Ever since ancient humans got up from all fours and were able to turn their heads skyward, they’ve personified the bright orb in the night sky. Most often as a cool goddess partner to her daytime hot-blooded counterpart, Luna has been anthropomorphized by beings who could not understand what it was, then by poets who didn’t care as long as it rhymed. When humans finally stomped their feet on her face, the personification should have ended, and it did … for a time. However, a space archeologist thinks it’s time to personify Luna one more – but this time legally, not just figuratively – because it may be the only way to save her. Too poetic? Maybe not.
“The answers might lie in our attitudes. We could abandon the idea that our moral obligations only cover living ecologies. We should consider the Moon as an entity beyond the resources it might hold for humans to use. In practice, this might mean trustees would determine how much of the water ice deposits or other geological features can be used, or set conditions on activities which alter the qualities of the Moon irreversibly.”
Dr. Alice Gorman teaches the Archaeology of Modern Society at Flinders University and is a leading authority in the field of space archaeology and the physical heritage of space exploration – the space junk, landing sites, probes, rocket launch pads and other stuff left behind by both manned and unmanned missions. In a recent article in The Conversation, Gorman summarizes a longer presentation she gave at an August 18th Moon Village Association public forum in Newcastle, Australia, organized by the Office of Other Spaces, Catapult UK and the Space Junk Podcast.
The focus was on our obligation to treat our closest space body with respect despite the recently-stated goal by an Executive Order from President Trump to “engage in commercial exploration, recovery, and use of resources in outer space.” In other words, mine the hell out of it like so much of our planet has been. Appropriately, since the current administration has been so quick to file lawsuits, Professor Gorman proposes giving the Moon legal protection by making it a legal person who could enter contracts, own property and sue. Does this sound familiar?
“Legal personhood is already extended to many non-human entities: certain rivers, deities in some parts of India, and corporations worldwide. Environmental features can’t speak for themselves, so trustees are appointed to act on their behalf, as is the case for the Whanganui River in New Zealand. One proposal is to apply the New Zealand model to the Moon.”
To sell the idea, Gorman tugs at the nostalgic heartstrings with an appeal to protect Tranquility Base and the other places where humans have set foot as museums. She then appeals to our current fascinations with DNA tracing and family trees to point out that the Moon’s surface and layers are its memory of its past, and should be studied to learn its (and our) heritage and story, not scraped away to exploit it. This should be an easy sell – she references the worldwide outcry that rose when a group of witches were said to have placed a hex on the Moon. Finally, like planet Earth, the Moon breathes, moves, changes temperatures and shape – especially in the craters and hills that give it the ‘face’ so often referred to.
Has she made the Moon human enough for you?
The Moon obviously can’t apply for personhood itself, so real persons must do it for her. Can it happen? Legal battles between mine owners and those concerned about the environment have been going on for years, with the money/mining sides winning most of the time. But that’s changing … and it just might be the right time to push for lunar personhood.
It will be a tough fight. Is Luna worth it?