In Harvesting Space for a Greener Earth (Springer), authors Greg Matloff, C Bangs, and Les Johnson provide refreshing potential solutions for the human race to start looking at our problems from the big picture. They propose that we should start harvesting the resources in our solar system; after all, they’re the same resources that allowed Earth to develop life in the first place. We live on a crowded planet with depleting resources, and we’re facing a climate change conundrum that’s producing a host of other problems. What can we possibly do to start to tackle these issues, and how could we even entertain the idea of spending money on off-planet ventures? Check out our review of this topical and ambitious book!
Harvesting Space For a Greener Earth is a second-edition book which was originally published in 2010 as Biosphere Extension: Solar System Resources For the Earth. It needed an update, as within just a few years there have been a large influx of private enterprise starting to venture out into space that have changed the outlook of how we can use these resources. The key direction that the book has wisely chosen has been to approach these challenging problems not with a doom and gloom approach, but with solutions that are presented with optimism that don’t divide between some of the political and industrial forces that are currently slowing the processes down. The authors, who are all American, make it very clear that they have no political agenda with this book—in fact they even state that the authors actually disagree on political ideology, but agree that that should not have any bearing on coming up with solutions that will affect every human on this planet.
Most of Harvesting tackles issues which are incredibly topical and does a good job of outlining the steps humanity has taken living on this planet, from the initial creation of the solar system and life on planet Earth, to societal advancement, to current modern state and the problems we currently have. It briefly goes through the mounting obstacles such as the human population increase and the burden that is putting on the planet’s resources, and the mounting global warming issue. It outlines a few potential alternative sources such as nuclear power, wind power, hydropower, geothermal energy, and biofuel, but notes that there are drawbacks to all of these solutions and none of them are sufficient solutions on their own. Its biggest recommendation is to use these options in moderation coupled with the capture of energy from the greatest source the solar system has: the Sun. They propose that the best way to do this would be to beam the captured energy to Earth through microwave beams. The other big idea they presented had to do with mitigating some of the effects of global warming by effectively giving the Sun some shades to don by placing what they call a “Dyson Dot”, which is a large sail that would be placed between the Earth and the Sun and could potentially reduce the Sun’s output on our planet by 0.25%.
While “Harvesting” may well find a home amongst other high academic and university level books, the look and feel of the book is quite rudimentary. Having three authors take ownership of the book definitely gives the ideas some credibility, but it also lends to the uneven tone. The layout and artwork are really the book’s greatest weaknesses, especially the more abstract art: some of it is downright awful and could potentially put off casual readers. There’s no need for a book of this nature to have any kind of ambitious abstract art attached—space is already a visually dynamic place; photographs and simple illustrations would have sufficed.
Among all of the potential solutions to Earth’s problems, the message Matloff, Bangs, and Johnson present is that none of these options on their own will eliminate the problems, nor will they be cheap to implement, but in the long run becoming an advanced, space-faring civilization will be a cheaper solution than to try and solve the problems down here on the planet. The more we launch, and the more we plan to go into space at the private and public sector, the easier and more cost-efficient it will be in the future, which is a perspective that the entire human race might want to consider if we are to preserve ourselves.
Images courtesy of Springer, and the authors
Michael Unger is an astronomy educator in Vancouver, BC. He is the creator of the “Johnny Tomorrow” astronomy storytelling show, the host of a monthly lecture series called “Nerd Nite”, and a freelance writer for the music site Northern Transmissions.