An interview with Pierre-Henri d’Argenson

This interview of Pierre-Henri d’Argenson was conducted by Louis de Gouyon Matignon for Space Legal Issues on March 2, 2019.

Hello Pierre-Henri d’Argenson and thank you for answering my questions. Pierre-Henri d’Argenson, do you think we are in a period where History is about to end?

The end of History as I see it is not the moment when liberal democracy or any other ethos becomes the political regime towards which all countries around the world lean, which was Fukuyama’s theory. The end of History comes with the realization that history has exhausted all forms of political governance. Whatever political regime is adopted by a State or a group of States, it must necessarily be connected to something which has already been tried. In the same way that we have comprehensively indexed all land on Earth, we have already explored all humanly possible forms of political regimes, including the very worst.

You’re absolutely right to say that Europe seems to be tired of playing a role in History, but the obvious regression to ancient forms of political violence that we are witnessing all around the world precisely heralds the beginning of a cycle of historical repetition for mankind. Huntington’s “clash of civilizations”, which is a palpable geopolitical reality and a major step backwards for mankind, is therefore proof that we have reached the end of History. The simple yet incredibly difficult objective to extract ourselves from our planet could be an adventure enthusiastic enough to allow humanity, at least temporarily, to overcome the exhaustion of political history.

When the first groups of humans coming from Siberia crossed the frozen Bering Strait twenty three thousand years ago, exploration and survival techniques were far more important to them than the political organization of the camps. Modern political history only started when man became sedentary and the world was more or less explored. Similarly, the space conquest will bring humanity into a new exploration era which will concentrate all our attention towards resolving the human and technological challenges of space travel. Political history may have come to a conceptual halt, but space exploration can make mankind’s big history go on.

Pierre-Henri d’Argenson, why is it outer space? Why not the seabed for example, or transhumanism?

From our first steps through the African savannah two million years ago, right up until we started to make our way into the stratosphere, we humans never truly envisaged that our destiny could lie elsewhere than on Earth. The idea that we could one day be meant to leave the planet where we were born was just not conceivable by most people in the past. Their imagination was peopled by angels, demons or spirits, not by aliens and space battles. For them, the celestial heavens remained a magnificent backdrop thought up by God or competing divinities, and absolutely nothing in any antique cosmogony suggests that a possible departure from Earth could one day be humanity’s greatest adventure. Medieval man would have had a spiritual breakdown if he had been invited to step aboard a spaceship and take a voyage to colonize another star system.

Yet, things have changed with space conquest. As we gradually discover the existence of exoplanets suited to our wildest dreams, the possibility of a departure from Earth sounds increasingly familiar and exciting. However, this enthusiasm may well hide a disturbing existential question, with potentially dramatic consequences: what if mankind is in fact bored with life on Earth? One could consider that it matters little whether in the end we are capable of colonizing space or not, as long as we have our humdrum lives to attend to here on Earth until our planet dies a quiet natural death. But I believe our human nature will not let this happen. We are wanderers, explorers, pioneers, in all fields of life, and we vitally need to expand.

I am indeed putting forward the hypothesis that any civilization which fails to escape its planet after having fully explored its geographical and cultural potential will be condemned to an existential death which will soon result in physical death. In other words, if mankind, fully isolated and faced with the perspective of a future limited by the exhaustion of terrestrial possibilities (and therefore stripped of all interest), fails to conquer outer space, we will surely destroy ourselves. Either through war, depression or suicidal destruction, but well before we fall foul of any cataclysm, meteorite, depletion of natural resources, global warming or worldwide epidemic.

Are major geoengineering projects responses to global warming? Flooding deserts, creating outer space gigantic umbrellas or canals in Australia: could these quasi-civilizational projects fighting global warming be solutions to the boredom on Earth you’re talking about?

Expert debates about global warming seem pathetic in relation to the glaring evidence that our planet is being transformed into one giant trashcan. Measures taken to limit greenhouse gas emissions may have an impact on limiting the rise in temperature, but will change nothing about widespread species extinction, fresh water pollution, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the thousands of tons of heavy metals discharged into the soil, deforestation, and the nuclear waste which will remain toxic for another one hundred thousand years.

The works of Jared Diamond have shown that civilizations which have “collapsed” (Easter Island, the Mayas, and the Vikings) all had one point in common: they had consciously allowed a dramatic deterioration of their environment and in this way, had somehow managed to opt for their demise rather than their survival. We are now experiencing this deterioration on a planetary scale, and in my opinion, there is a lucidly suicidal behaviour in the way we are allowing our habitat to decompose, until the day comes when it will become unliveable for a large number of the Earth’s population, bringing about famines, wars and epidemics. The loss of global biodiversity threatens the ecosystem function and therefore the sustainability of human societies. I personally hold out little hope regarding mankind’s willingness to deal with environmental issues: it seems inevitable that we will only truly commit to policies which protect nature when, through disease and climate-induced conflicts, nature itself will have forced us into doing so.

As this is so, leaving Earth will not save us from ecological disaster, for that will come about long before we have developed the technology necessary for our departure. So we will need to survive this catastrophe and maintain the levels of wealth and technical progress required for outer space exploration. In any case, I believe that a time will come when humanity will have been transformed into such a natural predator that one half of our species will be seeking to destroy the other half. This factor will have a much greater impact on our self-destruction than any ethnic conflict or nuclear arms race.

Pierre-Henri d’Argenson, what are the future issues concerning outer space?

The biggest challenge for the years to come will be for major spacefaring nations to decide whether outer space should be a place for cooperation or confrontation. This choice has been more or less avoided until now for three reasons: space was big enough to send hundreds of objects without caring about the consequences for the others; outer space was costly enough to prevent competition around the exploitation of resources (e.g. from the Moon or asteroids); and outer space was too far to be fully considered as an extension of terrestrial battlefields. This is not the case anymore. Outer space has become the new frontier, exactly as in the United States’ 19th century Far West, with many actors claiming the same territories and resources. Things need to be politically, economically and legally organized.

Another big issue will be funding. Budget for outer space exploration should be widely increased if we want to achieve major technological breakthroughs. But it is unlikely to be easily approved by voters, as it was rightly foreseen in the movie Interstellar, where the whole outer space program has been hidden way and propaganda activated to make people believe that walking on the Moon was a myth. The balance between money spent on space exploration and on fighting poverty or promoting education is already difficult to find, and this will be more so in the future. But if we had not found the means to allocate the necessary resources for outer space exploration in the past, we would have never set foot on the Moon. The world would have probably been poorer, having failed to invest resources in new and innovative technological cycles, which require injecting large amounts of money into projects which bring no short-term returns and have no direct application.

Pierre-Henri d’Argenson, what are the future issues concerning Space Law?

I am not a Space Law specialist but I think one of the biggest challenges will be to design a new Space Treaty. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty will soon become obsolete, especially regarding the question of national appropriation of resources, the issue of militarization and overpopulation of orbital paths. Of course it should be done with caution and include the designing of a governance body, similar to the United Nations or even part of it (a kind of Space Security Council with a dedicated agency). Admittedly the conquest of space has always been a bone of contention for the world’s superpowers. But it is also one human project which has helped build the sturdiest of collaborations – one example is the Apollo-Soyuz mission which, on July 17th 1975, saw the first handshake in outer space between an American astronaut (Thomas P. Stafford) and a Russian cosmonaut (Alexei Leonov).

Whereas space programs were for long exclusively national, many are today multinational, especially in the research field. Astronauts from various nationalities work together in the International Space Station, and there are brought up there by Russian Soyuz spacecraft. The European Space Agency (ESA) comprises twenty-two members. China and ESA are discussing potential collaboration on a lunar base on the Moon. NASA and its Russian counterpart Roscosmos signed on September 2017 a joint statement for “deep space exploration” supporting research that could lead to a Cislunar Habitat. A lot of money could be spared and many conflicts avoided if they were dealt with in a single institution.

Pierre-Henri d’Argenson, where will we be in a century? The future of the Earth, of its occupants?

If we really wish to one day leave our Solar System, we will really need more than mere handshakes. There will always be divisions in the future, and aggressive behaviours will endure. But cooperation can progressively round out the angles. This will not depend on any global bureaucracy, but on the wisdom of the world leaders in the next hundred years. They will have the power to finish the ecological destruction at work and start the Third World War, or to bring mankind to his next evolution step, making sure that scientific progress does not turn us into submissive and dehumanized mutants. If the right decisions are made, I hope that in a hundred years we’ll be able to spend fantastic holidays on Mars.

Thank you very much Pierre-Henri d’Argenson.

Pierre-Henri d’Argenson is the author of La fin du monde et le dernier dieu – Un nouvel horizon pour l’humanité (The end of the world and the last god – A new horizon for humanity), Éditions Liber, 2018.

The festive appearances of modernity mask an event that we do not have the courage to face: the end of our world. We explored all lands, tried all political regimes, embraced all religious beliefs, and even tried all forms of the arts. Now, neither our biology nor our psychology, shaped by and for exploration in all the fields of existence, are no longer adapted to this finite world. But then, to which object are we going to turn our thirst for novelty? Will we die of boredom, when Earth becomes for us the biggest open zoo in the universe?”, Pierre-Henri d’Argenson, La fin du monde et le dernier dieu – Un nouvel horizon pour l’humanité.