Reason’s science correspondent, Ronald Bailey, has an interesting article out about the ethics of exploiting the natural resources of other worlds. From “Does Mars Have Rights?”
Does Mars have rights? What about Europa, Ganymede, and Titan—the moons of Jupiter and Saturn that may be home to rudimentary extraterrestrial life? The 1967 Outer Space Treaty requires spacefaring nations to conduct exploration of the moon and other celestial bodies “so as to avoid their harmful contamination and also adverse changes in the environment of the Earth resulting from the introduction of extraterrestrial matter.” The goal of the treaty is to prevent both back contamination (the introduction of extraterrestrial life to Earth) and forward contamination (the introduction of Earth life to extraterrestrial environments).
Of course, there are abundant reasons for caution, which Bailey explains. But he supports full exploitation of “dead” or what could be callled near dead planets for reasons with which I agree:
Dead planets and moons are not intrinsically valuable. And as fascinating as they might be, Martian microbes are not moral agents, any more than are terrestrial microbes. They simply do not have an ethical point of view that we must consider. On that account, there is no good moral reason why humans should limit the expansion of terrestrial life, including themselves, throughout the solar system.
But let’s take it farther. What if we find intelligent life at the level of, say, dinosaurs or mammals? Does that mean we should not exploit the riches to be found for human benefit? I would think not, although it would certainly impose very serious duties upon us to exploit the resources without unduly damaging flora and fauna.
What about exceptional life akin to humans? That would be different. In other words, it seem to me that our rights and obligations on Mars or other planets would be the same as they are here. So, no to “Mars rights.” Yes, to human duties.