Space debris expert: Orbits will be lost—and people will die—later this decade | Ars Technica:

Ars: Given what has happened over the last few years and what is expected to come, do you think the activity we’re seeing in low-Earth orbit is sustainable?

Moriba Jah: My opinion is that the answer is no, it’s not sustainable. Many people don’t like this whole “tragedy of the commons” thing, but that’s exactly what I think we’re on a present course for. Near-Earth orbital space is finite. We should be treating it like a finite resource. We should be managing it holistically across countries, with coordination and planning and these sorts of things. But we don’t do that. I think it’s analogous to the early days of air traffic and even maritime and that sort of stuff. It’s like when you have a couple of boats that are coming into a place, it’s not a big deal. But when you have increased traffic, then that needs to get coordinated because everybody’s making decisions in the absence of knowing the decisions that others are making in that finite resource.

Ars: Is it possible to manage all of this traffic in low-Earth orbit?

Jah: Right now there is no coordination planning. Each country has plans in the absence of accounting for the other country’s plans. That’s part of the problem. So it doesn’t make sense. Like, if “Amberland” was the only country doing stuff in space, then maybe it’s fine. But that’s not the case. So you have more and more countries saying, “Hey, I have free and unhindered use of outer space. Nothing legally has me reporting to anybody because I’m a sovereign nation and I get to do whatever I want.” I mean, I think that’s stupid. 

It is stupid, but a familiar kind of stupid. I must have seen a dozen essays arguing that if you can find any examples of people collaborating with regard to shared goods then the tragedy of the commons argument is wrong. Which is also stupid! If we can sometimes resist the temptations to abuse any given commons, that’s not an argument that such abuse is unlikely to happen. Of course the abuse of common goods isn’t inevitable; but it is distressingly common and we should always be on the lookout for it. In space we aren’t paying sufficient attention.