Bill Nye: It’s space settlement, not colonization

“Colonize” carries a lot of baggage

As we prepare to expand our reach in the solar system, we should pay attention to the language we use to describe that endeavor, Bill Nye said.

Nye, the former TV “Science Guy” who heads the nonprofit Planetary Society, thinks we should frame our coming exploration activities in a positive linguistic light.

“In the planetary community, we discourage the use of the verb ‘colonize.’ We prefer ‘settle,'” Nye said Wednesday (Oct. 23) at the 70th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) meeting in Washington, D.C. “Colonizing has gotten a bad rap, understandably.”

That bad rap stems from the violence and oppression that multiple colonizing powers have inflicted on native peoples around the world. Think of the Spanish throughout the Western Hemisphere; the English in North America, India and Australia; the Dutch in South Africa, the Caribbean and Indonesia; and the Belgians in central Africa. (There are, of course, many other examples; this is just a bare-bones list.)

So, as Nye noted, a number of scholars, exploration advocates and other folks in the spaceflight community wish to avoid association with the word “colonize” and all the freight it carries. And some researchers have stressed that rejecting this verb could even have tangible benefits, helping to put us in the right mindset to explore space responsibly and sustainably.

Last year, for example, astronomer Lucianne Walkowicz organized a conference called “Decolonizing Mars,” which tackled some of these issues head-on.

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