Unsettlers of Catan

Aeros Airship
^ Photo: The Aeros Aeroscraft ML866 Concept

Imagine my surprise reading today’s Grauniad finding George Monbiot coming out as a fan of airships, and more broadly – of advanced technological solutions (“like most greens I’m prepared to try almost anything, as long as it works.” – really George? Shall we go properly nuclear then?)

I’ve long been Col. Blimp in arguments with m’colleague Cheathco on the future of global transport. George’ll be hot for space elevators next, then I’ll really have to find a new schtick, or make him my best mate.

Once I’d calmed down from the initial flush of general airship lust though – the point that stuck with me from the article was this:

“Paradoxically, the other major constraint could be an environmental one. Airships are one of several green technologies which might be killed by a shortage of materials. A new generation of solar panels relies on gallium and indium, whose global supplies appear close to exhaustion(8). The price of platinum, which is used in catalytic converters, has tripled over the past five years(9). Beyond a few natural gas fields in Texas, economically viable supplies of helium are rare; even there they might be exhausted in 50 years at current rates of use, or much faster if airships take off(10,11). If there is a God, he isn’t green.”

And that’s the worrying thing – this really seems like a game of what resource will run out – the cheap energy to do the R&D into The Gordelpus, the rare materials to make The Gordelpus, or the sociopolitical will to make The Gordelpus.

It’s like the early stages of a resource-trading game like Settlers of Catan.

If we can just get enough of the vital stuff, we’ll have a runaway advantage later in the play. Which bets shall we make with which resources in order to get that runaway multiplier before it’s too late in the game?

I guess I am with George after all – making some audacious bets mid-game looks pretty good right now.

It’s how we roll.


P.s.: “The Gordelpus” is Olaf Stapledon‘s quasi-nuclear magical/religious/scientific endless-power mcguffin of the First Men in his awe-inspiring Last and First Men.

From Chapter 4 of “Last and First Men” (Project Gutenberg version)

A century after the founding of the first World State a rumour began to be heard in China about the supreme secret of scientific religion, the awful mystery of Gordelpus, by means of which it should he possible to utilize the energy locked up in the opposition of proton and electron. Long ago discovered by a Chinese physicist and saint, this invaluable knowledge was now reputed to have been preserved ever since among the elite of science, and to be ready for publication as soon as the world seemed fit to possess it. The new sect of Energists claimed that the young Discoverer was himself an incarnation of Buddha, and that, since the world was still unfit for the supreme revelation, he had entrusted his secret to the Scientists.

Bonus (self)link: Olaf Stapledon’s amazing timelines he drew up while conceiving the book.

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