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All Colonization Should Be Private

Mises Daily: Tuesday, December 19, 2006 by

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A recent article by Gregg Easterbrook in the December 8th, 2006 issue of Slate.com stated, "no one has any interest in settling Antarctica." The main discussion of the article is the foolishness of NASA's plan for a permanent moon base.


Easterbrook is right about the waste of funds for such an endeavor, but some of his logic misses the point. Any money spent by the government for the colonization of the moon, or space, is a misallocation of funds. Colonization of the moon needs to be done by private investors, and Locke's principle needs to be applied: the first to mix labor with material becomes the owner of such materials.

NASA can have no such claim, and a government moon base will not lead to the industrial development of the moon, Mars, or anywhere else  in the solar system. What leads to development of such places is an entrepreneur who sees such areas are not being served in the market, and invests and develops such places to bring them to the market. This needs to be the first principle when looking at new areas of human development, but I want to explain why I think that Easterbrook is wrong to assume that Antarctica will not be settled.

Throughout the course of human migration in the last 10,000 years, new areas were explored, exploited, and developed. The reasons for this can be numerous: population pressure, following resources (food, fuel, shelter, and material), or just plain curiosity. The easiest areas and resources are used first, and over time, more complex methods and areas are exploited. In the 21st century, man is now to the point where the Antarctic, the oceans, and space are the new frontiers for humans to explore, exploit, and develop.

Humans have been using the oceans since the beginning of exploration. We are now at the point of developing settlements in the ocean, outside of  national boundaries. This will take courage, cunning, and the spirit of colonization. Current laws in the UN charter make it difficult for such development to take place, since the charter states that the oceans should be used for the betterment of all of mankind, whereas the actual expenditures will be born by individuals.

Similar to the UN Law of the Sea is the Antarctic Treaty, which prohibits permanent colonization of the Antarctic continent. The 1991 mining treaty prohibits exploration and mining in Antarctica for the next 50 years. The Antarctic treaty is a convention that has kept development out. Antarctic resources have been speculated for over a hundred years, but so far, most of the resources found have proven to be subeconomic. The economic model is based upon current prices, distances to market, and current technology. If the technology changes, then it becomes economic. Of the known deposits, copper and molybdenum exist in the Antarctic peninsula, large titanium and apatite mineralization in Dufek Massif, coal and iron ore in the Prince Charles mountains, and uranium in the Southern Victoria range. This does not include the possible oil and gas deposits in the Weddell and Rose Seas, and all the fresh water tied up in glacial ice.

Technology now makes it possible to live in inhospitable places. Humans have been living and working in the Antarctic for the past 100 years, but most have just been visitors. It is now possible for people to go to Antarctica and colonize a new frontier. People have always used the resources that have been on hand, and it will be no different than in the Antarctic. Up to now, resources have been mostly and almost wholly brought from outside of the continent. In the early days of exploration in Antarctica, explorers like Amundsen and Scott used the local resources to feed themselves. They hunted seals and penguins and used the ice for temporary shelter and water. Modern scientist (explorers) live in environments separated from the Antarctic, and are more like temporary visitors. They treat the continent as a preserve that can't be disturbed.

Antarctica is not a park; the continent is as big as the United States and Mexico combined. Tectonic history indicates potential vast reserves of mineral resources that can be used to physically advance mankind.

"There's minerals there, there's gold, there's iron ore, there's coal." These were the May 1st comments by the Australian National Party members Barnaby Joyce on his recent trip to the Antarctic. This Australian politician is right in assuming that if his country does not develop these resources, then other countries will, and they will ignore Australia's Territorial claim as being nothing more than  a piece of paper. Claims mean nothing unless actual physical occupation occurs. It is time for Antarctica to be brought into the 21st century, and properly developed for the place that it is.

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Modern underground mining techniques can turn vast subterranean frozen areas of the continent into livable space for the use of housing, manufacturing, retail, and agriculture. These developments can take place alongside the mining of valuable resources. In the beginning, most of the material mined will be shipped to the world market. This indicates that only the highest valued materials will be mined first. But, over time, as more underground space is made, more sophisticated local markets will develop, and subeconomic resources will become economic and used within the local market. All of this can take place if certain rules are observed: laissez faire and laissez passer; let the market develop organically.

Who knows what resources lie underneath the Antarctic landscape? But the other factor that might cause development is one that Easterbrook did not bring up, and that is the need for freedom. Robert Zubrin, of the Mars society, was once asked why people will go to Mars. Freedom, he answered, is the one reason that humans will go to Mars.

It is also the reason that Antarctica will be colonized. The cost of freedom can only be measured internally by the individual, just like the value theory of price in the market. It cannot be planned by any central governing board. Both the Law of the Sea and the Antarctic Treaty need to be ignored as relics of the socialist past.

Antarctica, the oceans, and space will all eventually be settled. It is just a matter of when, by whom, and for what reasons.


Curran Kemp is a a freelance geologist working on a Masters in Economic Geology.  He has an interest in Antarctic Geology and its resources. Send him mail. Comment on the blog.