Friday, February 5, 2016

Luxembourg and Asteroid Mining

Stories like "Rip Foster Rides the Gray Planet" and Red Dwarf's Dave Lister singing "...Lived an old plutonium miner / And his daughter Clementine..." probably didn't help make asteroid mining seem like a serious idea.

Then there's the 1966 Outer Space Treaty: a tribute to the high ideals, and international politics, of the '60s. The idea was that anything we find outside Earth's atmosphere would belong to everyone. Nifty idea, not entirely wrong, and I'll get back to that.
  1. A Grand Duchy and Space Mining
  2. Luxembourg's Space Mining Law: It's a Start
I had a little more more to say, so this post has an afterword:

Getting Started: Luxembourg and Lists

Luxembourg is a tiny European country with the world's second highest gross domestic product (GDP) per person.

Number one in that category is Qatar. Or maybe Luxembourg is number one, or Monaco — it depends on whose list you look at.

The United states is fifth, ninth, or 12th in line: according to the International Monetary Fund (2015), World Bank (2014), and United Nations (2014). (Wikipedia)

I could rant about foreign threats, or express fashionable melancholia while predicting the coming collapse of America and Western civilization — but neither makes much sense. Not to me. (July 5, 2015; October 24, 2014)

Instead, I'll talk about wealth, asteroid mining, and being Catholic: not necessarily in that order

Universal Destination of Goods and the Monkees

Having money doesn't hurt anyone. It's love of money that gets us in trouble:
"For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains."
(1 Timothy 6:10)

"Let your life be free from love of money but be content with what you have, for he has said, 'I will never forsake you or abandon you.' "
(Hebrews 13:5)
I was one of 'those crazy kids' who realized that there was, or should be, more to life than buying stuff we didn't need, to impress people we didn't like, with money we didn't have.
"...Creature comfort goals
They only numb my soul and make it hard for me to see
My thoughts all seem to stray, to places far away
I need a change of scenery...
("Pleasant Valley Sunday," written by by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, performed by The Monkees in 1967; via A-Z Lyrics)
Again, the problem isn't money. It's loving the stuff.

Owning property is okay, but stealing isn't. Since I'm Catholic, I see paying unjust wages, 'forgetting' to return a loan, or preying on the ignorance of others, as a sort of theft: even if it's legal where I live. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2402-2405, 2409)

Not that I'm in a position to do much of that. As I've said before, my household isn't among America's wealthiest: not by a long shot. (January 17, 2016)

Respecting my right, and the right of others, to own property is part of the picture. I must also remember that a whole lot of folks owned, and will own, stuff that I own today. We're stewards of this world's resources: for our reasonable use, and for future generations. (Catechism, 2401, 2402, 2415)

Respect for personal property while remembering that each of us is responsible for helping others is the idea behind the universal destination of goods.
"...Solidarity is a spontaneous reaction by those who recognize that the social function of property and the universal destination of goods are realities which come before private property. The private ownership of goods is justified by the need to protect and increase them, so that they can better serve the common good; for this reason, solidarity must be lived as the decision to restore to the poor what belongs to them...."
("Evangelii Gaudium," Pope Francis (November 24, 2013))

"...As St. Ambrose put it: 'You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich.'..."
("Populorum Progressio," Paul VI (March 26, 1967))

1. A Grand Duchy and Space Mining

(From, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
("Near-Earth asteroids could be a source of high-value minerals"
(BBC News))
"Luxembourg to support space mining"
By Jonathan Amos, BBC News (February 3, 2016)

"The Luxembourg government has signalled its intention to get behind the mining of asteroids in space.

"It is going to support R&D in technologies that would make it possible and may even invest directly in some companies.

"The Grand Duchy will also put in place a legal framework to give operators who are based in the country the confidence to go about their business...."
I'll get back to asteroids, business, and law, after a ramble though Luxembourg's story so far.

Folks have been living where Luxembourg is for at least 35,000 years, and were building houses around two dozen centuries ago: using pretty much the same wattle and daub technology that's still Europe's traditional building style: Gothic cathedrals notwithstanding. (May 8, 2015)

Fast-forwarding over Euro-Mediterranean history from the days of Plato to Julius Caesar, Treveri lived in Luxembourg. They alternately worked with and fought against Romans. That was about two millennia back.

"Treveri" is what Caesar called them. It means "flowing river," "across," "ferrymen," or something else; none of which has much to do with asteroids. Moving along.

The County of Luxemburg was a state in the Holy Roman Empire a thousand years later. I've talked about a warlord named Karl der Große, Verden, and getting a grip, before. (August 9, 2015)

A few centuries later it was the Duchy of Luxemburg, then the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg was a département in the French First Republic. Napoleon sorted that mess out, starting the First French Empire, and empires went out of style about a half-century back now.

Meanwhile, parts of Luxembourg had been in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, Prussia, the German Confederation, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Belgium. Not all at the same time, though.

These days Luxembourg is a small country wedged between Belgium, German, and France; a founding member of the United Nations, NATO, and the European Coal and Steel Community. The latter became the European Economic Community before being called the European Community, which became part of the European Union.

When dust settled after the Belgian Revolution, not quite two centuries back, the United Kingdom of the Netherlands held today's Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg.

Netherlands had Amsterdam — a 17th-century analog to New York City — Belgium collected a small empire, and Luxembourg was a landlocked country.

New Netherland's colonial government operated out of New Amsterdam until 1664. Then four English frigates sailed up to New Amsterdam and told the Dutch authorities to hand the place over: which they did.

That land grab helped start the Second Anglo-Dutch War.

European rulers haven't had their subjects slaughter each other in wholesale lots for more than a half-century now, so maybe there won't be another major war over who lands on which asteroid. On the other hand, "... man himself begets mischief, as sparks fly upward," as Job 5:7 says.

"New Kinds of Enterprise"

(From Planetary Resources, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(Planetary Resources' highly-optimistic infographic about "a modern day gold rush.")

I've talked about the Outer Space Treaty of 1966 before. (October 3, 2014)

Saying that space exploration should be "for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind" is wonderfully idealistic. I think it's also monumentally impractical: or "hippie optimism," as Tim Worstall said. An excerpt from his op-ed is this post's next item.

In the short term — the next few generations — I figure legal and political wrangling over how folks should live and work in space will provide employment for lawyers, politicos, and bureaucrats. (October 3, 2014)

In the long run, I hope we build a society that's better than the 'good old days' of the 19th and 20th centuries: which wouldn't take much. I remember 'Happy Days' America, and don't ever want to go back. (August 31, 2014)

I agree with Luigi Taparelli. I think capitalist and communist theories don't pay enough attention to ethics. (September 28, 2014)

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's "Caritas in Veritate" encyclical probably shocked and horrified folks who yearn for the 'good old days,' or simply don't like change. One of his points was that we can improve on today's 'business as usual,' building "new kinds of enterprise:"
"...It is to be hoped that these new kinds of enterprise will succeed in finding a suitable juridical and fiscal structure in every country. Without prejudice to the importance and the economic and social benefits of the more traditional forms of business, they steer the system towards a clearer and more complete assumption of duties on the part of economic subjects. And not only that. The very plurality of institutional forms of business gives rise to a market which is not only more civilized but also more competitive."
("Caritas in Veritate," 46, Benedict XVI, (June 29, 2009))

2. Luxembourg's Space Mining Law: It's a Start

(From NASA/AP, via Fortune, used w/o permission.)
"The Economic Problem With Luxembourg's Space Mining Law"
Tim Worstall, Op-ed, Forbes (February 3, 2016)

"Luxembourg has announced that it is going to be drawing up new laws to aid in defining how space mining may be efficiently and economically governed. This is useful, as under the current law ruling the issue, United Nations law, there's absolutely no chance at all of anyone being able to do such mining efficiently or even profitably. And this speaks to an issue of great importance for public policy. There are all sorts of resources out there–minerals in asteroids, He3 in the dust on the moon, all sorts of exciting minerals layering the deep sea (and in international waters) bed–but none of them can be effectively exploited without our having the right legal systems over ownership. The economics of how you can do it are determined by the legal structure that allows you to do it.

"If we retain the UN laws (which appear to have been written in some bout of hippie optimism) then it just won't be possible for anyone to do anything useful. They essentially say that mining isn't supposed to be for profit, it’s supposed only to be for the benefit of all mankind (rather missing the point that being offered minerals at a price you're willing to pay, whatever the profit being made on them, is to your benefit). And there isn’t supposed to be any ownership rights attached either to the mine or to the minerals extracted....

"...Here is what the big economic problem is: Protection of minerals extracted is fine, but what needs legal protection and ownership are the minerals not extracted...."
There may be a few folks who can afford spending several billion dollars on setting up an asteroid mining operation: and giving whatever they find to others.

Many of us, billionaires included, have bills to pay and families to feed: and can't afford dropping a few thousand megabucks in the collection basket.

The good news, as I see it, is that some of the world's wealthiest are willing to risk part of their fortunes on enterprises which may benefit themselves — and many others.


Law and Looking Ahead

I think I understand some of the "hippie optimism" and international politics that gave us the Outer Space Treaty of 1966.

Now that we've got folks interested in making off-Earth resources available, it's time to file it under 'nice ideas that won't work.'

We need laws and regulations that let business operators do their job and give employees a chance to do theirs while earning a living. (Catechism, 2436-2436, particularly 2431-2432)

The task at hand is deciding how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the 19th century's laissez-faire capitalism blunders and the 20th century's experiments with communism.

About the latter, I think communism would work: with people designed along the lines of naked mole rats, ants, or termites. In a society where the citizens are human, not so much. (October 3, 2014)

I was going to talk about positive law, rules we make up to deal with current situations; and natural law, ethical principles that don't change: but as I write this it's late Thursday night, and I need my sleep. Besides, I've been over that before. (September 6, 2015; August 29, 2014)

One more thought, and I'm done.

The news and op-eds I've seen about Luxembourg's announcement focused on 'asteroid mining.'

However, that nation's February 3, 2016 press release mentioned asteroids as one example of available resources: "...a legal and regulatory framework confirming certainty about the future ownership of minerals extracted in space from Near Earth Objects (NEO's) such as asteroids...."

My guess is that asteroid mining will be important a century or two from now, maybe sooner. But metal and stone aren't the only precious commodities out there.

We don't think of substances like carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, as "mineral" resources: partly because they're so common on Earth.

We literally can't live without them, though, so I'm pretty sure that volatile-rich comets will be at least as important as asteroids in the space-faring economy. (November 28, 2014)
"...Simon P. Worden, Chairman of the Breakthrough Prize Foundation said: 'Humanity is on the verge of expansion into the solar system – and then beyond. Using the resources we find there is essential – not only for our expansion into space but also to ensure continued prosperity here on Earth.'..."
(Luxembourg press release (February 3, 2016)
And that brings me to the usual list of somewhat-related posts:


Brigid said...

The thing thing: "Then there's the 1966 Outer Space Treaty treaty"

The Firendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian H. Gill said...

Oops-oops! Fixed-fixed! Thanks-thanks! Bye-bye! ;)

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