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  • Ryan Smith

Moon-Thieves and Sun-Eaters

“It is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism.”

Slavoj Zizek


It truly has been some time since I’ve had one of these real-life record scratch moments which, considering the times we’ve all been having lately, says something. Six days ago turned out to be one of those moments when the Independent, a British news outlet, published an article titled, “The Moon should be privatized to help wipe out poverty on Earth, economists say”. Researchers with the Adam Smith Institute have clearly decided they will happily seize and defile the Moon before even considering mild social reforms.


Nothing better showcases their absurd seriousness than the words of Adam Smith economic researcher Rebecca Lowe who claims, "A clear, morally justified and efficient system for assigning and governing property rights in space would present vast benefits that go beyond financial rewards for people who would become owners. Such a system would incentivize responsible stewardship of space as well as opportunities for new scientific discovery and democratized space exploration.” Head of research Daniel Pryor also added, “Property rights play a key role in boosting living standards, innovation and human dignity here on Earth. The same would be true if we applied this logic to space which presents a unique opportunity to start afresh when designing effective rules of ownership.”


So there it is. The solution is not investing in infrastructure, public education, narrowing the achievement gap, or any of the other usual prescriptions. No, the answer is tear up the Moon and damn the consequences!


How turning the Moon into the largest company town ever will solve poverty on Earth is not specified beyond the usual appeals to economic utility which privatizers and austerity hawks have always brandished as a holy talisman. I can, however, imagine that carving up the Moon for unfettered exploitation will most likely follow a very 18th century pattern forced resettlement of the impoverished into outer space. Another possibility is something that may look like gentrification but on a planetary scale as the most heavily exploited are priced off Earth completely.


Either of these approaches would, in a sense, eliminate poverty on Earth by leaving the planet free for the wealthiest and whatever people are necessary for the absolutely need to maintain their expected standard of living. It would, of course, inflict untold human misery at an unprecedented scale while courting the unknown yet likely to be detrimental environmental risks of mucking around with the Moon. Only someone living with a total absence of any recognition of the relationships between themselves, others, and the world could even conceive of something so hubristically indifferent. That someone could also, apparently, have the makings of a great economist for the Adam Smith Institute.


You could excuse this one instance of cruel indifference to ideological extremism if not for a February 1st piece from Bloomberg Opinion, an arm of one of the largest business news outlets in the world, which defends funding research for blotting out the sun as a potential solution to climate change. Having one example of cosmically bad ideas come out in an odd month should be expected but seeing two in such a neat pair is more than a little creepy. Whether it’s Astronomy Month over at the Bad Ideas Taken Seriously factory, something in the stars, or one of those moments when Wyrd punches you in the face, the uncanny awfulness of this coincidence is undeniable.


As journalist Clara Ferreira Marques argues, banning discussion of solar geoengineering, a fancy way of saying selectively blotting out the sun, would be comparable to banning the use of chemotherapy for cancer patients. As Marques argues, blotting out the sun isn’t the most desired outcome but things are going badly on climate change so we may as well study how to do this atrociously dangerous emergency solution without totally killing what’s left of the planet. She stresses regularly this does not mean she wants to blot out the sun, she just wants to be sure the private sector knows how to do in case they have to. Left unsaid is how Marques expects the private-sector to abstain from pursuing this colossally horrible idea based largely on the sunk costs associated with researching these finnicky doomsday devices as reason enough to make a case for using them. We must, they will likely tut, think of theshareholders right to expect a reasonable return on investment from their all-too-real Ragnarök cosplay:


The sun turns black, earth sinks in the sea,

The hot stars down from heaven are whirled;

Fierce grows the steam and the life-feeding flame,

Till fire leaps high about heaven itself.

Voluspo 57


Normally, I interpret the Eddas with an eye towards metaphor and the internal logic of the kennings which can, at times, be stubbornly indirect in their descriptions. Normally, it should not be so incredibly easy to draw direct lines between these verses and our present conditions or such clear, uncannily precise descriptions of the current moment. One might have also hoped that even the most recklessly profiteering individual would pause before proposing a “solution” marinated in what could be charitably described as exceptionally stupid supervillainy.


You could, of course, claim this is an unrepresentative outlier, an easily mocked extremist who surely doesn’t have any serious standing with mainstream institutions. Yet Clara Ferreira Marques is far from some fringe voice who somehow wandered onto Bloomberg’s vast, incredibly well-connected stage. She is, at time of writing, a regular columnist and member of Bloomberg Opinion’s editorial board and has previously worked as an editor and correspondent for Reuters, a major global newswire service. It was also promoted in Opinion Editor Michael Newman’s weekly roundup of new posts with largely positive words in support of her position. These horrific ideas are very much the work of a mainstream columnist with a solid mainstream pedigree hosted, supported, and promoted by one of the most powerful business news outlets on the planet.


As blatantly contrary to both sense and values held dear to Heathens and Pagans, such as the radical notion that ripping up the Moon and blotting out the Sun might be bad things, these very real apocalyptic proposals are just the tip of this spear. This is only the most recent and audacious manifestation of a centuries-long drive to reduce every social, material, and economic question down balance sheets and profit margins on balance sheets.


We are now living with the consequences, whether those are the Sixth Great Mass Extinction, the climate catastrophe, and their increasingly destructive fallout. As Heathens and Pagans, we must decide if these values and the society they represent are alignment with what Earth-revering spirituality implies and if they are not, what should be done. For me, anyone who would rather court Ragnarök than concede a meager portion of truly historic fortunes is the purest example of someone that most Heathens would brand as an outcast and bar from their halls without a second thought.


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