I recently received an email alert from the National Space Society (NSS) urging me to contact my Senators to strongly encourage them to reject ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST).
They lay out a number of interesting, if highly debatable, arguments, including “it can set precedent that would render the even grander resources of outer-space impossible to develop.”
Leave aside for the moment that there are no practical means to recover Bob Zubrin’s Trillion Dollar Asteroid ™, the implication they are making is that hordes of investors that might otherwise pile their cash into the wide range of fund-able space ventures panhandling on the local street corner are instead averting their gaze and shoving their hands in their pockets (to protect their wallets) as they hurry by the seemingly unattractive alt.space companies.
What I found quite interesting was this little snippet in the NSS’s missive:
Nations that sponsor* seabed mining companies are financially liable for damages caused by their citizens. This discourages development, as developed nations are often unwilling to pay for damages of this sort.
*emphasis added by the Cynic
So who does the NSS think *should* be responsible for damage done to the seafloor (and the ecosystem there) if not the sponsor of the company creating the damage? No one? How very anarchist of them.
Further, the NSS seems to have a contradiction buried in their position – on the one hand, they don’t wanted the dreaded black helicopters of an international body in any way having oversight on the activities of individual nations (playing the nationalist card) while on the other hand saying that we need to be able to engage in this sort of exploration for “the sake of our global civilization.”
If you assume some form of regulation should be in place and that the concept of a “free” market still includes a basic level of government oversight, then the question is WHICH government body is the best home for this sort of regulation? We have international regulation for a whole range of issues related to space (such as the ITU and coordination/issuing of frequencies for satellite communications and operations), and they work quite well – perhaps bureaucratically at times, but better than the alternative (anarchistic behavior).
If you think all regulation is bad regulation, perhaps you’d prefer a world without safety standards, drug testing standards, food testing standards (ok, the USDA has become more of a joke over the years, the latest downer cow scandal really making them look like fools in the pocket of big Ag, but at least we’re not in the world of Upton Sinclair any more…) and the like. The tragedy of the commons is a proven phenomenon, and frankly I’d prefer a little regulation than just trusting my fellow man to do the “right thing” when it comes to resource exploitation. Especially if they don’t feel the need to clean up after themselves.
But this is really much ado about nothing, because I believe that if/when we actually have the means to engage in massive development of outer space this issue will be revisited and adjusted as needed. It does make for some great fundraising fodder for the likes of the NSS, though…