Importance of Natural Resources

Ecumenopolises


So last week’s topic was arcologies, the
concept of self-sufficient architecture, often envisioned as giant towers that are basically
cities unto themselves complete with farms inside them. Today’s topic, Ecumenopolis,
extends on this notion as the sort of ultimate Arcology, where an entire world has been transformed
into one giant, planet-spanning city. We’ll look at what this concept means, where
it came from, some of the fictional examples of it, and some of myths and misunderstandings
about the concept. This is our second video looking at what I’ve
dubbed Visions for Earth. On this channel, and in science fiction, we often spend so
much time off the planet, out terraforming planets, looking at megastructures, or on
interstellar colonization, that we often neglect what happens to Earth itself. In almost any
discussion of the future, where Earth isn’t alone but just one of many places people live,
it tends to take a backseat. If it gets any attention at all it tends to be either as
some lost world humanity fled or as a capital of some interstellar empire where very little
of interest goes on. So I thought it might be fun to spend some time looking at Earth.
Now Ecumenopolises hardly have to be on Earth, so our concepts today aren’t Earth-centric,
but today we’ll be exploring the notion of how you might go about transforming an
entire planet into a city, how you stick the most people on it without turning the planet
into some sort of Dystopian Cesspool, and we’ll take some shots at the idea that a
planet can’t have lots of nice forests and natural spaces without not only keeping its
population to modern levels but actually decreasing it.
We’re also going to be looking out how a technologically robust civilization would
fundamentally alter their planet in ways we wouldn’t tend to expect, and to do that
we’ll be drawing on a lot of concepts we’ve discussed in the past. If you haven’t seen
those in a while and need a refresher, or just haven’t seen them because you’re
new to the channel, I will often bring up in-video links such as this one that you can
just click on to pause this video and open that one up in a new window, so you can watch
that and come back to this video when you’re done. And if you haven’t seen Arcologies
yet, while it isn’t absolutely required for this video I would encourage you to watch
that now and come back to this when you’re done.
If you do happen to be new to this channel, I suggest you turn on the close captions too.
Some folks find me hard to understand and the topics we discuss on this channel tend
to be complicated enough on their own that we don’t need an additional hurdle of my
speech impediment interfering in that. Also, this week we will be having a poll again
for future topics, I’ll talk about that a bit more near the end but while the poll
is active you should see a little marker in the upper right corner you can click on to
bring up that poll and vote. Okay, intro complete, announcements complete,
let’s dig in to today’s topic. The term Ecumenopolis was first coined in
1967, and like Arcologies it came up quite a while after the basic concept was first
used. Besides the fact that the fellow who coined it was a Greek city planner, Constantinos
Doxiadis, whose name I probably just mispronounced, we have tended to use Greek for a lot of the
city related terms. Polis, meaning city, is regularly used in the word Metropolis, literally
Mother City, and is the root word of policy, politician, and police for instance. Ecumene,
literally “Inhabited”, was routinely used to mean the world and you’d probably best
know it from the term Ecumenism, in regard to unifying churches.
So there’s a bit of triple-dose on that for the term, since it is using the term in
the world spanning context, the original one of inhabited, and the concept of merger and
unification of cities into one big whole. The level below this but above metropolis
is usually called a megalopolis, either a very big city of, as mega would imply, more
than a million people, or a merger of various cities and suburbs into a bigger whole, such
as the region stretching from Boston down to Washington DC, sometimes called the Northeast
Megalopolis. There’s a lot of other polis terms, Cosmopolis, Astropolis, Necropolis,
Acropolis etc but for our purposes today we’ll be just looking at it as stepping from Metropolis
to Megalopolis to Ecumenopolis at the planetary level.
But I’d say a solar-system wide equivalent, basically a Dyson Sphere or Swarm, a Kardashev-2
civilization, could maybe be deemed a Dysonopolis, Solopolis, or maybe Heliopolis if we wanted
to stick to Greek, and a Kardashev or K-3 galactic equivalent could be a Galactopolis
or maybe the aforementioned Astropolis. Now the basic concept is easy enough, a city
sprawling over a whole planet, maybe up to and including the oceans and polar regions.
I believe the first example of this in fiction was Isaac Asimov’s Galactic Empire Capital
world of Trantor, from his classic Foundation Series but I could be wrong. Last week I credited
the popularization of the term Arcology to the SimCity game franchise but we dug up an
earlier reference in William Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy right in the first book, Neuromancer,
in 1984 which definitely predates that video game and as one of the cornerstone science
fiction staples of the Cyberpunk Genre along with Blade Runner and Snow Crash is a lot
more likely to have been the source that popularized the term.
Still I’d say Asimov’s Trantor is the best known fictional example at least until
the Star Wars prequel trilogy showed us the city-planet of Coruscant half a century later.
Trantor showed up in a number of his works besides the Foundation Trilogy and he later
slightly retconned many of them to weld them all together, and one of those, the almost
equally famous Robots Series, in its first book the Caves of Steel, spends a lot of time
in Megacities, the titular Caves of Steel, exploring a sort of precursor concept of Ecumenpolises
and large arcologies. Amusingly, for an author who normally was
very good with his math and science in his writing, those megacities, where every human
on Earth lived, housed an unbelievably enormous 8 billion people, just a bit over our current
total population, and Trantor, a city-planet described as having paved over everything
including the oceans, and building many stories high, even miles high in the sky and underground,
holds a whopping 40 billion people and had twenty planets in its neighborhood that did
nothing but grow food for them. Bringing in food on enormous fleets of ships and bringing
fertilizer back to those agriculture worlds. Needless to say, that’s all wrong, especially
since access to nuclear fusion is explicitly mentioned in both book series, and we’ve
talked a lot about how fusion is a gamechanger in terms of agricultural production. We also
talked a lot about how robots are for both agriculture and construction and they obviously
have those in the Robot Series, though how much they despise robots and don’t like
using them is a pretty big theme in that. In that book, Caves of Steel, the protagonist
does have an internal monologue about potentially transforming Earth into one single giant city.
Now 40 billion is just ridiculously low, you can pull that off even without a super-power
supply like fusion by just greenhousing over all your farmland, though doing so would mean
a very large increase in overall maintenance cost and manpower unless you had robots. And
incidentally when I refer to robots I’m not talking Asimov style androids I mean slightly
more sophisticated versions of the entirely non-human type ones we employ in factories
and these days even to mow lawns, vacuum floors, and clean pools.
If you did pave over an entire planet like that, ocean and ice and all, even just one
level high, you’d have 200 million square miles of area, or 5.5 quadrillion square feet
or 500 trillion square meters. If we used our 10,000 square foot, or 1000 square meter,
figure from last time for all the space one person needed for housing, food, recreation,
work space, warehouses, and shared public areas, which we said at the time was meant
to be very rounded up and generous, that one level high paved over planet would support
half a trillion people. And in the case of Asimov’s Trantor, it is described as miles
high and deep, or thousands of levels since you get about five hundred from one mile,
and they imported their food too. So the 40 billion figure is just way off,
other fictional Ecumenpolises like Coruscant from Star Wars and Terra from the Warhammer
40k fictional setting usually went for a trillion, or low trillions. But we just found you could
rather generously portion every one 10,000 square feet, something like ten times bigger
than a reasonably comfortable family apartment, and get half a trillion in one level. You
do four miles up and down, about 2000 levels total, and you get a quadrillion people. And
you could kick that up an order of magnitude or more just by building higher and not giving
people quite so much personal space, and fictional examples usually do paint them as very cramped.
Now we’ll see in a moment why space, even for growing food, isn’t the issue at all
and why a quadrillion people just isn’t doable, because of heat, but let me tangent
off onto scale in science fiction for a moment. It’s a standing joke and Trope that a lot
of science fiction writers have no sense of scale, usually in terms of size or power or
similar notions but population is always the one that bugs me personally. When looking
at a setting I always try to assess it under what the fictional setting is giving us for
technology, that’s a major aspect of the channel, we often explore seemingly crazy
ideas and how they aren’t when grounded in reality under the specified assumptions.
Science fiction, in particular the Space Opera genre, always seems to think a galaxy has
a few thousand inhabited worlds sporting maybe a billion people each on average and tends
to try to awe us with empires of trillions of people and armies of billions and fleets
of thousands of ships. Star Trek tended to be the worst for this,
a federation of hundreds of worlds and power sources that made fusion look weak and advantages
like matter replicators and transporters yet for some reason they tended to have maybe
one ship per planet with a crew of a few hundred or a thousand for maybe a whopping million
personnel, on par or smaller than what most major nations here on Earth field, with only
about a hundredth of our planet to supply that, not hundreds of planets. Interstellar
empires ought to be able to throw millions if not billions of mile long ships into the
field without even noticing the expense and their homeworlds could be pristine natural
forests while those solar systems would not regard a trillion people as their population,
but more akin to how many plumbers or painters or writers they had.
That said, the quadrillion plus population on a planet isn’t viable, not because they
don’t have enough space, but because if they don’t have some novel way to get rid
of heat, even if the only heat being emitted was by people’s bodies because everything
else was done off world or was super-efficient, people are basically 100 Watt space heaters.
A quadrillion of us, 10 to the 15th, would emit 10 to 17th watts of power and that’s
basically what the planet absorbs from the sun, and you need to scale that up by about
a factor of 100 at least if you want to feed them food you grew there on the planet, because
even the super-efficient kind of hydroponics we’ve discussed in the past is still only
about 1% efficient at turning electricity and light into food calories.
If you’ve got to get rid of 100 times the normal heat our planet receives, using the
blackbody thermal radiation we’ve discussed in the past a lot too, mostly recently in
the Matrioshka Brain video, your planet’s temperature increases three-fold, and that’s
in absolute temperature, Kelvin, and would be hotter than Venus or Mercury. Just doubling
a planet’s heat output would raise the temperature almost 20%, which would be about 150 degrees
Fahrenheit or 66 Celsius. So even if we blocked off the sun, or at least the infrared radiation
from it, which does us no good except to heat the planet, and even if we used all sorts
of tricks like giant radiating fins and antennas, which will talk about in a bit, unless you’ve
got some special trick for getting rid of heat you’re going to roast everyone alive
long before you’ve got to worry about living space or food.
And before you think we could just deliver food grown elsewhere without building up heat,
you know import everything down space elevators, that doesn’t really work either. Objects
gain kinetic energy as they come down to the planet, same as you have to give them a lot
to get off the planet. A pound of bacon imported from the lunar hog farms and rich in fatty
goodness has 2500 calories, which in terms of joules is a million. You want to move a
pound of mass down from low earth orbit it’s going to gain over a million joules of energy
which all has to end up a heat at some point. So while you can have more people if you’re
importing everything you still have more heat being built up, and you still get problem
even if you’re importing everything frozen or trying to bring down big blocks of ice
from space. Now if you did have some super-science trick
for heat, the sky’s the limit, quite literally, since you can just build until you’ve encompassed
the whole atmosphere and keep going. At that point there’s no real point in thinking
of it as floor area anymore, just volume, and 10,000 square feet a person easily becomes
100,000 cubic feet. Which would give you something like 4 times 10 to the 18 or 4000 quadrillion
or 4 quintillion people. And if you’ve got stuff like wormholes or teleportation to get
rid of your heat and artificial gravity or anti-gravity to keep things form collapsing,
which they do in Star Trek and most scifi settings, you could do stuff like that.
We’ll assume we don’t, and just keep it to realm where nuclear fusion is available
and we’ve got robots that aren’t human level intelligence but can do a lot of grunt
work like constructing buildings under supervision or water gardens and harvesting crops with
minimal oversight. We might never get those but they tend to both be considered by a lot
of futurists and scientists to be things we probably ought to have before the end of the
century and maybe before another generation has passed.
On the grand planetary scale though, if we have significant off world industry, fusion
isn’t strictly necessary and there are some disadvantages to it, since while power plants
down on Earth could churn out the power for optimized LED lighting of plants those reactors
are still going to be generating tons of waste heat while making that power. If your goal
is to minimize heat on a planet by, for instance, using glass out at our Lagrange point to intercept
infrared light but let visible light through, you might be better off using huge arrays
of tinted lenses and mirrors to beam that same photosynthesis optimized light down to
Earth where the useless frequencies were just not sent on. Similarly if you’ve got decently
cheap and sturdy superconductors you might want all your power production done off world
where you can get rid of that heat a lot easier, either as fusion reactor or solar panels.
Superconductors let you move power over basically any distance without the loss of power to
heat that normal conductors give us, and there is a concept called a thermal superconductor
that lets you move heat by conduction that would also be invaluable for cooling, we won’t
go into it now other than to mention that the availability and specific properties of
such materials would probably have a huge impact on Ecumenopolis design and maximums.
So fusion, while incredibly helpful, isn’t absolutely necessary for this sort of setup
we’re discussing and indeed there would be some pros and cons in contrast to alternatives.
I sometimes get accused of being overly focused on fusion, which I regard like someone in
the 19th century telling someone they were overly focused on internal combustion engines,
but the point is cheap power in massive quantities and fusion is the best candidate for giving
us that on the horizon. Get yourself the ability to convert matter straight into energy, or
to make wormholes so you can just dump one end right into a star, or grey goo nano-robots
who can transmute an entire asteroid into a planet sized solar panel overnight, and
those are better power sources. And since in this context I actually mean
human power sources mostly, being food, those same nano-robots might be able to just transmute
rock right into bacon-double-cheeseburger with way less power than growing one would
take, or people might be all cyborg or post-biological and not even need much or any normal food.
We work inside the context of the technology’s we think plausible, for today that’s fusion
and reasonably smart but not human-smart robots helping regular old humans grow their food
and construct their buildings. Okay, so in that context, assuming we could
get away with maybe adding 50% to the heat we need to purge off our planet, either because
we’ve done some tricks to help us radiate away heat or blocked some of the useless infrared
from the sun, and that we only need maybe 10,000 watts of power per person for all our
food and industrial and recreational needs, that would give us a budget of 10 to the 17
watts divided by 10,000 watts per person or 10 to the 13, which is 10 trillion.
That’s way closer to the trillion or so seen in more modern fictional portrayals of
Ecumenpolises, and is a good round figure. So let’s just say 10 trillion is the upper
cap for people on Earth. A bit over a thousand times our current population.
Last time we threw together an example Arcology big enough to grow all the food for 5000 people
and leave them lots of personal space, and it was only a hundred stories high and 400
feet in radius. As I said then you could build taller or wider and we were pretty generous
giving everyone 10,000 square feet, though that figure included all their hydroponics,
shared public spaces, parks, warehouses, stores, and so on. If we just used those, to fit 10
trillion people, we need 2 billion of them. Could we even fit that on Earth or do we need
to go taller? Well let’s run the numbers. Earth’s surface
area is just under 200 million square miles, land, sea, everything, and conveniently we’ve
got 2 billion of these arcologies, almost like I originally cherry-picked 5000 people
to make the math easy, so ten per square mile. These things happened to have half a million
square feet of area per floor, their footprint on the ground, so we’d need 10 times that,
five million square feet given over to them on each square mile, and a square miles has
28 million square feet, so only 17% of area is actually taken up by them. If we only wanted
a trillion people, you’d conveniently only need one Arcology per square mile taking up
only 1.7% of that square mile. 4 or 5 times as dense if you want to leave the ocean unused
and the coldest parts of the polar regions. Of course we could easily double their height,
ours were 100 stories high but we already have a couple dozen buildings nowadays about
that tall or taller. We can definitely go taller, we can also go
lower, as in underground, since most of the space in the arcologies is not actual residential
living space where people would get touchy without windows. Heck if you want to go for
mile high towers that gives you 500 floors, not 100, and since the air is still quite
dense enough to breath a mile high you could still have balconies if you wanted and even
some sort of pyramid or tiered cone set up that was much wider on the bottom and still
have tons of space left over. If you wanted to go with arcologies that were
skinny needles jutting all the way up to the top of the atmosphere maybe with space elevators
extending from them or connecting up to an orbital ring like discussed in that same video
way back at the beginning of the megastructures series, you could do that too and very conveniently
hook yourself up to space. And we’ll talk about space more, outer space, in a moment.
Talking about space, as in space per person, what we’re seeing is there is plenty, once
we go vertical. If I dropped 10 trillion people down on this
planet, and only in the places where they wouldn’t drown or freeze to death, everybody
would only have about a 10 foot square to themselves. And that is very like the super-cramped
megalopolises or ecumenopolises fictions usually shows us, but they always show those with
a very vertical component and there is none in this 10 foot by 10 foot box we just drew,
the size of a decent bedroom. I think that’s why I beat on this dead horse a lot, about
population density, because we’ve known how big the planet was since long before we
had science fiction and we haven’t done any complex math here. Just straight arithmetic.
Ya know we see the same cramped, submarine like quarters on spaceships a lot in science
fiction where you’ve got ships miles long with crews of maybe a thousand, but when you
run the numbers on a lot of these ships, even if you assume they only give over 1% of the
ship to crew accommodations, your junior personnel shouldn’t be sleeping 4 to a room, they
ought to have closets that size. And the power outputs needed for ships like that just to
wander around solar systems, forgetting all the Faster than Light stuff, as we saw in
the interstellar colonization and black hole starships videos, tend to be enough to power
entire planetary economies all on their own. Science Fiction can still be good even when
the science and scale is all messed up but whole plots or concepts like crews being low
on food or freezing or asphyxiating in ten minutes when the power goes off or not having
enough water for showers are just kind a ludicrous when they’ve got huge ships like that with
massive power supplies outright described as fusion or matter-anti-matter reactors.
It’s like an entire story revolving around how poor and cash strapped the protagonist
is while they’re walking around covered in solid gold chains carrying a briefcase
crammed full of hundred dollar bills while sorting their loose change to buy a cup of
coffee. Portrayals of Ecumenpolises tend to be about
the same way for me, because they get described as so huge in terms of sheer space then someone
goes and puts a population figure on it and you realize that if that was the case, 40
billion people on a planet hundreds of levels deep from land to pole to ocean, if they were
evenly distributed everybody would feel like they were blundering around an empty skyscraper
all by themselves, and if someone flicked the lights on in every room on the planet
they’d all catch fire and melt soon thereafter. If you pave over and multi-layer a planet
like that it’s just because you want a lot of space, and you like your space more than
efficiency so maybe you’re making each floor a couple hundred feet high so you can replicate
forests or tundras or lake or deserts and you carefully light them with a heat-efficient
blend of artificial sunlight. You can squeeze out mother nature so it’s nothing but people,
our pets, our parasites, and our provisions, but again you can outright double and then
some your available sunlit land by just removing the infrared light from the sun from our solar
budget. So you just build one layer above the other, artificially light the one and
use it for people. And that’s without doing any other spectrum tricks like only using
photosynthetic frequencies of light in most places and trimming back the lighting level
to the minimum to maintain that ecosystem. Of course everybody could live only inside
a few towers linked up to space stations or in space stations, we’ve spent a lot of
time talking about that on this channel, rotating habitats, and that helps a lot with the heat
issue to. Though it might be better in many cases to be putting your nature preserve in
those space stations since you can make them quite larger and seal them of very easily
from reckless humans or invasive species. But I’d argue all those space stations near
a planet, all those orbital rings or space elevators or skyhooks, basically still remain
part of that planet and part of that Ecumenopolis. I mean if you’ve got an orbital ring hanging
a hundred miles over the planet that’s a lot easier to get too then the other side
of the planet by flying. As I mentioned back then if you had one of those, or several,
while they’re very wonderful for launching or receiving space ships they’d probably
get used even more for rapid transport around the planet because without air drag and friction
it takes virtually no energy to get up to very high speeds.
You can also potentially dump heat that way too, not infinite amounts of it but it’s
a lot easier to radiate heat when you’re using non-flat surface up in space than when
you’re trying to purge it of the surface of a basically smooth sphere with a thick
layer of infrared absorptive atmosphere over it. You get the equivalent of a thermal superconductor,
and you can lift a lot of your heat away for easier dispersal up in space.
And once you have stuff like space elevators or orbital rings in place, it is just about
as easy and cheap to build an Arcology in low orbit, or high orbit, as on the ground,
and you don’t have to worry about its heat very much. And you could build a whole swarm
of these things around your planet like a mini dyson swarm without even denting the
material available on Earth or the Moon. I usually call this the Terran Cloud, or when
I’m generalizing and avoiding the accursed letter R, a planet cloud. Sort of a big brother
of the Ecumenopolis and probably a more realistic scenario too.
You could run something like this entire on sunlight, so it’s an option if you never
get fusion. In that sort of setup your effective land area for people and critters is basically
whatever the surface area of a sphere the same size as it would be, and you hardly have
to stop such a cloud at geosynchronous orbital distance, or even way out at the moon, but
for comparison a swarm that occupied the space out to geosynch could have as much as fifty
time’s the Earth energy and heat budget and one out to the moon could have about 4000
times that. And then you really can cram quadrillions
of people, or tens of quadrillions, into your super-city or Planet Cloud while still leaving
a good dozen Earth’s worth of living area and habitat over to the equivalent of total
nature preserves. So if you wanted to blow something like an entire continent over to
just being protected habitats of various extinct ice age critters you’d grabbed the DNA for
and cloned, you could do that for a chunk of your budget comparable to what a city spends
on a zoo, and you can obviously tailor that climate perfectly and keep out problems that
might disrupt it. I don’t particularly think our descendants
would be trying to devote giant portions of their space and economy to preserving Earth’s
native Flora and Fauna, or that would be their big focus in constructing these sorts of things,
but I like to point out options like this because when you start talking high-tech civilizations,
especially high population ones, lots of people tend to picture endless tree stumps or concrete
parking lots and thinking every species will go extinct.
Extinction is bad, and we should do what we can to prevent that, but it is worth mentioning
that we already have the technology to read a critters DNA into digital format and print
DNA, even if we didn’t have frozen sperm and embryos, let alone surviving members of
that species. I really don’t like to say anything that
might encourage folks to be reckless with our environment but I also don’t like to
obscure plausible possibilities and solutions, and I would seriously doubt anything that’s
gone extinct in recent years will stay that way, even if our civilization ends up in one
of those concrete dystopian hellholes we just got done showing weren’t very realistic.
It’s just not that hard to keep huge banks of frozen sperm and eggs or tissue or outright
digital copies of DNA lying around. It took us a decade and a few billion dollars
to sequence the human genome, now it takes a few days and a few thousand bucks. We usually
put the total number of species in the low millions, at a few thousand bucks a piece,
a number likely to drop further, that’s low billions and pretty affordable. Keeping
them on ice too isn’t terribly expensive in space or energy either. DNA doesn’t take
up much space, the Smithsonian’s bio-repository isn’t much bigger than a house and has room
for 4 million vials all on its own, and that’s one of things that gets a lot cheaper when
you build it bigger. Nor would minor damage or data loss be the end of things, besides
keeping redundant copies DNA is a blueprint, you can guess what a damaged or missing bit
was supposed to say and being wrong usually won’t matter too much, those sorts of minor
errors happen routinely when your DNA replicates or you have kids.
I hate to bring that option up because it’s very off subject and it should never be necessary,
we can be better stewards of our planet than that, but I find that Ecumenopolises much
like conversations of human immortality tend to make a lot of folks flinch away from them,
and while for the latter, people will handwave at the notion that very long lives would be
boring and undesirable, for Ecumenopolises the Handwaves to dismiss the idea are quality
of life, what we’d do with all those people, and what havoc it would do to mother nature.
I can understand the first and third one there, quality of life and fears for the environment,
that’s why I spend so much time on this subject and arcologies talking about how luxurious
and spacious and ecologically sound such things could be. That middle one, what we’d do
with all those people, much like when folks suggest we have too many people, is one of
those responses that I never really understand how to reply to.
I can certainly understand why someone might think having more of us could be a bad thing
if it meant we needed to plow every forest under for farms and couldn’t have any luxuries,
but all things being equal more people is good and I would tend to regard that as a
self-evident truth. Which is to say, one that does not require proof or discussion. I’ve
made that point before in conversations about the Fermi Paradox, that life, especially intelligent
life, is probably considered more valuable to most intelligent species than inanimate
asteroids and dead planets so that I’d have a hard time imagining why they wouldn’t
try to turn those things into habitats for life, but for some folks that doesn’t seem
to click and I’m never sure why. Maybe they’re right, but I’ve never had
a conversation with a chunk of rock where it laid out its reasoning for its inherent
value, I suppose if it did I might change my mind but until then I’ll keep to my stance
on the matter. If anyone’s had a nice chat with a rock saying otherwise maybe you can
explain it to me, though I’d probably want to check your blood alcohol level or do a
drug test on you first, no offense. Back to the space angle of things. Outer space
not living space. We often see these world cities with many ships in orbit or landing
or leaving or figure folks and freight go up and down in space elevators. Which is as
it should be but, keeping in mind the elevator conundrum we mentioned last time, how much
traffic is that? I mean a Ecumneopolis, we think of that as
this big planet of planets, the capital, a place with probably a lot of tourism and trade.
You look at the tourism figures for a lot of our great cities, just the tourism, and
usually it is in excess of the total population. So I don’t think we’d be excessive, and
honestly rather conservative, to imagine that a Ecumenpolis might process ten trillion visitors
a year, and to assume a like amount of trade goods and personal baggage made the trip.
But call it ten trillion people or a trillions tons.
There’s about half a million minutes in a year, or 20 million people every minute,
40 since they have to come and go. 40 million people checking through your spaceports, coming
or going, every minute, nearly a million a second. You’d be processing the entire current
human population going each direction every work shift, and who knows how much baggage
or trade goods. When we think about building space elevators,
when we talk about them in science fiction and how a planet has one, we usually don’t
think of those embarking a passenger every second. So you are going to need a lot of
them, whether we are talking the classic space elevator or just a hundred mile long one up
to an orbital ring. You might even need one for every Arcology, especially since as I
mentioned a lot of folks would use such a thing for travel around the planet. As I mentioned
way back in Megastructures Episode one, you don’t need those tether to only be at the
equator or run straight up vertically, so long as you’ve got multiple ones connecting
from different directions to cancel out any lateral forces, nor do orbital rings need
to be around the equator. It would depend more on just how much throughput
you needed, which we can’t really predict. One school of thought says humans, assuming
we haven’t gone all cyborg or post-biological in the future, which would seriously increase
the total population a planet could handle too, would pack pretty light because mass
is always an issue in travel and if you’ve got really excellent automation and 3D printing
they could get almost everything they needed when they arrived and leave it to be recycled
when they left. Ditto the good people of Earth might not put
much value on where an item was made or grown because we can make identical versions anywhere
so the Lunar Hog Farms might not have any market off world to sell their bacon. Alternatively
in a post-scarcity kind of society people might be even more prone to liking foreign
goods seemingly because they’re foreign and a lot of folks don’t like the vat grown
bacon of their home Arcology, because it’s so mundane and was never a part of genuine
pig and the Lunar Hog Farms are in business and so are the huge greenhouse habitats floating
around the Lagrange Points shipping in wheat grown under the genuine honest to goodness
real sun. And discerning people only drink bottled water straight from icy rings of Saturn,
where no living creature has ever drank it before.
Trying to predict people’s tastes in stuff, especially luxury items, is virtually impossible
even a year or two in advance so I won’t bother trying for centuries ahead in time.
But even if we assumed it was just those tourists, that’s a lot of ship docking and leaving
every day too. You think of that classic spaceship with hundreds or maybe a thousand or so people
on board and you’ve got several thousand of them arriving and leaving every second
too, and since they’d probably be spending at least an hour or so docked or accelerating
or decelerating to arrive or leave, you’d be talking about several million ships hanging
around the general area at any given time. Way, way more if we’re talking about that
Planet Cloud mini-dyson enveloping the general area. I was making grumpy statements early
about how a lot of scifi setting seemed to have relatively tiny fleets and this is why.
It takes a lot of tonnage to service a planet like this even if they don’t do much importing
and exporting and even the kinds of giant armadas that used to be limited to books only
but that CGI lets us do on TV and in film nowadays would get swallowed up in that sort
of traffic like they were insignificant specks. It always comes back to scale, and it all
does seem pretty ridiculous and overwhelming but as I mentioned earlier, we keep ourselves
grounded in reality under the specified assumptions. All we did today was look at those options,
assign them numbers, and do the arithmetic. Things change a lot when you actually plug
in the numbers and they can come out unbelievably huge, but they’re unbelievable because we’re
having difficulty absorbing their sheer scope and immensity, not because our reasoning and
logic was bad. So we’ve got this notion then of the Ecumenpolis,
the world-spanning city, and we see now that it doesn’t quite pass muster when inspected
in the traditional form. It’s not that we can’t pack trillions of people on a planet,
if we’ve got fusion or can beam power down from solar satellites, it’s that unless
we can deal with the heat produced in using all that power we can never actually have
that many people all tightly packed as those representations tend to imply.
In the end our Ecumenopolises had way more people than they are usually said to have
when people put numbers on it, yet at the same time had way more space to themselves.
And we also see the planet doesn’t end at the surface, you can dig your arcologies down
deep, or do whole layers separated by hundreds of feet, or float them on oceans or stick
them down in oceanic trenches. Or you can keep building them up and directly attach
them to space stations and how those space stations in many ways could be an integral
part of that planet or even where the supermajority of the human population, or even the critters,
make their homes. This is of course just one possible vision
for how things on Earth could develop, and if there’s interest we may come back and
look at some more in the future. But we’ve a lot of other subjects to cover first and
some I’ve been putting off for too long. Next week is our black hole farming video,
which will either be our first look at civilizations at the end of time or our entire look, depending
on how much I can cut the script down. Big long topic. So it might be one video or might
need to be broken up like we did with Arcologies and Ecumenpolises. I don’t know if it should
be one video, maybe two, or a short series, if that last Black Hole Farming would be episode
1 of the series on the civilizations at the end of time. Every time I think I’m running
low on material discuss I seem to end up with some new topic that when I’m done with it
feels like it should have been three or four videos instead of the one I ended up making.
We have a poll this week to decide what comes after that, and it is past time we got back
to the Faster Than Light series and Habitable Planets series for our look at Wormholes and
Ocean Planets. I have a suspicion both series will go on long hiatus after that, we’ve
so much other material to cover and those haven’t generated as much interest as other
topics so I’d rather continue on with those topics or new one. I’ve also been getting
asked regularly to discuss KIC 8462852, also known as Tabby’s Star, for around a year
now and got asked three separate times just today as I was redrafting this script so I’m
giving in and putting it up as an option. You can click on the poll to vote if you haven’t
already. No channel update this time, various previously
mentioned things are still ticking along and I want them in place before I launch any other
channel additions. Though as always suggestions remain welcome. Ideas for the channel, topics
for videos, questions about today’s subject, and general comments are always welcome and
I encourage everyone to flick through the comments where people often do ask a lot of
novel questions and I try to reply to as many as I can and encourage folks to try to answer
any questions they can too. If you enjoyed the video, hit the like button
and subscribe to the channel for alerts when new videos come out. You can also share the
video with others and help support the channel on Patreon. Sometime in the next month or
so we’ll hold our first raffle for the channel patrons to let the winner pick a subject for
a video too. In the meantime feel free to watch any of
these other video series on the channel, and since I seem to get asked a lot what this
or that song was in the background, let me just note that I do always include the music
in chronological order during the credits. Again next week is Black Hole Farming and
until then, have a great day and we’ll see you next time!


Reader Comments

  1. I am having a hard time imagining where tens of quadrillions of people will come from when most of the millennials i know are not having any children or just one.

  2. Turning the earth into one giant city sounds hellish. Cities are ecological disasters,even nice ones. To take something so beautiful as the natural world and converting into one big man made garbage dump is a crime against life.

  3. I dont think you speech is that bad but i wonder how it would improve with an accent? Perhaps a boston one, they tend to have silent “r” in their words. Such as the word harbor being pronounced habah.

    Your channel is incredible. I couldn’t stop planning ecumenopolis for sci-fi books. You have really outdone yourself this time. I plan to watch a majority of your content over the next few days. Thank you for being such an inspiration.

  4. That would assume the pavement would have to float right? How does that make sense? Unless we're talking about paved roads inside underwater domes. And there is always a chance we may evolve past the need for roads. Note that I'm not talking about "Car planes", but just hovering vehicles in most cases.

    Car planes are … ridiculous for their own reasons. (It only works in a setting whose population is sparse, and would have to shaped differently to account for weight to lift ratio.)

  5. There would probably be some guy that says you can pave over Outer Space. That's basically what it sounds like to me, when a writer says paving over the ocean: that they didn't do their science homework.

  6. @Isaac Arthur You start out ranting about a miscalculation on Asimov's part as far as his population count, but it's just a language barrier thing, billion in every language of the world, including English, but excluding American, means 1000 miljards, which is a "number" American's skip for some weird reason. So in American one billion is 1 000 000 000, which is called a miljard in all other languages with some spelling variations, where a billion is 1 000 000 000 000, which is what americans call a trillion. So Asimov was saying that the world had a thousand times the population you thought he said it had.

  7. Your take on robots is the same as mine. Why build human-level intelligence if it's not needed for the task? Why build a human form if it's not required to perform the task?

    If there ever is a man-vs-machine war, I'm willing to bet it will be because a human built the machines and ordered them to attack other humans to further his/her own agenda, not because the machines got sick of painting car doors or mowing lawns – because no robot capable of getting sick of performing those tasks would be set those tasks in the first place.

  8. If you can build one of those massive ecumenopolises you can also build into space and not have the trouble with the planet heating up.

  9. Looking at real world trends, extreme luxury of health, safety, and leisure time may actually be a direct trigger for population collapse. Trantor was, after all, already in a state of subtle collapse when Seldon's story began, anyway. Maybe the low number was thusly deliberate.

  10. I listened to this as a podcast. It's excellent and you touch on many concepts, especially that of an attractive future earth even if population continues to rise, very different to a lot of science fiction. Thank you. However I might quibble over your spelling. From listening I thought the word began with ' Eu' , which made sense to me since I studied ancient Greek and 'eu' means well. So a 'comfortable' planetwide city might better be described as an Eucomenopolis.

  11. Sorry to quibble a second time, but back in the 1960s I followed the ideas of an Italian architect, Paolo Soleri. I believe he was the first person to use the term Arcology. He designed many in theory, but I don't know if he ever got any built.

  12. the lack of K2 and K3 civilizations… suggests a limit on technology itself …or at least on mega-civilizations.
    10,000's of habitats around star or a galaxy spanning people(s)..they just don't exist . it also suggests that technologically advanced peoples…(radio)… are a one-in-a-trillion occurrence…
    the K scale should be abandoned

  13. I have watched now like 5 your 40 minutes in a row videos and i have absorbed so much information i think i need a nap soon:D

  14. Fusion is always 30 years away.

    Nuclear fission, with seawater extraction of uranium would be effectively renewable as around 40,000 tons of it is leached from terrestrial crust into the sea every year with more coming from undersea volcanic activity. Next generation designs running at 1000 degrees Celsius would be around 45% efficient with just a topping cycle Brayton and more efficient still with simple steam or Kalina bottom cycle.

    ThorCon, should it clear regulatory approval, proposes to build 100GW of reactors every year with a single shipyard. A planet wide construction effort could see up to TW scales of scale-up and completely decarbonise the world economy while bootstrapping human development in the MENA region.

    A fission powered ecumenopolis, while reliant on energy that is 3 orders of magnitude less dense, could nevertheless fully power the human population for the next billion years, assuming our species survives in its current form without evolving or diverging.

  15. I feel like the biggest problem with a planet spanning city would be how to maintain a livable atmosphere. The lack of oxygen if we get rid of oceans alone seems like something that would be VERY difficult to overcome and that's just one of MANY problems. I feel like waste heat would be a relatively small problem compared to many others.

  16. Am I missing something, but with trillions of people how would there be enough air to breath and all that carbon dioxide that we breath out and have no trees to convert back into oxygen, where would that go, and how would that be handled, and that's not to mention the methane that comes out of every human being each day contributing to greenhouse gasses and warming the planet. Sure you can talk about future tech, lots of science to wow people, but you never even touched on anything to do with atmosphere, climate science, the affects on the climate, or how living underground with the lack of sunlight, in cramped conditions with little personal space would affect human beings, I don't think this is viable.

    Also wouldn't concreting over, or whatever futuristic material is used, the whole planet mean that more heat is absorbed and thus the planet would be heated up this way? At present we have oceans and ice caps that reflect light back into space. Building over the whole planet would mean all of this is gone. I'd have liked this video if you'd have given a little balance on the matter, flaws in the argument. I am guessing the point is that everyone lives underground and indoors so if there is a hurricane blowing outside and constant storms then it wouldn't matter. You didn't explain how exactly all the oceans would be draining and paved over, what about volcanoes, wouldn't this be a problem?

    I usually love your videos, but I just found this one poorly researched. It felt as though it is just another topic on a conveyor belt of videos, where anything is possible, as long as you just ignore any potential failings, you seem to do this a lot, maybe you have to have this mindset to think we can use the entire planetary mass of the solar system to build a Dyson sphere or swarm around the sun, so it's not surprising that it's no different here. Love your videos, and I hope you read this and take it as constructive criticism, but I find so many things wrong with the view that more is better, and won't have any drawbacks, and by this I mean those that can't be solved by future tech.

  17. Couldn't you figure out a way to turn the heat from the humans into power, itself? Like, heat-absorbing walls? The Unobtainium from 'The Core'? Then, you get rid of the heat while powering your planet!

  18. I can easily see the people of the future drinking Saturn water just because it was sponsored by the the sol systems olympics.

  19. Dear Isaac, I love watching your videos and to be honest I thought you had an accent, haha. No need for subtitles even if English isn't my native language!!!
    Keep on the great work 🙂

  20. After re watching this, I realized there is a distinct possibility that Asimov may have been using the long Billion, ie Trillion. That would bring the populations up to reasonable levels. Though I must confess I have not read any of Asimov's works yet.

  21. FUCK YOU ABOUT SPEECH IMPEDIMENT! I CAN HEAR AND UNDERSTAND YOU JUST FINE. just keep doing what you do. I have spent HOURS, DAYS in-fact just listening to your amazing ideas, if you ever mention a speech impediment again i will smack you . You, SIR, have made an amazing difference in my life.

  22. Someday they will build a huge structure that involves space elevators. And they will call it "Crap-opolis".

  23. I remember the Bill Galactic hero had fun episode of such city… Really making fun of Trantor… Waste management, transport, food, even trying to find your way around such planet…

  24. This seems to be a viable alternative to terraforming a planet like Mars. Just fill the world with domed over arcologies, that are all connected to one another with hyper loop tunnels. There is as much surface area on Mars as there is dry land on earth.

  25. What about planets that have scarse depposits of metals in the planet crust? Is that even possible on an Earth-like planet capable of supporting life? Would non-metal materials be usable to build cities that span the planet?

  26. Interesting video! One problem though, a problem that many sci-fi stories have: The idea that the human population will keep growing out of control is totally false. We can currently see the evidence for this happening all around us.
    The explosive growth has been a very recent phenomenon since the industrial revolution, and is a result of child survival increasing. And as soon as child survival increases, birth rates drop drastically because people choose to have smaller families. We saw this happen in the past in every developed nation on earth, and have now been seeing it in developing nations in the last decades. As soon as child survival increases, in as little as one generation, the birth rate per woman drops to around 2.5 or even lower.
    The CURRENT global birth rate, according to UN figures, is ALREADY at 2.5 children per woman and still slowly dropping. 2.5 children per woman is the minimum to sustain a population at its current level. So the earths explosive populaton growth has already ended. The net total population will keep growing for a while because of an inevitable fill up of adults due to the children already born, and people living longer. But it will level out if nothing drastic changes. Current predictions by the UN say that earth's population will max out by 2100 at around 11-12 Billion, and then stop growing.

    So this idea that the earths population will keep growing out of control, and lead to a global city or a distopian future is being proven quite wrong right now… In fact, by the time we start colonising space, there might not be enough people or enough population growth to do so… By that time, 11 to 12 billion will probably be all the population we will ever have, and every billion that moves from earth to colonise space means a billion less on earth… Current figures and UN predictions tell us the more likely sci-fi scenario is that we will for example end up with 20 to 24 colonies on mostly wild garden worlds all with barely half a billion people on them, or some other spread out configuration of the 12 billion we will probably never grow beyond… We may in fact have trouble maintaining the population of 12 billion we will have by then.
    VERY interesting topic to do a video on (hint hint), especially since the vast majority of people don't know this reality of the world we live in right now!

    Hans Rosling did some great presentations of these realistic UN figures and predictions:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FACK2knC08E&t=34s

  27. Just one minor point… I find your voice (and impediment) very relaxing to listen to, and I've seen most of your videos but… it's ek-yoo-menopolis, not yoo-ka-menopolis. I don't know if that's a habit or your impediment, but I had to bring it to your attention, just in case.

  28. Something interesting that came out of your discussion here: Are you aware of any stories that have a civilisation on a wandering planet that has recently been ejected from their solar system; for which a global policy of mass population increase is decreed to generate enough heat in lieu of their star? (I'm watching your videos sequentially, so perhaps you've spoken of this already since 2016 and I haven't caught up yet)

  29. I'm actually very familiar with Arcology and I am in full support of it because it would bring our dying ecosystem back from the edge.

  30. Making the "fins" on a purely radiative heatsink reflective to infrared is actually a bad idea, since reflectivity and effectiveness as a black body are basically inversely related. You can still put a reflective shade between it and the sun, but the side that is doing the radiating(away from the sun) itself needs to be as black as possible to IR wavelengths for best efficiency. And the radiating surfaces probably wouldn't look much like fins on a computer heatsink(which typically face each other), but rather more likely a big flat or maybe convex curved plate or some other geometry which crucially minimizes any surface's ability to "shine" back onto a neighboring radiative surface.

  31. You can never talk too much about fusion. When it happens it will reshape our species in ways too profound to comprehend now.

  32. I know this is a random video for such a recent topic, but I have to say I love what you are conveying for our possible future. Multiple angles, multiple options, and bringing up the potential pros and cons to how we may attempt such things. It is pretty awesome

  33. Okay so could you possibly have a Rogue Planet/Ecumenopolis that keeps itself heated simply by having lots of people on it?

  34. I love Caves of Steel so much. I'm not sure how many times I've read that book. TBH it's what that terrible "I Robot" movie should have been based on.

  35. Hey man, this is my first time watching. Really enjoy the content and honestly, find your speech impediment endearing. Thanks for the great content 🙌🙏

  36. That part where you described people just blundering around in an empty tower their entire lives was hilarious.

  37. Trying to forgive the horrendous pronounciation of Ecumenopolis….not "Eucomenopolis"….sorrryyyy!

  38. Could Mars benefit from much larger Moon? An asteroid captured and placed in orbit might reactivate Mars core.

  39. Earliest use of "arcology?' I believe the word was invented by Italian architect Paolo Soleri, whose project 'Arcosanti' was intended to demonstrate the concept. Arcosanti got partially constructed, but it was intended to attract major investment that never came, and the project eventually ran out of steam when Soleri died.

  40. I hope you don't take this as me being mean, because that is not my intent at all! but your voice reminds me of homestarrunner and it is so sweet and soothing to me, it reminds me of the rare good parts of my teenage years. but its like if homestar is teaching me a lot of cool and interesting things that I am not always smart enough to understand. Thank you for making these wonderful videos!

  41. If we had some way of moving and directing the excess heat, we could use it for wide scale desalination, giving us the ability to turn deserts into oasis.

  42. On having too many people: People say this because places with huge populations (Africa, India) contribute basically nothing to the global economy compared to relatively smaller countries. We have too many people because most of those people aren't contributing anything to the world, they are a net drain on our resources. We might have the resources for it, but it's incredibly ineffecient. We don't need most of the people in the world.

  43. Why is it that so many people talking about heat energy as a problem in science based future tech when the solution to heat issues is a rather LOW tech steam engine? Why is it that heat is considered a hard thing to overcome when we have been USING heat for longer literally than electricity. We know more about how to manipulate heat than we do how to manipulate electricity for crying out loud. I can understand how heat is a problem (although not an insurmountable one) for things on a nanometer scale like nanites and integrated circuits, but when we start talking things on the scale of a starship or planet? You know the ONLY way that could be an issues is if we assume that NO one remembered how to build a steam engine. Ok, maybe it could continue to be a problem in the case of space combat were things are happening to fast, but outside of problems with speed and scale there is no reason to not use the extra heat as a form of energy. It's isn't even waste, it is a USEFUL RESOURCE!! Entropy is were the heat isn't accessible do to being spread out, none of the applications were people talk about heat as an issue has this problem. With the exception of really small and really fast issues with heat we can use existing technologies to easily handle such issues and with just a little consideration of the problem it isn't insurmountable even in the really small and really fast cases. We actually depend on producing heat to generate electricity in most modern electrical power plants. Why would anyone think that heat energy couldn't be considered a useful byproduct versus an insurmountable obstacle?

  44. Especially when you consider that his last name includes *2* letters of the alphabet that his speech impediment does not allow him to pronounce!!!!😁😜

  45. Wait, where are the materials coming from to build these Ecumenopolises? Is there a way to of turning energy into mass? M does not = E/C Squared

  46. Why bother growing plants for food when you could use fusion energy and carbon capture to synthesise calories? OK you might want some herb & spice gardens to add flavour, but that could be covered by the window boxes etc. we see in these supposedly "incorrect" depictions of arcpolises.

  47. But would we have all the metals, minerals and other materials needed for this projects? (assuming no interstellar travel)
    Most of the materials on Earth are no good resources for such highly advanced superstructures.

  48. you mentioned the gravity problem at one moment. I kept thinking that if you really import too many materials like metals and minerals, sufficient to build megabuildings up and down, eventually you would increase the mass of the planet to some degree. maybe the people planning for an ecumenopolis would take this into account, making the structures stronger without adding more material. would the people suffer this gravity increase? I'm taking the antigravitational technology out of this reasoning, with a technology like that none of this would be a problem. great video Isaac

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