Dear Space-Obsessed Billionaires: Please Stop
Get your head out of the clouds — we’re dying down here
Get your head out of the clouds — we’re dying down here
Jeff Bezos, the world’s most dangerous politician, is going to space for eleven minutes. He’s headed (north? south? up? down?) on a pilotless spacecraft to a height of 62 miles, in hopes of normalizing the idea of space travel.
As if airplane emissions weren’t already horrible enough for planet earth.
Like tax-evader Richard Branson’s space flight nine days ago, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX launch in September, it’s part of an effort to boost public confidence in suborbital tourism for hyper-elites.
Bezos’s interest in space goes back to his teen years. As the high school valedictorian told a local Florida newspaper at the time, he wanted to “build space hotels, amusement parks, and colonies for 2 million or 3 million people who would be in orbit.”
It reminds me of the harrowing dystopian film Elysium, where the super-rich frolic in a resort above the earth while extracting resources from the suffering masses below.
Fast forward to today, where Bezos’s dream has greatly expanded, with Blue Origin now committed to “building a commercial empire across all major sectors of the space economy.” The company’s Latin motto is “Gradatim Ferociter.” Step by step, ferociously.
Jeff Bezos wants to colonize space, and if British history has taught us anything, it’s that ferocious colonization never ends well.
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Flying to space is expensive. Living in space is absurdly expensive. To be certain, it will cost tens if not hundreds of trillions of dollars to allow ultra-elites to make the uninhabitable habitable. Money that could solve global warming, re-forest the planet, save the oceans, house our global family, and transition us to a sustainable bioeconomy. Or put a few rich people in the sky.
Let’s be honest: Jeff’s flight to space is being paid for by decades of publicly financed science, Amazon worker exploitation, environmental degradation, democratic manipulation, and tax evasion, all backed up by egregious financialization and cheap printed debt that hyper-inflates the economy and destroys your purchasing power.
Rather than treating workers with fairness and human dignity, rather than aggressively seeking sustainability, rather than contributing to the costs of civilization from which Amazon has extracted vast amounts of wealth, Jeff is flying to space at a huge cost to earth and its inhabitants.
Even getting to space is bad for those of us down below. Virgin Galactic’s Space Ship Two uses synthetic rubber as fuel and burns it with nitrous oxide, pumping black carbon into the upper stratosphere, which can cause a nuclear winter effect. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 puts out the equivalent of 395 transatlantic flights-worth of carbon emissions.
Why do billionaires care so much about space and so little about earth? If they really want to save the human race, while not do so on the #1 planet that humans are adapted for?
Space tourism celebrates inequality
Seats on Blue Origin cost $28 million — over $42,000 per second.
Enough to feed 1,050 starving children in Burundi for a year.
Is it fair and right to allow hyper-elites to cruise around space while their fellow humans live houseless and starve? While one million people per day are forced into slums? While billions suffer and the planet collapses?
I’ve already called for an obscenity tax on mega-yachts — if civil society is going to allow elite space tourism, we’re going to need to include a 1000+% space tax.
We’ll also need to address the fact that access to space will be wildly unequal. Why should a minority kid raised in the ghetto by a hard-working single parent not have the same opportunity to experience space as Bezos’s 18-year-old co-passenger Oliver Daemen, son of a hedge fund vulture capitalist who’s spent his career profiting off human shelter?
Humans don’t belong in uninhabitable space
There, I said it. And I’ll say it again:
Humans don’t belong in uninhabitable space.
I believe in this outrageous notion that homo sapiens are perfectly adapted for the planet we affectionately call Earth. We are simply not adapted for lifelong space living, and likely never will be.
Yet Elon Musk thinks we could live on uninhabitable Mars.
But in reality, we’re not adapted for anything uninhabitable out there.
Not for fake gravity.
Not for space’s radiation levels.
Not for enclosed space stations.
Not for canned air.
Not for manufactured water.
Not for indoor-grown food.
We need our sun, our gravity, our radiation levels, our fresh air, our unenclosed spaces, our mineralized water, and literally millions of other things — chemical, molecular, biological, and still-undiscovered things — that allow homo sapiens to thrive. Hopefully we find a mirror planet someday that’s actually habitable, but recreating earth from scratch is ridiculous.
Sim Kern puts it in perspective:
It takes an outrageous amount of hubris to think millions of people can live healthily in uninhabitable space from birth to death. It’s not impossible, but the sheer cost of re-creating earth’s habitat is so enormous that if we invested it on earth instead, we could make this place nearly heaven.
And if we do burn trillions on colonizing uninhabitable space, it will make earth a living hell.
Why are the rich so obsessed with space?
First off, colonizing space could be a highly profitable investment, and the rich love nothing more than more money. Space investment is just an extension of our cancerous earth-corporatism. After all, we already live in an Elysium-style world, where the rich live in beautiful enclaves at the expense of impoverished nations. If the elites can perfect space residency, humanity could very well transition to a world where the rich see earth as a colony from which to continue their centuries of extraction.
But there are also deeper motivations than money.
They’re afraid of an uprising.
They know their businesses have taken a toll on earth and its inhabitants. They know they’ve only scrambled to the top by hurting others. And they know it’s only a matter of time before justice comes knocking.
When earth reaches ten billion inhabitants, when the planet’s on fire, when basic resources are a struggle, when shelter is impossibly expensive, and everything and everyone have been commodified, war will be a force that gives many people meaning. Expect the Forbes 400 rich list to become a hit list.
They’re trying to build utopia.
Heaven on earth, heaven in the clouds. Perfect peace, perfect rest. Little do they know it will never happen. Thomas More, who invented the word utopia, derived it from two Latin roots meaning “no place.” Utopia simply doesn’t exist, because the human heart is desperately corrupt.
The rich want to build utopias under the assumption that when they are fully in charge, they’ll finally feel at rest. But power and love are like oil and water. If you can control people, they can’t love you with free will. Just ask Kim Jong Un or Vladimir Putin. Jeff Bezos — our generation’s John D. Rockefeller — will find space to be just as lonely as earth.
Most billionaires don’t need to go to space — they just need a hug.
We should definitely go to space
To be clear, I am not saying we should stop deep-space exploration. Far from it. We could discover useful minerals, helpful resources, and new scientific breakthroughs. (Though, even these discoveries will only be truly helpful if they profit the masses and not just the hyper-elites.)
I’m not even saying that we should look for other genuinely habitable planets to re-settle when our sun burns out in a few billion years. But before we go searching for habitable places in earnest, we should earnestly seek to steward what we already have.
If we can’t create a fair, democratic, sustainable, circular bioeconomy here on earth, why should we export our extractive, predatory nature to planets unknown? We should build the right foundations here, before we seek to move elsewhere. We need to earn the right to go to space.
In the meantime, let’s reject the notion that millions of rich people will live bunkered down on any uninhabitable place like Mars and the moon and earthships. Such delusions are too costly and put too heavy a toll on the one we know 100% actually works.
You don’t bet the farm to buy a cow.
We need to clarify the reason why we do space exploration: Because we’re dang curious, it’s freaking cool, and it could help us down here on earth.
You know, the place where the vast majority of us homo sapiens will live forever.