Designating Earth's Moon as a United Nations World Heritage Site -
Permanently Protected from Commercial
or Military

June 2002

Steiner, R.G.
University of Alaska
Fax: 907-277-5242

This paper proposes that Earth's Moon, in its entirety, be designated a United Nations World Heritage Site (WHS), permanently protected from any and all commercial or military utilization and reserved exclusively for scientific and aesthetic purposes. The paper discusses:

1) the extraordinary importance of the Moon for science, culture, and religion - past, present and future;

2) the history of proposals to exploit the Moon for commercial and military purposes and the shortcomings of this colonial, exploitation paradigm; and

3) the necessity, policy mechanisms, and political dynamics of designating the Moon as a World Heritage Site, permanently protected from commercial and/or military

The first part of the paper discusses the extraordinary importance of the Moon as it exists today - as a scientific laboratory, a source of beauty and inspiration throughout human evolution, a source for artistic expression, and as an object that is considered sacred by many cultures. Next, the paper traces the history of specific proposals for the exploitation of the Moon for commercial and/or military purposes - including plans by the U.S. Air Force in 1959 to detonate a nuclear explosion on the Moon, proposals to strip-mine the lunar regolith for helium-3 and rocket-fuel hydrogen; construction of solar power plants to transmit energy to Earth, and proposals to use the lunar surface as a billboard upon which to project commercial advertisements visible from Earth. The profound ethical, legal, and scientific shortcomings of this exploitation paradigm are described as an emerging Extraterrestrial Manifest Destiny that we have a collective obligation to challenge and constrain. The paper proposes that space exploration be infused with an ethical commitment to compassion, reverence, conservation, and non-interference to abiotic and biotic systems alike; as opposed to the expansion and extraterrestrial imposition of the colonization, exploitation, domination, and despoliation paradigm that has characterized 19th and 20th century western civilization on Earth.

The World Heritage process, and how Earth's Moon clearly satisfies necessary criteria, is described, as are the political challenges this proposal presents, including the 'national sovereignty' issue. The 1972 United Nations World Heritage Convention (signed by 167 countries), provides for the protection of cultural and natural properties deemed to be of "outstanding universal value", including value "from the point of view of science, conservation, or natural beauty" and places them under "a collective responsibility." The Moon clearly meets several criteria for WHS designation, as follow:

a. "be outstanding examples representing major stages of Earth's history…significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features";

b. "contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance"; and

c. the Moon qualifies within the Convention as an "associative cultural landscape" which designates areas "by virtue of their powerful religious, artistic or cultural associations of the natural element."

To facilitate WHS site designation for the Moon, it is proposed that the 1979 "Moon Treaty" (Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, entered into force 7/11/84) be amended and broadly ratified internationally.  Specifically, Article 11 - which presently provides for 'the establishment of an international regime to govern the exploitation of the natural resources of the moon, encourage the development of the natural resources of the moon, the management and expansion of opportunities in the use of those resources' - should be amended to provide a clear and unequivocal declaration of the extraordinary, irreplaceable cultural and natural value of the Moon, and designation of the Moon in its entirety as an inviolate World Heritage Site reserved exclusively for scientific purposes and aesthetic/religious appreciation under the collective responsibility of all humankind.

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