Mar 17 2009

Public Attitudes and Prospects for Global Temperature Control

A few of my academic friends believe that the 2015 Maslow Window may not be as spectacular as previous Windows (e.g., the Panama Canal Window, or Lewis & Clark Window) because of a possible climate and/or energy crisis. They fear that the financial resources required to mitigate a global crisis will drain societal affluence and restrain ebullience — thus limiting the ascent of many to elevated levels in Maslow’s heirarachy — that are the hallmarks of Maslow Windows over the last 200 years.

As we approach the 2015 Maslow Window, the public is becoming more optimistic about the human future in space…and on Earth. startrek.bmp.

Although the notion of “global warming,” associated with human emissions of CO2, has experienced considerable popularity in recent years, Gallup has recently sensed a turning point in public attitudes, “Altogether, 68% of U.S. adults believe the effects of global warming will be manifest at some point in their lifetimes,… (but) only 38% of Americans…believe it will pose ‘a serious threat’ to themselves or their own way of life.”

Moreover, “most Americans do not view the issue in the same dire terms as the many prominent leaders advancing global warming as an issue…Importantly, Gallup’s annual March update on the environment shows a drop in public concern about global warming across several different measures…over the past year.” This trend is probably due to growing public awareness of scientific data indicating that global warming ceased in 1998 and of unusually severe recent winters. And while Al Gore has made a major contribution to public science literacy by drawing attention to global climate concerns, his current reluctance to publicly defend his views — e.g., his refusal to debate European economist Bjorn Lomborg, and others — may be perceived by some as indicating growing uncertainty.

However, as we approach the 2015 Maslow Window, two other effects will increasingly come into play: 1) the fact that Maslow Windows are characterized by unusually optimistic (even ebullient) public attitudes, and 2) the increasing global fascination with large, international technology programs and space colonization — expected during the 2015 Maslow Window — will suggest to many around the world that solutions to key global challenges (e.g., the environment, energy) will benefit from space technology and resources.

An example of this accelerating trend is already visible in futurist George Friedman’s new book, The Next 100 Hundred Years. Friedman sees 21st Century global carbon issues as moderated by population trends and the increasing use of space-based solar power (SSP) systems; SSP may also “solve the problem of delivering power to the battlefield from space”…as the U. S. becomes “the largest energy producer in the world.”

Despite it’s self-doubts and real external threats, Friedman forecasts a “Golden Age” for the U.S. in the 21st century, “American culture is the manic combination of exhultant hubris and profound gloom. The net result is a sense of confidence constantly undermined by the fear that we may be drowned by melting ice caps caused by global warming or smitten dead by a wrathful God for gay marriage…” But in an ebullient expression of Maslow Window-style optimism, Friedman’s and Stratfor’s geopolitical and technological sense is that “the United States is stunningly powerful. It may be that it is heading for a catastrophe, but it is hard to see one when you look at the basic facts.”

Friedman’s optimism is supported by conceptual studies of space systems that could ameliorate a future climate catastrophe with minimal invasive effects on the biosphere. For example, Roger Angel, a National Academy of Science member and MacArthur Fellow at the University of Arizona, envisions cooling the Earth with a cloud of small spacecraft reflectors located near Earth’s inner Lagrange point (L1), a region directly toward the Sun about 1.5 million km from Earth.

Although containing innovative design elements, Angel’s Macro-Engineering Project (MEP) concept builds upon current technologies. Fully deployed, Angel’s 100,000 km-long “cloud” would consist of millions of meter-size autonomous deflectors capable of reducing the incoming solar energy by 1.8 %, and thus cooling the Earth. Angel envisions using very thin refractive screens to deflect sunlight from Earth, to minimize the effects of radiation pressure on each spacecraft’s location near L1, and to limit the total Earth launch requirement to 20 million tons. For a launch cost of only $ 50/kg, Angel prefers an electromagnetic launch system.

Angel estimates that his space cloud could be developed and deployed within 25 years — making it potentially a 2015 Maslow Window project — with a total cost of a few trillion U.S. dollars. Although a large number, assuming the typical GDP growth implied for the 2015 Maslow Window by macroeconomic trends over the last 200 years, a decade-long program would cost roughly the same fraction of U.S. GDP as similar MEPs of the past (e.g., Apollo, Panama Canal). Use of global human, financial, and technological resources — another expected hallmark of the 2015 Maslow Window — would be central to the project.

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