Space, Art and the Future of Humanity

"spaceoptionism", "spaceoptimism", "spaceism" or ".............. "

Arthur Woods - Resident Artist

Space Option Star

Space Option Star

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, at the beginning of the modernist era and of modern art, the avant-garde was characterized by its confidence and optimism about the future. The artists, writers and philosophers of this era held the firm belief that the industrial age was opening many new territories to explore and that art, in its most noble and explicit way, would find the necessary metaphors by which a radically changing culture could be explained. There was no sense that civilization would ever be threatened by the very forces that fueled their optimism. There were no statistics about pollution, overpopulation, ozone holes, mass immigration and resource shortages to numb their senses and to counter their optimism.

Yet, as the 20th century progressed, modern art strived and ultimately failed, as did religion, to provide modern humanity with spiritual sustenance and ethical guidelines in the brave new world of modernism. Then, in the latter part of the 20th century, a postmodern art philosophy emerged and,  subsequently, postmodern society became increasingly more materialistic and distracted at the expense of the human spirit, its moral values and of its shared vision.

Today, immersed in the distractions and stresses of contemporary life and caught in the web of the social media, our species, with its relentless, unpragmatic  and “business as usual” approach to current human affairs, is ignoring all of the obvious environmental and geopolitical signals that are reported daily in the news. Unaware that it may be already too late, it is risking certain ecological collapse, appropriation and rationing of resources, political and cultural repression, global war and the eventual crash of civilization under the weight of too many people with too many problems on a planet that is too small.

Indeed, we are already witnessing some of these undesirable developments today: changes in the world climate, extinctions, outbreaks of mass starvation and immigration, depletion of natural food stocks, restrictions on freedoms,  and, of course, terrorism and the perpetual wars over the control of finite resources to mention only the most obvious.

It appears that the only alternative to this "business as usual" approach to the future that is being seriously discussed today can be generally described as the "green option" which has set forth the seemingly impossible task of trying to change human nature by persuading or forcing present society to retreat from a dynamic, energy intensive, global market economy which has enabled the substantial prosperity for the developed nations at the expense of the lesser developed societies and of the environment. The adherents of this option are petitioning governments to impose this change of human nature through centralized global management implemented by an elite group of appointed and well paid technocrats whose only solutions seem to be some form of additional taxation.

While the husbandry of valuable resources and the search for alternatives to fossil fuels and nuclear power are desirable and necessary goals that should be diligently pursued, the absence of a viable terrestrial alternative to humanity's growing energy requirements is a major concern for a growing population. In addition, there is the apparent CO2 factor. As many scientists now believe that the impact of this gas on the climate and the environment may be as critical as a lack of sufficient energy, any alternative energy resource that has the possibility of meeting humanity’s future energy requirements must also be CO2 neutral. As a consequence, society is being induced to lower its CO2 production without a viable and scalable alternative energy source that is sufficient for maintaining civilization. Thus, if humanity would consequently follow the "green" path without first solving the critical energy question, it must eventually turn off the very economic engine that is essential to maintaining today's society and, with it, the hopes and dreams of the developing societies that have no other economic model on which to base their future survival.

With world population projected to reach 8 billion or slightly more by 2025 and 9 billion by 2040, neither of the above options for humanity's future is very optimistic in the near term. The end result of the "green option" will not be much different than that of the "business-as-usual" approach. The stresses to the environment and to society will continue to increase to the point of no return which most likely will lead to unimaginable acts of violence and destruction. The human species will have become a victim of its own success and the price of that success in the 20th century may unfortunately spell the end of civilization as we know it in the 21st .

However, there is a third and optimistic option to the above scenarios. Called the "Space Option", it takes into account human nature and still offers a realistic and equitable approach to meeting humanity's growing  needs. The Space Option is an evolutionary plan to significantly meet the basic and anticipated needs of all human societies on Earth through the utilization of extraterrestrial resources - not for the in-situ support of science or exploration - but rather to apply these resources and/or their products for use on Earth at a conspicuous level.

The Space Option is not directly focused on the immediate settlement of outer space nor is it about exploring distant planets and stars per se, although these activities would most likely and logically happen as a result. But rather, it is about accessing and utilizing the infinite natural resources (to some extent for human purposes) located just above our heads rather than exhausting what is left of the finite resources located below our feet.

When most people imagine "space" they automatically assume immense emptiness and unobtainable distances. However, within the boundaries of Earth's gravitational influence which creates a sphere that extends 1.5 million kilometers outwards, exists 13 million times the volume of the physical Earth and through it, passes some 50,000 times the amount of solar power than which is available on the surface of our planet. Enormous amounts of other natural resources, including the Moon, are located inside this 3 million kilometer sphere which defines the true cosmic dimensions of our planet in relation to the immediate cosmos. We call this new perception of our planet "Greater Earth".

Greater Earth Diagram

Diagram of Greater Earth

Like the territorial waters surrounding nations, these resources existing beyond the atmosphere belong to the present and future inhabitants of our planet and could, and indeed should, be used for their ultimate benefit. Therefore, the Space Option does not need to be enacted on Mars or elsewhere in the far reaches of the Solar System, it can be effectively implemented within the celestial boundaries of our planet located just outside of the biosphere. There is plenty of room there for new ideas, new forms, new structures,  new adventures and new art.

The fundamental advantage of the Space Option over the other two options is that it would provide our ambitious species with the necessary and limitless quantities of clean solar energy and other raw materials to keep its present civilization on Earth comfortably going throughout this millennium while providing the means for hope and prosperity for the developing populations and, at the same time, its benefits would contribute to the preservation of the environment of the home planet for future generations. Once the infrastructure to harness its benefits is in place, and with the resulting wealth it will create, it will irresistible for humanity to not to want to go further - as mentioned above, the Space Option is an evolutionary plan. There is a growing body of scientific literature about how this can happen.

Space pioneer Krafft Ehricke stated in 1970:

"While civilization is more than a high material living standard, it is nevertheless based on material abundance. It does not thrive on abject poverty nor in an atmosphere of resignation and hopelessness. It needs vigor as well as vision. Therefore the end objectives of solar system exploration are social objectives in the sense that they relate to, or are dictated by, present and future human needs."

Discussing options for humanity’s future implies it making a choice. Either humanity will embrace the opportunities implicit in the Space Option to survive and thrive, or it must accept the reality that present civilization has already reached its peak. By ignoring the Space Option, humanity will have turned its back on the future and will have begun the long painful decent through its brief history, watching its magnificent civilization crumble, piece by piece, into the rubble and dust of a new Stone Age. Indeed, choosing between a "Stone Age" or a "Space Age" is the ultimate decision that must be made by those alive on the planet at this very moment. However, this choice must be made soon - it cannot be postponed.

Artists and architects of the new millennium, burdened with the failures of current postmodern society, yet aware and convinced that human destiny on Earth is irrevocably linked to human destiny in space, have the unique opportunity to passionately imagine and build a truly optimistic and inspiring future for humanity - one that is far more compelling than any so far imagined.  Now is the time for a  new art movement to be formed to help humanity comprehend its situation and to choose its future. What should it be called?

"spaceoptionism", "spaceoptimism", " spaceism" or ".............."



This text is an updated version excerpted from the Tate-in-Space online discussion. November 11, 2002
Why Space Art? = Why Space?