While a virus dominates the planet and makes it stop, its richest men begin to dispute who goes further to escape Earth’s orbit.
In movies, billionaires often appear well prepared to take shelter of the apocalypse—often generated by the exploration systems they benefit from. Today, dystopia goes beyond cinema references and requires sociological studies on the phenomenon, already described as escapism.
“If that house burns down, it doesn’t matter, they take their resources to their other planet, in heaven, in paradise,” he told leaf the French philosopher and sociologist Bruno Latour, referring to denial (of science, climate and facts) as a narrative resource. The richest in the world, however, want to take literally the manic gamble that their powers do away with this troubled planet.
Nine days after Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactics, became the first billionaire to reach the edge of space, this Tuesday (20) it was the turn of Jeff Bezos, ahead of Blue Origin and also Amazon, whose profits him earned the current title of richest man in the world. Close behind in the Olympics is Elon Musk, who made his fortune with electric car company Tesla and is now betting on space tourism with SpaceX, which is due to take off for the first time in September.
The billionaires’ dispute signals that their fortunes are not at the service of this world (although the opposite is quite evident).
From space tourism to human settlements on the Moon, the possibilities for takeoffs to succeed as a business will continue to expand the logic that the top of the economic pyramid can even escape this exhausted world in search of a safe place — a concept absorbed by the logic of the economic elite as a space restricted, private, private, inaccessible. Ostentation on the rocket, of course, after all airports have long been turned into bus stations.
Branson’s 20 minutes to the edge of space cost $1 billion. Tickets to embark on a tour of the space can cost from US$ 500,000 (R$ 2.6 million) to US$ 28 million (R$ 145 million), an amount already sold at auction.
A profoundly unequal world, on the brink of climate and environmental collapse and still undergoing a pandemic, requires a minimum of ethical consideration given the freedom to enjoy personal fortunes.
Without any scientific purpose, the whim of billionaires deliberately throws money into space when here it is a matter of life and death, mask or contamination, bed or vaccine, food or hunger, work or misery. As the catchphrase created by actress Ilana Kaplan, who was successful on the internet, says that she mocked the ostentation in times of pandemic: “is it a good tone? It’s not in a good way”.
The embarrassment should be even greater given the revelation by the American news agency ProPublica, in early June, that the podium shifters of the richest in the world have been legally maneuvering to pay less taxes than the rest of the mortals.
“In 2007, Jeff Bezos, then a multibillionaire and now the richest man in the world, didn’t pay a penny in federal income taxes. He achieved the feat again in 2011. In 2018, Tesla founder Elon Musk, the second-richest person in the world, also did not pay federal income tax,” says the report.
The flight of billionaires also costs natural resources and generates severe environmental impacts, which need to be studied in more depth before flights become widespread and become more frequent. If space tourism takes hold, it will need to be regulated so that spacecraft fuels no longer become an environmental nightmare.
In addition to the generation of space waste, which poses risks to the continuity of space activities itself, according to an article published in 2018 by the Aerospace research agency, the most researched environmental impact so far is the destruction of stratospheric ozone caused by propellant fuels, according to an article published last year by Elsevier’s Journal of Cleaner Production, a major publisher of scientific journals.
The threat to the ozone layer was overcome by the Montreal Protocol, one of the most successful environmental treaties, which in 1987 determined the elimination of gases harmful to the protective layer against ultraviolet rays.
Since then, the world has translated the challenge of sustainable development as one that respects planetary limits, which condition human health and life as a whole.
The ecological crisis as well as the pandemic reminds us that humanity belongs to the Earth—and not the other way around. It is precisely this basic truth that they try to escape when they dispute the height at which they can be freed from the Earth’s atmosphere. Billionaires try to prove the superhuman power of not needing this planet.