And now for the low effort response to OPs question:
"Are cities unwilling to agree to high density for newly transit-served locations?"
Absolutely, though not the "City" per se but a large enough minority of citizens to make it exceedingly difficult. Time, and time again during the outreach phase of development there are always backlashes from citizens which make it very difficult to get ANY density built in cities. This pressures governmental officials which then result in needing project reworks to get approval, which still are not good enough for the concerned citizens, etc etc etc, ad nauseam. All of this balloons cost and timelines.
"Are the costs too unpredictable?"
Kinda, but I would say its just far to more capital intensive. First land purchasing costs, which key here is that not only is it a large track of land but also large tracts that are contiguous. Then once you start needing to get planning permission of right of way from Federal, State DOTs and local officials, trying to get everyone on board can take years. Then you have to deal with the hellscape of up-zoning and getting approval/permits (see below). All the while you better hope no environmentalist decides your transit route is gonna intersect a wildlife corridor and takes up the noble lawsuit fight (okay my bias is bleeding though a little). See next for the tie together.
"Are private developers too car-focused?"
Yes, but I would say not because they are ignorant but rather inexperienced. Think of how much new/different expertise is needed here in the way of engineering and legal. There simply is no experience or latent knowledge even in planning, hiring, and working with experts in the respective fields. This combined with the heavy investment needed and the few data points in recent decades make this a hard sell to decision makers.
Armchair Transit Enthusiast here! Hopefully I can share some of my understanding on the situation. In short I think you've hit most of the answer in your last paragraph.
As background for those new to the topic (which it OP seems to know most of this already), this was actually how large swaths of pre-WW1 cities were developed and that method has largely disappeared by car-centric development that we've see explode post-WW2. I'm sure there are a variety of different reasons for this but if acceptable I can put a few of them in a quick list (willing to expand upon it if there is interest).
Governmental City Planning favoring cars the advantage-it was simply the zeitgeist for 60 years, lower (apparent) cost and perhaps some corruption (there is some evidence of a "automobile lobby" going for regulatory capture route)
Federal Government subsiding car infrastructure for defense encourages secondary development taking advantage of the new infrastructure.
Perceived market preference for car based development
Lower investment cost of non-transit development (dense=expensive and less dense development favors decentralized vs centralized transit)
Increase in governmental outreach and inclusion of affected voices- Overall good yes, but does come with a notable increase in costs and project timelines
There still exists
However, there still are projects being built in this method though! Notably, Brightline East and West with the more important link being this, which is the parent company developing the adjacent real estate. I think time will show if these projects are initially successful, then we will see further interest and attempts being made.
For the most part I agree with your opinion of technological advancement with 2 addendums. In reality it is nuanced but in my experience there are a lot of areas of low hanging fruit limited only by the number of well informed people interested in the subject. This is modified by access to capital. To me it seems a personality trait of well informed people, that they are not as interested in searching or building capital. Secondly, the regulatory environment, I strongly believe that regulation slows down both tech building and research in general, I also think that for the most part it is a necessary evil just that we should be able to acknowledge that it is a double edged sword.
I think this leaves us in the STEM fields with the unfortunate truth that at the end day regardless of how efficient of a turbine you design or how clever of an app you dream up, if you cannot convince people to buy the darn thing it's an intellectual dead end.
I can't really engage with the main question of your post ie. which institutions should get access to a technology? I'll only add that I understand the support for the idea of free flow of information and also get that rosy philanthropic feeling but that ideas usually benefit from an early monopoly. The chance at a payoff someday channels capital which builds up to a point of ‘critical mass’ before it can displace the status quo. With this understanding, I would say that perhaps the best institutions are those with the capital and will to follow through on bringing a new technology to fruition. I am leaving out the hard decision if the technology poses a risk to humanity of course but that is above my paygrade I guess.
Also as an aside, what is your interpretation of the Bill Gates article? I see no particular evidence of a lack of physics knowledge, are you referring to the take about the water comments or? It's definitely not an in-depth description of the problems with PWRs or BWRs, but I think is an acceptable explanation of the advantages of using LMRs. Maybe there is some other comment I am missing, but it comes across as an easily accessible article written to persuade the layman of the benefits of his endeavor?
Anyway very interesting post overall, thanks for sharing your thoughts.
You certainly write with artistic and evocative language, I which is a style enjoy from time to time; however it seems it is not as well received here. I can sense from the language of this post that you seem embittered by your experience online recently or perhaps even melancholic for an earlier time? Are you confident that this hasn't clouded your thinking on the subject too much?
Correct me if I have understood you wrong, but the main idea (which I think could be more fully fleshed out) is that the internet has grown stale, boring, and will soon lose peoples attention. And the support for this essentially boils down to some anecdotal evidence and some select large (and note: older!) social media companies engagement drop data.
Thus I can't say that I really find this convincing in any manner. While there have been places on the internet where I have found a small sense of community, sincerity, and fulfillment; I have also watched these places grow, age, and change over time. Usually the community morphs into something I enjoy and I must continually seek out new 'refuges'. I don't believe this a new phenomenon, and simply think this is the natural EOL of internet institutions (in this case writ large to some of the better know communities). So until I see data suggesting that peoples real screen times are in fact decreasing, I remain unconvinced that the internet will disappear into 'nothing'.
If it is something that you feel strongly negative about by it I would simply offer a reminder that there are still many places on the internet where there are real people having meaningful and stimulating discussions!
First lets constrain this conversation a bit- let's only look at the US and the likelihood of famine occurring there (as we have already been talking about it). Secondly I think we can both agree that the result this is heavily dependent on the type of strike, how may cities are actually lost and the surrounding context of the exchange (is the US and Russia/China at war), but for the sake of the conversation lets say that the US immediately won the prevailing conflict and doesn't have to concern itself with preforming or dealing additional military operations.
So which cities are mostly likely targeted? One needn't look far to see that targeting logistic hubs is fairly high on the list of likely enemy action (1, 2) following close behind domestic nuclear facilities and military targets. It is hard to say but perhaps we can go with a few dozen of Americas top cities were targeted along with a few Nebraskan wheat fields and military bases (it seems to me this is the scenario that most in this thread have been talking about).
Okay, with that context lets revisit the initial problem area- what does the logistics chain of bulk commodities following a nuclear exchange look like?
Firstly, I invite you to take a look at this map of US rail lines (note that this does not include all rail connections- I'm assuming spurs and private lines are not shown). Notice many of the large intersection points are in large cities which are very likely to be hit (also most of these rail yards are actually very close to the city center where fireball damage would occur). As you say most of the rail lines outside cities would likely avoid significant damage, however most of the important logistics infrastructure lies within the rail yards this includes the rolling stock, offloading equipment, signaling/coordinating structures, and arguably the most important the human capital- would all be destroyed.
Yes, other less important or used track could be cannibalized for use and various surviving heavy machine shops somehow forced into helping with the reconstruction efforts, I am left a bit skeptical how they get a bunch of workers (who maybe just lost everything in a blast) to go clear, sort debris, re-lay track and signaling, and learn how to operate the whole system all within inside a highly radioactive zone.
I digress though, thank you for bringing up the inland water ways- I think this is one of the best reasons the US could weather intentional logistics damage the best. However I will again point out that the limited barge stock available, and particularly where the largest inland parts are located- again in large cities that would likely be targeted.
From a meta point of view, the key thing to remember here is not what is theoretically possible but what is likely using previous experience, to happen. As an example - theoretically yes, someone with access to crude oil, some metal stock, and a small amount of equipment could make a very rudimentary oil distillation system but why would they do that? I get that you originally used it just to illustrate how basic some industrial processes are (which I don't know if I really agree), but missing in your thought process is the 'why?' or 'who?' would do all of this. Logistics is Coordination and coordination is hard.
Sidenote: Martial Law or at minimum a nationwide state of emergency would likely be declared in such an event likely simplifying decision making and coordination. However, how quickly this could be ramped up to nationwide scale following significant damage to communication systems I will leave unassessed.
I would recommend reading about the supply chain issues that have been caused by COVID and the ongoing Ukrainian War, and just extrapolate out. I realize that because we are discussing famine it narrows the scope of what we are concerned about (ie only moving food from A to B) and with a short time horizon, the issue is still surprisingly complex.
My apologies if my line of reasoning may have been hard to follow at the end let me know if there is anything you find unclear.
Sorry for the short response here, hopefully when I have time later I can expand on it.
Background: Read your posts, not the paper
Main Point of disagreement - Famine is not about stockpiling or even producing the requisite calories. It is about distributing the food from where it is produced (or stored) to the population centers where it is needed. With grain transport most of it is done via rail with major exchange centers and logistics hubs being cities. In a nuclear exchange this infrastructure is completely wiped out (both the human capital and the actual physical structures).
To be blunt, of course no city>no people>who starves? Thus the famine is averted because the mothers/father/daughter/sons have all been wiped out in the blast right?
Well the loss of all this logistics infrastructure means that suddenly rural people in non-productive (agriculturally) areas who escaped the blast also starve. Most critically here is that this is in fact a large swaths of America.
(tangential point): This is within only the first few months following the exchange; imagine needing to further plant a new year of crops w/o easily accessible fertilizer/pesticides/herbicides and fuel (both diesel and nat gas- that corn ain't gonna dry itself). The USA is perhaps the most prepared of any country with it decades long transfer from rail to trucking, but as a country it is still far far away from being able to have a distributed logistic system in the form of trucking that could manage in the absence of rail (without taking into account the other issues a nuclear attack would cause).
(The goal of this comment is simply to stimulate more conversation in an area of interest to me)
I often find myself disagreeing with both self-declared SpaceX fanboys (or girls) and vehement SpaceX opposers, who I find more often than not just have varying levels of distaste for Elon Musk (some complaints here are valid I feel).
To get at the root of the idea, it seems that SpaceX hasn’t accomplished a miracle for space flight more so that they succeeded in developing some (difficult but not semi-impossible) engineering designs into usable rockets before going bankrupt, which is ‘the’ miracle.
Prior to the wave of new space companies starting in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s the old titans on industry (which are still around today and can still be characterized in the same way) were in the late stage of institutional lifetime with lots of bureaucratic bloat inhibiting launcher development. This is in part to to the fairly stagnant market and low demand, and part due to the bureaucratic nature of their customers (read military, NASA), with a simple dose of institutional age.
I would also note that the original authors seems to miss that there were dozens of other space startups at the same time as SpaceX some with even more radical ideas than SpaceX (and some with less) for changing the space industry. Almost none of them survived the transition from startup to profitability.
I would just like to add to your list of things SpaceX seemingly does better than it’s competition is control and guidance, the amount for work it took get those 1st stages to land on their own must’ve been massive. And also computationally impossible for a space endeavor of any size until the late 90’s (citation needed here and would love to hear from someone with experience).
An interesting question to be sure, and an inspiring vision for the future. However, I think at this is too wide of a question to generate a sufficient answer and a better start would be to read more in general about energy markets (pricing, how utilities decide pricing and assess expansion projects) and the general engineering concepts behind space solar power (SSP).
Some thoughts to generate conversation:
What is the design of the power satellite system? ie are there swarms of small ones or a few large ones
What is the power beaming design? You mention microwaves however I am under the impression that the best choice wavelengths for microwave beaming are very low density- this would massively change the ground system infrastructure design and thus impact cost.
I do not work with the grid so please take the following with a healthy dose of 'I should probably at least google this...':
Pricing varies between consumers, large scale customers (heavy industry, factories, etc) may be cheaper or actually more expensive depending on load usage than households.
Transmission costs would either be negligible or hugely impactful based on the ground system infrastructure (power beamed directly to user or one large plant)
Your description mentions "a world that is fuelled exclusively", this is very unlikely in almost any scenario unless the world is radically different than the world of today and more likely SSP would play a role in modifying current electrical generation.
At some point I'd imagine it all comes down to a massive estimates spread sheet where if the cost of total construction normalized over expected lifetime + cost of estimated maintenance < price per kwh in current grid market then BUILD. Some other factors play a role as in 'has this been done before?' and 'what do we estimate demand will be in the future?' but is mostly is down to cost (this mythical cost accounting spreadsheet has been corroborated by some discussions online I've had).
Potentially, however one must consider ones own values in this question. Personally I feel that the best case would be to resolve the conflict ASAP and to support this I would certainly accept the new Russian war (stated*) aims-that is the acquisition of Luhansk and Donetsk, if it brought hostilities to end. Also in my estimation it is entirely within reason that Ukrainian Leadership may (begrudgingly) accept this as well in a ceasefire negotiations. Thus any further damage to the Russian war effort would prolong this outcome.
Again I stress this is my own personal assessment of the situation at this specific moment in time and my modeling of the conflict so far has been very poor.
Also of note: any cyber attack action here would result in likely loss of life either by prolonging the conflict or more directly as higher probabilities of industrial/operational accidents. (I realise I have become paralysed)
This is something I thought about as well in the early days of the war however now I would question the utility of it in steering decision-making. At this point it seems unlikely that such actions could be framed as altruistic (ofc if you simply care more about Ukraine winning than ending the war this probably isn't valid), as this would be ineffective way of convincing Russian leadership to end the war while harming everyday Russians who have no control over the situation.