Sunday, August 02, 2015

How would lunar mining affect the cultural significance of the Moon?

This is an excerpt from my (pre-revision) forthcoming publication Managing cultural heritage values in lunar mining? What are the issues?

Consultation with stakeholders is part of both assessing the social significance of cultural heritage and obtaining a Social Licence to Operate (SLO). Despite the best intentions, however, gaining free, prior and informed consent is frequently overlooked (Bice 2014). How could this be achieved for an entire celestial body, and with meaningful consultation with the ‘local’ community of Earth’s seven billion people? While the UN offers obvious mechanisms through the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOUS), UNESCO and the  advisory organisation the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), private commercial interests may prefer to undertake their own community engagement.
Lunar surface mining. Image courtesy of NASA
How will people feel if they look at the Moon in the night sky, and know that is being mined underneath their eyes? While diverse publics have been tolerant of scientific missions, commercial ventures may be received very differently. Mining and exploration will have impacts on the lunar environment much greater than the low level created by robotic and scientific missions to date.
While it is probably broadly true to say “humanity as a whole has embraced the historic events and objects associated with space research as part of our jointly held heritage” (Walsh 2012:234), this obscures deeply entrenched divisions between colonial/spacefaring nations and colonised/'developing' nations (Gorman 2005a, Gorman 2009b, Redfield 2005). These divisions have been very evident in the politics around the formation of the Outer Space Treaty (OST), the Moon Agreement even more so, and contribute to the impasse that resource utilisation on the Moon is currently facing (Hoffstadt 1994).
The reaction of, say, an Australian to a US-based profit-making mine in which they have no say or share could easily be negative. A First Nations Australian may have another layer of reaction, based on their experience of alienation from country and destruction of cultural heritage arising from terrestrial resource exploitation. Moreover, an assault on the integrity of a celestial body which belongs to what is commonly called the ‘Dreaming’ – a suite of cultural knowledge in which the past is simultaneously entwined with the creation of law, identity and land in the present – may be a matter of some concern. Aboriginal people are by no means the only First Nation to have such a relationship with the Moon.
Moon Dreaming, by Ronnie Tjampitjinpa, 2007
Ronnie Tjampitjinapa is a Pintupi man from the Western Desert  He was a founding member of the Papunya Tula Artists group. .
Image courtesy of Aboriginal Art Directory
What is considered to be for ‘the benefit and in the interests of all countries’ (OST Article 1, see also Moon Agreement Article 4) depends very much on how regulation unfolds in this next critical period. Again a parallel with terrestrial mining industry may be instructive. Management strategies in SLO frameworks include the concept of ‘offsets’: compensating for impacts at one location through activities at another, either directly or indirectly. A direct offset might be setting aside a protected area of land to compensate for the loss of that impacted by mining. Increasing the value of a heritage place could be considered a direct offset – for example, committing resources to conserving Tranquility Base to compensate for ‘sacrificing’ a Lunar Orbiter impact site. Indirect offsets may include funding research or education around the environmental/heritage resource that will lead to benefits for it. Note though, that offsets are determined during the planning phase, not in retrospect ie they do not compensate for damage already caused.

Lunar mining will take place in an environment where social media are a major part of public engagement with space. Space agencies, private companies, astronauts, missions, and rovers have their own Twitter accounts and there is an expectation of public involvement. Crowd-funded space missions such as Lunar Mission One, a probe designed to drill a deep core in polar regions, is possibly the vanguard of more such projects. The investors in off-world mining companies are likely to be the same people who buy shares in terrestrial mining. The moon’s seeming remoteness will not protect industrial operations from the scrutiny of the public.

Bice, Sarah 2014 What Gives You a Social Licence? An Exploration of the Social Licence to Operate in the Australian Mining Industry. Resources 3:62-80
Gorman, A.C. 2009b Beyond the Space Race: the significance of space sites in a new global context. In Angela Piccini and Cornelius Holtorf (eds) Contemporary Archaeologies: Excavating Now, pp 161-180 Bern: Peter Lang
Gorman, A.C. 2005a The cultural landscape of interplanetary space. Journal of Social Archaeology 5(1):85-10
Hoffstadt, Brian 1994 Moving the heavens: lunar mining and the ‘common heritage of mankind’ in the Moon Treaty. UCLA Law Review 42:575-621
Redfield, P. 2005. Space in the Tropics. From Convicts to Rockets in French Guiana. Berkeley:
University of California Press.

Walsh, Justin 2012 Protection of humanitys cultural and historic heritage in space. Space Policy 28:234-243

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