Newsletter TDF 2/2004

A space age or a (new) stone age

Dear Co-Planetaries, 

The title here above is the one of a paper, written by Marco C. Bernasconi and Arthur Woods, appeared in Space News - Oct. 2- 8, 1995. I am using it because it seems extremely appropriate to me, in describing the current situation. 

The upsurge in the price of oil, to nearly 50 dollars per barrel (double the middle price fixed by OPEC), involves, for the planetary economy, a "tax" of 50 billion dollars per month (600 billion per year), to be paid to the real world government: the oil monopoly. As in the 1973 big oil crisis, the different commentators disagree. The prevailing reason, for the unprecedented rise of the black gold price, is attributed by some to the current political-military situation in the Middle-East, by others to the shrinking of oil reserves thmselves. Whatever is the main reason, a lot of substantial differences exist, with regard to the 1973 crisis. That crisis was an entirely man-made crisis, which nevertheless had the effect of igniting reflection on the limited resources of this planet. The Countries of the OPEC cartel decided to raise the price of the raw oil, in two months, to 12 dollars per barrel. Besides, the 1973 oil crisis ended the period of great industrial development which followed the 1945 Bretton-Woods agreements. Historical sources state that, at that time, the United States didn't oppose the OPEC decision, considering the bigger incomes for Saudi Arabia and Iran, due to the increase of the oil price, as a kind of indirect financing for the armament of such Countries. But then the world was still split in two blocks, neither of which was interested in making the price fall, for military reasons. Today the situation is very different: one of the supposed contenders (the Al Qa'edist terrorism) seems to be driven by a philosophy of endless death; it continues to sacrifice its own young people, and its ideological objective is anything but clear. Besides, the history of such terrorism decidedly appears to have two interlinked connections - to some of the oil lobbysts, as well as to the Middle-East situation. The West seems by now to have accepted the military facts of life, and to have decided to look for other solutions, rather than the use of its own technological superiority. As if to show that lessons in civilization and humanism can come from any quarter, during these days the "Grand Ayatollah" Al Sistani deserved the title of "Grand", rendered to him by the media: he personally went, risking his own life, to the hottest point of the Iraqi conflict. He went to stop the killings, and to speak. And he has achieved, in half a day, what great armies and overwhelming military might did not manage to accomplish in many months. How many other political or religious heads will dare to do the same, and thus take the moral high ground? The occupaying powers, nevertheless, didn't learn anything, and keep on reacting to the terrorism by other terror, bombs and destruction, without saving women and children. The total blindness of such a deal should be self evident: we could  achieve the favor of a people (vs. terrorism) only if we would be able to show a moral temper, a nobilty and a capability to protect  the good peple and put the bad ones in conditions not to harm, things which war and destruction have nothing to do with. 

But the theater of the conflict, today, extends beyond the Middle-East region, though this last remains the region where fires of war and instability mostly ignite. As we comment in other articles (The first Chinese manned space mission, China in Space), a great machine has recently turned on its motors: the industrial development of the biggest Asian Countries: China and India. This machine needs fuel and raw materials, in hardly calculable quantity. In the face of such demands, the oil resources (and not only the oil ones) of the planet will really start to be scarce. And here is the second point of difference between the present crisis and that of 1973. Obviously, too, the alarm bell of 1973 could have started useful lines of development, but then the only resultant vector was that of the geocentricity, of the Ecological Movement! This Movement, facing the problem of the finiteness of terrestrial resources, simply preached the reduction of the human species and, in its most radical wings, even its extinction. The current situation also shows clearly (at last) the obsolescence of such those intellectual tendencies, which we can justly call Reductionist and anti-Human. There are, on this same planet, great populations, that are not at all afflicted by the self-destructive sense of guilt as are we post-industrial people: they in the final analysis are simply claiming their share of development and good living standards. And this, as we now finally realise, is primarily a matter of energy and raw materials. We are not empowered to grant or deny technological know-how: know-how nowadays is diffused to the East as well as the West. They can achieve in a short time the same and more than we can, because they are more motivated. This is the true challenge that the post-industrial West is facing. Beware, gentlemen; the stake is extremely high: the future of our whole civilization depends upon the answer that we will be able to give. The choices, for us Western people, are at least four: 
a) to fight militarily the development of the Eastern peoples; 
b) to wait passively, to be overcome and colonized by the new emerging political-economic power;
c) to help as far as possible such development; 
d) to look for new spaces and new resources of development, for us and for them, beyond the borders of this planet. 

Left to themselves, I'm afraid that the American and European political leaderships would choose, respectively, however absurd, solutions a) and b). 

As has certainly happened on other occasions, the biggest problem for people who foresee great future events, is that of passing on their own foresight those who lack the same intuition. It is difficult to find useful precedents in history for the totally new. Many will shrug their shoulders in resignation: another conflict, and then? The history of civilization is studded with conflicts. This inactivity is the greatest danger, that we must culturally and politically avoid. Let's put it so: you have a very small and pretty house, one day two champions of Wrestling come to find you, they drink your whiskey, and they start to quarrel. What is your principal worry? "Please, go outside to fight..." you suggest to them, in the most prudent option. (in fact there is a real danger that they will get angry with you ). 

The damage that two (or more) combatants can inflict depends directly on the dimensions of the combatants themselves and on the scale of the theater of the conflict itself. Now, the contenders' sizes (East and West) are such, that, if also the contest remained at the economic-industrial level, our actual cosmic residence would not be enough, and it would result in irreparable devastation. We would face an unprecedented crisis of resources and an environmental crisis. Such crisis could be enough to set civilization back several millennia. If then the conflict degenerated to a military level (very possible, considering the political trends that still prevail), I don't see how our civilization (and perhaps also our kind) could survive. 

It is surely difficult to bring to their senses some drunk wrestling champions (and I apologize with the category, that I have sinisterly used for my example!). It will be a good precautionary measure to remove any "alcoholics" (i.e. any religious fundamentalisms), and even to choose our leaders more wisely. Nevertheless, are we able (as a civilization) to bet all our chances on the unlikely eventuality that some reasonable politicians will appear? History until now suggests a pessimistic view. 

The solution d) is therefore an imperative, and it must be pursued at any cost, in any measure. If the last resort is to be that the combatants at least left the house to pursue their quarrel, the technological and industrial possibilities of it must exist. 

And it could be that, faced with the abundance of resources and energy that they will find just outside their home, suddenly the contestants' drunkenness will pass, a beautiful smile will appear on their faces, and the conflict will move onto more solid (and very less bloody) ground. 

I will also try to discuss this and other topics, in the interview that David Livingston will make with me Sunday 3 October, in his Space Show.

Due to all the above reasons, the initiative of independent and courageus people is quite essential. Therefore I look very much forward to the next september 29th, and wish the best to SpaceShipOne and Scaled Composites, when they will try the first flight to qualify for the X-Prize! Their success will be a breath of hope, and fresh air, in the current heavy war-and-terrorism weather. 

TDF 2/2004 

The summary of TDF 2/2004 is very solid; I would be attempted to add other articles, but so making this number would never issue! The today's cut therefore includes, among others, the followings articles: 
- A corpse is not a good client, by A. Autino - ... It is this matter of killing that shall come to an end. In the killing, as in the torture, there's only the regression to the natural ferocity, to the bestial instincts. Once people overcome that border, they don't have respect of themselves anymore: therefore, there is not then such a great difference between the killing and the torture. Whoever really wishes to contribute educating terrestrials to democracy, will have to be stronger, but of a firstly moral strength, not only military. The awareness of who is able to measure his strength to prevent the injustices, stopping well before the killing, the mutilations, the tortures. The strength that immediately communicates to the opponents that we intend to take care of our children as well as of their children, and that we won't allow anymore anybody to kill, to torture, to make themselves to explode.... 
- The tyranny of oil, by A. Autino - ... The speculative upsurge of the oil' price, in this 2004 summer, subsequently shows the extreme criticality of the energy problem. All the experts foresee an increasing demand of energy and raw resources. It begins therefore to appear, in its whole dramaticity, the problem of the finiteness of the resources of our (by now unic) planet... 
- The failure of the space agencies, by A. Autino - ... Since the Apollo mission in 1969, agencies were not able to decrease the cost to orbit of one kg terrestrial material of 1 cent; the quality standards are growing exponentially, but the space systems quality is decreasing (2 shuttles on 5 lost, Ariane 5 failures are 21%, vs. 2,6% of Ariane 4); the ScaledComposites's SpaceShipOne made the same work of NASA's X15 with only 30 millions Dollars, ...
- New frontiers of tourism: the space, by Pierluigi Polignano - Shimizu Organization wants to build lunar laboratories and hotels using local raw materials. Nishimatsu Construction Corporation has planned to build a mega-resort, with the shape of three giant shells: Escargot City, snail city. Obayashi Corporation, on the contrary, is planning a self-sufficient lunar farm, able to host 10.000 people, with fields, gardens and orchards for the living.

And don't forget (even if is not easy, this period) to:

Aim high!

Adriano Autino

[English version was revised by Michael Martin-Smith]

[025.AA.TDF.2004 - 05.08.2004]