The pessimism is infectious. Physicist and sci-fi nerd Stephen Hawking recently argued that maybe we should hide from aliens lest they rob us blind. When Newt Gingrich proposed a base on the moon, everyone guffawed as if such an optimistic ambition was absurd. The obsession with "peak oil" and the need to embrace "renewables" because we're running out of fossil fuels is another symptom of our malaise. Fracking and other breakthroughs demonstrate that, at least so far, whatever energy scarcity we've had has been imposed by policy, not nature.
Which gets us back to outer space. In our neighborhood alone, there are thousands of asteroids with enormous riches -- in gold, platinum, rare earth metals, etc. Planetary Resources Inc., an asteroid mining firm started last year by director James Cameron (ironic given the politics of his film "Avatar") and some Microsoft and Google billionaires, has its sights on several rocks worth anywhere from hundreds of billions to tens of trillions of dollars. And these are just the chunks scattered around our orbital backyard and near enough to exploit with existing technology. There are also plenty of balls of ice out there that might be convertible into fuel for further space exploration.
Thomas Malthus and his intellectual descendants saw humans as voracious consumers of finite resources, like a "virus" devouring its host, as Agent Smith says in "The Matrix." But humans are better understood as creators who've consistently solved the problems of scarcity by inventing or discovering new paths to abundance. As the late anti-Malthusian hero Julian Simon said, human imagination is the ultimate resource.
Unfortunately, that resource is dismayingly scarce these days, in Washington and Hollywood.
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