Imagining the Future & Acting Now to Get There

By Richard Mains, Posted 08/12/09


"Lunar Colony in Dome" Source: CalPoly/Pomona

"Lunar Colony in Dome" Source: CalPoly/Pomona

As Commercial Space Gateway Editor, I’m usually researching and writing about the future as it is envisioned and shaped by federal government policies, public-private funding for commercial space R&D, and entrepreneurial space business development. However, I’m also very interested in NASA’s long involvement in what they now call “GreenSpace” and the potential utilization of these technologies for space commerce.

NASA Ames Research Center spearheaded this recent initiative but other NASA Centers are also now involved.  Over its 50 year existance, NASA has by necessity become expert at R&D associated with extreme environments, planetary monitoring, alternative energy production and efficiency, life support and sustainable systems. It’s no accident that Dr. James Hansen, one of the world’s leading experts on climate change works for NASA. Many credit NASA and the Apollo mission’s first photos of “spaceship” Earth in the midst of the black cosmos and the famous “Earthrise” viewed from the Moon as bringing the modern environmental movement into being.

So with this long-held interest, I just read an article in the “New Scientist” titled, “Comment: Why People Don’t Act on Climate Change” which addresses a difficult question we all need to ponder.   Apparently climate change scientists find it difficult to modify their business travel behavior even when they will be speaking to their peers in other countries about the need to decrease carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. This tendency to disconnect our ability to imagine the future from current actions to implement change will have major consequences for our future, with implications for space commerce development, as well.

The struggle that others have with this disconnect doesn’t surprise me because I know how hard it is to change my own behavior. Like many, I am recyling more materials, buying more “green” products, eating less meat, driving less, and yes, walking more. But, I’m also flying long distances to conferences as I’ve done for years, without thinking too much about it. Significant changes in behavior seem to happen only when we’re forced to make them or there are financial benefits, and that’s just the way we operate.

Our ancient ancestors probably left their familiar caves to head South only when the temperatures kept dropping and they couldn’t find sufficient food locally. Now, associated with emerging climate changes we need to imagine dramatic changes we can make in how we capture, distribute and save energy, produce and buy food, recycle materials, conserve and reuse water, travel, and much more.

Have we become any better at imagining the future and proactively making changes now so that a better future can be realized?  That capability is supposedly one that separates us from other creatures living on our planet. I don’t know about you, but I’m not pleased about having to make any big changes. I like to work on long-term projects and bring things to fruition and then enjoy them for years. My wife, however, a designer by training and inclination, likes nothing better than changing things around, regularly. It’s the change process itself that seems to energize her and I often find her with a paint brush in hand in some corner of the house late at night working away. It’s a good thing there are more like her or we would never adapt to new challenges.

In another article titled,"The Green Summit: 10 X Bigger than Kyoto", Alex Koyfman, posted in The Green Chip Review, profiles several factors that are driving economic changes including major investments. He finds that international agreements and changes in law often drive increased investments that will move us toward changes for a better future.  Koyfman notes that, “We've all heard about proposed emissions cuts, gas guzzler taxes, and investor resistance to technologies destined to compete with industries that rely on historically-dominant power sources, such as oil and coal. What few understand today is that climate change is actually one of the most significant drivers of the economy that we're likely to see in our lifetimes.” He contends that, “Where before new sectors opened and prospered in response to technical innovations and the never-ending quest for greater speed, better standardization, and increased volume, we are today — for the first time in history — being influenced by environmental limitations.”

Delegates from 192 nations will meet in Copenhagen this December for an historic summit, and a coordinated multi-national strategy will be drawn up to deal with our environmental challenges. Enormous resources, both monetary and human, have already been committed to what billionaire venture capitalist John Doerr — who helped bring you Google and Amazon — has called "nothing less than the re-industrialization of the whole planet."   It’s my contention that this need will also extend to rebuilding our space infrastructure.

I recently wrote an article titled, “Policy Updates: Let’s Build on our Infrastructure” that argues for strong alignment of future space development with major national challenges, including climate change. The involvement of the private sector in developing an updated space infrastructure that can help us address challenges such as global warming, disaster mitigation, off-Earth rare resource mining, and space-based solar power R&D, also requires that we imagine our future in order to shape it. We need to learn to start working on and adapting to changes earlier so that we’re not going to be “driven from our caves”. We need sufficient time to create innovations to reindustrialize both Earth and space since the strong linkage between them is becoming more and more obvious.


The Earth-Space "System"

From: Richard Mains, 08/20/09

Mark, the concept of ecosystems on Earth and our home planet having a resulting biosphere has emerged slowly over the last century in the public's mind. The concept of Earth, always moving in space, that is also in a dynamic equilibrium with its complex space environment (solar heat, hundreds of small meteorites landing per day, chemical interactions of all sorts in the upper atmosphere, gravity influences from the Moon, a radiation shield formed by the magnetosphere, etc.) is still emerging. Global warming from greenhouse gases, fuel depletions, resource shortages, and many other impacts of the increasing numbers of humans is driving us to see an "Earth-Space" system that is both a challenge and an opportunity. The relevance of space exploration and development to national and global challenges is increasing fast and it's becoming more important that we all begin to understand that. Fast adaptation to change is what youth are so good at, right? That's why we need more of them involved in creating science and technology innovations and hopefully these giant challenges will help that and they will help us to change too.

"imagination and action"

From: Mark McLeod, 08/14/09

Your article made me see how dealing with extraterrestrial space, in contrast to dealing solely with planet earth, can stimulate the imagination. I am also intrigued with your suggestion that some individuals thrive on changing behavior patterns, while others do so only with great reluctance.

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