It’s a hell of a time to be alive, eh? In the past 120 years the global population has exploded like never before. From a pretty manageable 1.6 billion people in 1900, we’re closing in fast on 8 billion souls – all in need of food, power, water andsomewhere to live.
And the impact of all that farming, landclearing and burning of fuel? The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warns if urgent action isn’t taken now we can expect worse fires, longer droughts and mass coastal flooding. The United Nations called it ‘code red for humanity’.
So what are the planet’s richest and most resourceful people doing about it?
They’re taking joy flights into space, that’s what! As the world’s scientific community was putting the depressing finishing touches on the IPCC report, the top end of town was busy testing rockets and ‘space-planes’ in a mad dash to see who would be crowned the first ‘space tourist’.
Yep, while glaciers melted, the northern hemisphere either flooded or caught fire, sea levels rose a bit more and a pandemic killed 4.5 million people, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos – the single richest man in history – was laser focused on the urgent task of riding a giant phallus 100km straight up so he could experience weightlessness for a couple of minutes.
“Best day ever!” Bezos declared after he touched down in Texas following the 11-minute flight on July 20. It was, he added, ‘the first step of something big.’
Only it wasn’t the first step, was it Jeff? Fellow billionaire Sir Richard Branson had become the first space tourist several weeks earlier when his Virgin Galactic craft entered suborbital space. Oh yeah, and we mustn’t forget about Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin who was the first human in space back in 1961 (when Bezos was three). And then there were those who followed, including the 12 Americans who walked on the Moon. In fact, at press time, no fewer than 574 people had travelled into space.
But never mind all that: Bezos, Branson and Space-X founder Elon Musk have been hell bent on a three-man space-race up their own arses.
‘Congratulations. Can’t wait to join the club,’ Bezos tweeted after Branson appeared to have won in early July. It wasn’t long before Bezos started bitching that it didn’t really count, because Branson’s space-plane didn’t cross the Karman Line – the agreed official boundary between the atmosphere and space. Ten days later Bezos’s 3,858-inch space-schlong did.
The most galling aspect of this vulgar pissing contest is that Branson (who owns a major airline) and Bezos (whose empire revolves around shipping goods by air, land and sea) would have to be among the planet’s biggest polluters. Their daily carbon footprints would be big enough to stomp King Kong to death.
Yet when the IPCC warns we have to cut emissions to avoid a climate catastrophe, these blokes reckon what mankind really needs is…more fumes! As if the planes, trucks, ships and minivans they’ve built their wealth on didn’t pollute enough, now they want to add rocket exhaust to the mix.
And why? Because they want even more money. Bezos – who had the audacity when briefly in space to thank Amazon employees and customers ‘because you guys paid for all this’ – reckons space tourism is a sure-fire financial winner.
‘We’re approaching $100 million in private [ticket] sales already,’ he boasted.
Apparently having a personal fortune of $190 billion is not enough for Jeff Bezos. And god knows Richard Branson could always do with some more cash. Obviously these guys aren’t gearing up to take you and I into space for the price of a flight to Bali: only the filthy rich will ever afford space tourism. And why wouldn’t they? It’d be nice to have a little getaway from the increasingly dirtier, stormier, hotter, more crowded, more polluted and more dangerous planet we inhabit.
There’s one little flaw in the space tourism blueprint, though. And since Jeff Bezos thinks he took some kind of ‘first step’ in space, I’m not surprised he seems ignorant of history and the lessons it could teach him on his noble quest to conquer the galaxy for other gazillionaires.
The thing is, space flight is not only astronomically expensive, it’s fairly fucking deadly. The long road to the cosmos is littered with burnt and dismembered corpses. Perhaps the most famous incident was the 1986 space shuttle Challenger disaster thatkilled all seven crew, including a primaryschool teacher who was supposed to be the first civilian in space.
It will take just one exploding booster rocket to see the zero-gravity dreams of Bezos, Branson and Musk come crashing back to earth in a rain of blood, guts and debris – never to rise again. I think I’ll stick with Bali. It might be overcrowded and the rising sea level could mess with the surf, but at least I’ll probably survive. After all, it’s a hell of a time to be alive.