The last time we discussed this subject was almost a year ago: How Not To Enter the Space Age. It was one of our off-topic Curmudgeonly rants against the derranged idea of declaring outer space to be some kind of “commons,” owned by all mankind.
We said that if the wealth that is probably out there is going to be discovered, mined, and brought to Earth where it’s needed and will benefit everyone, then all the misguided babbling of bureaucrats, diplomats, and politicians has to be ignored. Who is going to invest the resources and take the risks inherent in exploring and developing the resources of the solar system? Some bloated, corrupt, and utterly worthless committee of the United Nations?
We found a new article on the subject at PhysOrg. It’s titled Antarctica may hold the key to regulating mining in space. Oh yeah — and the Seventh Planet holds the key to your happiness. Well, you know we didn’t like this article, so brace yourself for what’s coming. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us, and a large quantity of Curmudgeonly commentary:
Our current era may go down in history as the century of space exploration and off-Earth resource exploitation. But there are still considerable policy hurdles to overcome in terms of how we regulate such activities.
Regulation! What kind of mentality functions like that? It’s like saying: We’re glad you and your bride are so very much in love. But who will regulate the manner of your relations, and the frequency thereof? Anyway, then we’re told:
As we turn our eyes to the skies, we should also look south to Antarctica to gain some insight into governance matters in outer space.
BWAHAHAHAHAHA! Let’s read on:
This year has already seen significant challenges to existing international space law. Not least, the US Congress passed the Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act of 2015. This bill radically revises elements of the original Outer Space Treaty (OST) from 1967, under which any resources returned to Earth from space were considered the property of all humankind, thus could not be owned or sold. The bill alters this so that private companies and states can maintain property rights over any resources brought down to Earth. It opens up outer space to venture capital and ensures that US private companies can obtain a title over any asteroid resources obtained in outer space.
Wow — that’s great news! But it’s nothing like the Antarctica model. We continue:
International law identifies Antarctica and outer space as two of four global commons (the others being the high seas and the atmosphere). Both have been defined within international regimes as spaces outside the territory of nation states and beyond the normative inhabitable zones of the human species. In both instances the current governance regime were outcomes of the International Geophysical Year (IGY) (1957-1958).
It’s also true that virtually no economic benefits are being derived from any of those “global commons.” Maybe there aren’t any to be found in the atmosphere, but there must be resources under the seas. Why would anyone want the rest of the solar system to be similarly unproductive? Here’s more:
It is not unthinkable that in the near future, with intensified national interest in mineral and biological resources, Antarctica could potentially become another commodity frontier. For example, today there are a few hundred research organisations and companies from at least 27 states undertaking biological prospecting in the Antarctic. Yet it is unclear – and contested – who owns the microbial diversity that exists outside of national territories. This points to the kinds of issues that may arise as mineral prospecting operations begin on asteroids, the Moon or other celestial bodies within the next few decades.
More importantly, who in his right mind would invest in such a venture if he couldn’t benefit from it? Yes, it’s true that mining companies will go out there and explore in the hope of generating profits. But so what? There will also be benefits for the rest of humanity. Everyone understands what happens to prices when needed materials are scarce. The opposite happens when resources are abundant — everyone benefits! But if no one has the incentive to get out there to explore, then why would anyone bother? The PhysOrg article dimly recognizes this:
It may be difficult to think the OST [Outer Space Treaty] will effectively calm down political anxiety over outer space resource exploitation. This is because the potential economic benefits of space exploration are likely to become a main driver.
Ah yes, the “problem” of economic benefits. So what’s to be done? Moving along:
On the other hand, if the aim is to safeguard and protect extraterrestrial space, to maintain it as one of the four commons for humankind under international law and to defuse political tensions, Antarctica may well continue to provide a model for international collaboration in space.
There’s the issue. Will the bureaucrats and diplomats yield to the grubby reality of economics, or will they cling to the “lofty” goal of declaring that the resources of the solar system are the common property of all mankind? Another excerpt:
Important questions remain unresolved: is the principle of res communis [thing owned in common] – through which space is understood to belong to all humankind – successfully ensuring that the exploration of outer space is given a fair go? The OST states clearly that the exploration and use of outer space must be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development.
Or, on the contrary, is the OST effectively limiting expansion and innovation in outer space exploration by being vague on property rights, the “use” of outer space, and hindering capital expansion beyond Earth? In this case Antarctica may not be the best model, as it bans mining activities altogether.
Oh dear — this is such a difficult question! One last excerpt:
These are more than economic and legal predicaments. They represent a philosophical dilemma of how we project ourselves as species in to the future and into the solar system. … For the time being, Antarctica may still provide a model to keep in consideration.
In our humble opinion, if the bureaucrats and diplomats really care about the future of humanity, then they need to get out of the way. Free enterprise and property rights are the answer — the only answer.
Copyright © 2015. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.