Kessler Syndrome, or collisional cascading, is a nightmare scenario for space activity. Proposed by NASA scientist Donald Kessler in 1978, it proposes that at a certain critical density, orbiting debris shed by satellites and launch vehicles will begin to impact on and shatter other satellites, producing a cascade of more debris, so that the probability of any given satellite being hit rises, leading to a chain reaction that effectively renders access to low earth orbit unacceptably hazardous.
And, of course, Stross asks a question most interesting to me:
So, suppose that with the exception of already-on-orbit GPS clusters and high altitude comsats, we can't launch anything else for a century. What effect does it have on society and geopolitics when the sky goes dark?
Let me add another supposition: What if someone, tired of the current American hegemony, decides to hasten the Kessler Syndrome? Could a payload of ball bearings, for instance, be delivered to start the cascade, and potentially even take out the existing GPS & comsats? How much debris is needed?
This has the potential to significantly shift power, while, presumably, not causing death like a nuclear detonation would. Some folks may even take the view that it could be the moral choice, as it can be viewed as defense of sovereignty and/or in some cases, even private property.
Much depends on how fed up people are with the current system, versus how much they like the convenience of what the satellites provide.