No “Planet B”
Multiplanetary Ethics in the Anthropocene

A roundtable for AAA/CASCA 2019

Wednesday, November 20, 2019
2:15pm – 4:00pm
Vancouver CC WEST, Room 207, West Level 2

On the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples, including the territories of
the xwməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), Stó:lō and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil- Waututh) Nations.
(so-called Vancouver, BC, Canada)


As a planetary species we live together among the rising seas and blazing fires of climate catastrophe. Meanwhile techno-capitalism is birthing a new space race out of an emergent Silicon Valley Military Industrial Space Settlement Complex.

Rather than face up to the reality of many-species suffering, climate refugees, wars, colonialism, and artificial scarcity of capitalism, globalizing Silicon Valley elites work on plans to leave the Earth and “colonize” other worlds or flee to their heavily secured bunkers on our planet.

The narrative of planetary escapism tells us a story in which humanity must replicate certain parts of itself on Mars or in space, in order to survive existential threats. But who is included in this planetary reproduction, and who is excluded? How does a new story of colonization resonate with larger culture?

Surrounding this emerging and increasingly realized idea of planetary escape are countless ethical questions about what these escape fantasies mean for Earth’s ecosystems, human and non-human populations, and the future of possible life in space and on other worlds, and what kind of society we would be bringing to the stars.

This roundtable brings together anthropologists working in different contexts and from a variety of perspectives to discuss the ethics of space exploration and settlement at a time when our own planetary home is on fire.

Some of the questions we ask include: What does it mean to seek habitability in space as Earth is becoming uninhabitable for so many? What new collaborations are needed to build more just futures here on Earth, and in future space settlements? What environmental ideologies might return to Earth from settlements in space and on other worlds? Can we demilitarize space, or have military superpowers already achieved their goals of “total space dominance”? When space capitalists talk about “salvation” who is included and excluded from those plans? As space industry venture capitalists export capitalism into space what else comes with it? Terraforming is mythologized as utopian ecopoiesis, but can remaking and erasure of other worlds also be a form of violence? If we build settlements on other worlds, who are we building them for? Who decides for non-human life, for children, for future generations, that they will be moved into or born in space and on other worlds? Can the ideals of boundless expansion and colonization ever be reconciled with the ethics of care and sustainability?


Esther R. Anderson, University of Southern Queensland / / Chair

Carwil Bjork-James, Vanderbilt University / / Panelist (Chair role)

Hope Casareno, University of New Mexico / / Panelist

Jessica Dickson, Harvard University / / Panelist

Taylor R. Genovese, Arizona State University / / Co-Organizer and Panelist

Danya Glabau, NYU Tandon School of Engineering & Brooklyn Institute for Social Research / / Informal Discussant

Annie Hammang, Arizona State University / / Panelist

Anne W. Johnson, Universidad Iberoamericana / / Panelist (Discussant role)

William Lempert, Bowdoin College / / Panelist (Discussant role)

Pris Nasrat, Independent Scholar / / Panelist

Michael Oman-Reagan, Memorial University / / Co-Organizer and Panelist

Lauren Reid, Freie Universität / / Panelist

Principles of Engagement

The following are a few basic social rules, adapted from those of the Recurse Center and the Just Space Alliance. If you mess up on any of the below, don’t panic: we all make mistakes sometimes. Apologize, reflect, move forward.

1. Raise all voices. During discussions, pay attention to who is contributing. Invite contributions from quieter members of the group, and be conscientious of not dominating the conversation. It can be exciting to discuss a new idea, but we ask that all participants also bring their enthusiasm to listening deeply.

2. No feigning surprise. In an interdisciplinary, collaborative environment, it is very important that people feel comfortable saying “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand.” Therefore, please do not act surprised when someone says they don’t know something, whether it is regarding a technical or non-technical subject (e.g. “What?! I can’t believe you don’t know what X is!”). Quoting from Recurse: "Feigning surprise has absolutely no social or educational benefit: When people feign surprise, it's usually to make them feel better about themselves and others feel worse. And even when that's not the intention, it's almost always the effect."

3. No well-actually’s. As defined by Recurse, " A 'well-actually' happens when someone says something that's almost (but not entirely) correct, and you say, 'well, actually...' and then give a minor correction.” Well-actually’s interrupt the discussion and fixate on a minor, usually irrelevant point, often solely to make the person delivering the well-actually feel more important. If you feel the need to correct someone, take a moment to consider whether your correction is in the spirit of truth-seeking, rather than grandstanding, and whether it will provide a positive contribution to the discussion.

4. No -isms. The roundtable explicitly bans racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other kinds of bias— whether these behaviors are overt or subtle, conscious or unconscious. If you experience these behaviors while participating in activities with the roundtable, you should feel free to bring it up directly with the person, or if it’s more comfortable, point out the behavior to the organizers or chair. If someone points out that you have engaged in this behavior, it can be tempting to become defensive— but instead, we ask that you apologize, reflect, and consider what reparative action you can offer. If you do not understand why issue was taken with your behavior, the organizers and chair will be happy to discuss it with you, so that everyone can learn from the experience.

5. FrieNDA Policy. During the course of the roundtable, and other communication, contributors may choose to share their experiences, thoughts, and ideas, including those that are in progress, or not yet public. We ask that you show respect for everyone’s work by treating all communication as proprietary by default. If you wish to share discussions or ideas contributed to by others, please ask those involved for their consent.

Further Resources:

AAS Ethics Statement, including “Conduct Towards Others”

AAS Anti-Harassment Policy

The APS Guidelines for Professional Conduct

The Recurse Center Manual

AURA Standards of Workplace Conduct


Quick Reads, aka Writing for General Audience
"Making Life Multi-Planetary." Elon Musk (PDF download)

"The Space NDN's Starmap." Lou Cornum

"Navajos on Mars: Native Sci-Fi Film Futures." William Lempert

"Cultivating an Outer Space Ecology: Introducing the On-Orbit Gardener." Melanie Ford

"When discussing Humanity's next move to space, the language we use matters." Danielle N. Lee

"Colonize Mars? Not until we learn some lessons here on Earth." Danielle N. Lee

"Survival of the Richest." Douglas Rushkoff

"How the egalitarian dreams that fueled the quest for 'young blood' treatments got perverted." Taylor R. Genovese

"Fear and Loathing in Truth or Consequences: Neoliberalism, Colonialism, and the Lineage of the Frontier at Spaceport America." Taylor R. Genovese

"Queering Outer Space." Michael P. Oman-Reagan

"The Key to Survival in Space." Michael P. Oman-Reagan

"Can Artificial Intelligence Help Find Alien Intelligence?" Michael P. Oman-Reagan

"Interplanetary Environmentalism (Parts I & II)." Michael P. Oman-Reagan

"Decolonizing Mars: Are We Thinking About Space Exploration All Wrong?" Ryan F. Mandelbaum

"We need to change the way we talk about space exploration." Nadia Drake

"Let's Not Use Mars As a Backup Planet." Lucianne Walkowicz

"The Problem With Terraforming Mars." Lucianne Walkowicz

More at Space + Anthropology
More at Sapiens


All article PDFs are available in our GitHub repository.

Anker, Peder. 2005. “The Ecological Colonization of Space.” Environmental History 10: 239–68.

Battaglia, Debbora, David Valentine, and Valerie Olson. 2015. “Relational Spaces: An Earthly Installation.” Cultural Anthropology 30 (2): 245–56.

Denning, Kathryn. 2017. “Hawking Says That Discovering Intelligent Life Elsewhere Would Spark Greater Compassion and Humility among Us … But Why Wait?” Theology and Science 15 (2): 142–46.

Genovese, Taylor R. 2018. "'Death is a Disease': Cryopreservation, Neoliberalism, and Temporal Commodification in the U.S." Technology in Society 54: 52–56.

Gorman, Alice. 2005. “The Cultural Landscape of Interplanetary Space.” Journal of Social Archaeology 5 (1): 85–107.

Gorman, Alice. 2016. “Culture on the Moon: Bodies in Time and Space.” Archaeologies 12 (1): 110–28.

Lempert, William. 2014. “Decolonizing Encounters of the Third Kind: Alternative Futuring in Native Science Fiction Film.” VAR Visual Anthropology Review 30 (2): 164–76.

Masali, Melchiorre, Marinella Ferrino, Monica Argenta, and Franca Ligabue Stricker. 2011. “Space Anthropology: Physical and Cultural Adaptation in Outer Space.” Personal Ubiquitous Computing 15 (5): 491–496.

Mayer, Ralo. 2016. “Beyond the Blue Marble: Artistic Research on Space and Ecology.” Acta Astronautica 128 (November): 573–79.

Olson, Valerie A. 2012. “Political Ecology in the Extreme: Asteroid Activism and the Making of an Environmental Solar System.” Anthropological Quarterly 85 (4): 1027–44.

Olson, Valerie, and Lisa Messeri. 2015. “Beyond the Anthropocene: Un-Earthing an Epoch.” Environment and Society: Advances in Research 6 (1): 28–47.

Oman-Reagan, Michael P. 2019. “Politics of Planetary Reproduction and the Children of Other Worlds.” Futures, February.

Scharmen, Fred. 2017. “Highest and Best Use: Subjectivity and Climates Off and After Earth.” Journal of Architectural Education 71 (2): 184–96.

Valentine, David. 2012. “Exit Strategy: Profit, Cosmology, and the Future of Humans in Space.” Anthropological Quarterly 85 (4): 1045–67.

Wright, Jason T., and Michael P. Oman-Reagan. 2018. “Visions of Human Futures in Space and SETI.” International Journal of Astrobiology 17 (2): 177–88.