In a country where land is such a precious commodity, you might think that suddenly having more acreage would be a blessing. Instead, it's sparked yet another political fight.
As it has for decades, the water level of the Dead Sea is dropping at a rate of more than three feet a year -- largely as a result of dams built in Israel, Jordan, and Syria, and water subsidies that make agricultural irrigation cheap and wasteful. This, in turn, has caused the shoreline to recede and exposed 35,000 acres of new, unclaimed land.
Today, the Israeli newspaper Haaretzreported that, after two years of legal battles, the Israeli Civil Adminstration has decided that the new coastline is state land. The decision comes despite the claims of neighboring Palestinian communities that their holdings previously extended to the waterline, and that the newly exposed land should therefore be theirs as well. According to the Haaretz report, the Civil Administration could not verify these claims.
Shoreline property is a particularly valuable resource on the Dead Sea. Resorts built on beachfront property 20 years ago now have to shuttle tourists to the water's edge. The sea's southern portion is hydraulically engineered and entirely artificial -- pumps transport water from the north into "evaporation pools" in the south for the production of potash and other cosmetic products that capitalize on the sea's supposed healing properties.
The Haaretz article notes that the Israeli government will use the land for tourism projects, but whether the territory can sustain development is uncertain; the exposed land is pockmarked by large sinkholes where now-dry aquifers have collapsed, and the runoff that does make it to the Dead Sea is polluted by sewage. The new land may be more trouble than it is worth, but that's not likely to defuse the fight over who controls it.
Bas Lansdorp is betting big on something closer to 30 years
-- or even less. Lansdorp is the founder of Mars
One, a Dutch company established two years ago with the aim of permanently
settling humans on Mars beginning in 2023. And while his venture has gotten
less attention than Tito's, it's no less ambitious: Mars One's initial group of
pioneers will be joined by new astronauts every two years until the settlement
becomes a self-sustaining, self-propagating colony. It's a one-way mission; the
settlers who move to the frigid, arid planet will plan to live and die there.
Let's just get this out there: Mars One is for real. Its
list of advisors
includes a Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist, an expert on
international space law, and several current and former NASA researchers. And
the wheels on the project have already begun spinning. Mars One recently contracted
their first supplier, Arizona-based Paragon Space Development Corporation, to
develop the space suits and life support systems that the settlers will use on
The meaning of "foreign policy," in other words, could soon
get a whole lot broader in scope.
Lansdorp, a mechanical engineer by training, told Foreign
Policy that he doesn't have any political motivation for setting up a colony on
Mars; it's simply his dream to put humans on the planet (he himself won't make the trip). But he says that there
are as many motivations for exploring Mars as there are people on Earth.
So far, Mars One has received 15,000 emails of support from
over 100 different countries. One man told Lansdorp that Mars One had inspired
him to lose weight so that he could live long enough to watch the project
unfold. An entire class of 11- and 12-year-olds at a school in Thailand
submitted applications to be the first astronauts. "It was just for fun, but
they were really thoughtful letters," says Lansdorp.
The company has also received more than 8,000 emails from
people asking to be considered for one of the settler slots. Lansdorp expects
the number of applications to exceed one million once the formal application
process begins sometime in the first half of 2013.
Once Mars One has narrowed the applicant pool to suitable astronauts
only(those who work
well in groups and have qualities such as resiliency, adaptability, and
creativity, while meeting certain age, medical, and physical requirements), the company plans to broadcast the selection process in 2014
through a series of reality television programs in which viewers around the world will select settlers to represent their countries (Lansdorp has not launched
negotiations with networks yet). Ultimately, roughly 10 groups of four will
engage in years of rigorous, full-time training -- and only one of those groups will be selected to
embark on the 2023 colonization.
If all goes to plan, the media spectacle won't end on Earth
-- Lansdorp envisions live feeds from Mars of the
astronauts venturing outside in their protective suits and working inside their habitat.
But the settlers will still have a say in how much footage shows up in your
living room. "We can try to document the experience," says Lansdorp.
"But if the people on Mars don't like it, they can just cover up the cameras."
The international scope of the project raises
interesting questions about the legal system that will be enforced on the Mars colony. Since most of Mars One's technology will be American-made (the
United States is at the forefront of the world's missions to Mars), Lansdorp
reasons, the astronauts could be said to be living on "American soil," and U.S.
law should govern.
But in practice, Lansdorp adds, governance will look more
like it does on the International Space Station and at research stations in the
Arctic, where a mission commander decides what flies and what doesn't. In the
event of a disagreement with the mission commander, "ground control" will
moderate, he notes.
When there are just four people on the planet -- all of whom
have been training together for years -- that system might work. But later on,
as more people colonize the planet, will it hold? "We are on earth and they are
[on] Mars," says Lansdorp. "And there's millions of kilometers between us. So,
at some point, the people on Mars are going to say, ‘We don't care what you
say; we're going to do it our way.' When this will happen we don't know. It
could happen when there are just 12 people; it could happen when there are 20
people; it could happen when there are 50 people. But at some point, they're
going to declare their independence." And, Lansdorp makes sure to point out, "I
think that will be awesome."
According to the U.N. Office for
Outer Space Affairs, Mars is open for exploration but not appropriation. "You
can't just fence off a big property and say ‘this is mine,'" says Lansdorp. But
presumably, if the population on Mars continues to grow, someone will one day
decide to fence off his territory. As Rousseau famously wrote in his Discourse on
Inequality, "The first man who, having enclosed a
piece of ground, bethought himself of saying ‘This is mine,' and found people
simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society."
Right now, Lansdorp is focusing less on what the Martian
judicial system will look like and more on putting those first four people on
the planet, which the company estimates will cost $6 billion. The primary
challenge, he maintains, isn't technological but financial. So far, Mars One
has received small-scale donations from supporters in 50 countries; it has
sponsors in Australia, Britain, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, and the
United States. And it has two
major investors -- one from South Africa and one from the Netherlands.
Eventually, Lansdorp believes he'll get the necessary support.
"We need to inspire people to believe that more is possible than we currently
do," he says. "This will be the most exciting story ever to unfold. Nobody will
remember who was the president of which country in 1,000 years. But in 1,000
years, people will still remember who were the first four people to walk on
Passport brings you unexpected angles on the day's top news -- and under-the-radar items from around our wild world.