Thursday, December 31, 2015

Affordability in Alien Civilizations Part 2

The previous post on affordability talked about how an alien civilization which was pressured by having a meme to go and do star traveling would still have to figure out how to fund it. It phrased the question in terms of allocating energy to construction and equipping a star vessel, as the total amount of energy production on the planet was limited by the tolerance of the planet to heat production. The maximum heat it could stand was labeled H, algebraic style, and the net energy produced was E(H). This E(H) did not include the energy consumed in the production of energy, which is why it was ‘net’ energy.

There are two sources of energy to build a spaceship, one is that produced on the planet, EP and the other produced off planet, wherever the ship was being constructed, EO. These quantities are rates, for example, H being measured in the number of joules, or terajoules, per year. The production of the first starship would take some years, so the total amount of energy needed from the planetary allocation would be EP.Y, if it was going to take Y years to build the thing and the energy use was averaged over the whole construction cycle.

The ratio EP/E(H) is an important quantity that the alien civilization would use to determine if and how it would fund the starship. If this quantity is much less than one, for example 0.1%, that amount of energy is almost in the noise, the stochastic variation of energy production year by year. They could just do it without worrying about affordability. If the ratio were a bit larger, say 10%, there would have to be major sacrifices to simply fund it out of ongoing energy production.

One way to fund it would be to store energy. In a post on the construction of a starship, there was a realization that there would have to be a very weight and energy efficient way to store energy, as the starship would need to transport energy internally. A lot of energy and stored for a long time, as these voyages might run for a thousand years. Under the assumption that this is true, and the alien civilization has truly solved energy storage, there is nothing to prevent the alien civilization from using this technology to bank energy for the starship construction over a long time, Y’. Then the ratio, EP/E(H), no longer is as important as it initially seemed. Instead, the ratio, EPY/E(H).Y’, takes its place. If this new ratio was down in the noise, as in the previous example, 0.1%, it is almost negligible, and would place no burdens on the society that would be noticeable.

Thus the first affordability conclusion is that long term, efficient energy storage is not only needed for the starship, but for funding it, in the case where the ratio, EP/E(H), was large. If it can be done on a starship, why could it not be done on the home planet?

If the alien civilization decided they did not want to put off their first star voyage for Y’ years, but wanted it sooner, so that the ratio, EP/E(H), was not 0.1% but 1% or 2%m they could still fund it without any strain. It is time to display another hidden assumption this blog has been, perhaps inadvertently, making.

Living standards might be expressed in terms of how much currency is spent per year by the alien civilization on each member. Perhaps that might just be counted as the ratio E(H)/P, where P is the number of aliens. Recall that the population, like anything else, is likely to be stable, unless some decision is made by society to change it. After the genetic transition, population numbers are a social decision, not the sum of individual decisions, as new members of the civilization are produced industrially and raised similarly.

One way to find 1% of the planet’s energy usage, E(H), and divert it to starship construction is to reduce the population by 1%. Then energy consumption per member stays the same, living standards are not even reduced by 1%, and the energy needed for starship construction can be taken out of the net energy produced and banked in the energy storage mechanisms that have been developed. The idea of using population as a control mechanism for funding has been discussed before, but in terms of coping with planetary scarcity.

In an alien civilization which has run into a scarcity problem, so that E(H) has to be reduced, living standards can be maintained by reducing population proportionally. If the scarcity problem is very gradual, this might hardly be noticed by the average member of the civilization. Only the master computer running the planet, or the network of them, or the governance committee, or whatever is in charge, would need to pay much attention to the gradual drop in population. However, for funding a starship, the gradual drop in population would only be temporary, lasting Y’ years, and after that it could be brought up to the former level. In the scarcity scenario, extinction is the final result.

Back to the hidden assumption. It is that living standards are expressible in terms of energy consumed per citizen and that every citizen want to have as high a living standard as is possible, and so the energy consumed would be driven to the maximum the planet could tolerate. This may not be true.

Making the assumption that living standards would require energy is simply an example of the flawed thinking pointed out in another post, that of making a snapshot trend into a long-term linear projection. It could very well be that the curve of living standards versus energy is a logistics curve, and it saturates. In other words, it approaches an asymptotic maximum, and more and more energy doesn’t make anyone any happier. This is a more realistic assumption, and if population is kept sufficiently low that energy production does not need to get near to E(H), then all the previous discussion is irrelevant. To be more specific, it might be that living standards don’t need too much energy and population doesn’t have to be so large for the civilization to maintain itself and to satisfy whatever goals it set for itself.

In this situation, energy for a starship could simply be provided for by building energy plants to make it. This situation still does have scarcity and exhaustion effects, but that is something for another post.

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