Comment Bumping: Venus Electrolysis and Space Settlement Norwegian Perspective

Life has been busy enough lately that I haven’t been able to do many of my own blog posts, but I wanted to bring two recent comments from old Venus threads to the top to get them a little more attention than they’d likely get in an old side thread.

The first was a question about the feasibility of using the lower Venusian atmosphere for electrolytic extraction of metals from the surface:

James Walker wrote:

A question for the more scientifically literate: With a charge of 10 volts and a pressure of 93 bar, is the atmosphere of Venus thick/charged enough to allow electrolysis?

If so, is having cathodes in the atmosphere collecting Potassium, Sodium, Magnesium, and Aluminium from the acid drenched surface an option?

Not being a chemist or electrolysis expert, I don’t know for sure the answer, though my gut suggests that it’s probably no. If the lower atmosphere of Venus can carry a charge like that, that’s usually a sign of it being a dielectric material, not an electrolyte like you’d need for electrolysis. Unless I’m missing something. I mostly brought this up, because there are enough other people on here who could answer better than I, and while I think it’s a long-shot, it would be huge if it was actually true. Thoughts? Comments?

The second comment I wanted to bump was from a discussion about what the governments would need to be like in isolated settlements in harsh environments. One poster had speculated that the harsh environments would make Venusian cloud colonies, asteroid mines, and other such places fairly totalitarian. Povel Vieregg from Norway had an interesting competing perspective (the part that stood out to me starts five paragraphs in):

I thought I’d add my two cents about the politics and types of society that a Venus colony would be. A lot of people here related to the American experience, but I think there are many other cultural experiences to draw from to say something about this.

As a Norwegian, I also come from a country which had its own flavor of rugged individualism. Norwegians also settled Iceland and went on many polar expeditions. All cases which involved extreme climates and environments.

I personally think people have a tendency to overstate the influence of nature on the culture of a people. For instance the Dutch as surprisingly similar to Norwegians in ways of thinking and organizing society, yet their country could be no more different from Norway. Shared germanic roots and similarities in way of life (both maritime nations) probably led to many similarities.

Americans should not forget that a large part of their national character derives from the British and Irish.

I don’t think it follows that great dependency on each other leads to a totalitarian style regime. I think individualism exists in different forms than just the anglo-saxon style libertarianism. The Vikings were quite democratic minded, or perhaps a better description would be that they were used to seeking and making compromises and find consensus. That was a natural result of weak central power. The dutch are similar. Many lived historically in polders (farm land surrounded by dikes keeping the sea out). If anyone living in the polder failed to maintain their part of the dike, it would spell disaster for everybody.

Neither case led to totalitarianism. Quite the opposite, both Norway and the Netherlands are very consensus oriented democracies. You see similar on Iceland which also lived through pretty rough times when it got settled with a lot of bloody conflicts. That kind of hardship teach people that there is no alternative but to cooperate.

If you read about the polar expeditions by the British and Norwegians, you’ll see very big difference in the approach and culture involved. The British had strict power hierarchies, were commoners and officers were clearly separated. Norwegians had much flatter hierarchies, and was more based on cooperation and consensus that some top leader acting as dictator.

You can see this among any primitive people. Look at Inuits e.g. who live under harsh climates. These groups don’t function as totalitarian regimes. They are not fully democratic either, but there are more marked by cooperation and consensus than by master-servant relationships.

I think likewise a Venus culture will develop with a basis in the culture of the original inhabitants. But I do think that over time it will develop in the direction of Dutch/Norwegian experience. Nobody will have a natural power base to just be a dictatorial ruler. There will be too strong interdependency among people for anybody to assume too much power. You will have to listen to what everybody says.

I don’t think you can necessarily classify such societies as we do countries today, because they will be much smaller and will thus be based far more on informal structures as we see in smaller human societies.

When societies are smaller they can function primarily on trust. As societies get much larger and you can’t know everybody in it or trust them, one will have to rely much more on formal structures and rules.

Anyhow, I know that just reposting peoples comments instead of creating new content of my own is kind of cheating, but a) I thought they were both very interesting, and b) it’s going to be a while before I have the bandwidth to write anything of my own, and I can’t let John have all the fun on this blog.

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Jonathan Goff

Jonathan Goff

President/CEO at Altius Space Machines
Jonathan Goff is a space technologist, inventor, and serial space entrepreneur who created the Selenian Boondocks blog. Jon was a co-founder of Masten Space Systems, and is the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup in Broomfield, CO. His family includes his wife, Tiffany, and five boys: Jarom (deceased), Jonathan, James, Peter, and Andrew. Jon has a BS in Manufacturing Engineering (1999) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2007) from Brigham Young University, and served an LDS proselytizing mission in Olongapo, Philippines from 2000-2002.
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16 Responses to Comment Bumping: Venus Electrolysis and Space Settlement Norwegian Perspective

  1. john hare says:

    I am not up on the history of Norwegians and Dutch. How did they handle dissidents or outlaws back when? Peer pressure sometimes fails. Exile, execution, other?

    As an inventor, I am usually an outsider in my attitudes which is not healthy in some societies. The British hierarchies type arrangements in particular don’t work for me, which is why I don’t fit into large companies well.

  2. Paul D. says:

    Positive ions like K+ dissolve in water because water molecules polarize, presenting their negative sides toward the K+ ions. This helps provide energy to compensate for pulling the K+ ion away from the ionic solid it was in.

    CO2 is not polar, so this effect would not occur. Also, the density of CO2 at the surface is much lower than liquid water at STP (just 0.067 g/cm^3), so fewer molecules would be near the ions (or, equivalently, surrounding the ions with molecules would have a substantial entropy cost; this is why salts are not as soluble in steam as they are in water).

  3. James Walker says:

    Paul D. – thanks. Probably not a go then?

  4. Bob Steinke says:


    I know a little of the history. They had a practice of officially declaring someone an “outlaw”. This meant you had a specific amount of time to get out of town (a few days), after which if anyone saw you it was no longer considered murder to kill you. It was expected that whoever you wronged, they or their family would carry out that part of the sentence. In that climate, exile was pretty close to the death penalty.

    I don’t know the official process for declaring someone an outlaw.

    This was at a time when personal vengeance was a prominent feature of most justice systems in Europe, and the outlaw trick helped minimize cycles of violence between feuding families.

  5. Paul D. says:

    James: probably not.

    There has been talk of sparingly volatile neutral metallic compounds (lead and bismuth sulfides) doing interesting things in the atmosphere of Venus. These could condense out on mountain tops, creating a kind of frost that reflects radar. The concentration at any time in the atmosphere would be low, however.

  6. Povel Vieregg says:

    Hey Jonathan Goff, cool of you to post my Venus comment. I’ve been lately very much into Venus colonization. Hoping to see more from you in the future.

    To comment on John Hare’s question “How did they handle dissidents or outlaws back when?”

    I don’t know Denmark or Sweden did it, but in Norway and on Iceland, we had what was called a “Ting”. Essentially a law assembly. Parliament in Norway today is called “Storting”, which basically translates to “Big Ting”, while it is called “Allting” on Iceland.

    A Ting is where the various chiefs and powerful men assembled to settle disputes in Viking times. You could think about it as a meeting place for negotiations over crime and punishment. This makes it quite different from a modern day court. As there was no powerful central power to enforce any kind of sentence, one handled crimes in negotiations. The reason for anybody going along with this is because the alternative was an endless circle of revenge. The blood revenge “blodshevnen” was a common thing in Viking society. Basically if somebody killed somebody in your family you killed somebody in theirs. A boy when reaching the age of 12, was expected by the family to carry out a blood revenge if his father had been killed by another family. Obviously this was outside the legal system, and the sort of feud people wanted avoid too much of. Hence a Ting. At “landomstida”, the early settlement times of Iceland, it was very violent, and hence a strong push to settle disputes at a Ting grew.

    At a Ting it was elders well versed in establish legal traditions, which suggested appropriate punishments. Since punishments could not easily be enforced, they tended to be quite mild even by today’s standards. Most crimes were punished with fines to my knowledge, even murder. So while the Viking practices outside of the legal system was based on an eye for an eye, the official legal system was nothing like that. One relied on the accused accepting the punishment. If he had a lot of followers/supporters and vehemently disagreed with the verdict, you couldn’t get far. Hence the whole legal structure relied on consensus and compromise.

    As mentioned in another post, the Ting could make you an outlaw for severe crimes. The logic of that, is that without any power to enforce the law, they couldn’t simply sentence you to death. Instead what they could do which doesn’t require any power to enforce is to simple state that you are no longer protected by the law.

    In practice the system relied on both formal and informal structures. My understanding of the case of Iceland was that after all the violence, people got into the habit to trying to calm down the hotheads among their own as they knew that would lead to a never ending spiral of violence.

    I believe similar structures existing in relation between native americans and european settlers. Individual hotheads would often attack the other party sparking a large more violent conflict between native americans and european settlers. To avoid this one tried to keep ones own hotheads in check. I would guess native Americans might have had legal structures with similarities to the Viking ones.

  7. Brock says:

    I think the more generic answer to John Hare’s question is that “the demos, legislature, executive, and judiciary are separate areas of government”. There’s no reason that an egalitarian democracy cannot either hold a moot (in the case of smaller colonies) or elect judges and hold trials (in the case of large colonies with professional dispute resolution) with juries to handle crime and punishment.

    I agree with the view that authoritarianism isn’t necessary, or even necessarily helpful. Even with very small colonies, you could have situations like the pirate ships of previous eras that elected their captains and quartermasters.

  8. James Walker says:

    A consideration for isolated communities is that social disapproval is disastrous. Frex in rural communities, not having someone on the local football team can result in a family being completely isolated, meaning no one to turn to in a crisis.
    I suspect that something similar will occur on settlements in space; with no outside support networks, regular participation in some social activity will be essential for long term survival – meaning that the disapproval of that social group will be far more serious than mere ‘lawbreaking’.

  9. Paul451 says:

    Povel Vieregg’s original comment,
    “I don’t think it follows that great dependency on each other leads to a totalitarian style regime.”

    Likewise, Brock above,
    “authoritarianism isn’t necessary”

    As I said in that thread, “not-libertarian” does not equal “totalitarian”.

    I was responding to Tom Billings’ standard libertarian snipe that colonies will allow people to escape “bureaucrats”, using Venusian floating cities as an example. As I said, the restraints of a almost completely closed life-support system, and the risks to everyone from behaviour considered merely inconsiderate or minor vandalism in Earth cities will be considered crimes against the whole colony. Failing to properly dispose of a can of solvent would be treated the way we treat an act of terrorism, and for the same reasons.

    But that doesn’t mean that it needs to be some kind of dictatorship or top-down authoritarian regime. It does, however, mean that anyone with some kind of Heinlein libertarian fantasy will not be welcome.

  10. DougSpace says:

    I think that space advocates perhaps make too much of the struggle to survive in off-Earth colonies. The people who can afford to go are likely older people who have saved up enough money. They are used to having people to do things for them. So, they’d be happy paying companies to establish and maintain the habitats, harvest and process the ice, grow the food, maintain the life support equipment. It would be much like how wealthy people living in gated communities have professionals maintain the grounds, maintain the swimming pool, do the housekeeping, etc. So, sure, there’s a structure and a government of sorts but it starts by signing a contract for the the use (perhaps ownership) of the hab and an up-front payment for the indefinite supply of life support, and then they can choose to pay extra for the amenities.

  11. James Walker says:

    I think that DougSpace is at least partly correct; living in Earth’s gravity well is a nightmare for the oldies, and the lease of life available from living on the Moon or in microgravity should be very tempting.

    Two problems though:
    – if you are rich enough to afford this, then you will also be used to having access to a wide variety of luxuries on Earth – the delay in getting things to a space base may be considered unacceptable.
    – if you are frail enough to want low gravity, the stress of current launches is going to be fatal. Getting into orbit needs not only to be cheaper, but far more comfortable before this economy can develop.

  12. Jim Davis says:

    I think that space advocates perhaps make too much of the struggle to survive in off-Earth colonies.

    I have almost the opposite view. I think space advocates tend to be almost dismissive of the difficulties of off-Earth living. Many space advocates tend to think space colonization is almost entirely a transportation problem, i. e. once the price of a ticket falls to a certain level the exodus will commence.

  13. James Walker says:

    The constant flow of tourists to places like Everest would indicate that the incredible difficulties of being in space will be a reason for many people to go there! Simply because it is harder than anything we’ve done before, many people will want to say that they’ve done it.
    That, I hasten to add, is not necessarily a good thing. The 200+ bodies on Mt Everest are a good example of our species’ inability to make decent risk/reward judgements.

  14. Jim Davis says:

    The constant flow of tourists to places like Everest would indicate that the incredible difficulties of being in space will be a reason for many people to go there!

    Go there, sure. Live there is another matter entirely.

  15. peterh says:

    By necessity a frontier settlement must have little tolerance for foolishness likely to get someone maimed or killed, or pointlessly destroy large amounts of essential scarce resources. But otherwise they might be tolerant of individuality.

  16. James Walker says:

    Where ever people go, other people will go in search of a profit.

    In addition to being a revenue stream, the flow of visitors simplifies the task of resources management. The classic sci-fi trope of ‘isolated outpost can’t get supplies’ is solved by the simple act of a temporary ban on visitors; the resources that would otherwise be consumed by tourists etc are then available for the colony.

    On this subject, it’s worth noting how the Roman Empire handled disasters, as the travel times will be comparable: after a major disaster such as an earthquake, no aid was sent – instead, the devastated region was granted a respite from taxes for X years. That way, taxes that had been collected for the current year were immediately available for emergency relief, and rebuilding was done with future years tax money. Much more sense than trying to send help from a different continent! This could avoid *months* of travel time. Similarly, I would expect that the primary resource for a space colony to raid in a crisis would be whatever resources they were normally expected to send elsewhere.

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