Opinion

Bon voyage to the space billionaires

The rest of us will be just fine without you

The billionaires want to go to space. The billionaires tell us their extraterrestrial ambitions are for the good of us all. The billionaires only want to save humanity! If you think about it, we should all be thankful for our benevolent space billionaires.

The billionaires don't say the part about how their search for a backup planet is partially due to an impending catastrophe of their own making. The billionaires distract us with talk of bars on Mars, and leave out the part about how "more than 70 percent of global emissions come from just 100 companies." The billionaires don't want to get sidetracked from their shiny new rocketships with that sort of negativity.

On Monday, the billionaire with the most billions announced that he will be the first billionaire to actually go to space. The billionaire and his brother will be joined on their spaceship by someone who proves that he or she is wealthy enough to be on board, too. The top billionaire gets nostalgic talking about his upcoming trip: "Ever since I was five years old, I've dreamed of traveling to space," the billionaire says, and in doing so, he inadvertently reveals that he's an "ocean is scarier" person and clearly didn't spend enough time watching Apollo 13, or Event Horizon, or Gravity, or Alien, or the one where the people leave Matt Damon on Mars. 

For all his big talk, the billionaire will only be in space for 11 minutes.

But the billionaires are dreaming big. The billionaires want to colonize the moon. The billionaires want to colonize Mars. The billionaires seem to be a little bit afraid of Earth, because they're spending their billions trying to escape into a lifeless, airless, empty, inhospitable black vacuum. Do the billionaires not realize how great Earth is? Do they not like grass and popsicles and colorful sunsets and Bonsai trees and temperatures over minus-100 degrees Fahrenheit? Do they not enjoy the spontaneous realization, from time to time, that they might be sitting in a spot where a dinosaur once walked, or how incredible it is to see the same moon that elephants, also, look up at night and see?

The billionaires will tell you that they are optimists. But the billionaires will also say it's naïve to act like the writing's not on the wall. The billionaires, though, would rather not deal with the less-sexy problems of planetary inequality, world hunger, and climate refugees when they have their "space toys" to play with instead. The billionaires want cocktail hours on rocket ships, 11 minutes in space, future business opportunities. The billionaires say they are helping, but it also looks suspiciously like leaving.

But if the billionaires want to go to space, then let them have their cold, dead prize. True humanity, in all its ugly, difficult, and worthwhile glory, is still down here on Earth.

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