Energy and the future – space based power and cognitive dissonance

Energy and the future – space based power and cognitive dissonance

June 15th, 2009 | Posted in Environment & Energy

One of the most interesting and challenging bits of cognitive dissonance you can find these days is the following conflict: On one side are those who believe that a technological breakthrough related to energy is needed, and that massive investment in said technologies along with life-style changes are vital to the survival of modern civilization. On the other side are those who believe that such a technology breakthrough is unlikely, or that it is too late for such a massive investment in a world where money is scarce and fossil fuels are expensive. Moving beyond that mental frame are those who believe that it is in fact so late that a significant breakdown in industrial civilization is coming and that even a massive die-off of humans is inevitable. Beyond such a wrenching change survivors will emerge into a new-old society that is both fugal and agrarian.

The cognitive dissonance comes for those of us who believe that the available evidence points in both of these directions simultaneously, that both tracks are emerging at the same time, and that we are in a kind of race to see which reality predominates. For example, I believe that a very rapid investment in next energy technologies is critical, and by this I mean most available alternatives to fossil fuels – solar, wind, ocean, thorium-based nuclear, geothermal. I also think that a shift in societal values in industrial countries is critical, toward a more localized, more frugal, and generally smarter life style. At the same time, I accept that it may be too late for some kind of gradual re-set of our energy ways, and that significant dislocations are possible, even probable.

So, when I come across evidence for one view or the other, I tend to find good evidence persuasive, even when it is contradictory.

A great example of this dissonance came across my screens today. First, I read as I do each Monday the weekly blog of James Kunstler. As usual he illustrates the bankruptcy of the view that with a few minor adjustments we will continue what he calls the happy motoring lifestyle into the infinite future. His blog, by the way, is at a new address, and is well worth the time each Monday. Those who comment on his blog tend to exemplify the people who think we are long past the point of no return and that a collapse is coming.

On the other hand, also coming into my screen today was a blog entry from The Oildrum, specifically a guest blog under the byline of “Gail the Actuary” in which an expert on space-based solar power explained how a new approach to the launch of vehicles may be able to cut the cost enough that space-based solar energy would become an answer, even the answer, to our future energy problems. Space-based solar arrays are one of those technologies that are always somewhere over the horizon, and some would say over the rainbow. If you take a few minutes to read this blog, and again the comments, you find the dissonance on full display. On the one hand you have a person saying that there may be an energy answer after fossil fuels. On the other hand you have lots of people not only saying it is not possible, but directly arguing that a human die-back is more desirable than cheap energy.

And so it goes.

At the end of the Fire 2009 conference, an audience member said he felt depressed, that the environmental problems discussed there seemed too large and the time seemed to late to respond. David Brin, the great science fiction writer, also in the audience, responded that we have to hope that humans come up with the breakthroughs, technological and social and values-based, that enable the enterprise of civilization to continue. The alternative is despair.

I thought this summed up things quite well.

Glen Hiemstra is a futurist speaker, consultant, blogger, internet video host and founder of To arrange for a speech contact

Glen Hiemstra

About Glen Hiemstra

Glen Hiemstra is the founder of An internationally respected expert on future trends, long-range planning and creating the preferred future, Glen has advised professional, business, and governmental organizations for three decades.


  1. Glen Hiemstra   |   Jul 10, 2009

    Michael, thanks for a thoughtful reply. There is something which is not right, in my opinion, about those who seem to hunger for the demise or drastic reduction of humans on planet earth, and I do see this in blogs and from audiences and in correspondence. It is one thing to think the situation is hopeless and regret that, but quite another to hope that it is hopeless.

    I am hearing more about the need to become space-faring as a human civilization. Yes, the costs are great and it is not clear how to pay in today’s situation, but if we can pay the cost then many things become possible in terms of access to energy and more.

  2. Michael Martin-Smith   |   Jul 7, 2009

    I would point out that I was moved to give my Paper at the BIS day symposium on Mar 25 2009 (see Google ” Can Space Save the Planet?”) by an interview in the London Transport Times in Dec 2007, where a respected UK Green campaigner refused to reject the idea of a global Police State to abrogate basic freedoms of Press and Democracy , in order to “Save the Planet” by anti-human coercions and restrictions. These would be unlikely to win votes- ergo, abolish the Vote…

    Police States are without exception more toxic than any problem they claim to address, and are invariably mendacious, venal, rapacious and murderous .

    “Dark Greens” – those who would see a dieback of Humans as desirable or at any rate not deserving of prevention, Heaven help us, by any exercise of human ingenuity or imagination – would have no need of gas or bullet in a homicidal drive to Save the Planet at Humanity’s expense. Artifical Famine backed by deliberately rundown health care services would do a far better job, and could be blamed on mere incompetence .

    Yesterday’s Reds are today’s Dark Greens…and could ReGreen the Earth as easily as one can convert a garden into a desert ( No People, No Problem— J.V.Stalin)

    The result would not be a pretty sight, and, devoid of Mind and Civilisation, Mother Earth would essentially suffer a stillbirth.
    Barren cosmic rockpiles abound, and await the hands of human gardeners – the ultimate act of Gaian procreation!

    “Dark Greens” are liable to forget this in their desire to demote the radical value of the Human Mind in an embryonic Universe..

    Meanwhile, we should remember that ALL shortages of Energy and Resources become irrelevant to a dispersed space dwelling civilsation, which would also, become immune to mass extinction by cosmic impact, supervolcanism or extreme climatic change.
    Many of the same anti-humans do not wish to prevent a astrroid/cosmic impact by technology, preferring instead to let Nature weed us out.

    To them I say that, while suicide for oneself can , sometimes, be honourable, it has no place in the life or aspirations of a Mindful species!

    If there is a name for a crime more pejorative than mere Genocide, please tell- we are going to need it…

    ” The Future for Man is All the Universe- or Nothing!” -HG Wells
    Michael Martin-Smith

  3. Richard Leyland   |   Jun 15, 2009

    Sorry – Forgot the link!

  4. Richard Leyland   |   Jun 15, 2009

    Hi Glen

    Interesting thoughts which chime with my own. I’ve taken up your theme and run with it a little, linking it to my own dissonance in trying to balance futurism with campaigning, science with moral position.

    Would be interested to hear your thoughts.