#4 April 1987
Section 220.127.116.11.004.of the Artemis Data Book
On Earth with its vast atmosphere, oceans, and still extensive forests, we
can arguably afford to withdraw such organic ingredients as hydrogen and
carbon from the environmental cycle in the form of paper, plastics, etc.
After all, Nature has been doing the same thing, "banking" these elements
for geologically long times as coal, oil, and gas.
On the Moon the situation is quite different. Hydrogen and carbon do exist
in amounts worth scavenging in the upper layers of Lunar soil, put there by
the incessant solar wind. From Apollo samples we might expect every
thousand tons of soil processed to yield ( besides over 400 tons of oxygen ) one ton
of hydrogen, 230 lbs. of carbon, and even 164 lbs. of nitrogen ( source:
Stuart Ross Taylor. Planetary Science: A Lunar Perspective. Lunar and
Planetary Institute, 1992, p 159 ). This is hardly abundance. Polar
permashade fields certainly must be searched, but this scenario
requires that the Moon's axis will not have shifted more than a
degree or so in the past 3.5 billion years: a tall order. If any ices of
water or carbon oxides are found there, they will certainly be needed to
expand the biomass of the colony. Withdrawal and banking will still be
quite out of the question. Hydrogen and carbon for non-biological uses will
still be priced as "import elements."
[The above was written in 1987, eleven years before Lunar Prospector
confirmed the existence of ice deposits at both poles. Yet the caution
remains. Even billions of tons of hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen (presuming
that the ice contains carbon and nitrogen oxide ices as well, which one
might expect if the source is comet impacts) -- even so much is not enough to
support (a) lunar biosphere(s) if the population on the Moon grows to a
considerable size. A conservative approach is still the best strategy, if we
are not to stunt the growth of lunar development. -- Ed.]
Paper is basically cellulose, a carbohydrate, half hydrogen and carbon, half
oxygen. Its production in modern forms is very taxing on environmental air
and water. While this may be a justifiable tradeoff on the bounteous Earth,
the toxic burden of its production would quickly overwhelm the very
limited environments of Lunar ( or in-space ) settlements
even if "waste papers" were recycled 100% ( which would necessitate
brainwashing all would-be settlers. ) Luna City ( this goes for "New Tucson"
at L5 as well ) must be a paperless society. Throw-away addicts will want
to argue this of course, but then addiction has always been resistant to
What will this mean in practical terms? First let's set everyone's mind (
some double entendre here ) at ease. With so many of the engineering
problems of human outmigration already solved, it would be ironic if having
to apply fiberglass to one's exit zone proved to be the show stopper.
Fortunately toilet tissue that is 100% biodegradable and environment
friendly is already being made and sold on the mass market. This is also a fast
cycling usage, the hydrogen and carbon involved not long withdrawn from
circulation. "But ye who enter here," ( the gates of the Moon settlements )
"forever give up all hope" of paper plates, cups, towels, napkins, and junk
Now a paper-less society, Lunar or L5, is an enormous challenge and we had
better begin preparing for it. A whole spectrum of alternatives must be
developed and ready-to-go to address the diversified applications of paper
in our civilization that have so insinuated themselves into our way of life as
to almost define it.
Books, magazines, newspapers: electronics to the rescue, you say. Well only
if there are some quantum leap improvements over what is available today.
Cathode ray tube ( CRT ) eye strain is a common enough complaint to show
that the final format of electronic reading media is not yet on the scene. The
Lunar "EZ-Read" must not only be eye-friendly, it must be lightweight, even
pocket-able. Rainbow-color capacity should not be a luxury.
Electronic books, magazines, and newspapers, etc. to be inserted into the
reader must be quite compact especially if hydrocarbon plastics are involved
so that the weight ratio to paper replaced is as high as possible. All
metal alloy and / or silicon would be the best.
Downloading from central library / databases may well fill much of the need.
But if this is all that is available, the right to freedom of information
will be imaginary. The Lunar Bill of Rights ( even the American one )
should include the right to own individual books in whatever applicable format.
The desire to own one's own core library should be unrootable in anyone who
fancies him/herself more than a cog.
However much progress is made on the electronic front, a kosher all-Lunar
substitute for organic fiber paper would be most desirable. 100% fiberglass
papers have been successfully produced, but so far as I have been able to
determine, these are used primarily as filter papers. If an all fiberglass
paper with a suitable texture or "hand" can be developed, then a method of
printing it without organic based inks and toners ( using metals and their
oxides, for example ) must be found. Perhaps some of the research done on
the various forms of xerography might indicate directions for further
Whatever the eventual repertoire of Lunar print media, one thing is sure.
Printed materials will not be physically imported from Earth. Rather whole
libraries will be electronically transmitted to Lunar receiving stations to
be re-materialized in the new media and formats. And this presents a
unique, once-in-history opportunity. The use of appropriate interfaces on the Lunar
side of this information stream would allow for spelling reform, modest or
drastic ( even a whole new alphabet would be possible ) of the English
language. The merits of pursuing this option are beyond the scope of this
[In 1987, when the above was written, the Internet was still very much in
Checks, invoices, statements, bills, inventories, etc. The coming "smart
card" may point the way to handling these needs. But a whole family of
"smart cards" will be needed to handle the full variety of personal,
in-house, and commercial transactions.
Cereal boxes and all other food item packaging: There can be no exception
to the use of glass, fiberglass, metal, and foil. Plastic is just as taboo as
paper. Food will probably be available only in bulk, and one would purchase
the desired container type and size separately, a strong motive for reuse.
The same goes for most other normally convenience packaged items.
Labels, tags, stickers: Fiberglass papers and foils with
yet-to-be-developed kosher ways of imprinting or perhaps embossing them seem the only way. Some
mechanical way of affixing them must be worked out as hydrocarbon and other
organic adhesives are likely to be unavailable.
Paper bags, gift wrap, cardboard boxes, and dividers: Ingenuity must be
applied to such kosher materials as metal and fiberglass fabrics and netting
and reinforced foil ( how about a vacuum laminated foil / fiberglass gauze /
foil sandwich? )
Greeting cards and love notes: One can foresee a non-commercial and
unpoliceable use of homemade art papers ( such as are now well represented
in art fairs ) and vegetable inks for this purpose. Maybe the contradiction of
personal mass produced greeting cards will at last give way to something
that really does show individual effort. A possible black market item.
I am sure I have not covered it all, but I hope the idea is clear. Lunar
culture in full bloom will be quite different from ours. But one can be
assured that given preparation NOW, these differences will not be
impoverishing. On the contrary, they should be refreshing and enriching.
Certainly there will be lessons learned that may help Earth bound culture
find its way to a somewhat less disharmonious relationship with our own host
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