold: increased production, better food storage, including protection from vermin; and weaving the entire West into a single area through efficient transportation. Drought-stricken farmers in Kansas can be fed wheat from Washington state, beef from the Argentine and lettuce from California.

All this takes industrial technology on a large scale. Western farming methods use fertilizers. The transportation system is clearly a high-energy enterprise. Even providing Mylar linings for traditional dung-smeared grain storage pits (animal dung is often the only waterproofing material available) requires high-energy technology.

And in the West we waste land because we have land to waste; our agricultural technology produces surpluses.

A hardworking person needs about 7,000 large calories, or 7 million gram-calories per day. The sun delivers nearly 2 gram-calories per square centimeter per minute; assume about 10% of that gets through the atmosphere and that the sun shines about five hours (three hundred minutes) per day on the average. Further assume that our crops are about 1% efficient in converting sunlight to edible energy. Simple multiplication shows that a patch 35 meters on a side—about a quarter of an acre—will feed one human being.

Granted, that’s an unfair calculation; but it isn’t that far off from reality. My greenhouse, 2.5 meters on a side, can produce enormous quantities of squash and beans and tomatoes in hydroponics tanks and there’s no energy wasted in transportation Again I see no point in belaboring the obvious. Given the energy resources, pollution is not a real problem. Certainly pollution cannot be the limiting factor in industrial growth. It is another aspect of the energy shortage.

If famine and pollution do not define the limits to growth, then what of rising population? The view that we shall in the near future become so overcrowded that we will die of the resulting stresses is examined in detail in another chapter; for now let us look at the long-term prospects.

Throughout history there has been only one means of controlling population growth. It is not war; populations often rise in wartime. Famine and pestilence have of course reduced populations drastically, but the recovery from even these horsemen is often quite rapid, with birth rates sky rocketing so that within a generation population is higher than it was before the catastrophe. No: the only reliable means of limiting population is wealth.

The United States has a fertility rate below the replacement value; were it not for immigration the US population would begin to decline. There is a “bow wave” effect from the WWII “baby boom” that distorts the picture, but the “boom babies” are rapidly reaching the end of their fertility epoch.

France, Ireland, Japan, Britain, West Germany, Netherlands; where there is wealth there is decline in the birth rate. David Riesman in his The Lonely Crowd pointed out many years ago that the Western nations were probably best described as in a condition of “incipient population decline,” and it seems his prophecy was true. Now it’s true enough that if we manipulate exponential curves and thus mindlessly project population growth ahead, we will come to a point at which the entire mass of the solar system (indeed, of the universe) has been converted into human flesh. So what? It isn’t going to happen, and no one seriously believes that it will. Obviously something will stop population growth long before that.

On a slightly more realistic scale, I have calculated how long it takes, at various growth rates, to reach “standing room only” on the Earth: that point at which there are four of us on each square meter of the Earth’s surface (even counting the oceans and polar areas as “standable” surface). Figure 3 shows that those times are surprisingly near—if we have unlimited population growth. Yet the fact remains that as societies get wealthier; their ability to sustain larger populations increases—but their actual population growth declines or even halts.

Of course there are powerful religions whose adherents control large portions of the globe, and which condemn birth control and seemingly all other usable means of population limitation.

Yes. And I’m no theologian. But I cannot believe that any rational interpretation of scripture commands us to breed until we literally have no place to sit. Realistically we are not going to increase our numbers to that point; and, realistically, no religious leader is going to order it done.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”

I will leave theology to the theologians; but the command was “Multiply and replenish the earth, and subdue it”; and surely there must come a time when that has been done? When there can be no doubt that we have been sufficiently fruitful? And surely dominion over the wild things of the Earth does not mean that we are to exterminate and replace them? Surely even those of the deepest faith may without blasphemy wonder if we are not rapidly approaching a time when we shall indeed have replenished and subdued the Earth.

Figure 3

Figure 4

Thus we see that of our four dooms, three are aspects of the energy crisis: given sufficient energy we will not be overwhelmed by problems of food, pollution, or even over-population. But can we find the energy? Will not generating energy itself pollute the Earth beyond the survival level?

At this point I must introduce some elementary mathematics. I will try to keep them simple and work it so that you don’t have to follow them to understand the conclusions, but if I am to halfway prove what I assert I simply must resort to quantitative thinking. Failure to calculate actual values, blind qualitative assertion without quantity, has been the genesis of a very great deal of misunderstanding and I don’t care to add to that storehouse of misinformation. Besides, only through numbers can you get any kind of “feel” for the energy problem.

The basic energy measurement is the erg. It is an incredibly tiny unit: about the amount of energy a mosquito uses when she jumps off the bridge of your nose. In order to deal with meaningful quantities of energy we will have to resort to powers-of-ten notation. Example: 102 = 100; 2 x 102 = 200; 103 = 1000; and 1028 is 1 followed by 28 zeroes.

Some basic energy events are shown in Figure 4. Note that a number of natural events are rather large compared to man’s best efforts. It takes a billion ergs to climb a stair, and a day’s hard work uses 100,000 times more; yet a ton of TNT exploding contains a hundred day’s work and more, while converting one gram of hydrogen to helium will yield more energy than each of us used in a year—and by “used” I don’t mean each of us directly, but our share of all the energy used that year in the United States: dams, factories, mines, automobiles, etc. I need hardly point out that there are a lot of grams (a gram is one cubic centimeter) of water in the oceans. Nor need we worry about “lowering the oceans” when we extract hydrogen for fusion power. True, some rather silly stories have asserted that we might, but a moment’s calculation will show that if we powered the Earth with each of 20 billion people consuming more energy than we in the United States do now, the oceans would not be lowered an inch in some millions of years.

Of course fusion might not work. Given the present funding levels we may never achieve it, or the concept itself may be flawed, or the pollution associated with successful fusion may be unacceptable. Are there other methods? One possible system is pictured in Figure 5. It is an Earth-based solar power system, and the concept is simple enough. All over the Earth the sun shines onto the seas, warming them. In many places—particularly the Tropics—the warm water lies above very cold depths. The temperature difference is in the order of 50 degrees F, which corresponds to the rather respectable water-pressure of 90 feet. Most hydro-electric systems do not have a 90 foot pressure head.

The system works simply enough. A working fluid—such as ammonia—which boils at a low temperature is heated and boiled by the warm water on the surface. The vapor goes through a turbine; on the low side the working fluid is cooled by water drawn up from the bottom. The system is a conventional one; there are engineering problems with corrosion and the like, but no breakthroughs are needed, only some developmental work.

The pollutants associated with the Ocean Thermal System (OTS) are interesting: the most significant is fish. The deep oceans are deserts, because all the nutrients fall to the bottom where there is no sunlight; while at the top there’s plenty of sun but no phosphorus and other vital elements. Thus most ocean life grows in shallow water or in areas of upwelling, where the cold nutrient-rich bottom water comes to the top.

More than half the fish caught in the world are caught in regions of natural upwelling; such as off the coasts of Ecuador and Peru. The OTS system produces artificial upwelling; the result will be increased plankton blooms, more plant growth, and correspondingly large increases in fish available for man’s dinner table. The other major pollutant is fresh water, which is unlikely to harm anything and may be useful.

Certainly there are some engineering problems; but not so many as you might expect. The volumes of water pumped are comparable to those falling through the turbines at a large dam, or passing through the cooling system of a comparable coal-fired power plant. The energy itself can be sent ashore by pipeline after electrolysis of water into hydrogen and oxygen; or a high-voltage DC power line can be employed; or even used to manufacture liquid hydrogen for transport in ships as we now transport liquid natural gas.

Figure 5

As to the quantity of power available: if you imagine the continental United States being raised ninety feet, forming a sheer cliff from Maine to Washington to California to Florida and back to Maine; then pour Niagara Falls over every foot of that, all around the perimeter forever; you have a mental picture of the energy available in one Tropic of, say, Cancer. It is more than enough power to run the world for thousands of years.

Finally the feasibility of OTS: in 1928 Georges Claude, inventor of the neon light, built a 20 kW OTS system for use in the Caribbean. It worked for two years. One suspects that what could be done with 1928 technology can be done in 1988. OTS is not the only nonpolluting system which could power the world forever. Solar Power Satellites would do the task nicely. Few doubt that they could provide more than enough energy to industrialize the world, and we understand how to build them far better at this moment than we understood rockets on the day President Kennedy committed us to going to the Moon in a decade.

That is a point worth repeating: We can power the Earth from space. We do not “know how to do it” in the sense that all problems are solved; but we do know what we must study in order to build large space systems. When John F. Kennedy announced that the United States would land a man on the Moon before 1970, the reaction of many aerospace engineers was dismay: not that anyone doubted we could get to the Moon, but those closest to the problem were acutely aware of just how many details were involved, and how little we had done toward building actual Moon ships. We had at that time yet to rendezvous or dock in space; there were no data on the long-term effects of space on humans; we had not successfully tested hydrogen-oxygen rockets; there were guidance problems; etc., etc. Thus the dismay: There was just so much to do, and ten years seemed inadequate time in which to do it.

Solar Power Satellites, on the other hand, have been studied in some detail; and we have the experience of Apollo and Skylab. We know that large structures can be built in space; they require only rendezvous and docking capabilities, and we’ve tested all that. We know we can beam the power down from space; the system has been tested at JPL’s Goldstone, and the DC to DC efficiency was 12.0px. There are other problem areas, but in each case we know far more now than we knew of Mooncraft in 1961.

Figure 6

Ocean Thermal and Solar Power Satellites: either would power the world. I could show other systems, some not so exotic. My engineering friends tell me that OTS and SPS may even be the hard way, and there are much more conventional ways to supply Earth with energy.

No matter. My point is that we can find the energy. The method used is unimportant to the argument I make here: that we can survive, and survive with style.

Given energy we will not starve; we will lick the pollution problem; and we will generate the wealth which historically has brought about population limits. At least three of the dooms facing us can be avoided.

That brings us to the fourth doom: depletion of nonrenewable resources. Can we manufacture the materials needed for survival with style? And can we do it without polluting the Earth?

Assuming 3% ore at 3.5 gm/cm3, 5 billion tons of ore is a sphere 2.25 kilometers in radius or 4.5 kilometers in diameter.

There are 40,000 or more asteroids larger than 5 km in diameter.

We may not run out of metals after all. . . .

In 1967, a year for which I happen to have figures, the Unites States produced 315 million tons of iron, steel, rolled iron, aluminum, copper, zinc, and lead. (I added up all the numbers in the almanac to get that figure.) It comes to 2.866 x 1014 grams of metal. Assume we must work with 3%-rich ore, and we have 9.6 x 1015 grams of ore, or 10.5 billion tons.

It sure sounds like a lot. To get some feel for the magnitude, let’s put it all together into one big pile. Assuming our ore is of normal density, we end up with a block less than 1.5 kilometers on a side: something more than a cubic kilometer, something less than a cubic mile. Or, if you like a spherical rock, it’s less than 2 kilometers in diameter.

There are 40,000 or more asteroids larger than 5 km in diameter.

We may not run out of metals after all. . . .

But the title is “Survival with Style.” Style to me does not consist of the West as an island of poverty in the midst of a vast sea of misery.

Style, to me, means that everyone on Earth has a chance at wealth—or at least at a decent life.

Figure 7

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