Asteroids and comets: a common good

The planet needs to decide who asteroids and comets belong to, because I don’t think they belong to the first person to send a rocket up to collect them. And, if we try to have that discussion after the mining of space has made Earth’s first trillionaire, then it will be just too late. That is exactly the lesson we should have learned from the fish stock.

Fish are unowned, and therefore we all have equal right to them. If you want to get a boat and paddle out to sea and fish, you’re entitled to. But something about this idea doesn’t work. Big fishing industries are exploiting that right and trawling the sea, depleting the fish stocks massively. To curb this, the EU imposed maximum quotas. These quotas gained a financial value; if your maximum quota exceeds what you can catch, you can sell your surplus quota. If you look at what surplus quotas sell for, you can calculate the value of the fish quotas the EU gave away for free. It is in the billions of pounds. By the time the EU noticed this and tried to implement laws to reverse the environmental damage and make the fisheries look after the common good and its environment, it was too late. The fishing industry was already a multi-billion pound industry and its momentum was too great to stop.

From this, we should have learned that we need to set up laws regarding resources that seem to be ‘common goods’ before related industries get massive financial momentum. It is for this reason, I think the world governments (US, EU, ASEAN, Australia, UN etc) should come together to write a global law regarding the mining of asteroids and comets. I’m not sure what the law should be, exactly, but it should take into account the following fact: the space debris is a common good with a value, and therefore returning it to Earth for use will incur import tax. I’d support the tax funding development aid and climate change mitigation.

This is probably my shortest post in a while, but I’m still going to summarise. The state of the fish stocks in our oceans is testament to the damage that can be done by not fully considering an industry before it gains financial momentum. The financial value of surplus fishing quota show that allowing industry to abstract common goods is a handout, because the common goods have value. We have an opportunity, now, to set in place a mechanism by which we can distribute the wealth created by abstracting our common goods.

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10 thoughts on “Asteroids and comets: a common good”

  1. With the costs of exploration as they are, it’s going to be difficult to promote collective exploitation. That being said, I’d certainly champion any effort to do so.

    1. What if it’s not a case of everyone exploiting the resource, but a global committee taxing landed asteroids and investing that is global projects and disaster relief…?

      1. Lovely, but you have to first navigate your way through creating such a global governing body. If you thought conspiracy theories were outlandish today, just wait till you suggest this 😉

        1. Oh, I`m with you, but I just see the problems as being quite large. A sent this post to a fellow blogger, Mord, who writes predominatly on space colonisation. He has a lot to say about the exploitation of resources, so I’m hoping he pops in. I think his position would be to have a space colony (a republic, independent of the earth) control mining.

        2. Sounds like a discussion worth having. The practicalities of such a republic define the relationship it has with Earth. But I imagine such a republic adopting those rights from a pre-existing organisation; a “competent authority” (I imagine the legislation saying). Part of the reasons for that is that I think such a republic would emerge after considerable exploitation has already happened.

  2. Talk about a nest of snakes. I think this may be an inexact analogy. I think the asteroid belt may be far more inexhaustible than our fish stocks (and yes, I know people though they were absolutely inexhaustible).

    If yo set up a claim system, then the first country with the technology to get there could claim everything they wanted as there would be no one else capable of doing so. If you establish some form of joint ownership than you have some massive free rider considerations. If you set aside some of the asteroid belt for every country, there will be countries that will sell their rights to richer countries and … well you know how that goes.

    Do you have any ideas regarding the practicality of your suggestion?

    1. No. And that’s kind of the point.
      I appreciate that the fish stocks are not best analogy, partly because there is a rate of sustainable abstraction. Oil might be a better analogy, except there are geographical reasons for claiming ownership. Fish, at least, are a mobile resource that is difficult to claim ownership of, because you don’t live where the fish are.
      I did suggest a trans-trading block committee that taxes asteroid returns and invests that money in global projects (pollutants and climate change come to mind, as do certain research projects). The first claimant can, then, make buck-load but some of that wealth is redistributed.

  3. Good luck on getting agreement. I don’t know if you have been following the South China Sea issue, but an international tribunal wholly rejected China’s claim so China in essence just ignored it.

    History is all about the powerful getting away with what they can and the powerless putting up what they have to. Occasionally countries come together in enlightened mutual interest (like the banning of CFC’s) but seems the exception not the rule.

    I imagine that some space mining treaty could be signed but if a rare and valuable mineral is discovered then the people with the technology to exploit it might just find the treaty inconvenient and decide it is non binding,

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