As a human earthling with a deep love and gratitude for our moon, I was honoured to be involved in writing the draft Declaration of the Rights of the Moon, which was released for discussion on 11 February 2021. You can read it here.
The Declaration was created over many months and online discussions, between myself, Thomas Gooch (Director, Office of Other Spaces), Ceridwen Dovey (space researcher and writer), Alice Gorman (space archaeologist), and Mari Margil (Executive Director of the Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights, US). These discussions began when Thomas Gooch and Ceridwen Dovey invited me to participate in an important online forum, discussing the future of the moon, in August 2020.
Background to the declaration
A few years ago, landscape architect Thomas Gooch, Director of the Office of Other Spaces, started running public forums to discuss how we should understand our relationship with the Moon, as part of his work with the Moon Village Association (MVA), an international NGO based in Vienna. The MVA is committed to ethical and sustainable engagement with the Moon. The last of these forums, in August 2020, considered whether the Moon could be granted legal personhood, as a way to acknowledge that the Moon had an existence of its own separate from human perceptions. Watch the recording of the forum here .
As soon as Thomas and Ceridwen invited me to participate in the seminar, I made it very clear that I didn’t support ‘legal personhood’ for the moon. I explained that the concept of legal personhood was a very specific, deeply flawed and anthropocentric concept – once which quite literally took other entities (corporations, and now rivers and mountains) and squished them into a box with very narrow, human-centred values: the legal right to own property, the legal right to enter into contracts, the legal right to sue and be sued in court, and so on. I also rejected the notion that ‘legal personhood’ for the moon would enable the moon to be a ‘stakeholder’ in human discussions and debates about space exploration and exploitation. I suggested that the moon was no mere stakeholder – it was primary and must be protected. I suggested that what we wanted to do was ensure the moon was recognised as a rights bearing entity with moon-rights, not person rights. Needless to say the forum in August 2020 was very lively and really interesting.
Shortly afterward, we agreed it would be a good exercise to draft a Declaration for the Rights of the Moon, and to find a way to articulate what ‘rights’ the moon would in fact have. And the wording you can see in the current version of the Draft Declaration is the result. It’s not perfect, and we’ll probably polish it further over time, but we wanted to ensure that there was a starting point for a sensible discussion about what the moon had a right to – to be protected, loved and maintained as a moon, not just more human property.
The Draft we have created is really just a beginning – a way to start a discussion among people about the future of the moon; especially people who are not aware of the very real debates about and threats now aiming for the moon. We don’t know how this declaration will evolve, but we’ll keep trying to stimulate important conversations about the future of our precious moon – and you’re invited to be part of them.
Why might we need legal rights for the moon?
The Moon has been a constant feature of human existence since the time of our earliest ancestors, illuminating the night, regulating cultural activities, and inspiring science, knowledge and belief.
Since the development of the technology to travel into space over 80 years ago, the Moon has also come to be regarded as a resource for use by humans. International space treaties such as the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 proclaim that the Moon is part of the common province of humanity and not subject to territorial claims. Nevertheless, space agencies and private corporations are proposing to extract lunar resources for profit.
There are many legal and ethical complexities around lunar mining but underlying them is the common space community belief that the Moon is a dead world toward which we have no moral obligation. This view is at odds with public beliefs about the cultural and natural significance of the Moon. It also contrasts with a growing movement on Earth recognising the rights of nature, which has seen entities such as the Whanganui River in New Zealand granted legal rights. There is mounting scientific evidence that the Moon has dynamic ongoing geological and cosmic processes. Given the acceleration of planned missions to the lunar surface, it is timely to question the instrumental approach which subordinates this ancient celestial body to human interests.