Chris McKitterick (mckitterick) wrote,
Chris McKitterick

Alternate History: Two ways we could have spent $3 trillion (besides wasting it in Iraq).

In the post I made last month about why we should quit the Iraq war right away, one reason I cited was the cost: $3 trillion. This got me thinking: What else could the US do for $3 trillion? Here are a few ideas:

Put Humans in Space - Permanently

NASA's current budget is about $5.4 billion (or $16 billion; sources vary). That's about 1/500th to 1/1000th of the cost of the Iraq war. Hm! If NASA had 500 times more money, what could they do beyond their current goals - and how much more quickly or fully could they achieve those goals?

And how about all the private space start-ups out there - can you imagine what they could do? Let's say that we give $30 billion to each of 100 private space companies. That's six times NASA's annual budget. We know their operations are much more agile and cost-efficient than NASA... the mind boggles.

Or we could pour the money into building a space station in Earth orbit, a la 2001: A Space Odyssey. This feasability study suggests a space hotel could be built for $28 billion, including the high launching costs of using Shuttle-based launches. Expect the next-gen NASA heavy lifters to dramatically reduce launch cost, then factor in cost savings from even-more-efficient launchers, volume of launches, and so on, and it could be done far more cheaply. So we could likely build a hundred such stations or a single, massive habitat the size of a city in space for the cost of this pointless, destructive war.

Oooh, how about a Moonbase or a Mars colony? Estimates for the currently planned, manned Moon-and-Mars projects range from $230 billion to $500 billion. Assuming the high-end estimate is more realistic, we could either scale up the projects to six times their current size or speed the projects along (I suggest scaling up, as they're pretty short-sighted right now).

Perhaps we could funnel those trillions into developing and building a space elevator? Using technology available today, one estimate for the materials cost of building a space elevator is $450 million. That leaves a lot of room for cost-overruns and labor, as that figure is less than 1/6,000 of the cost of the Iraq war. Stated another way, we could build dozens of space elevators in every nation for the cost of the war. Mind-boggling that we chose to go to war instead, isn't it?

So yeah, you get the idea. There's no reason we couldn't establish a permanent human presence in space with the money we're spending on the Iraq war. The dividends that would pay are unknown but certainly higher than anything positive that could possibly result from invading and occupying a Middle-Eastern nation.

Eliminate our Dependence on Oil

Just about everyone concedes that the Iraq war is about oil. If we didn't need it, would our government really care about what happens in the Middle East? I doubt it. Oh, and I think everyone agrees that burning oil is perhaps not the best thing for the long-term health of our environment. So let's look at how $3 trillion could help end our oil addiction... and possibly save the world for future generations.

According to FPL Energy, ...wind-generated electricity has become more economical to produce in the past 10 years, dropping from as much as 30 cents per kilowatt-hour to 4 to 7 cents... the cost to develop and build a wind energy facility is approximately $1.3 million to $1.7 million per megawatt.

Okay, let's look at wind, alone (there are lots of other options, too, but I live in windy Kansas). Here's a diagram of current United States energy consumption:

Click the image to see the story.

Overall, the US uses about 40 quadrillion (40,000,000,000,000,000) BTUs of petroleum energy per year (to get electrical units, divide BTUs by hours in a year - 8760 - and then by 3413 to get kW/hr). In more conventional terms, that's about 1,337,887,502 kilowatt/hours or 1,338 megawatts. Assuming that volume production and other efficiencies reduce the cost of building wind turbines to $1 million per megawatt, constructing wind generators to replace all of the US petroleum consumption - that includes industrial, transportation, home, and everything - would have a total price tag of $1.3 billion... is that correct? If so, why aren't we doing it?

Help me with my math here; I got $11.7 trillion using another calculation. Let's assume the higher number is correct, because if the cheaper number is true, I feel like firing our entire government right now.

So, okay, $11.7 trillion is four times our war-alternative budget, so let's look at this more realistically.

The US is the third-largest producer of oil in the world at 8,367 barrels per day. Unfortunately, we use 20,588 barrels per day, a deficit of 12,221 barrels per day. So all we really need to do to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil is use about 2/3 less oil. Oh, and once those generators are built, we start raking in profits from selling the electricity; you know, instead of paying other people for consuming their oil.

So cut our budget for going all-wind-power by two-thirds, add in profits from that electricity, and you obviate the need for such a war. Heck, it just makes fiscal sense to invest in a profit-generating venture than burn money, pollute the air, and accelerate global warming.

Didn't anyone in the NeoCon Planning Office take this into account? Surely they could have hired Halliburton to do all the construction, giving their cronies the same money - assumedly why they're doing this in the first place - without all the death and destruction.

I was going to offer other suggestions, but this is just making me depressed to consider how else we could have spent the wasted trillions. In fact, I started this post a month ago but stepped away when I realized just how stupid is our government for engaging in such a wasteful, destructive adventure when we could instead be making the world a better place and ensuring the survival and growth of the human species.

So: Instead of building the science-fiction future we all dream of occupying, the NeoCons set us on the path toward the dystopic futures also depicted in SF. Thanks.

Chris out.
Tags: future of the earth, politics

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