NEEP602 Course Notes (Fall 1996)
Resources from Space

Lecture #43 Our Ecological Niche: The Solar System!

Title: Earth, Moon, and Mars - One Environmental System


Net Environmental Effects Of He Mining On The Moon And Its Use For Fusion Power On Earth

Figure 1: "Net" Environmental Considerations for Energy from Space
Figure 2: Conservative Penetration Scenarios for U.S
Figure 3: Net Effects Positive
Figure 4: Area Mined Vs. Time and U.S. City Area
Figure 5: Tonnes Mined Vs. Time and Various Commodities
Figure 6: Potential Effects of 3He Mining to the Moon
Figure 7: Possible Effects on the Lunar "Atmosphere"
Figure 8: Possible Effects on the Lunar Surface
Figure 9: Solid Wastes from Human and Mining Activities

One way in which we might show how energy resources from Space could impact the Earth's environment is in the area of CO2 emissions. In order to fully illustrate the effect, we need to consider the global need for energy. This was covered in Lecture 41 where we considered 3 possible scenarios for energy use in the 21st century. Remember that the first scenario related to "business as usual" and a complete exhaustion of economically recoverable fossil fuels in the 21st century. This also resulted in severe shortages in the latter half of the next century. The second scenario allows for a new energy source (presumably fusion or solar) to enter in 2015 and capture 50% of the total energy market by 2050 (the majority of which, by that time, is devoted to electricity generation). The third scenario allowed the new energy source to continue to capture more of the energy market, up to 80% by 2080.

The effect of these 3 scenarios on the amount of CO2 emitted was calculated and is displayed in Figure 10.

Figure 10

There are 4 main conclusions for this analysis (see Figure 11)

Figure 11

It is obvious that even with a significant effort to introduce a new, non polluting energy source by 2015, there will be no discernible effect on the amount of CO2 emitted before 2030. The absolute emission rates will approximately double by 2030 before reductions from the new energy source(s) can be realized. Without any new energy sources, the CO2 emission rates could triple the 1995 values. With scenario 2, these fusion or solar power from Space will keep the total worldwide emissions to below twice the 1995 levels for the rest of the century. Under the scenario 3 conditions, the present CO2 emission rates could actually be reduced by a factor of 3 at the end of the 21st century.

There is no reliable method to correlate the release rates with actual CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, let alone to predict the change in global (or local) temperatures. However, there is every indication that such large CO2 emission rates as indicated in Figure 10 could have very significant, if not catastrophic effects on the World's ecosystem. We should not tempt "Mother Nature"!

The Earth and the Moon have been tied dynamically to each other as a two planet system for most if not all of their individual histories.

With respect to future symbiosis, material presented in this course has established the following:

1. Future energy, environmental, and human needs on Earth will require alternatives to the use of fossil hydrocarbons as fuel (Lectures #4 and 41).

Uncertainty about the net environmental effect of burning fossil hydrocarbons in the attempt to satisfy the needs and desires of future billions on Earth, if nothing else, makes it prudent to seek such alternatives (Lectures #4 and 41).

2. The Moon could theoretically provide indefinite supplies of 3He for use as a fuel to produce environmentally acceptable and highly efficient fusion electrical power on Earth (Lectures #12, 13, 18, and 27).

The energy equivalent dollar value of 3He, as compared to coal, and the low capital cost potential of inertial electrostatic confinement technologies, strongly suggest that lunar 3He could support commercially competitive electrical power economy on Earth (Lectures #27, 36, and 42).
There would be a large net positive environmental effect on the Earth-Moon system as a consequence of the use of lunar 3He in terrestrial fusion electric power plants (This Lecture).

3. Strong philosophical, as well as scientific and political, arguments exist that support the establishment of human settlements on the Moon and Mars (Lectures #1, 22, and 23).

Such settlements, at a minimum, reduce the risk to the human species of being confined to one planet, a planet at some risks to a variety of terrestrial and extraterrestrial hazards.

At a maximum, lunar and Martian settlements accelerate the technological evolution of the human species as a galactic inhabitant.

4. By-products from the production of lunar 3He, directly or indirectly, include the materials necessary to sustain indefinitely settlements on the Moon and Mars (Lectures #13 and 15).

Although Mars could ultimately be self-sufficient by using its own resources, the shipment of lunar resources to Mars may be economical in the early decades of Mars settlement.

5. The technologies and capabilities necessary to access lunar 3He also provide the capability to deflect any major asteroid or comet that may be on a collision course with Earth (Lecture #16).

Asteroid and comet identification and trajectory tracking is already within the state-of-the-art of existing technology and computational systems.

These conclusions support future consideration of the Earth, Moon, and Mars as one environmental system, indeed, as one ecological system.

In this planetary environmental system, the Moon, with its resources of 3He and the by-products of 3He production, forms the bridge between the preservation and advancement of human civilization on Earth and its expansion elsewhere in the Solar System.
Figure 12: "A Sense of Place" (Stegner)
We must create a permanent "sense of place" in the Solar System before we head to the Stars.


Schmitt, H.H., 1994, Earth and Moon: One environmental system. Geotimes, December, 1994, p5.

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