In recent weeks, you've likely heard the buzz surrounding the "billionaire space race." Three of the wealthiest men on Earth — Amazon's Jeff Bezos, SpaceX's Elon Musk, and the Virgin Group's Richard Branson — are effectively "racing" each other to take short recreational trips to outer space. And while they could be putting all of that unnecessary money towards something more productive, it's also doing irreparable harm to the planet, due to the exorbitant impact of space travel.
“Is anyone else alarmed that billionaires are having their own private space race while record-breaking heatwaves are sparking a ‘fire-breathing dragon of clouds’ and cooking sea creatures to death in their shells?” former U.S. Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, tweeted on July 8.
That said, many of us are wondering the same exact thing.
What is the impact of space travel?
If you thought car or plane travel were high impact modes of transportation, imagine what it takes to launch a rocket into space. According to The Guardian, SpaceX's Falcon 9 runs on kerosene, while NASA's rocket uses liquid hydrogen — and both emit quite a bit of CO2 and chlorine into the atmosphere. Each rocket launch, which carries about four passengers, emits approximately 200 to 300 tonnes of carbon dioxide per ride.
When launched, rockets emit large amounts of heat, which causes greenhouse gases to clog the atmosphere and trap heat. Then, upon entering space, emissions go straight in the upper atmosphere, where they remain for two to three years. Carbon emissions from rockets has increased by 5.6 percent annually, and with more people looking to travel to space, they're expected to skyrocket — literally. In fact, the space tourism market is forecasted to grow 17.15 percent each year for the next 10 years.
Despite these known issues, there aren't any rules or limitations surrounding rocket travel, in relation to emissions.
“We have no regulations currently around rocket emissions,” Eloise Marais, an associate professor of physical geography at University College London, told The Guardian. “The time to act is now — while the billionaires are still buying their tickets.”
The space race is also impacting society.
Have you ever heard the phrase "eat the rich"? We don't literally intend for people to resort to cannibalism — many just feel billionaires shouldn't really exist. According to WBUR, while these obscenely wealthy white men are spending billions of dollars for a fun trip to space, communities are still recovering from the pandemic, and 11 people per minute are succumbing to hunger and malnutrition.
"It is our backwards and corrupt tax system that has allowed Jeff Bezos to pay next to no federal income tax — even claim the child tax credit one year — while at the same time pour $7.5 billion into his own private aerospace company," writes Abby Maxman of WBUR. "Imagine the true heights we could achieve if he, along with other billionaires, paid their fair share of taxes."
Are there better ways for these people to spend their money? For the sake of the planet and other people, we certainly think so.