Alexander: Tone-Deaf Billionaires Explore Space


Sydney Stam

(Graphic by Sydney Stam | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By CJ Alexander, Special Projects Managing Editor


The ultimate commercial race to space is underway, led by the richest of the rich. On July 11, billionaire Sir Richard Branson, who’s known for his risky yet expensive adventures, flew to space.

Nine days later, Jeff Bezos made his own space debut with his brother Mark Bezos, aviator Wally Funk and physics student Oliver Daemon, traveling even further than Branson into space for a whopping 11 minutes.

The point of these trips still seems unclear, since people have already been to space and the moon, and neither of the trips contributed to scientific exploration in any way.

While these expeditions bring unbridled excitement for the future of commercial space flights, the chance to go will cost thousands, if not millions, of dollars. As incredible and entertaining as billionaires going to space is to watch, it’s essential to recognize them as detrimental and tone-deaf.

The wealthy continue to look towards space to capitalize on space travel and space living, but we have enough problems here on Earth. Billionaires don’t need support or any more money. They need criticism and a reality check.

Here on Earth, climate change is worse than ever. In 2020, the United States had one of its hottest summers ever recorded, and this summer is no joke either. Scientists predict temperatures will only rise as climate change persists, and as carbon emissions climb, so does the risk of irreversible damage.

Space travel takes immense amounts of carbon, which didn’t matter to Bezos or Branson. Companies like Amazon continue to pledge money towards sustainability and green initiatives but fall short of actually limiting their carbon footprint. Why would they change when their companies profit off of pollution?

Billionaires need to look at their own carbon footprints. Carbon emissions from the top 1% are more than double the emissions of the poorest half of the world. Virgin Galactic aims to launch 400 space flights annually, and Bezos will either match or increase that number.

These flights alone will drastically alter the environment, so instead of finding a way to minimize the average person’s carbon emissions, we need to stop Bezos and Branson. Because the earth is dying, and billionaires are to blame.

And it’s not like billionaires can’t afford to help the earth. Jeff Bezos is worth about $190 billion as of Aug. 6, and Elon Musk doesn’t fall too far behind either, with his net worth around $180 billion as of Aug. 6. With their wealth, those two alone could save 41 million people from risk of starvation, and still have more than enough to retain their titles as the richest people on Earth. But why should they? I’m sure being the richest man on Earth versus the man who saves the Earth has a much better ring to it.

Yet, corporate greed prevails as wage inequality continues to grow at unprecedented rates. At Amazon, the CEO to worker wage ratio is 58:1. It’s the most unequal ratio, compared to CVS, Walmart and other industry giants. Yet Bezos thanked his workers for funding his Blue Origin flight, despite their pleas for humane treatment and improved working conditions. Every day at Amazon, each employee is treated like a robot, working 12-hour shifts, taking just a 30-minute break, injured easily and fired for not being fast enough.

Once again, billionaires prove their inability to read the room as they fund their lavish lifestyles and harmful dreams. However, at this point, it seems that billionaires are more concerned with flaunting their wealth than contributing to commercial space flight. Daemen’s $28 million ticket and the growing competition between Branson, Bezos and Musk prove that.

For one, Branson moved his flight date forward to be the first one in space after Bezos announced the date of his own launch. Then, Bezos took a dig at Virgin Galactic with facts about Blue Origin’s planned travel. Later, after both of their flights, the Federal Aviation Administration stripped both Branson and Bezos of their astronaut wings, fueling their competition even more.

Enter Musk: a billionaire who has expressed his admiration and goals to colonize Mars and further continue space exploration. Musk recently announced his partnership with NASA to build the next lunar lander, leading to Bezos offering $2 billion to NASA in a counter-bid. This petty competition fails to send the message of “space exploration potential” and instead stages space travel as “for the filthy rich only.”

While I applaud the innovation and the drive to further our future potential in space, it is abundantly clear that billionaires need to re-evaluate their priorities. Their desperate dash to be the first one in space, the first “legal astronaut,” is absurd and should not be supported.

They flaunt their wealth while more than 689 million people live in extreme poverty and millions more continue to struggle. There are real problems here on Earth that need our attention and taking an 11-minute joy ride to space isn’t solving any of them. We need to criticize people with immense wealth who can easily help end numerous people’s suffering because greed in our society has taken an immense hold.


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