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The Ethics of Space Colonization

For years, space colonization has been a science fiction topic, with multiple movies such as Interstellar (2014) or Alien (1979) conveying space exploration possibilities and forming questions about what is out there. Since the beginning of our existence, humans have explored and expanded globally, covering every inch of our planet and utilizing it somehow. Looking at this, we can see that human beings are a species of explorers whose acts of exploration are fueled by their curiosity. As humans have continued to advance in our technology and scientific understanding of deep space exploration, obstacles that involve humans' capabilities have been eradicated. Instead, the only obstacle that we face has become time. Though humans are capable of space colonization, does it give us the right to conquer other planets just like we conquered Earth? Do we know what is out there? What are the ethics of colonizing extraterrestrial planets?

A Necessity or a Dream?

With discoveries continually being made about space and private enterprises such as Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin working to allow for human settlement, the idea of colonizing space. Imagine taking humans and their future descendants to another planet have become an attractive concept that humans are eagerly supporting. Because of the excitement created around space colonization, seldom have we been asked the question of, "Do we need to do this?"

Scientists like Stephen Hawking have claimed that to ensure the survival of the human race, the colonization of other planets is a necessary action that needs to be taken.

"Although the chance of a disaster to planet Earth in a given year may be quite low, it adds up over time and becomes a near certainty in the next thousand or ten thousand years. By that time, we should have spread out into space and to other stars, so a disaster on Earth would not mean the end of the human race."

Numerous publications and articles were written regarding this idea; humans have not come to a general agreement on whether this is necessary or not. To better understand the situation, s needs to be a careful analysis of whether or not we need space colonization for the human species to survive or if we should, scientists rather combat Earth's coming disaster, as Stephen Hawking implied.

Image Created by Joey Serricchio

Fight or Flight?

Human species have existed for millions of years, and since their first existence, the Earth has changed significantly for the worst. There have been large amounts of evidence pointing to the human activity being the leading cause for many environmental issues. Humans face the extinction of thousands of species, changes in our climate, water pollution, air pollution, and so many more. As these issues have begun to grow, they have started to pose a threat to the survival of the human race and the survival of our planet. With space colonization, scientists have argued there is a chance to save the human race, and while it may be dangerous and costly, it's a chance that should be taken. In addition to the survival of human beings, by settling on another planet, Earth has the opportunity to restore itself. Without humans to alter or fight against it, nature can have the chance to flourish. While these are valid reasons for space colonization, in opposition to these arguments, questions about redirecting the resources to fund space exploration instead help restore our planet have sprouted.

From the first Earth Day in 1970 to the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22 this year, environmentalists, scientists, and politicians have worked together in fighting against environmental issues that put both the human species and Earth in peril. Though it has been 50 years, and many people have contributed to this movement, more progress. Rather than escaping Earth and leaving to find another planet that humans can inhabit, people are debating whether it is possible to instead stay on Earth and direct all of our resources towards finding environmental solutions. While environmental issues may not sound frightening to many people or even be foreign to them, it is urgent, and because of our ignorance, the Earth is falling apart. To get an idea of what is happening on our planet, here are some statistics:

  • In 1920 the global temperature of the Earth was -0.23 degrees Celsius. The warmest weather that we've had was in 2016, and this was 0.99 degrees Celsius (1.71 degrees Fahrenheit), a significant increase from before.

  • About 100 million marine animals are killed every year by plastic waste, and 100,000 of these die by getting entangled with plastic, and these are only the animals that we find. Source: Condor Ferries

  • Today, almost 300 million tonnes of plastic are produced every year, and to get an idea of how much this is; it is approximate to the weight of the entire human population. Source: UN Environment

  • If the number of plastic dumped into the ocean continues, there will be more plastic than fish by the year 2050. Source: UN Environment

Of course, we can do both: colonize space as well as work to save our Earth. By informing ourselves of these issues and creating our own opinions, we can work to save Earth and the human species in whatever way we think is best. What are your thoughts? Do you think we should work to save our planet or instead work to move out of it? Maybe we can even do both?

Image Created by Joey Serricchio

A Chance to Start Over

Our History and Now

If we do colonize another planet, what will we do?

The Outer Space Treaty is the chief document that goes over the various legal and ethical issues regarding space colonization. The document forbids any weapons of mass destruction and agrees that outer space is something all countries can explore. Still, it does not directly address issues such as protecting life and the ecosystems on these other planets. The closest statement to this is, "The States shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies" (Unoosa). This statement agrees with avoiding contamination but does not necessarily forbid it either. The head officer at Nasa's Planetary protection office, Catharine Conley, has stated in the Smithsonian Magazine that "The contents of the treaty are just guidelines: They are not laws, and the legal implications of not following them remain unclear." With private companies that aim towards space colonization coming into play, it has become more challenging to determine the legal laws that will be put into place. These companies have different goals compared to US governed space organizations.

When first settling into a planet, the few colonists that are there will regulate on their own by creating laws similar to ones on Earth and living a life following these laws. As more and more people will begin to settle on the planet, however, there will be a diversity of opinions in these colonies, thus calling for laws and regulations that can be inclusive to everybody while also maintaining peace. Laws that answer questions about who is in charge, what is or is not forbidden, making public decisions, etc., are crucial questions that should be answered. This is a difficult topic to agree on as outer space is a place free to countries worldwide. It is not a decision that should be determined by just one country but is something people worldwide need to decide on publicly. Though the process may be long,

By always asking ourselves questions and filling ourselves with information, we can take on this endeavor to answer the question: With the technology, knowledge, and past mistakes that we have, now what are we going to do with it?


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