Thursday, October 30, 2008

Two Planets, No Waiting

A new study suggests that by 2030, we'll need two planets to support ourselves in the style to which we've become accustomed.

This study has some obvious conceptual problems. First, it ignores the potential benefits of wise policies like granting Monsanto patents on food crops, or killing all Islamofascists. Second, it's an example of what Gregg Easterbrook calls the Fallacy of Uninterrupted Trends: it overlooks the fact that science and markets will inevitably solve the problems caused by overconsumption, just as they've always done in the past.

As if to prove my point, India is lighting our way into the future by announcing its intent to mine the moon for uranium:

The Indian mission is scheduled to last two years, prepare a three-dimensional atlas of the moon and prospect the lunar surface for natural resources, including uranium, a coveted fuel for nuclear power plants, according to the Indian Space Research Organization.
This could provide a virtually limitless source of cheap, safe long as you ignore the staggering expense of interplanetary extraction and transportation, along with all the other little details that make this idea pointless, impractical, dangerous, and bizarre. Still, it's the thought that counts!

Of course, once India sets up housekeeping up on the moon, we know precisely where that will lead: Great Britain will move to establish a Lunar Raj and a new era of Company Rule, which will be cheered on interminably by Niall Ferguson and John Derbyshire (who has already been worrying himself sick over the threat of lunar multiculturalism).

One thing the moon doesn't have is fish. Rain follows the plow, granted...but I still think we should suspend this practice until we can get our lunar fisheries up and running.
Despite continuous warnings of emptying oceans due to overfishing, a new report finds that one-third of the world’s total marine catch is not feeding humans, but livestock. The fish are ground-up into meal and fed to pigs, poultry, and even farm-raised fish.
At the risk of sounding like some sort of radical firebrand, this is simply wasteful. There are plenty of redundant animals we don't eat that could just as easily be ground en masse into poultry feed. Rats come to mind, as do squirrels, vultures, and snakes; all of 'em will taste like chicken, in the end. That ought to keep us going until we're able to set up Punch and Judy shows by the lunar seaside.

If anyone doubts that scientific progress will reduce the resource exploitation that it constantly makes easier and more efficient, here's an inspiring example of human ingenuity:
A device placed on, say, a supermarket shelf scans the face of the person standing in front of it. It determines whether the person is a man or a woman and sends that information to a digital screen nearby. The screen will play an ad for women's razors if a woman is watching, Jeeps if a man is watching, or Gap if both a man and woman are watching. "People are not even aware that they are being watched and monitored," Rabenou said.

The video analytics software to do this was developed for the Israeli homeland security department. It can determine, by facial clues, the gender and age of the faces it scans. By next year, the company says, the software will be able to ascertain ethnicity as well.

The device can also track how long people stand in front of a retail display, determining whether the display is clear. In an Israeli trial, it helped advertisers realize that a lot of men were buying Pampers on Thursday nights, so the company started a promotion that gave free razors to shoppers who bought two packs of Pampers.
How's that for beating swords into plowshares? Of course, this sophisticated technology is intended to increase witless hyperconsumption...but why couldn't it be put to better uses?

Just imagine if it were used to display comforting messages when it detects shoppers with haggard, worried faces. Suppose I go into the drugstore, looking for a straight razor with which to slash my wrists. The store's video analytics software would recognize my puffy, red eyes, and the tears streaming down my cheeks, and it'd promptly cue up some reassuring message like "there is plenty of uranium on the moon," or "Precious Gems Discovered on Mars." And suddenly, I'd find the strength to carry on.

And that's just what's possible today. Who knows what we'll accomplish tomorrow?


Anonymous said...

I suppose we'll hear more about how stupid Malthus was: Didn't think about moving to the moon did ya mr. smart guy?

Anonymous said...

All this is too disturbing. I hate the idea of humans polluting, messing up the rest of the solar system. When the space station was being built, the problem of waste disposal came up, the solution: throw it out into space. Drives me nuts!

Anonymous said...

we can send the republicans to the moon, and save the earth.

what? no pictures? oh, it's only thurs.

don't let me down phila.