The solar system belongs to all of us, not just to Jeff Bezos

This article was originally published on The conversation. The publication contributed the article to’s Expert Voices: Editorials and Perspectives.

Alain MarshallLecturer in Environmental Social Sciences, Faculty of Social and Human Sciences, Mahidol University

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon Inc and the richest man on Earth, has just launched the third mission of his space tourism company, NS-19. His space company, Blue Origin, has sent four other multi-millionaire customers into space as well as two “famous space guests”: Laura Shepard Churchley, daughter of Alan Shepard, America’s first astronaut, and Michael Strahan, a American Football Hall of Famer turned TV. presenter.

Space tourism is just the beginning of Bezos’ grand plan to colonize the entire solar system. Such colonization of space, he suggests, will fuel global prosperity by unlocking unlimited resources, including crucial metals and massive amounts of solar and nuclear energy. All of these can make useful products for people back on Earth.

Such grand ideas of extraterrestrial colonization are not new. Shortly after Indonesia’s independence in the 1940s, the nascent space age set in motion calls for a new wave of colonization – directed towards space.

In picture: Launch of Blue Origin’s 1st passenger New Shepard with Jeff Bezos

Although the symbolism of space colonization is rather distasteful to peoples who have suffered at the hands of past colonialism, at least the extraterrestrial solar system is not occupied by indigenous peoples who may see their territories invaded and conquered. However, like the colonialism of old, Bezos’ plans for space colonization depended heavily on resource extraction and unfair and abusive labor practices, as discussed below.

Currently, resource extraction beyond Earth is probably illegal. The Outer Space Treaty, signed by Indonesia on the day it was first presented to the United Nations Assembly in January 1967, states that the bodies of the solar system are the “common heritage of humanity”. In other words, humanity as a whole owns the solar system in a shared way. It cannot be claimed by a single person, a single country or a single company.

Therefore, Jeff Bezos should ask all of us for permission to create extractive industries beyond Earth.

After NASA planted the American flag on the moon and sent robotic probes to other planets, space entrepreneurs began to see a problem with the idea of ​​the common heritage of mankind. “How can we profit from space”, they thought, “if we just have to ‘share’ space resources with all of humanity?”

They then promoted a twisted interpretation of the Outer Space Treaty, which claimed that all resources extracted from extraterrestrial objects became the property of the extractor. Under such an interpretation, Bezos can claim any extraterrestrial material he might load onto his spacecraft.

This situation would echo historical colonial efforts on Earth where corporations like the Dutch East India Company obtained licenses to extract and sell resources that were not truly theirs.

In the late 1970s, the prospect of space imperialism prompted some former colonial states in the developing world, such as the Philippines and Pakistan, to write a better treaty that would make it clearer that the extraterrestrial solar system belongs to the whole world. .

This new Moon treaty also stated that space resources could only be used with global consent and had to be shared equitably in some way. The problem, however, is that countries with space capabilities, such as the United States and Russia, refused to sign this treaty when it was first presented to the United Nations in 1979. And industrialists space as Bezos pressures him.

This lobbying seems to have worked. US President Donald Trump issued an executive order in 2020 condemning the “common heritage of mankind” principle in the Moon Treaty.

The Moon Treaty is an excellent way for all mankind to have a vested interest in the solar system. For millennia, all cultures around the world have contemplated the moon and the planets in the sky as constant cosmic elements, imbuing them with their folklore and spirituality and incorporating them into their arts and sciences. The moon and the planets belong to all of us. The Moon Treaty enshrines this in law and makes all humans actors in the future of the solar system.

If Bezos colonizes the solar system, he will keep it to himself. I say this because his record of sharing things on Earth is dismal.

Despite being the richest man on the planet, Bezos is one of the world’s most avaricious philanthropists. He’s only happy to give away things (like Strahan’s seat on NS-19) if it helps promote his agenda.

Bezos also assiduously avoids paying taxes in America and around the world. Moreover, it exploits its global Amazon workforce with low-paying, precarious and dangerous jobs. Each worker competes with each other in a Darwinian way of survival of the fittest to achieve unrealistic production goals.

During the NS-19 space mission, several dozen Amazon workers were trapped and fighting for their lives under a collapsed Amazon factory. Bezos, meanwhile, was celebrating the mission with his space passengers.

It looks like Bezos can afford to fund his space business because he pays so little tax and cares so little about his employees. If Bezos colonizes space, it will probably happen the same way; exploiting space workers and not sharing the profits of space extraction by paying taxes at a fair rate.

Bezos’ first jaunt into space, in July 2021, so enraged many progressive leaders around the world that they called for new “space taxes” so that a public good could come from space tourism.

Space exploration fans should also encourage Bezos to pay his fair share of taxes in countries around the world so that democratically elected representatives can discuss and decide how to invest in more inclusive, non-colonialist forms of space development.

Given his plans to colonize space, I would like to go further and encourage governments around the world to sign the Moon Treaty, so that colonialism will not be repeated on a solar system scale in the to come up.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Arline J. Mercier