Harvesting Space for a Greener Earth by Greg Matloff, C Bangs and Les Johnson

Not sci-fi but science, yes, science.

About Harvesting Space for a Greener Earth by Greg Matloff, C Bangs and Les Johnson*: What was our planet like in years past? How has our civilization affected Earth and its ecology? Harvesting Space for a Greener Earth, the Second Edition of Paradise Regained: The Regreening of the Earth, begins by discussing these questions, and then generates a scenario for the restoration of Earth. It introduces new and innovative ideas on how we could use Solar System and its resources for terrestrial benefit.

The environmental challenges that face us today cannot be resolved by conservation and current technologies alone. Harvesting Space highlights the risk of humankind’s future extinction from environmental degradation. Population growth, global climate change, and maintaining sustainability of habitats for wildlife are all considered, among other issues.

Rather than losing heart, we need to realize that the solutions to these problems lie in being good stewards of the planet and in the development of space. Not only will the solutions offered here avert a crisis, they will also provide the basis for continued technological and societal progress. Tapping the resources of near-Earth asteroids will lead to methods of diverting those asteroids that threaten Earth. Space-based terrestrial power generation systems will work synergistically with Earth-based conservation.

This book needs to be read urgently and widely, if we are to save ourselves from environmental disaster, reduce the risk of catastrophic cosmic impacts, and build a prosperous and sustainable future for all the creatures of Earth.

My two cents

Part textbook, part advocacy, this book is divided into three sections:

1. Mythical Paradise: Establishes the premise for this book - that there is a "moral imperative" for scientists to come together, namely space advocates and environmentalists, to explore what space has to offer as a feasible alternative to the fast deteriorating world we live in. But the authors do not talk about this in abstract terms -- they place you in the middle of this discussion.

2. Paradise Lost: The gloom-and-doom section, this lays down all the damning evidence that this world, despite all our efforts to conserve its resources, will soon be too limited for the burgeoning population vis-a-vis its demands. It traces human history and humankind's relationship to its environment: population pressures, climate change, the impacts of humankind's actions on lifeforms on earth, and energy requirements.

3. Sky Harvest: The good stuff: how we can use all the research, the technology, and the promise of science to "harvest" space.

The appendices are crammed with details that couldn't make it in the main text and they are just as readable and fascinating as the main text.

What I liked:

Closet environmentalist? I think everyone is secretly fascinated by space exploration, is secretly afraid that the world may end while they're alive, and deep inside are secretly also environmentalists. If you can admit this to yourself, you'll enjoy this highly readable book that seems to be the stuff of sci-fi, yet is within humankind's grasp knowledge-wise and no doubt, later on even technologically. 

Easy reading. The format belies the writing. While this looks obviously academic with its scientific diagrams, space imagery, and even full reproductions of NASA material, I rate this very highly for its readability -- it is easy to follow, conversational in style, and even funny in places.

Fascinating breadth of content which will make you go ahh! and oh! The first two parts of the book laymanize a lot of the heated environmental debates and I found that it was comforting to get an overview minus any lecturing.

But it was in part three where this book really hooked me. I was fascinated with the array of studies and concepts presented with how we could tap into the resources outside of plant earth to benefit humanity - whether we decide to live within our Solar System or even beyond.

Let's start thinking about the obvious fact that fossil fuels are fast becoming depleted. Can asteroids, comets and moons become the new mines of the future? Can we "industrialize" the already dead moon? Can the sun become our the source of our electricity and be transmitted  and distributed from earth?

Yes on all counts, as per all the research being done.

We can see how dire the consequences of human activity by doing environmental monitoring from space. Did you know that spring comes earlier every year? Or that the state of biodiversity and adoption of transgenic crops can all be seen from high above? Space scientists have also been looking at ice measurements, global temperatures, the process of desertification, and even predicting natural disasters.

The next few chapters looked into what I imagined as mere sci-fi.

There are now technologies that could protect the earth from asteroids and comets (what scientists call NEOs or Near Earth Objects). These include solar "parasols," bombarding a NEO with reflective "paint balls," using "Laser Bees" which is a sun-pumped laser -- these are all carefully calculated and by doing so, they actually change the orbit of the NEO so it won't hit the earth.

There are many ways to mitigate global warming. While we are all familiar with the traditional method of increasing forest cover, another method I thought was terrifying -- purposely causing volcano eruptions to produce aerosols so that this would lower global temperatures. Another interesting idea was to increase the earth's reflectivity by getting whole countries to legislate painting roofs white! Also presented were some space-based methods to mitigate global warming, such as putting a barrier between the earth and the sun like "Solar sails" or "Dyson Dots."

Lastly, this book presents how we could survive outside the earth with all the technology already available to us. Shall we explore our possibilities?

Cautionary yet optimistic
There is a lot of food for thought in this book. The authors present options and open the current research and technology up for discussion; they do not espouse one technology over another. While I doubt this is the full array of technologies available today at the rate that our scientists are learning,  what are presented here are bound to spark curiosity, spark discussion, or even debate -- a great to start the conversation!

Example of frontispiece, with C Bangs' artwork, p. 3.


About a third of the book is the fascinating stuff, what I would consider the "meat." If you want the "meat," skip to the middle and spend time with the appendices. But if you're a newbie to all this, you can start from the beginning.

C Bang's artwork was used as frontispieces for each chapter. However, I wasn't too fond of the way Bang's artwork was presented: I felt that it lost its impact and was overwhelmed by its placement atop a busy background. The text on top also were difficult to read and had iffy line breaks.

While this is purely subjective, I had mixed feeling about Bang's artwork. Some were obviously painted or mixed media but some just felt like some bad Photoshop works. I disliked the latter.

Lastly, I felt that the cover design and the inner page design were done by two different people -- different concepts, different styles -- a disconnect between the two. 

Verdict: A highly readable scientific and advocacy piece. Feels like the stuff of sci-fi but provides readers with an overview of the environmental issues we are facing as a planet and as humankind, as well as the technologies that could help us survive here and beyond.

About Greg Matloff

Greg MatoffDr. Greg Matloff, is a leading expert in possibilities for interstellar propulsion, especially near-Sun solar-sail trajectories that might ultimately enable interstellar travel. He is an emeritus and adjunct associate astronomy professor with the physics department of New York City College of Technology, CUNY, a consultant with NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, a Hayden Associate of the American Museum of Natural History and a Corresponding Member of the International Academy of Astronautics.

Professor Matloff is a Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society and a Member of the International Academy of Astronautics. His most recent astronautics book, co-authored with Italian researcher Dr. Giovanni Vulpetti and Les Johnson, is Solar Sails: A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel, Springer (2008).

In addition to his interstellar-travel research, he has contributed to SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), modeling studies of human effects on Earth’s atmosphere, interplanetary exploration concept analysis, alternative energy, in-space navigation, and the search for extrasolar planets. His website is www.gregmatloff.com.

About C Bangs

C BangsC Bangs’ art investigates frontier science combined with symbolist figuration from an ecological feminist point of view. Her work is included in public and private collections as well as in books and journals. Public Collections include the Library of Congress, NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Center, The British Interplanetary Society, New York City College of Technology, Pratt Institute, Cornell University and Pace University. I Am the Cosmos exhibition at the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton included her work, Raw Materials from Space and the Orbital Steam Locomotive. Her art has been included in eight books and two peer- reviewed journal articles, several magazine articles and art catalogs. Merging art and science, she worked for three summers as a NASA Faculty Fellow, and under a NASA grant she investigated holographic interstellar probe message plaques. Her recent artist’s book collaboration with Greg Matloff, Biosphere Extension: Solar System Resources for the Earth, was recently collected by the Brooklyn Museum for their artist-book collection.
Visit Bangs at her website, www.cbangs.com.

About Les Johnson

ED04'S LES JOHNSON IN HIS WORK ENVIRONMENT FOR USE ON THE ORGANIZATION'S WEBSITELes Johnson is a physicist, and the author of several popular science books about space exploration, Living Off the Land in Space, Solar Sailing: A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel, Paradise Regained: The Regreening of Earth, Sky Alert: When Satellites Fail, and Harvesting Space for a Greener Earth, as well as three science fiction books, Back to the Moon, Going Interstellar, and Rescue Mode.

He is also the Senior Technical Advisor for NASA’s Advanced Concepts Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Les is the NASA Co-Investigator (Co-I) for the European Union’s Deploytech Solar Sail demonstration mission planned for launch in 2015. He was the NASA Co-I for the JAXA T-Rex Space Tether Experiment and PI of NASA’s ProSEDS Experiment. During his career at NASA, he served as the Manager for the Space Science Programs and Projects Office, the In-Space Propulsion Technology Program, and the Interstellar Propulsion Research Project. He thrice received NASA’s Exceptional Achievement Medal and has 3 patents.

Visit Les at his website, www.lesjohnsonauthor.com.

 See the rest of the tour here.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher through TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

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  1. Sounds like there is a great deal to think about in this book - I imagine it would be excellent for a book club discussion!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.

  2. What an interesting book! I'd be nervous to pick this up for fear it would be too sensationalist, but it doesn't sound like that was a problem.

    1. This definitely isn't. Its advocacy is much more subtle and while there are alarming things presented, it's quite an optimistic book!


© guiltless readingMaira Gall