Shortly after returning from his rocket adventure into space, Jeffrey Preston Bezos claimed:
“We need to take all heavy industry, all polluting industry, and move it into space. And keep Earth as this beautiful gem of a planet that it is.”
Now, if you are part of the sycophantic mainstream media who wait open mouthed for him to finish each of his mesmerising sentences, you will have been awed by the audacious ambition of the world’s richest tax evader. If, on the other hand, you live in the reality we inhabit, you will have found this statement to be as sensical as aiming to open-up space tourism to the planet’s richest at a time of climate and biodiversity collapse.
Of course, Preston is joined in his galaxy quest by his other tax evading chums Elon Musk and Sir Richard Branson. Together, these heavyweights of wealth accruement and tax avoidance, worth an estimated $370 billion, aim to make space the limitless frontier.
Without the use of critical thinking, it might be easy to think, “hell yeah, that’s a great idea.” When crunching the numbers with just a semblance of autonomous thought though, the idea becomes as preposterous as the shape of Bezos’s rocket.
Let’s take Musk’s SpaceX Falcon rocket for instance. As it starts its journey into space, its twenty-seven engines produce as much thrust as eighteen Boeing 747s. When it reaches orbit, it will have burned as much kerosene as would the average car in a 200-year-lifespan. A single flight is estimated to be equal to the annual carbon footprint of 278 average world citizens. During launch, rockets can also emit between four and ten times more nitrogen oxide than the largest coal power plant in the U.K., Drax, over the same period. In addition, water vapour, chlorine and other chemicals are emitted. SpaceX is aiming to launch 12,000 satellites into space by 2027. Virgin Galactic plans on offering 400 flights a year. Merely multiplying the carbon footprint of a single flight by 12,000 adds the emissions of a staggering 3,336,000 average world citizens to our already deadly amount.
These rockets not only add to the greenhouse gas pollution that we desperately need to be reducing but they also add black soot to the upper layers of the atmosphere where it remains for a long period. An additional, yet thus far unstudied risk, is to our still recovering ozone layer. Of course, our space cowboys make all the right soundbites when speaking to their mouthpiece, the mainstream media, who then disseminate their greenwashing words to all and sundry, but the obvious truth remains that transport to and from space is unsustainably energy intensive. The popular practice of “offsetting” emissions is laughable if it wasn’t so tragically sad. Which planet do we offset them to?
Simply encouraging the planet’s wealthiest residents to switch from flying horizontally to vertically will increase CO2 per passenger by 100 times. This, so they can enjoy a ten-minute flight of fancy with some weightlessness and impressive views thrown in for bragging rights. Musk aims to offer longer space adventures to those who can afford to pollute the planet. SpaceX plans on offering four people the chance to spend five days in space and their president Gwynne Shotwell said:
“This historic mission will forge a path to making spaceflight possible for all people who dream of it.”
The only problem with this statement is that while many people dream of venturing into space, if all those who dream it then achieve it, we will bake the Earth a crispy brown in minutes. It isn’t sustainable for the richest and it certainly isn’t sustainable for the masses. Just in case you were wondering how long you would need to work to afford this dream, open to all, Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte spent a colossal $35 million on an eleven-day trip to the International Space Station in 2009. Rather than come down, the cost appears to have risen as an unknown passenger accompanied Bezos on his ten-minute space odyssey for the reported price of $28 million. With the average American earning roughly $31,000 a year, they should be able to achieve their boyhood dream by the time they are in their 1,130s. That’s if they too are able to evade their taxes for the next 1,124 years. Now, of course, the price of tickets should come down as more and more people enjoy their vanity trips, and rockets may become more energy efficient over time, but this has also happened with automobiles and aviation, yet our existential crisis has continued to get worse and worse. Now imagine, we aren’t just venturing off on space holidays, but we are producing all our wholly unnecessary things up there too.
In 2020 it was reported in Nature, that the weight of all manmade materials was equal to the weight of all living beings. That is to say that all plastic, metal, concrete, glass, clothes and computers weigh as much as all the trees, birds, animals and insects (biomass) on Earth. While the weight of living beings hasn’t changed much recently, the weight of manmade objects has been rising astronomically and now stands at 1.2 trillion U.S. tons (1.1 trillion metric tons). As the 20th century got underway, manmade stuff amounted to approximately 3% of global biomass but we have been adding around thirty billion tons each year. By 2020, each and every human being on our planet was contributing their body weight in manufactured goods. Of course, this production is only being carried out by the richest nations. It is estimated that by 2040, with current trends, we will double the weight of manmade stuff to 2.2 trillion tons. Now, try to imagine all the energy necessary to shift all the manufacturing equipment into space and all the energy and resources necessary to build the floating space factories and then all the energy and resources needed to transport all this stuff to Earth where it will be consumed. Now, add in in the fact that only 1% of consumer items remain in use after six months so if Bezos’s dream of preserving our gem of a planet is to come true, then we will need to somehow get rid of all the rubbish we no longer need. We either burn it and produce enormous pollution, we bury it and pollute the soil, discard it at sea and kill our oceans or we send it to the moon and dump it there. Either way, we will need to completely trash our home in the process.
Isn’t it time we stop listening to the brain farts of space seeking psychopaths and start listening to the climate scientists whose predictions are now coming true? They warned us that wildfires would increase in severity and size, and that heatwaves would become more lethal, and that flooding would become commonplace. They say we need unprecedented change not capitalism on space steroids. All these disasters have been caused by our constant need for perpetual growth and they will continue to worsen until we admit our folly and realize that there is no planet B. This is our only home, and we are destroying it in order to build giant dick shaped rockets for even bigger dicks in space suits. If we don’t change course soon, our children will inherit dead ecosystems and an unlivable planet. All so the richest can enjoy short ego boosting trips while the rest of us wade in plastic filled oceans and breathe our own greed.
Simon Whalley is an educator in Japan, the co-founder of Extinction Rebellion Japan and the author of the upcoming book, Dear Indy: A Heartfelt Plea From a Climate Anxious Father.