When it comes to the subject of property, we generally find it framed in our minds in one of several typical forms. We are familiar with private property and public property and their common distinctions. We can argue about the points where they may collide, laying out the contrasting values held by various political theories. Free market, socialism, all the variations and so on.
But, what happens when we shift the focus to an area outside our normal habitat? Way outside, as in outer space. Even the least attentive to matters of space exploration, and the government and market industries it has produced, know the basics.
Once upon a time in the dark ages, when baby boomers joined their parents in front of mostly black and white televisions, they watched history being made. The physical, psychological and financial costs that led to those famous images of man walking on the moon are incalculable. They also continue to grow, at least in one way.
Though the majority of us have probably moved on, as did specific focus on the moon, interest in space has only increased in some areas. That isn’t the only thing that has increased. While we started trying to get serious about our environment here on Earth (not successfully), our endeavors farther out have been abysmal.There are now over a million pieces of space debris larger than 1 cm in orbit around Earth. Each one has the potential to collide with and destroy another satellite, creating hundreds of thousands more pieces of space debris. Click To Tweet
Sorting Space Debris
Littering may have become a standard no-no in most sophisticated societies, but our trips out of the Earth’s atmosphere reveal a distinctly different policy. The debris that has collected in the Earth’s atmosphere exhibits the fallout from lack of property rights. It also reveals the threat to the safety and integrity of life on the planet surface.
The enormity of space may engender a false sense of how we can treat it. Space may indeed be huge but the problem with our perspective is farsightedness. We can see out into the cosmos with our dreams but fail to see the dangerous mess closer to home.
“When the space race began, the US and Russia blasted rockets into orbit willy-nilly. As other nations started building their own satellites, they too launched at random. No one cared about what happened to the spacecraft after the mission ended because, as Douglas Adams wrote: ‘Space is big.’
“It turns out that while Adams is right about the universe as a whole, the orbits around the Earth are not inexhaustible. There are now well over an estimated million pieces of space debris larger than 1 centimetre in orbit around Earth. Each one has the potential to collide with and destroy another satellite, creating hundreds of thousands more pieces of space debris.
There are other potential threats to life on this planet such as asteroids, and programs are in development to try to deal with those. But, closer to home, it makes sense to try to clean up our own messes. After all, plans for the near future include adding significantly to the number of satellites orbiting our planet.
Sooner or later, someone will need to pay. Proper understanding and assignment of property rights and responsibilities can help a lot.
You can read more on this at The greatest threat to life on Earth may come from space.