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.