The most valuable mineral resource on the planet is the fertile layer of soil in which "green lungs" of the planet grow and most of our food is grown. The humus in the soil was created by wildlife during millions of years not to put it on the asphalt or railway sleepers. However, major transport links of the 20th century — railroads (about 1 million km) and motor roads (more than 30 million km) — have destroyed the soil by now, "having buried it under the asphalt, on the territory exceeding the total area of such countries as Japan, Germany, UK and the Netherlands.
Nothing grows on this soil— it is dead. Soils adjacent to roads of much larger area, are poisoned by pollution from car exhausts (over 100 harmful substances and carcinogens), de-icing salts, products of tyre abrasion and asphalt, etc. On even a larger territory (again by ten times) the movement of ground and surface waters is disrupted, as any earth mound is a low-pressure dam, since its ground should be compacted by 10% in comparison with natural occurrence. This leads to swamping of one enormous areas and the desertification of other equally huge territories. This leads to irreversible destruction of the natural ecosystems and biogeocenose existing there.
For example, the Chinese government has currently set a course for the construction of high-speed railways. In particular, the world's longest high-speed railway line "Beijing — Shanghai was constructed recently there. At the same time, there are expert conclusions made 20 years ago, which made the following forecasts. If China is to build an extensive network of high-speed rail roads, embankments of these roads will cut the sources of all rivers, movement of surface and underground waters, migration of animals, etc. It will practically destroy the ecology and agriculture of the country and could lead to mass starvation, comparable in its scope with the famine in the period of the "cultural revolution", when every Chinese village have started to set up furnaces for steel smelting and when more than 10 million people died of starvation.
A network of conventional high-speed railways on any territory can create the same negative effects, if the roads run on the mounds. For example, just thanks to ecologists in the 90s of the last century the decree of the President of Russia prohibited the construction of the high-speed railway "Moscow — Saint-Petersburg" as, by the estimates of the "greens", environmental damage to the country, in case of implementing this project, would be comparable with the consequences of the Chernobyl Power station accident.
According to recent reports, one hectare of pine forest produces about 30 tons of oxygen per year — as much as it is needed for breathing of nineteen persons during a year. 1 hectare of deciduous forest provides approximately 16 tons, and a hectare of agricultural land — from 3 to 10 tons of oxygen per year. Therefore approximately 100 million acres (1 million km2) of soils, "rolled into the asphalt," will not produce each year at least 1.5 billion tons of oxygen, sufficient for breathing of 1 billion people.
Complete combustion of 1 kg of gasoline requires 3.4 kg of oxygen, or about 15 kg (12 m3) of air. The substances contained in the combustion products, including automobile exhaust, can cause progressive damage to the central nervous system, liver, kidney, brain, genitals. They can cause lethargy, Parkinson's syndrome, pneumonia, endemic ataxia, gout, bronchial cancer, dermatitis, intoxication, allergies, respiratory and other diseases. The likelihood of illness increases with the increase of time of exposure to hazardous substances and their concentration, as, for example, this occurs in modern cities.
The transition to RSW technologies will save annually 31.2 billion tons of fuel on 25 million km of high-speed tracks. 106 billion tons of oxygen will not be further withdrawn from the atmosphere for burning that quantity of fuel. That is enough for breathing of 67 billion people. In addition, the waiver of annual burning of 31.2 billion tons of fuel will prevent further release of toxic and carcinogenic substances into the environment, and there are over 100 of them: carbon monoxide — 650 million tons, nitrogen oxide — 550 million tons, sulfur dioxide 238 million tons, aldehydes — 30 million tons, soot — 155 million tons (data for a diesel engine).
In addition, it does not matter whether this fuel is burned directly in internal combustion engines of rolling stock, or in remote furnaces of thermal power plants (for electrified railroads). Or in nuclear power plants, because there is no convincing evidence that the "bouquet" of radioactive waste from the combustion of nuclear fuel that must be stored for thousands of years in our home — on the planet Earth, is "better" than the previously listed products of chemical fuel combustion. From the standpoint of planetary ecology, and namely there man intervenes stronger and stronger, it does not matter at all.
Annual burning of additional 31.2 billion tons of fuel together with 106 billion tons of atmospheric oxygen would produce 31.2 + 106 = 137.2 billion tons of additional waste. And again, it does not matter, whether the original fuel was "environmentally friendly" or "environmentally dirty" — this is all scholasticism. Nature will be polluted in any case — by something that it was previously lacking, including enormous additional energy from the incineration of tens of billions of tons of fuel.
Besides, there will be no need to produce additional hundreds of billions of tons of metal and cubic meters of concrete required for the construction of 25 million km of high-speed overpass tracks, as well as to get annually additional tens of billions of tons of oil and other energy resources necessary for the functioning of these tracks. Not needed will be billions of kilowatts of excess capacities for drives to the rolling stock. There will be no need to manufacture them and they will not pollute the environment not only by the fuel combustion products, but also by strongest noise during their operation. The environmental benefit from it is enormous and difficult to estimate.
We can try to describe in details at least one of the environmental advantages of RSW technologies — savings on resources at mass production of rolling stock. For example, a modern aircraft transports about one ton of weight of its design and fuel per passenger (rising to a height of 10−12 km, wasting enormous additional amount of energy). One passenger seat in a modern Airbus costs up to USD 500-600 thousand, and the whole aircraft fleet would cost additional USD 75 trillion for the customer to perform the same transportation work, as the SkyWay network with the length of 25 million km would perform.
To imagine better the difference between aviation and the SkyWay, let us carry out the following mental experiment. Let us assume that we need to get to a neighboring village at 4 km distance. And there are two ways to travel:
Variant 1 is the SkyWay, variant 2 is modern aviation.
Modern railway cars do not carry fuel, but as for the "iron", it is up to 1.8 tons per passenger of a compartment car, and taking into account the weight of the locomotive — up to 2.5 t/passenger, which is very inefficient from an environmental point of view. In addition, each passenger seat on the railroad costs rather expensive, and the higher is the speed, the more expensive it is. For example, in high-speed trains "Sapsan", purchased by Russia in Germany, speeding up to 250 km/h, each sitting place had cost almost USD 200 thousand for the taxpayers.
A unibus, even of high-speed design (500 km/h), is structurally not more complicated than a modern passenger car (or a minibus) and is similar in weight, size and cost characteristics: "low-cost iron" — up to 250-300 kg/passenger, the cost (at mass production) — up to USD 20-25 thousand/passenger.
Earth embankments of railways (including high-speed ones) and motor roads cover at least 4 ha of soil on every kilometer of distance including infrastructure, that is, they confiscate land from the land user. If 25 million km of high-speed intercity and international string routes, designed as overpasses by RSW technologies, are built all over the world, it will save about 1 million square kilometers of soil more from destruction.
At the averaged value of seized (destroyed for the construction) soil of USD 1 million/ha, the cost of saved earth will amount to USD 100 trillion, but at a cost of USD 10 million/ha in the future (the price of land is constantly growing) — USD 1,000 trillion. That does not include the environmental problems that would be created by that soil, additionally removed from the earth biosphere on such vast territories as described above.
The ratio between oxygen, carbon dioxide, hazardous and dangerous substances of artificial origin in the atmosphere, water and soil can lead us, already in the near future, beyond the conditions, in which the existence of man as a living species is possible on the planet Earth. Unless, of course, civilization does not change its attitude towards the traditional trends in the development of transport and the technosphere on the whole. The technosphere, which has existed in full for just a couple of centuries, but entered into major environmental controversies with the biosphere, extending back by billions of years of evolution.
There is a persistent misconception that it is possible to create environmentally sound industrial technologies of the closed type. However, this is impossible in principle, as evidenced by the following example.
According to modern scientific perceptions, life originated on Earth more than 3 billion years ago. Evolving, adapting to the existing conditions on the planet of that time, living organisms have started to transform the environment. These transformations were not smaller than those that occurred to living organisms themselves as they evolved and perfected. So, at first oxygen appeared in the atmosphere on initially dead and deserted planet, and then the ozone layer, fertile soil, coral Islands, modern landscape with its swamps, tundra, taiga and jungles (without the appearance of life on earth, modern earth's landscape would resemble the surface of Mars). Thus appeared the biosphere, in which millions of species of living organisms and the planet, transformed by them over billions of years of evolution, perfectly match each other. There is nothing superfluous here.
However, here appeared a man who, thanks to his mind, began to increase the power of muscles, senses, intellect. He began to create machinery and to master industrial technological processes. It happened thousands of years ago when primitive people began to make the first primitive tools, to cook food on fire, and to process the skins of animals. It was then that the humanity took the path of technological development, and today we are not in power to change it. The modern industrial power of the earth civilization is just a logical continuation of the technocratic direction of intellectual development of man.
Plants, factories, power plants, machines, cars, airplanes — they are all the analogues of living organisms in the biosphere. And they, like living organisms, exchange energy and matter with the environment, therefore they inevitably must transform Nature. Only from the point of view of biology, environmental pollution occurs. From a technical point of view, plants, factories, power plants pollute nothing. At the input they have raw materials and energy, at the output — finished products ordered by Man, and the converted initial raw material (excluding finished products), which, of course, gets into the same place, from where it was taken, — into the environment. It is impossible to avoid this in principle. It is also fundamentally impossible to create closed technological cycles, so as to solve environmental problems. It is about the same, as if, for example, to find a way to forbid a cow to produce manure, urine and methane alongside with milk.
Even the biosphere as a whole is not a closed system. After all, it transformed a previously dead planet. The closed system is only "Earth — Biosphere".
The entire earth's biosphere is built on the foundation of biological waste. Oxygen in the atmosphere and, consequently, the ozone layer is a waste product of photosynthesis in green plants and algae; the fertile part of the soil (humus) is the product of biochemical decomposition (rotting) of plant and animal residues, etc.
Even the whole technosphere, and not an individual plant or factory, cannot be a closed system in terms of a single planet. The technosphere will inevitably transform the Earth. But in what direction?
The technosphere does not need the oxygen-containing atmosphere — in the absence of oxygen the same cars would work perfectly, given the fuel tank is completed with a tank with an oxidizer, as in the rockets. That is why, for example, today the U.S. industry, including the car park of the country, consumes more oxygen than green plants produce it on the territory of America. Americans live in debt. They consume the oxygen produced by the Russian taiga and the Amazon jungles.
The technosphere does not needed fertile soil. Therefore, the planet has less and less fertile land, and gets more and more slag, ashes, waste piles and radioactive waste. Acid rains, smog, ozone layer depletion, elevated level of radioactivity and carcinogens in the air, water and soil — all this is inevitable. You can only slow down the process of transformation of the earthly nature and the biosphere, but it can not be stopped. The technosphere occupies the same ecological niche, as the biosphere as a whole.
Environmental problems rose sharply now, only because the technosphere by its energy power, that is, by its capability to transform the environment, approached the biosphere as a whole. For example, the biosphere produces annually slightly more than 200 billion tons of dry organic matter that, in terms of fuel, is just tenfold greater than the annual energy consumption of all technical appliances available for the human civilization. And the volume of transported and processed soil, ores, coal, oil, natural gas and other raw materials, is already very close to the volume of production of organic matter by the biosphere.
A radical way out of this situation is only one: we must provide the technosphere with an ecological niche outside of the biosphere. Only this will ensure the preservation and development of the biosphere by the laws and directions that have been formed over billions of years of evolution, as well as the harmonious interaction of the community of people, as biological objects, with the biosphere.
There is no such ecological niche for the technosphere on the planet Earth. But it exists in space, where there are ideal conditions for the majority of technological processes: zero gravity, high vacuum, ultra-high and cryogenic temperatures, unlimited raw materials, energy and space resources.
Thus, we come to the conclusion about the necessity of space industrialization for purely environmental reasons. Humanity does not have much time for a large-scale exploration of space, as according to a number of forecasts, due to the increasing technocratic oppression on the biosphere, its irreversible degradation, and the degradation of the human race alongside, will start in two or three generations.