The Third Industrial Revolution


The Third Industrial Revolution, by G. Harry Stine, New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1975, 192 pp., $7.95.

Today there exists an ominous silence about a remarkable book that could—given proper media attention and publicity by its publisher—become one of the four or five most influential books of the 20th century. G. Harry Stine has outlined, in text that can be understood by the lay reader, an elaborate step-by-step program explaining how the major problems now confronting civilization (except for the population explosion and related food shortages) can be solved or greatly ameliorated by foreseeable developments in the practical exploitation of our solar system and the unique characteristics of the space environment.

More than 25 years of practical experience in rocketry and the space program make Stine eminently well qualified to write such a book. Why, then, is it being ignored? Could it be that Stine writes from an uncompromising libertarian perspective? Throughout the book he expresses his conviction that capitalistic private enterprise offers the best avenue to the cornucopia of benefits promised by space industrialization. And not only does he predict the emergence of future "space moguls" who will become billionaires by taking advantage of space industrialization options, but he commits the ultimate sin of suggesting that Brazil, Iran, and the Republic of South Africa have the entrepreneurial drive and other "characteristics needed for a capital-intensive expansion such as space industry."

Since most "establishment" book reviewers dislike price-competitive capitalism, Stine's The Third Industrial Revolution presented them with two options: they could write negative, critical reviews or engage in a tacit conspiracy of silence. They chose the latter strategy, and unless others speak out or goad the reviewers to do so, a book that might alter favorably the course of future history will be aborted.

The First Industrial Revolution transcended the limitations of human and animal muscle power, making it possible for a significant segment of the population to have leisure—and therefore real freedom. The Second Industrial Revolution began around 1910 and is not yet complete. Characterized by automatic controls, automation, and other electronic systems that transcend the limitations of our brains, it makes possible an exceedingly complex industrial society producing sophisticated products at a low cost—a high standard of living for the masses who are also freed from mental drudgery.

The Third Industrial Revolution (3rd IR) is a term coined by Stine to explain how we can transcend most, but not all, of the limitations of a finite planet. Unlike the doomsday forecasters, he does not view the earth as a closed system. The basic concepts of space factories and extraterrestrial resource exploitation have been featured in stories by at least two generations of science fiction writers. What Stine has done is to present an elaborately structured rationale showing how the 3rd IR might evolve through successive stages, first meeting relatively modest requirements in orbital space stations (which will evolve into space factories). This initial industrial foothold in space would serve as a nucleus around which more advanced capabilities would then evolve—mining and industrial sites on the lunar surface to be followed by space bases in the asteroid belt, which contains vast quantities of the metals vital to advanced technology.

Stine describes many miraculous things possible in space, possibilities we have only recently become aware of. The space environment offers unique options for industrialization: unlimited solar energy, temperatures ranging from near absolute zero to a heat that can melt any material, vacuum at zero cost, and, most important of all, zero gravity, which will permit the production of superstrong materials and other products that can only be made in a weightless environment. Better vaccines, microcomputers, and other finished items could be landed at any point on earth with cheap reentry systems, eliminating surface transportation costs.

As space manufacturing grows, raw materials from the moon will soon be the preferred source of supply. Mining operations with an unacceptable level of land destruction and harmful waste output for our biosphere would be acceptable on the moon. Nuclear explosives could shatter ore deposits without harming any form of life.

In the more distant future, our prime source of raw materials may be the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Some of these small planetoids are made of pure metal, presenting very-low-energy processing requirements. Stine's analysis of foreseeable space transportation systems indicates that the cost of returning large amounts of refined metals or finished products from deep space to the surface of our planet may be quite reasonable.

This book explains how we may continue to enjoy the benefits of the first two industrial revolutions by escaping from their unpleasant side effects—pollution, land destruction, and the disruption of our biosphere. Stine emphasizes, however, that his 3rd IR is not a total panacea: "The Third Industrial revolution solves only one problem of the future and leaves us free to tackle some of the others.…The public health official and the sewage engineer so completely upset the previous ecological human balance—quite unintentionally and with the highest of all motives—that we may not recover from it as a species before we starve ourselves to the natural population level that Planet Earth can support. Malthus may yet be right, but we still have the opportunity to prove him wrong through education."

In particular, the 3rd IR concept must not be confused with the ludicrous proposals of Princeton's Gerard K. O'Neill that global population problems can be solved by sending billions of people to artificial space colonies within the next 100 years. Stine believes that during the next century—the only time period we can consider as a valid forecast—agriculture on a large scale will be an industry that can only exist on earth.

Stine's book is oriented toward the corporate executive and capitalists rather than toward the scientists because he believes that the best way to accelerate the benefits promised by the 3rd IR is to .convince decision makers in the private sector to invest the huge amounts of money required for its realization. But Stine's message is not reaching these businessmen because the regular media channels have not made them aware of its existence. Others will begin the fight for future freedoms that would be allowed by the 3rd IR.

You can join this important fight. Buy this book, read it, and then give it to a relative or mature friend who occupies some position—in the business community, the media, a university, etc.—where he or she, in turn, can further spread Stine's bold message of technological enlightenment. Write a review of Stine's book for your college newspaper or company magazine.

It is the proselytizing skills of the Marxists that have allowed them to take over half of the world in only 60 years. They will not become an extinct historical species until those who value individualism and freedom learn to proselytize with equal vigor and determination. As many people as possible must be informed about the existence of Stine's new book. For it is highly likely that only the timely realization of the 3rd IR will permit a libertarian society to remain a viable option in the future—your future.

On this last point it would seem that Stine goes astray. He believes that when "it's steam engine time, they will be built." But there were several historic periods when past civilizations almost reached the take-off point for the development of a technological society based on science, only to falter and go into patterns of decline and retrogression that are difficult to explain. This happened to the ancient Greeks around 200 B.C. and was repeated in China and the Islamic world between 800 A.D. and 1450 A.D.

Just because we now have the technology to begin the 3rd IR does not insure that it will come to pass. Antiscientism is rampant. Taxes required to support social programs may rise to the point where individuals and private organizations will have insufficient funds to make the new entrepreneurial efforts required.

The fundamental achievement of the 3rd IR, as Stine defines it, will be to transform Spaceship Earth "into a garden planet, a new Eden," in which all species of terrestrial life can survive without danger of extinction. This grand vision is shared by Senator Barry Goldwater, who wrote an enthusiastic introduction to the book. Goldwater concluded that Stine's 3rd IR concept "reflects a happy combination of hope and optimism, which are vital ingredients of America's greatness, and it will provide a real challenge to the gloom and doom crowd." Perhaps the real challenge will be for innovative freedom-lovers to find some way to circumvent the silence about the book and bring this "alternate future" to the attention of those who can transform the 3rd IR blueprint into the reality of tomorrow.

Robert Prehoda is a consultant in the aerospace and medical fields. He is the author of a number of books on the future and futurology.