The impossible material requirements for a "Green" world

Interesting article, with a link to a long but equally interesting video. Bottom line is that Our Betters’ planned “energy transition” to wind & solar is physically impossible – as if we all did not know that already.

Is There Enough Metal to Replace Oil? -

Example of just one of many required materials:
Copper required for the “energy transition” is 4,576 Million tonnes.
Known global geological reserves of copper are 880 Million tonnes.

Finnish analyst Simon Michaux summarizes the situation thus:

THE PAST – “An industrial ecosystem of unprecedented size and complexity, that took more than a century to build with the support of the highest calorifically dense source of cheap energy the world has ever known (oil) in abundant quantities, with easily available credit, and unlimited mineral resources.” (Michaux)

THE PRESENT – “We now seek to build an even more complex system with very expensive energy, a fragile finance system saturated in debt, not enough minerals, with an unprecedented number of the human population, embedded in a deteriorating environment.” (Michaux)


The dogmatism of the ‘green’ movement is best challenged not by rejecting the tenets, but by questioning the proposed solutions. The solutions are based on the following ideas:

  1. The 1B of the Western population has extracted resources, let’s have them pay us, while we extract for another 7B for the non-Westerners without any qualms, while churning out another few B people to do the same.
  2. Let’s use Western technology for granted, without having to invest into it or even assume that the development required energy extraction, taxes that were paid by the Western population.
  3. In the meantime, much of the Western population is thinking “If we behave nicely, everyone will follow suit.” It strikes me as both arrogant and naive.

When the situation is impossible, only the insane (either for ethical naivete on the left, or scientific naivete on the right) are willing to engage in politics. I think that’s where we are right now, institutions are being torn apart by the insane, the end is nigh, and we should be building civilization arks. When Ottomans took Constantinople, there were Italian city states where Byzantine elites could flee to, and this might have started the Renaissance. Where to flee to now?


Advocates of space development dating back to the High Frontier concept in the 1970s have pointed out the risk of a technological civilisation falling into a “resource trap” from which it cannot escape.

Existing technologies were developed in times of abundant, easy to exploit, material and energy resources. It is difficult to imagine the Industrial Revolution getting started without plentiful coal and iron ore available locally and near the surface. Extracting scarce resources today usually requires the technologies built when they were abundant, and if these were lost, they couldn’t be rebuilt without the resources available originally.

This is why it’s insane to restrict one’s focus to Earth, when 99.9% or more of the energy and material resources of the solar system are elsewhere, often in forms far easier to exploit than on Earth. At the distance of Earth’s orbit, you can get 1.3 kW/m² in 24/7/365.2524 free energy just by putting up a collector, and it will continue to run for billions of years into the future.

We can, however, easily run into a trap where we lose the ability to move off planet and then lack the capacity to recover it. From their public statements, both Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are intensely aware of this.


There’s the other risk that we expend limited human resources on the fastest possible trajectory into space, but neglect to protect or even sacrifice technological civilizations that could support that trajectory.

A more balanced strategy for a space-faring civilization would also include this foundational support, perhaps in the form of religion design where ‘ascent into space’ is a theological imperative.


An interesting view in this regard is Steven Wolfe’s The Obligation.


That is getting close to saying that oil is free – all we have to do is first drill an oil well. And it is very doubtful that a very expensively-placed orbiting photovoltaic cell will last for billions of years – the Sun, yes! the PV cell, not so much.

We are in complete agreement on the necessity of moving off-planet if humanity is to maintain a technological civilization. Getting there would require a much more focused deliberate effort than Our Betters are currently capable of leading. Sadly, the likely result for humanity will be a regression to the kind of society that existed prior to the industrial revolution. And after the inevitable next Ice Age, very little will be left to show that industrial civilization ever existed.

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Much of the energy used in industry is process heat, not electricity (or, if electricity, is just used as a way to deliver heat). For heat, all you need is a big mirror.


You also need a means for manipulating/maneuvering the mirror. Additionally, the greater the size of the mirror, the greater the chance that an impact takes the whole thing out.


On the topic of getting power from space-based satellites, here is an interesting view from 2019. The writer clearly had drunk the Kool-Aid on terrestrial photovoltaics (ignoring the primary role played by regulations, subsidies, and – in the case of Germany – outright stupidity), but he still built a strong case for caution on the economic feasibility of delivering power from space.

Space-based solar power is not a thing – Casey Handmer’s blog (

These four elements, transmission, thermal, logistics, and space technology, inflate the relative cost of space-based solar power to the point where it simply cannot compete with terrestrial solar. It’s not a matter of 5% here or there. It’s literally thousands of times more expensive. It’s not a thing.”

One of the author’s comparisons on transportation costs is particularly interesting – not so much for the space power argument as for the impact on trying to maintain industry in the Developed World. If terrestrial global transportation costs are really as low as ‘$0.05 per kilogramme’, then all production will eventually migrate to whatever location has the lowest regulatory costs and the lowest labor costs – and the Developed World will no longer be developed.

Logistics costs: Consider transportation cost. Today, SpaceX has crushed the orbital transport market with a price of around $2000/kg. Compare this to the worldwide network of intermodal containers, which can transport anything in 20T units almost anywhere on Earth for about $0.05/kg.”


A recent detailed updating of the economics of Space Power Satellites (SPS) based upon current manufacturing technology and near-term launch cost forecasts is John C. Mankins’ 2014 The Case for Space Solar Power. Basically, with automated manufacturing and assembly, a highly modular design, and launch costs around half those of Falcon Heavy as of 2014, the case almost closes for base load power generation. For smaller, niche markets, such as replacing diesel generators and fuel delivery to remote military bases or mobile logistics chains, it is proftable at a smaller scale and may be able to fund R&D and deployment of larger systems.

If Starship works and achieves its flight rate and cost goals, the case for SPS launched from Earth looks better. The Mankins book looked carefully at the maintenance cost of a deployed system and is more realistic in its cost estimates than those which ignore sustaining operation indefinitely.

Also, one must consider the possibility of a more advanced spacefaring economy manufacturing SPS from lunar material. Much of the mass of SPS is elements readily available in the Moon’s crust (aluminium, silicon, oxygen) and access to them without the need to lift them out of Earth’s gravity well may change the break-even point. (Keith Henson, founder of the L5 society, who occasionally posts here, has concluded that lunar-resource SPS will not work with present technology, but that may change as cislunar infrastructure develops.)


Mankins’ book sounds interesting – thank you for that very thorough review of it. The major difference in focus between Mankins & Handmer seems to be that Mankins focuses on the space-based part of the system (as appropriate for an old NASA hand) whereas Handmer emphasizes the Earth-based end.

As one of Handmer’s commentators notes, we already use microwaves to beam power from space to Earth. That is the basis of satellite TV & internet. But the power transmitted is trivial, and so the receiving apparatus can be very small. Handmer makes a point about the very large land area required for receiving GigaWatts of energy. That is something I (for one) had not recognized before. In places where land is valuable (generally where people live & work), the land requirement is certainly something to take into account.


There are a variety of ways to approach the limits of the biosphere but the one you allude to is offered by technological civilization’s consumerism as a form of “religion”. O’Neill made the case for space habitats that are materially more attractive environments for the vast majority of people, as well as the economic case for offloading population to those habitats using space based solar power. I haven’t seen a rational debunk of those numbers in the subsequent decades.


Seems to me that once a Starship lands on the lunar surface, a LOX business becomes the most obvious next stage in bootstrapping that infrastructure. I have a hard time believing Musk hasn’t already started internal plans for lunar LOX production but then I also have a hard time believing he can be serious about Mars as opposed to O’Neill colonies.