Tech by VICE

Capitalism Will Ruin Other Planets After It Ruins Earth

The search for habitable planets is driven by capitalism's failures

by Caroline Haskins
Jun 7 2017, 5:53pm

Image: NASA

Some left-wing thinkers think that the galaxy will eventually be in danger of being destroyed by capitalism.

At last week's Left Forum Conference in Manhattan, a NASA researcher suggested that the drive to explore exoplanets and mine asteroids has been bred primarily out of a need to feed the beast of capitalism.

"[Exoplanet exploration] has been masked as a scientific interest, a human interest, and human curiosity to explore different worlds," Anastasia Romanou, a climate research scientist for Columbia University and NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said. "Late era capitalism is feeling the pressure from resource scarcity, and therefore, it has to find its own way out. It cannot think outside its own box of solutions, and it will have to find another place, and another place, and another place to exploit."

Romanou fears that exoplanets will suffer the same fate as the global south, which was first explored, then mined for minerals and drilled for oil.

"Late capitalism" describes the theoretical dying days of a capitalist economy. These final days include resource shortages and weakened manufacturing practices—essentially, the bourgeoisie have been stretched too thin. But the term has also been repurposed as a meme that mocks the absurdity of modern capitalism.

Kai Kaschinski, a representative of the Fair Oceans organization, said that exoplanets and asteroids will one day face the same fate as the deep seas, which are in the process of being privatized and mined by resource extraction companies.

He said that the the 2015 U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act, which allows US companies to mine celestial bodies such as asteroids for valuable minerals, may be in violation of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. Space lawyers say that treaty did not conclusively determine who is allowed to mine asteroids and who isn't.

"The argument of the government was that there is an international secret authority of the law to sea, and the law of sea makes it possible to dig in the area," Kaschinski said. "So the Obama government was of the opinion that if you can dig in this area of common heritage of mankind, you can also dig in the common heritage of mankind in space."

Right now, asteroid mining is still just an idea with engineering and ethical issues yet to be resolved. Despite this, several companies including Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources have announced plans to mine asteroids and are currently developing the technology necessary to do so. NASA's Kepler Space Telescope has also already discovered over 2,000 exoplanets, 21 of which lie in a "habitable zone." So although we continue to discover more and more exoplanets, the economic implications of our drive to explore the galaxy loom on the horizon.