Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Outer Space: The Province Of All Mankind

Michael Huang writes an article in The Space Review this week arguing for a pre-emptive legal strike on behalf of humans in space. (Here.) His concern is that a creeping environmentalism in space will seek to preserve planets in their current state and limit humans to this planet. He advocates an express declaration of rights for humans in space.
"Rights are most effective when they are enshrined in law. It may prove necessary to protect the rights of humans in space in this way. A modest statement, something like, “All human beings have the right to exist at any place beyond Earth,” would help defend against attempts to ban humans from Mars and other places. A more comprehensive statement would be, “Human beings beyond Earth have the same rights as human beings on Earth.” All the hard-won rights that humans have achieved on Earth—including, of course, the right to exist—would apply to people in space.

The rights of humans on Earth are self-evident, but unfortunately the same cannot be said of the rights of humans in space. In a world with an ongoing attempt to reduce and eventually eliminate human existence beyond Earth, a strong declaration of human rights would be very useful."
The principal treaty governing human activities in space already seeks to balance the interests of humans and the environment in space and comes down heavily on the side of humans. (Here.) The first two paragraphs of Article I in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 establish the right of human beings to explore and use space:
"The exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and shall be the province of all mankind.

Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall be free for exploration and use by all States without discrimination of any kind, on a basis of equality and in accordance with international law, and there shall be free access to all areas of celestial bodies."
The balance comes later with one sentence in Article IX:
"States Parties to the Treaty shall pursue studies of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, and conduct exploration of them so as to avoid their harmful contamination and also adverse changes in the environment of the Earth resulting from the introduction of extraterrestrial matter and, where necessary, shall adopt appropriate measures for this purpose."
The treaty assumes that humans will explore and use space. Indeed, the treaty's first article establishes as a principle of international law that the exploration and use of outer space is "the province of all mankind." The subsequent articles of the treaty set out the limitations on humanity's use and exploration of outer space.

Out of 17 articles one sentence in one article deals with the environmental impacts of humanity's presence in space, and that sentence does not bar human use or exploration of space. Instead, the sentence merely states that "harmful contamination" of "the moon and other celestial bodies" is to be "avoided." By modifying "contamination" with "harmful" the treaty appears to recognize that any human activity in space could constitute contamination but that contamination is acceptable so long as it is harmless or beneficial.

Environmentalists who would seek to bottle up humanity on Earth and remove all traces of human presence in space have no support in international law and humans who seek to explore and use space have every right to do so. Just don't ruin the planets for everybody else.


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