back to article Fix capitalism with floating cities on Venus says Charles Stross

As an economist, Charles Stross might just make a very good science fiction writer, because he's just suggested colonising Venus is a fine way to ensure the continuation of the species while also solving the crises afflicting capitalism. In a post challengingly titled The prospects of the Space and Freedom Party reconsidered …

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Re: Having spent far too many hours on internet forums

> Why?

Well, firstly I personally quite like humans. Secondly, humans are the one single hope any life on Earth has of escaping the inevitable death of our planet and sun, and I really like plants & animals. Thirdly, any species, even a big, violent, destructive, and rather ugly monkey like Homo sapiens, has an intrinsic right to exist. Fourthly, because without humans there'll be no future machine civilization. And, lastly, I do believe humanity can be house trained and start behaving itself -- it just needs to outgrow its primitive delusions and get control of its own reproduction -- and once that happens humanity isn't much of a problem any more.

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Chuck realy should stick to writing about imaginary worlds .

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Unhappy

I feel let down.

I thought we were supposed to be building a Death Star?

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Linux

Fix capitalism be damned... I just want floating cities on Venus! :)

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Seriously though, the idea of settling the clouds of Venus has been floating around for a while (sorry).

It is clear there are serious problems with our current short term economic thinking. Our choices are to address these problems or not. If we don't address them we will take our chances with the consequences.

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Boffin

How to make the species continue

I just think that everyone should grow an own pair of bushes of Cannabis Indica.

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When I first learnt about the atmospheric makup of Venus..

I thought 'hey a cloud city would be possible, awesome!' However, it is possibly the driest place in the Solar System, always going to be foggy too.

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Boffin

Unaffordium, sorry.

I was a speaker at the 100YSS seminar sponsored by NASA in Orlando a few years ago. The idea was to build a starship for a 100 year mission (evidently one way).

Technology aside (a "minor" issue, to be sure), my topic was "What would this thing cost?"

The answer was quite discouraging. Taking the weight and cost of a 747-800 as a reference point (200 tons/$300,000,000, or about $1.5MM per ton, and comparing it to the weight and cost of the ISS (450 tons/$100 billion, or $222,000,000 per ton) I found that the ISS costs about 150 times as much as the 747 per ton.

The 100YSS was projected to weigh 5,000 tons (guesstimate), and at the same ratio (150 times per ton of the ISS), it would cost some $165 trillion (plus tag, tax, title). That doesn't include any ground support, salaries, add-ons, cost-overruns, reworking, etc.

The Gross Planetary Product of our entire world in 2009 was $72 trillion. If we started NOW, the project would consume the entire output of the whole world for the next three years, and probably more.

By 2100 AD, the GPP is projected to be about $1,000 trillion (a quadrillion dollars), and the project would then consume something like 7 percent of the entire economic output of the planet for a year, assuming the costs did not escalate spectacularly from today's numbers.

Basically, welcome to Magrathea, you can't afford our products.

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Boffin

Re: Unaffordium, sorry.

The real problem, the real, true, brain-boggling problem with space flight is the cost of getting it from the surface of the planet Earth into orbit. The reason for this is that the cost of transport rises exponentially, because the amount of fuel you need to put that payload into orbit expands exponentially.

Once you get something into orbit, of course, you're half-way to anywhere. The problem is that unless you *only* want to go to orbit, any fuel (and engines, et cetera,) you need to do the rest of your stuff is now additional payload for the lift *into* orbit, and that's where everything goes wonky. I'm not really very learned at this, I can't bust out equations or sums, but if you want to get an *instinctive* grasp on this problem, go play with Kerbal Space Program for a while.

That's why the things we've launched further than the moon tend to be much, much *lighter* than the things we've taken into orbit. Even the 1960s-era space race budget wouldn't have been up to the task of sending something the size of the shuttles (themselves now decommissioned largely for budgetary reasons,) to Venus.

Of course, some dreams are basically impossible in terms that anyone living today will see, but others are not. I expect that, barring some kind of age-longevity treatment (which will of course be available primarily or exclusively to the rich, at first,) nobody alive today will live to see the fabled permanent sky-cities on Venus even seriously begin as a project beyond a bunch of futurists sitting around throwing ideas around. Seeing a man in orbit of or on the surface of Mars, though, perhaps. But far more likely would be some kind of installation built to exploit resources available in-situ on the Moon, and maybe some asteroid mining/retrieval programs, and if we're very lucky, the start of construction on a space elevator, which would make all of this *so much simpler*.

(As a side-note, exploiting resources available in-situ on the moon is a fantastic idea, because it means that you only have to lift your actual payload into earth orbit, then you can fit its engines and fuel which were made on the Moon, and were much easier to get /off/ the moon.)

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Re: Unaffordium, sorry.

@shadowdragon: If you think it's expensive to build things in Earth orbit, you should do the math on how much it would cost to launch things from Earth to build and maintain high-technological factories on Luna capable of building spaceships. Hint: it's more difficult and more expensive than building them at the bottom of the Marianas trench.

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Re: Unaffordium, sorry.

@Miami Mike: The ISS is a bad example, as it's both a prototype and a PR project (i.e. not intended to do anything besides being built), and it was built in the most expensive way imaginable (with the space shuttle, which cost 6x more than a normal rocket per launch). Arguably the ISS main task is actually to soak up money; certainly that's what it does best.

That said, the 100YSS is probably still in the trillion dollar range. It'll need major technological breakthroughs to become viable.

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Boffin

Re: Unaffordium, sorry.

Even if it is a bad example, at the moment it is the ONLY example. And, yes, it does soak up money with a vengeance. There is some actual work going on in the ISS, though. Experiments on long-term living in zero G (world's most expensive and exclusive motel room), metallurgy (perfect spherical ball bearings), plant growth in zero G (needed because there's no McDonalds - that we know of - on the way to Alpha Centauri). Check with NASA and deduct 50% for puffery.

Everything like this is a prototype and thus astonishingly expensive for the first ones. Personally, I'll wait, let someone else take the depreciation and buy an older model, even if it does take 14 parsecs to do the Kessel run instead of twelve.

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Re: Unaffordium, sorry.

> There is some actual work going on in the ISS

Sure, but it's very pedestrian stuff, and all of which could have been done more cheaply without the ISS.

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So, evidently Mr. Stross has been reading Eclipse Phase.

That's a good thing. EP is a fantastic table-top RPG, and if any crowd can enjoy that, I suspect El Reg's readership is more likely to than most.

Still, cribbing your ideas from a futuristic science fiction game where they have a number of very important technologies which enable things like gigantic aerostats colonizing the troposphere of Venus isn't a very good idea, because we explicitly don't have those technologies - like practical fusion power generation, or nanofabricators, or (and this is an important one,) the ability to recover from a small medical condition called "death" by restoring yourself from the state you died in thanks to that brain-recorder in your brain stem.

Plus, it's basically impossible to extract the mineral wealth of the planet Venus at this stage of the game. There would be little industrial point to colonizing Venus at this juncture, it would just be a bunch of gigantic, really-hard-to-get-to cities for the rich to isolate themselves and their fortunes on.

Still, at least he is talking colonizing other planets, which is a hell of a lot better than so many other stupidly wealthy people.

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I would prefer the money applied to traveling faster than light speed. It opens up more opportunities for additional projects like visiting exoplanets.

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Anonymous Coward

I hate to burst your bubble, but you seem to be labouring under the misaprehension that it is Einsteins theories that stands in the way of FTL travel. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is Newton who must first be avoided, not Einstein. Do a little arithmetic and you will discover what a collision with a singly hydrogent would be like at the speed of light or some significant fraction thereof. Disasterously energetic outcomes in such collisons. They cannot be shielded agains by any known means.

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Anonymous Coward

The Truth.

Capitalism, qua Capitalism is not at risk. In fact, no one anywhere on Earth has ever lived out their lives in a truly Capitalist society. Capitalism will work for you as well as you work it. You must be a true Captialist to actually understand Capitalism, but you need not have a full understanding of it to prosper under it. Capitalism is like the rising tide. It lifts all boats, including yours, provided you did not do something stupid to your boat. Like tying it to a heavy object with a short rope, or punching a hole in the hull of your boat while never even reading the manual on how your bilge pumps are operated. There is not, however, any room for the indolent in a truly Capitalist society.

This article is about a book that someone wrote to counter a socialist smear job of Captialism, but that was an obvious mistake. Capitalism needs no defense. It stands on its own. It has worked on its own everywhere it has been tried to the exact degree it has been allowed to work. Socialism, on the other hand, is sputtering wreck that will only deliver you into poverty. It has failed spectacularly everywhere it has been put into practice. France is an outstanding example of Socialism at its worst.

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