Trump Declares The Moon Open For Landlords

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Or rather, Trump has insisted that American law will recognise the possibility of private property on the Moon. And of course right behind such is going to be landlords and rentierism. This is, by the way, a good thing.

The problem is that Space Law was first codified back in those hippie dippie days of the late 1960s. Before everyone had worked through the implications of Garrett Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons essay, Before Elinor Ostrom had even started delineating how voluntary cooperation can work – and the limits to it – and while fully one third of humanity were being impoverished by the idea that everything belonged to all.

Thus space law says that everything up out there belongs to everyone. And that’s not a system that works:

One of the things we’ve learned down here on this mortal coil about minerals is that someone has to own them. Ownership, in its most basic sense, is being able to stop someone else from taking something — the point being that it takes a lot of money (really, a lot) to go and find a nice stash of something useful. Then more money again to delineate it, work out how to raise it, process it, and get it to market. However, once all of this has been done then, it is necessary to have exclusive rights to exploit that deposit. For if anyone can just come along and dig up what has been discovered at such expense, then why would anyone spend the money to work it all out in the first place?

It has to be possible to own those mineral deposits up there. If not those mineral deposits up there never will be exploited. Thus the declaration that those deposits can be owned is a step in the right direction to their being used.

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jgh
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jgh

One theory is that declaring that the moon is owned by everybody is a deliberate strategy to stop anybody exploiting it. And then there’s the practicality of exactly who has the power to grant ownership of bits of the moon. Duke William’s system was “I’ve invaded and stolen everything, it’s all mine now, and I’ll chop yer head off if you disagree. I will sell bits of it off and set up a record-keeping system to protect that ownership”. Then there’s the Terra Nullis method, if you can get to Tristan de Cuna find it’s a barren rock, and plant… Read more »

Phoenix44
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Phoenix44

But there is a bit of a problem with the Moon – its mass plays a significant role in stuff that happens on Earth not only tides but the lenght of the day. If you change its mass its orbit will change too.

Matt
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Matt

Firstly, you’re going to have to do a hell of a lot of mining to change the mass of the moon significantly. Secondly, you can change the mass of one object of a pair of orbiting objects and it will have no effect on the orbit. Lunar orbit is where the “centrifugal” force m[moon].v^2/r equals the gravitational force G.m[earth].m[moon]/r^2 — note that m[moon] cancels out, so the mass of the moon is irrelevant to its orbit. If you make the moon significantly less massive then the only effect on earth will be that tides will become less severe: not something… Read more »

Phoenix44
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Phoenix44

Not quite all the story though. The Moon is not yet in stable orbit, it is increasing its distance from the Earth – it used to be a lot closer and we had much shorter days. Changing its mass will change its current velocity and so change the orbit(s) of the Moon in the future. As for the tides, that would have a huge effect on ecosystems all over the world. But yes, you’d have to mine a lot of the Moon to notice.

Spike
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Spike

If mankind’s scratches-on-the-surface could actually make such a difference, then by now our efforts could have influenced climate on Earth. Which they have not, outside computer models built to show they did.

Phoenix44
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Phoenix44

There’s a difference – at least in my assumption. We mine the Moon and the mass comes to Earth, or goes to build a space station or something, so it leaves the Moon. On Earth, everything we have mined, other than the tiny spacecraft we have sent elsewhere, stays here.

Quentin Vole
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Quentin Vole

It’s unlikely to come to Earth (unless we strike unobtanium, or similar), as it’s almost certain to be (a lot) more expensive than the locally produced equivalent. It would be very useful for manufacturing stuff on the Moon or in space.

dodgy geezer
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dodgy geezer

At some point the cost of going there will drop sufficiently for it to be worth the inhabitants of the Moon exporting stuff to Earth, and vice versa. I assume that at that point there will be inhabitants. Maybe we will have bigger colonies on Mars.

When Titan gets going that will close down all the requirement for extracting oil from the Earth….

Boganboy
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Boganboy

You have a point. Consider Oz or the USA. It wasn’t worth extracting their resources before the places were conquered and an industrial civilisation established there. But once the infrastructure was established, they could export all sorts of goodies. Presumably the same could happen on the moon – with apologies to Bob Heinlein’s ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.’

Barks
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Barks

Don’t tell that to the global warming folks. Carbon is not weightless.

Vern Cooke
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Vern Cooke

Don’t forget that the Earth’s and Moon’s masses are changing constantly due to meteor strikes. Just sayin’.

dodgy geezer
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dodgy geezer

We have already taken some of the Moon’s mass and shipped it to Earth. Shock Horror!!!

Bongo
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Bongo

The mass of the Earth is about 80 times that of the Moon iirc. So if extraction is your game, look harder here ( ok maybe not in Antarctica because of that Treaty St Margaret made everyone sign, so perhaps there’s 70 times more mass to go at here ).
No, the moon is going to be useful because of its land area – bigger than Africa, smaller than Asia, none of it ocean. What use that information is I haven’t decided yet, but granting property rights will mean a better shot at unlocking its potential.

Spike
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Spike

Now that’s a nice segue. Antartica is by every measure better than the moon: easier to get to and to ship ore back from, you can breathe there, having to heat stuff up beats never going outside without a pressure suit. Antartica is uniquely (on earth) immune from claims of ownership, except for vague power to plant flags. And there are presumably loads of resources that it would be profitable to mine, except who would bother? Relying on the UN to rule that nothing happen on the moon that does not serve the Whole Human Race, nothing will happen.