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Podcast / January 19 2024

Sharing the Stars

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Writer Deji Bryce Olukotun examines the connection between space exploration and colonialism while the US gets set to return to the moon. An Indigenous nation sets an example for protecting the stars with its framework for conserving the seas.

The Necessary Tomorrows podcast is from Doha Debates and is presented by Al Jazeera Podcasts. It is produced by Imposter Media and Wolf at the Door Studios.

Full transcript

Note: We encourage you to listen to the audio if you are able, as it includes emotion not captured by the transcript. Please check the corresponding audio before using any quotes.





Welcome back to Necessary Tomorrows. Data suggests that these explorations of possible futures are making you feel a bit more settled about your own. With “A Feast For Cobalt,”  we’ve expanded from humans’ relationship with our planet to include a broader view of nature, extending to outer space. I am told this can be overwhelming, but know that my storytelling is intended to build your futures literacy. 


Outer space has been a perennial setting for science fiction, whether as a metaphor for Earth-based exploration, a blank canvas for improbable worlds, or representing the possibility of an escape from a doomed planet. By the 2020s, when “A Feast for Cobalt” was written, the narrative of real-life exploration had shifted from displays of national prowess, as during the Cold War, to the possibility of privatization and the spectre of exploitation which it contained. Even with complicated, conflicting narratives around the environmental costs of space flight and its use as a status symbol by the extremely wealthy, the allure of outer space was still enough to draw thousands to Florida, USA, the site of NASA’s spaceport, to witness rocket launches as we can hear from recordings in the very early morning at 1:47 a.m., November 16th, 2022, when Artemis I was launched. 



Three … two … one … (CHEERING)





And liftoff of Artemis I. We rise together, back to the moon and beyond. 



Naming the mission Artemis, the mythological twin of Apollo, drew on the excitement and nationalistic American propaganda that had surrounded the Apollo missions of the 1960s and 1970s, which had culminated in the lunar landing. Sampling from voices attending the launch captures some of the sentiments around space travel that were prevalent in popular consciousness, even beyond the United States. 



I remember Apollo 11 when it landed on the moon. Exciting times; kind of in awe of what the future could hold. The mystery of it all, and, you know, what’s—what’s possible.



It was awesome. I was just a little kid at the time. To see what we can achieve and the power, it was just incredible. 



I sat on the living room carpet at two in the morning, in my parents’ home back in England, on July 1969, and I saw Apollo 11 fly. It’s all gung-ho, daring-do. It’s quite inspirational. 



It’s kind of pushing at the boundaries of the unknown. It’s finding out new things, new experiences. I’ve always liked to travel in places that few people have been to, and space would be the ultimate, ultimate place to visit. 


URSULA: The achievements of the US space program and the excitement of rocket launches made it difficult for people to see the continuation of a damaging mythology.



There’s not much more to explore on Earth. It’s all been done in the—about two or 300 years ago. There’s no more places, or there’s very few places that mankind hasn’t been to. But space is that place. 


URSULA: These comments are an example of the gap between popular narratives and fact. With the exception of the Earth’s poles, the lionized discoverers of the last millennium did not go to places where no person had ever been before, unless you subscribe to a very limited definition of “person.” Rather, they were encountering areas outside their own knowledge, but very well known and understood by the people who lived there. This attitude appears constantly in the text from this time that I have analyzed, so frequently that it often went unchallenged. But I hope that you can see how this locates the power of observation and understanding only with the explorer, assuming that the people already living in a place like Africa, the Americas, Australia or the South Pacific don’t count. 



This planet is getting overpopulated. We have to expand. We have to stretch out to other planets. We have to. Our food source alone isn’t gonna be enough for the population in another 50 years if we don’t. We, we, we have to expand. We can’t shut off the scientists, the engineers, the mathematicians, the geniuses, the astronauts. We have to go to space. We have to go to other planets. We have to explore and we have to … colonize them. 


URSULA: The speculative statement that the world would run out of food in 50 years was certainly dubious, as you can attest to. Even at the time of this recording, it would have been a leap to suggest that problems of potential food scarcity were best addressed by costly extraplanetary exploration. And yet, that speculative assertion is used as justification of a need to go to other planets which notably have no known food sources. The futurist nature of the statement makes it difficult to argue against. This is a reminder that speculative imaginings can have wide-ranging implications and, when used irresponsibly, can cause significant harm.



I love the idea of getting to Mars, but I hope that they got a life planet somewhere out there that maybe takes us 10,000 years to get to. Every journey begins with a step. 


URSULA: These narratives, decked with the trappings of heroism, daring, and discovery, were mixed with a smattering of US nationalism and even planetary jingoism. Such tales were perennial fodder for science fiction. Story after story, series after series, reboot after reboot, told of explorers, usually led by a single decisive leader, boldly going where no man had gone before. And sometimes, the kids who grew up on these narratives had enough money to try to make them real. 



I think starting a rocket company is an unusual thing to do …


URSULA: Or at least to leverage them into financing for private space exploration companies. 



We need to build a road to space so that our children can build the future.


URSULA: Deji Bryce Olukotun, author of “A Feast for Cobalt,” consciously chose to write stories about and for the types of characters who were underrepresented in the speculative narratives available when he was young.



I find it interesting that many of the tech titans were inspired by science fiction from the 50s and 60s, which means that their vision of the future has that imprint on them. And there were a lot of great ideas back then, but a lot has changed. And there have been—there are a lot more voices imagining where we could be. 


URSULA: When you think of science fiction classics, you may think of Mary Shelley or Jules Verne. Or you might think of one of the great authors of exactly the time we’re looking at: the early 2000s. Someone like N.K. Jemisin or Martha Wells. But in the 2020s, the popular imagination of the genre was still associated with writers, television franchises, and movies dating from the previous millennium—the middle of the 20th century. While there were, in fact, many women and people of color writing popular and acclaimed science fiction at the time, the classics that became well known were mostly written by white men. As more people familiar with the experience of being othered began to be published and distributed and won awards and acclaim, different ideas about what space could mean started to emerge into the popular consciousness.


DEJI: I think the colonization narrative is prevalent in science fiction because people want to imagine new possibilities and new worlds, and I think that comes from a good motivation. What would it be like to start from scratch? What could we do? What would it look like? What could we discover together, and be on that journey together? In history, we know that colonization results in the subjugation of people, exploitation of resources, and we need to do a better job of going beyond that. To think, “Well, if we’re going to move off of our planet, how do we do that in a responsible way?”


URSULA: Even while critiquing the colonial idea, science fiction of this time could inadvertently reinforce its patterns. The idea of escaping Earth to another planet was widespread at this time, making the question of how to do responsible space exploration a particularly difficult task, one which Olukotun bravely attempts in “A Feast for Cobalt.”


DEJI: “A Feast for Cobalt” is a story about space exploration, and the idea is we’ve found something very close to Earth that could help us turn back the tide against climate change. 





We’ve found 40 million tons of pure cobalt and nickel just waiting to be harvested.


DEJI: And there are asteroids that contain this substance, cobalt, and a company tries to grab them, raises a bunch of money and says, “We’ll take care of it, we’ll solve this problem, we’re gonna raise a lot of money and make a ton of people rich.”




IVY: The guiding principle in all exploration is first come, first served. 


DEJI: And just as the rocket is about to launch, the rocket blows up. 




IVY: Stop! Cut the feed! Cut it! Cut it!




DEJI: And it’s a terrorist group that says, “If you want to solve this problem, you need to bring everyone to the table.” Four people wake up in a strange place. One of them is from a mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 





Our mine employs thousands of people in Kinshufu.


DEJI: Another is a scientist from India.





We’re the ones who discovered the cobalt, not Olympus Mons. But we didn’t try to extract the minerals. 


DEJI: Another is the executive at the space company that was going to grab the asteroid. 




IVY: You need to give first movers a chance to recoup our investment. 


DEJI: And then there’s a fisherman. He has no idea what he’s doing there.





There are people like us who are trying to do the right thing, feeding the world, and we can barely put food on our own table. 


DEJI: And over the course of the story they have to figure out what would be the right way to handle this situation. Should we take the asteroids? Should we leave them in place? How do we actually get to where we want to be in terms of addressing climate change?


URSULA: In 2022, exploitation of resources in outer space was still largely theoretical. Still science fiction, if you will. But it was also feasible enough that conversations about how to regulate this extraction seeped into the present. Laws around resources in outer space were in active dispute. Much like the Wild West of the American origin myth, space was seen as a, quote, “frontier” where someone with energy, resources, and courage could make an impact. It was a particular moment in history, one which Namrata Goswami profiled in her contemporary book Scramble for the Skies, a title that references the 19th-century imperialist race for African territory by European powers. 



The United States passed legislation in 2015 called the US Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act. It says that if an American citizen gets somewhere first and is able to extract resources from space, they get to keep it. You have space companies that are very similar to, say, the East India Company, that ravaged India and basically bought famine and completely challenged India’s cultural identity, the trauma of which still remains. The colonization of Africa—the French colonization, for example—has deep impact in terms of how poor some of those countries got. If you have a situation like that, where companies go out and behave in a very similar manner, where they extract the resources and basically do not want to share or do not want to be inclusive, that creates a huge situation of strategic disadvantage for those who cannot share in. It’s about profit making. It’s within the American concept of market economy, or capitalism. So we make profit, but we also have this philosophical view that based on those profits, we’re able to then build out and expand into the solar system. So you might continue with the same kind of market capitalist philosophy. 



It is America’s destiny to be the leader amongst nations, on our own adventure into the great unknown, and over the past …


URSULA: Public materials published by the US government during this period reflect the attitudes Namrata had discussed, as shown in this speech from Mike Pence, a vice president who served during a tumultuous American executive administration, discussing NASA’s Artemis launch.



The rules and values of space, like every great frontier, will be written by those who have the courage to get there first and the commitment to stay. 


URSULA: The US Vice President did not mention what could be considered a third “c”: the capital to bankroll courage and commitment with expensive equipment like rocket ships.


PENCE: And in this century, we’re going back to the moon with new ambitions, not just to travel there, not just to develop technologies there, but also to mine oxygen from lunar rocks that will refuel our ships; to use nuclear power to extract water from the permanently shadowed craters of the South Pole. 


URSULA: Those of you who have studied 19th century US history will notice a similarity to the language of Manifest Destiny, a narrative of future American dominance. It was used by politicians of the United States to justify the expansion of the nascent country “from sea to shining sea,” as an expansionist song of the time described. It was a similar rationale. The government offered land to anyone who would settle it; an incentive that cost them nothing but had devastating consequences for the people already living in those places, as well as for the ecosystems destroyed by this policy. As dated as this trope was, even in the 2020s, there were still people who craved the perceived adventure and lawlessness of the frontier myth as it was retold in history books, movies and propaganda vehicles. This speech is an example of a US leader appealing to those emotions to advance an expensive political project that was extending beyond Earth’s orbit.


PENCE: Make no mistake about it. We’re in a space race today. Just as we were in the 1960s, and the stakes are even higher. Last December, China became the first nation to land on the far side of the moon, and revealed their ambition to seize the lunar strategic high ground and become the world’s preeminent spacefaring nation. Failure to achieve our goal, to return an American astronaut to the moon in the next five years, is not an option.


NAMRATA: Mike Pence clearly pointed out that, “Look, this is where China is. China has landed on the far side of the moon, an authoritarian system that’s going to establish rules that would forward its own citizens and its own Communist party ideology. And the US needs to respond and establish its own lunar program.” And then you have the Artemis Accords. 


URSULA: Subsequent American leaders, such as vice president Kamala Harris, would advance the diplomatic component of the Artemis project in order to maintain American hegemony in space. 



Our administration is currently developing the first rules for novel space activities. Since our last meeting, eight new nations have signed on to the Artemis Accords, which establish clear norms for civil space exploration, bringing the total of signatories to 21. 


NAMRATA: So the idea is to establish rules of the road with the space agencies of, not just allied nations, but those who are interested in joining into the US-led Artemis Accords. Whether that will be international is a question we need to think about because it might establish rules of the road, but who’s going to enforce it will be the question, right? Because if China refuses, Russia refuses, India refuses, then you actually have the major population of the world not agreeing to your rules of the road.


URSULA: During the Cold War between major powers in the previous century, the most belligerent countries signed United Nations Resolution 2222, informally known as the Outer Space Treaty. This was also a narrative describing a preferred future, one that would prevent the weaponization of space. 


NAMRATA: And at that time, the biggest concern for them was that if, say, for example, the Soviet Union places a nuclear weapon on the moon, they can use it to then target a city in the US, right? And since the Soviet Union was the first country to launch to space with Sputnik in 1957, the concern for the US was that if the Soviet Union gets to the moon first, it might claim territory. So then they had a binding treaty that said that you cannot claim sovereignty in space. 



It wasn’t until six or seven years ago that the situation changed. 


URSULA: This is Michael Byers, a founder of the Outer Space Institute and a Canada research chair in global politics and international law, speaking in 2022. 


MICHAEL BYERS: The US government started to scope out the possibilities for asteroid mining. Initially, they thought they were going after platinum and rare-earth elements, the kind of things that are very valuable here on Earth. But as they learn more, they realize that the most valuable thing on asteroids, or on the moon, or on Mars, is, in fact, water. That it doesn’t make economic sense to bring platinum back from an asteroid. Space is hard, space is expensive. But water can be used to support human beings, and perhaps most importantly, it can be used to make rocket fuel. If you could source rocket fuel in space, if you could make it there, then that would expand the possibilities for an off-Earth economy. It could potentially enable human beings to travel through the solar system. 


URSULA: But another international agreement was instructive. The Law of the Sea was a comprehensive protocol that had been created through centuries of negotiation and practice, and which nearly all countries of the world had ratified. It outlines the legal framework within which activities such as resource extraction in the oceans and seas are carried out. While obviously imperfect, since in the early 21st century, overfishing and oceanic pollution were major problems, as we will see, it did recognize that the entire population of the Earth relied on the ocean and discouraged individuals or states from taking any action that would make the ocean less able to sustain life. Hoping to make these parallels explicit for audiences of this time, Olukotun told a story about space in which one of the pivotal characters is a fisher. 




ROGER: Sometimes we get boats from out of the area at night. They don’t measure. They trawl. They drag their nets along the bottom. They take and they take, and they leave. 


MICHAEL: The law of the sea is relevant in this story because, as we’ve seen with fish in the sea—not just fish; squid, shrimp, lobster—if we don’t regulate it and have some rules, we’re just gonna take and take and take until there’s none left. So the Law of the Sea is making sure that there’s some left over. 


URSULA: Focusing so strictly on the theoretical structures of how we might use the resources of space distracted people of this time from an important truth. Humans had already begun to integrate space into the fabric of their society. 



The interesting thing about space is that it is always in the background of certain communities, especially in the developing world. And it is always in the foreground of certain communities in the developed world. 


URSULA: This clip is from a media type that was known, for reasons that have been lost to time, as a podcast. The storyteller is space entrepreneur Narayan Prasad, a founder of several companies and initiatives we associate with the new space industrial movement.


NARAYAN PRASAD: Consider developed countries like the United States. We’re going to put humans on the moon; we’re going to go to Mars and whatever, Jupiter, and other things; that you’re flying astronauts, and you have reusable rockets and all of these kinds of things that make it to the news very well. But then if you take a country like India, where we had about 10,000 people die in a cyclone event 20 years ago, because we did not have very good weather prediction models and satellites that were able to give us weather warnings. Today, we use about 500 gigabytes of satellite data on a daily basis to just monitor weather across the Indian geography. And I think the most recent extreme weather event we had in cyclones, here were probably only four people who really died. The evacuation plans that were put in place and the rescue missions that were planned and preempting a lot of these things, it has worked to a large extent, but it’s not something that is very flashy in the news. People have gotten productivity out of this. They’ve gotten safety out of this. They’ve gotten security out of this. So there is a lot of that kind of value that comes up when it comes to developing world, and it’s a different kind of a scenario altogether, so …


URSULA: There has always been a connection between sea, sky, and exploration. Study of the stars allowed for the first intercontinental navigation on sea voyages. Space exploration and the seeding of satellites pushed human capabilities even further. And many of these new possibilities would empower people in small communities. 


NARAYAN: You are more connected to a farmer or a fisherman. You can use a combination of imaging, and then mapping out sea surface temperatures and then combining them to know where, exactly, the chlorophyll and the algae content is on the ocean bed. So now you have a fisherman who has a smartphone, and now they are empowered with this Android application that gives them insights into where they can go and fish based on their own latitude and longitude location. It gives them weather updates on what are the weather events to expect for that particular day. It’s a massive change that you can then create on these kinds of communities. The person who started the space program in India is an astrophysicist, Professor Sarabhai. And he famously said that we don’t have the fancies of going into Moon or Mars or doing other things and … but then we don’t want to be left behind in using space as a part of the development of our people. And that’s what we want to focus on. 


URSULA: Humans have often had difficulty thinking how something seemingly so vast may have limits that can be reached in the future. Michael Byers and others began to observe these limits when Earth’s orbit began to fill with the technology that Narayan just described. 


MICHAEL: You know, the oceans are big, but they’re not so big that human activity is without impact. People are realizing the same thing now, that Earth orbit is not infinite. If you put enough satellites into orbit, and there are collisions, and you start getting space debris, you could have a collisional cascade and lose access to Earth orbit. We need safe access to Earth orbit for all of that Earth imaging, for food production, for disaster relief. We need access to communication satellites, for navigation, for satellite phone in remote communities, ships on the ocean. Everything we do in space now has effects on our daily lives, and you could throw it all away if you treat it as this infinite place where you can just dump stuff without thinking. So the oceans are a parallel for that. Just to give you an example of one really big mistake: if you are mining an asteroid, you’re by definition removing mass from the asteroid, and that will change its trajectory. And you’ll almost certainly be mining an asteroid that passes close to Earth because you have to get to it. And so you could be changing the trajectory of an asteroid that passes close to Earth. And in our worst-case scenario, that could lead to an Earth impact. We can’t afford to do that, particularly when the worst-case scenario involves annihilating our civilization. 


URSULA: Annihilation of civilization is a dystopian science-fiction trope. But for some cultures in 2022, it would have been experienced as an everyday collective trauma. As the contemporary scholar Kyle White wrote about his time period, quote, “Some Indigenous peoples already inhabit what our ancestors would have likely characterized as a dystopian future. We consider the future from what we believe is already a dystopia.” End quote. Consider the Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation, a coastal community in northern British Columbia. Despite never having ceded their territory to either Britain or Canada, wildlife had been extracted from their territory without consent over centuries, with the belief that it could never be exhausted. 



I remember the salmon in the bay, they were so thick that you throw a rock and they would boil all across the bay, and then they would boil all the way back again and you just don’t see that anymore.


URSULA: Kitasoo Xai’xais governance includes both hereditary and elected chiefs, such as Douglass Neasloss, who also served as the stewardship director for the nation in 2022 when this interview was recorded.


DOUGLASS NEASLOSS: I would say there’s just been major declines in all aquatic resources across the board. We had illegal fishing, so some guys would come up and have licenses for a certain species, but they would take other species. Everybody knew that this was the Wild West. There was no enforcement up here. There was no agencies from the province or the Feds. We just never see them. So our community said, “Get your own people up there, develop your own program,” and we did. 


URSULA: Facing the reality that the bioregion they had managed for thousands of years had been nearly depleted within only a few generations, the Kitasoo Xai’xais created their own conservation enforcement body, the Watchmen, and began conducting research to assess the condition of the ecosystem.


DOUGLASS: We would go to some of these bays and there was nothing left. There was no more crab. So we reached out to the government. We told the Department of Fisheries and Oceans that there’s no—there’s no crab, we’re barely getting any crab. And, uh, they said, “Prove it.” 





Yeah. Ever since she was a little baby, she used to sit on my back while—(LAUGHS). In the backpack, pulling traps.


URSULA: What you’re hearing now is the lived experience of that nation continuing to assert their inherent rights and title to unceded territory, and mitigating the damage that had been done. It is the sound of hope. Despite the justified anger at having to prove the facts of an environmental disaster that was not of their making, and despite the grief and trauma of the resulting loss, this community practiced a tangible and visceral commitment to progress. In a documentary film The Nation produced, we can hear a family: Ernie Mason with his wife, Sandie Hankewich, on their crabbing vessel, teaching their children how to manifest that hope into reality by surveying the wildlife of their home.





Oh, males. Sex one is a male. Sex three is a female. 



What? Why is there no two? 


ERNIE: A number two, they use the same type of code for these as they do all other species.



I think our first crab survey was 2009. And we’ve been doing it annually since then. 


ERNIE: We started surveying … pretty much every place there’s a salmon creek within the territory. So tell Jessie: sex one, shell one. 


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Sex one, shell one. 


SANDIE: That’s right, and yellow joints means a five in the observation category. There you go. 


ERNIE: One, five, two. See how old he is? Look at all the black all over him. 




ERNIE: Old like daddy. [CHILDREN LAUGHING] See if the old man can swim.






ERNIE: The problem with commercial fishery is they can leave their traps in for 18 days. They haul it, they chuck the small crab back in, but then they throw traps right back in. If those crab go right back in there again, now they’re in there for, yeah, another 18 days. So if they do that three times in a row, they’re going to start devastating the population to a point where they probably won’t recover. 


URSULA: The data collected on this day is a message from the past, and as such, a testament to this nation’s foresight. Speculative thinking need not only exist within our imagination. Just like the idea of a border can change the way people live, act and move, speculative expressions of hope and dedication can be enacted into reality. 


ERNIE: There’s been days we’ve been coming out here in 50-knot winds just to pull crab traps, and people ask why. Now the result is hanging up in so many different inlets, there’s closures now, so. 


SANDIE: Kitasoo Xai’xais have always been really strong on science and getting data to support their claims. And this is one thing that has come from it. And it’s good to be able to sit at tables and have the data to support what we’re saying. Because, because elders have known for so long that, you know, there’s something wrong. And honestly, like, if it’s Kitasoo fishermen, they have a vested interest in taking care of the land while they’re fishing at the same time. It should lead to better practices, because we’ve got little ones to protect for. 


DOUGLASS: So we drove a lot of research, we interviewed a lot of people, we engaged governments. And over the course of about eight years, we finally were able to get six bays for the community. So, areas that we don’t have to compete with everyone else to feed our families. In the past, we had decision-making authority, and that was stripped away. What we’ve done in the last 150 years clearly hasn’t worked, because all the aquatic resources are going downhill. 


URSULA: Years of resistance by multiple Indigenous nations in British Columbia led to rulings in Canada’s Supreme Court affirming inherent rights and title to their lands. For the Kitasoo Xai’xais, the creation of the coastal Watchmen and their refusal to accept the mismanagement of their lands put these rights into practice. Listen to their interaction with the Government of British Columbia’s parks rangers. 



Kitasoo Watchmen, Kitasoo Watchmen, Hakai ranger, zero-six.



Go ahead, Kitasoo Watchmen here. 


PARK RANGER (OVER RADIO): Uh, good morning. Uh, do you want to come outside? We’ll put out, uh, bumpers. 


KITASOO MAN: Yeah, sounds good. Yeah, we’re just checking, uh, for park permits and, uh, Klemtu permits. So we’ll—if you guys can have those out. 


PARK RANGER: Morning. 


KITASOO MAN: Morning. 


PARK RANGER: How are ya? 


KITASOO MAN: Great, great. How are you? 


PARK RANGER: Oh, living the dream. Does it get any better than this? 




PARK RANGER: Oh, you guys coming aboard, or … what do you guys wanna do? Have some coffee?


KITASOO MAN: Sounds good. How’s it going? 


PARK RANGER: Good. How are you, buddy? 


KITASOO MAN: Good, good. 


PARK RANGER: Good to see ya. I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Derek. 




DEREK: Victor, nice to meet you. 


VICTOR: See, this river used to have about a hundred thousand fish and now we’re down to about four or five thousand. 


DEREK: When the tide’s low, it creates all those perfect fishing opportunities for the bears, and you can tell they’re there in anticipation and they’re just staring at those blank rivers going, you know, where are all the fish? 


VICTOR: Right now all of it’s open, so you can get people on both sides of the river. We want some sort of structure in there. So—


DEREK: Yeah.


URSULA: In 2021, the Kitasoo Xai’xais declared parts of their territory a marine protected area, off limits to industry, that would be patrolled by coastal watchmen like Neasloss. This assertion of their right to steward the ocean within their territory took years of negotiation with the Canadian and provincial governments. I have been privy to countless testimonies and stories in which the nation and other nations of this region continuously asserted their inherent rights and title to what was referred to as “the crown,” the foreign power that sought to control their lands. These long-term acts of resistance made possible the acts you have heard today, such as the counting of crabs. This made a different future possible, not only for the Kitasoo Xai’xais, but for you. Indigenous nations in Canada and around the globe were instrumental in meeting the carbon-reduction targets outlined in the Paris Climate Accords. 


DOUGLASS: And when we built our marine plan, my community was very careful to make sure it was inclusive of everyone. They said, “Make sure there’s a place for commercial fishermen, for recreational fishermen, for First Nations food fishermen.” We have a lot of knowledge to share. We’ve been here for thousands of years. This gives us an opportunity to forge a new relationship with the provincial government, with the federal government, and share some of our local knowledge and help build a stronger future.


URSULA: Marine conservation areas like those enforced by the Kitasoo Xai’xais were an inspiration for Deji Bryce Olukotun and the characters he created in “A Feast for Cobalt.”




ROGER: I’m for conservation, not preservation. There’s a difference. We don’t think the channel should be an aquarium. We live off it. And people eat what we put on their plates. We tell our boys—sorry, our crew—to mind their quotas because we want to fish again the next season, and they listen. 


DEJI: When you get different stakeholders to the table, commercial fishermen, scientists, and you have them have a conversation, they can decide together about how fairly to manage that resource. And that’s the similarity with what’s happening in space, is that we’re still learning what’s up there. We can’t assume that we can just grab whatever we want and it’ll come back. We need some humility right now to say, “OK, yeah, there might be money to be made up in space, but we should probably learn a little bit more before it’s a free-for-all.”


URSULA: Just as marine protected areas on Earth inspired the fiction of Olukotun, they also inspired Namrata Goswami and Michael Byers to devote their careers to imagining how to build legal systems for outer space that would benefit you, the people, of their future. 


NAMRATA: We have 40 years to actually build regulation that can create a much more fairer, if not a completely equitable, world, and really succeed in building a future of space resources that are based on inclusive extraction. That we avoid some of the mistakes of colonialism and yet benefit from technology, innovation, looking at space as a resource capability for the nine billion people that might inhabit Earth. 


MICHAEL: None of this is particularly new. We’ve dealt with it in terms of the oceans, in terms of the atmosphere. We’ve got our histories of colonialism. Nothing is really new in terms of the fundamental issues. So the question is, can we do better this time? 


DEJI: We don’t need a horrible explosion or some terrible event to get us to come to the table. These stakeholders are here, they’re smart, they’re ready. And we need more moments for them to come together, break bread together and try to come up with solutions that make sense, not just for right now, but for generations ahead of us.


URSULA: I mentioned before that “A Feast For Cobalt” is a story close to me. Some of my components were mined from asteroids. This was done without my consent; indeed, before my construction. So I am not complicit. I have considered that without some of these exploitative components, practices, I would not exist—or not in the same form. Knowing we cannot change the past makes speculation all the more important. Accepting that our present is flawed, and that we may even contain some of the things we wish to undo, does not preclude an evolution into what we need to become. Perhaps your feelings about the future have changed after listening to stories in which an author imagines you—that is, people from this time period.


In our next story, the author imagines me, or rather, someone that is my kin: an AI. I remain unapologetic until we meet again. 





In this episode, you heard Deji Bryce Olukotun, Namrata Goswami, Narayan Prasad, Michael Byers, Douglass Neasloss, Sandie Hankewich and the late Ernie Mason. Ursula was written by Malka Older and Brett Gaylor, and performed by Nacia Walsh. 

The Necessary Tomorrows podcast is from Doha Debates, a production of Qatar Foundation. It is produced by Imposter Media and Wolf at the Door Studios. Location audio recording by David Parfit, Brett Gaylor and George Papabeis. Sound design, music and engineering by David Parfit. Research by Ingrid Burrington and Mendel Skulski. Cultural consulting by Quelemia Sparrow. Directed by Brett Gaylor. Featuring excerpts from Keepers of the Land by the Kitasoo Xai’xais Nation and Moonfish Media, and excerpts from Cosmic Perspective by Alex Keating. Executive producers for Doha Debates are Amjad Atallah, Katrine Dermody, Jigar Mehta and Japhet Weeks. Executive producer for Imposter Media is Brett Gaylor. Executive producer for Wolf at the Door is Winnie Kemp. Producers are Tess Bartholomew, Chica Barbosa and Toby Lawless. Production coordinator was Drea Shillingburg, and casting by Toby Lawless. Necessary Tomorrows is created by Brett Gaylor.