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plus raw materials found in outer space, with no assistance from the
Earth. This doubling time of 6 years is to be compared with the present doubling time of the Earth's population: 35 years. Accordingly, from
about the year 2050, the number of places available in the space colonies would increase so fast that they could absorb the population increase not only on the Earth but also in the colonies. Thereafter, population density could be decreased everywhere.
The price of implementing this program would be around 5.109 dollars per year (in 1972 dollars).
Why should humanity embark on this proposed gigantic expansion project? What are we to gain from it? According to O'Neill and his coworkers, there are several arguments in favour of realizing such a plan. I will try to give a fair summary of these arguments. Their grouping and ordering is arbitrary; it was chosen to facilitate the following discussion. The quoted passages are from Ref. 1.
First, "the technical imperatives of this kind of migration of people and industry into space are likely to encourage self-sufficiency, small scale governmental units, cultural diversity and a high degree of independence." "A community of 20,000 people, eager to preserve its own culture and language, can even remain largely isolated. Free diverse social experimentations could thrive in such a protected, self-sufficient environment." (For such reasons many young Maoists are now enthusiastically in favor of space colonization
Second, "the history of the last 30 years suggests that warfare in the nuclear age is strongly, although not wholly, motivated by territorial conflicts, battles over limited, nonextendable pieces of land." struction of new living spaces may eliminate the cause of such conflicts.
Furthermore, one may be hopeful that colonization will be peaceful: "We already have a treaty banning nuclear weapons from space, and the colonies can obtain all the energy they could ever need from clean solar power, so that temptations presented by nuclear reactor by-products need not exist in the space communities."
Third, after about the year 2050 the number of new space colonies built per year would be high enough to decrease the population density on Earth and the space colonies to predetermined ecologically sound levels, even if the growth rate of the population persisted undiminished at its present value of 1.98% per year. This expansion could continue while there is space to be colonized in the Solar System; at least a 20,000fold increase of the population could be so accommodated without increasing the population density. At the present rate that would take about 500 years, during which time we would hopefully learn to slow down population growth or initiate space travel to distant stars. There is enough materials for us to use: "If we are so prodigal as to run through the entire material of the asteroid belt in the next 500 years, we can even gain another 500 years by using up the moons of the outer planets."
Fourth, "if work is begun soon, nearly all our industrial activity could be moved away from the Earth's fragile biosphere within less than a century from now," and "bird and animal species that are endangered an Earth by agricultural development and industrial chemical residues may find havens for growth in the space colonies where insecticides are unnecessary and industry has unlimited energy for recycling."
Fifth, the space colonies would offer "new habitats far more comfortable and attractive than is most of the Earth." In addition, using
"the matter and energy available in space to colonize and build, we can achieve great productivity of food and material goods." Examples of this type were cited earlier: favourable environment for large single crystal growth is difficult to achieve on the Earth, but would be easily accessible in space colonies, solar collectors placed in orbit, could gather solar radiation for conversion to electrical energy (which in turn may be radiated to Earth in the form of microwaves.)
(During the last year or so, publications dealing with space colonization tended to stress the fifth item on our list of expected benefits. However, the other four were in no way repudiated or re
tracted; in fact, they are still being quoted, and by now they have
been repeatedly enumerated by the news media.)
Implicit in these arguments is the assumption that we undertake space colonization soon, and on a large scale. Indeed, unless we do so, ecological damage to the Earth's biosphere would no longer be reversible, birds and fish which might have found sanctuaries in space habitats would become extinct, the human population density would reach catastrophic values, and a pathologically overpopulated Earth could not provide the necessary financial resources and supplies to sustain a major colonization effort: population limitation would then be brought about by other means. Because of the exponential growth rates, even a small delay would mean large deviations from the calculated values. To avoid such a delay, all we have to do is to start colonization right now. And it this were
the whole story, we would be well advised to do so.
CRITIQUE OF THE PROPOSED PROGRAM
But this is not the whole story. Another assumption implicit in the above arguments is that human behavior is mostly rational and generous in the sense that it furthers the best interests of the entire human race. This assumption is unjustified, as any student of history well knows. Below I will elaborate on some consequences of this fact. Those on whose decisions the future of our race depends, must face these consequences; it would be irresponsible for them to do otherwise. At the very least, we must try to foresee all difficulties which we may encounter, and make sure that we know how to avoid them, before committing humanity to such an irreversible course of action as space colonization would be.
Some take the position that space colonization would be a new venture,  so we can never know where it will lead us. I reject this argument It is of course true that so far humanity has not built large space ships, has not colonized outer space, nor has it lived in isolated space communities for any appreciable length of time. But it has built sea-going vessels, has colonized distant lands, and has lived in more or less isolated communities for centuries. Our ample experience in these undertakings must be considered as an indication of the kinds of obstacles we are likely to encounter.
We can and ought to survey these.
In this short article my aim is to make such a survey, and call attention to at least some of the social and political problems to be expected on the basis of historical analogy. There are, of course, others, but limitations of space do not allow a treatment of all of them here. I plan to convince you that at the present we are in no position to handle the difficulties which would emerge. I intend to demonstrate that in view
of the many unsolvable problems, the above listed five benefits expected from space colonization are largely illusory. Furthermore, I will argue that not only is the proposed space colonization program unlikely to alleviate our difficulties, but it will inevitably amplify them and move us closer to general disaster.
Let us start our argument by examining one by one the above list of five expected benefits.
First, let us ask: How realistic is the hope that space colonization would indeed encourage "small scale government units, and high degree
free diverse social experimentation"?
If left to themselves, what kind of social structure would the space ships likely develop? The most reasonable assumption is that they will develop along the same lines as small self-contained social units in the past have tended to do. Probably the simplest example of such units is a ship on the high seas. What societies evolved on sea-faring vessels of the past? All of us have heard about pirate ships roaming the high seas, each under the control of its tyrannical captain. But how many ships were inhabited by a democratic community of gentle people, who minded their own business, did harm to no one, and made their living happily fishing on the high seas under the bright clear tropical sun? And I mean how many of such ships sailed before telecommunications were invented, i.e. before big government and the Coast Guard reached out to maintain some semblence of order on
the high seas? None that I know of. More generally: how many peaceful, democratic, pluralistic communities have evolved since sophisticated weaponry became