In this blog post Andreas Losch discusses his recent review article in the International Journal of Astrobiology, The need of an ethics of planetary sustainability

How long will humankind survive? Besides the fact that we have been able to eliminate ourselves with nuclear weapons for decades, even without a third world war, the challenge to take care of the resources of our planet remains; we need to use them in a way that our children and their children can have a place on Earth as well.

The principle of ‘sustainability’ is needed to steer our economic development towards renewable resources and energy. It serves the future to fulfill our needs only in a way that does not endanger the needs of future generations. In 2015, the UN decreed 17 sustainable development goals, from fighting poverty and hunger to a framework of peace and justice. Life underwater and life on land are considered, and so is climate action as well. I believe this has, however, overlooked one area. There is something more, which plays a role for the human development on Earth and beyond. I call for Our Space Environment as the 18th sustainable development goal.

 

Satellites help to localize places on Earth, yet what do we do with them when they are out of their service? The amount of space debris is already starting to endanger new space projects. There are commercial enterprises which allow you to pay to fly into space or bury your remains on the Moon. The US and Luxembourg have decreed laws to enable asteroid mining. Space has become an economic space, named “Space 4.0“ by the ESA. On the Moon, one does want to act together with entrepreneurs. When there is a space economy evolving, which rules are to be applied on it? Don’t we need ethical principles here as guiding lines?

 

One distant day, Earth itself will become too hot, when the Sun starts to grow. If we are not exterminated by an asteroid beforehand, the question remains: don’t we have to reach for the stars, at least, to survive? Don’t we need a very long sustainable development – which can only be guaranteed by a sustainable economy? A call back to nature as “back into our caves” doesn’t help. An ethics of planetary sustainability must balance progress with responsibility and calls for green technology.

Andreas Losch, Faculty of Theology, University of Bern

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