The billionaire space race epitomizes capitalism’s destructive obsession with growth Technology by Admin - July 21, 2021July 21, 20210 Mars ain’t the sort of place to lift your children, laments the Rocket Man in Elton John’s timeless basic. In truth, it’s chilly as hell, however that doesn’t appear to fret a brand new era of house entrepreneurs intent on colonizing the “final frontier” as quick as attainable. Don’t get me mistaken. I’m no sullen technophobe. As lockdown tasks go, NASA’s touchdown of the Perseverance rover on the floor of the purple planet earlier this yr was a hell of a blast. Watching it jogged my memory that I as soon as led a highschool debate defending the movement: this home believes that humanity ought to attain for the celebs. It should have been across the time that Caspar Weinberger was making an attempt to steer President Nixon not to cancel the Apollo house program. My brothers and I watched the monochrome triumph of the Apollo 11 landing avidly in 1969. We witnessed the close to catastrophe of Apollo 13 – immortalized in a 1995 Hollywood film – when Jim Lovell (performed by Tom Hanks) and two rookie astronauts narrowly escaped with their lives through the use of the Lunar Module as an emergency life raft. We knew it was thrilling up there. I keep in mind later going to see Apollo 13 (the movie) with a pal who wasn’t born when the mission itself befell. “What did you think?” I requested as we got here out of the cinema. “It was OK,” stated my pal. “Just not very believable.” But we children had been glued to our black-and-white TV units the whole week of the unique mission. We watched in horror as CO₂ ranges rose within the Lunar Module, we endured the infinite blackout because the returning astronauts plunged perilously again to Earth, and we held our breath with the remainder of the world because the anticipated 4 minutes stretched to 5 and hope started to fade. It was a full six minutes earlier than the digicam lastly got here into concentrate on the command module’s parachutes – safely deployed above the Pacific Ocean. We felt the endorphin rush. We knew it was plausible. That was 1970. This is now. And right here I’m once more on the sting of one other couch, within the lingering uncertainty of the time of COVID-19, ready for indicators of arrival from one other re-entry blackout on one other barren rock, devoid of breathable ambiance, 200 million miles away. When the Perseverance Rover lastly touches down on the floor of Mars: that very same exhilaration, that very same endorphin rush. It’s fairly tough to witness the jubilation behind the masks at NASA’s mission management with out feeling a glimmer of vicarious pleasure. But NASA’s intelligent science experiment is simply the tip of an expansionary iceberg. A teaser, if you’ll, for an formidable dream that’s being pushed sooner and sooner by big business pursuits. A curious twist in a debate that has been raging now for nearly half a century. Nasa’s Perseverance Mars rover used its dual-camera Mastcam-Z imager to seize this picture. a hill about 2.5km away. NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS Growth wars Ever since 1972, when a workforce of MIT scientists printed a massively influential report on the Limits to Growth, economists have been fighting about whether or not it’s attainable for the financial system to broaden without end. Those who imagine it might enchantment to the power of technology to “decouple” financial exercise from its results on the planet. Those (like me) who imagine it might’t level to the limited evidence for decoupling at something just like the tempo that’s wanted to keep away from a local weather emergency or stop a catastrophic decline in biodiversity. The development debate usually hangs on the ability you attribute to expertise to avoid wasting us. Usually, it’s the technophiles arguing for infinite development on a finite planet – generally placing their hopes in speculative applied sciences similar to direct air capture or harmful ones like nuclear energy. And normally, it’s the skeptics arguing for a post-growth economy. But the easy division between technophiles and technophobes has by no means been notably useful. Very few development skeptics reject expertise fully, nobody in any respect is asking humanity to return to the cave. My personal analysis groups on the University of Surrey have been exploring the vital role of sustainable expertise in reworking the financial system for nearly three many years now. But we’ve additionally proven how the dynamics of capitalism – particularly its relentless pursuit of productivity growth – frequently push society in the direction of materialistic objectives, and undermine these elements of the financial system similar to care, craft, and creativity, that are important to our high quality of life. And now abruptly, alongside comes a bunch of self-confessed expertise lovers lastly admitting that the planet is just too small for us. Yes, you had been proper, they indicate: the Earth can’t maintain infinite development. That’s why we have now to broaden into house. Before it spends trillions of dollars littering its techno-junk across the photo voltaic system, this home believes that humanity ought to pay a little bit extra consideration to what’s occurring proper right here and now on this planet. What simply occurred? Did anyone transfer the goalposts? Something is mistaken. Maybe it’s me. One factor I do know for certain. I’m now not the identical child I used to be – the one from the debating society. This home believes that humanity ought to develop the fuck up. The human situation Perhaps sarcastically, it was from house that we noticed it first. In October 1957, the Soviets despatched an unmanned orbital satellite tv for pc referred to as Sputnik into house. It was a kind of odd moments in historical past (just like the coronavirus) that dramatically reshapes our social world. Sputnik kicked off the house race, intensified the arms race, and heightened the chilly battle. It was an enormous blow to US shallowness to not be the primary nation to achieve house and it was the jolt it used to kickstart the Apollo Moon shot. No one likes coming second, particularly essentially the most highly effective folks on the planet. Sputnik additionally signaled the start of a brand new relationship between humanity and its earthly dwelling. As the political thinker, Hannah Arendt remarked within the prologue to her 1958 masterpiece, The Human Condition, going into house allowed us to understand our planetary predicament for the primary time in historical past. It was a reminder that “the Earth is the quintessence of the human condition”. And nature itself, “for all we know, may be unique in providing human beings with a habitat in which they can move and breathe without effort and without artifice”. Fair level. And nothing we’ve discovered within the intervening years has modified that prognosis. Mars could be the most liveable planet within the photo voltaic system, outdoors our personal. But it’s nonetheless a really far cry from the great thing about dwelling – whose fragility we solely really discovered to understand absolutely from the photographs despatched again to us from house. Earthrise. NASA Nature photographer Galen Rowell as soon as referred to as William Anders’ iconic photograph Earthrise – taken from the Apollo 8 module in lunar orbit – “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken”. Earthrise introduced dwelling to us, in a single astonishing picture, the stark actuality that this shining orb was – and nonetheless is – humanity’s finest probability for something that may meaningfully be referred to as the “good life”. Its magnificence is our magnificence. Its fragility is our fragility. And its peril is our peril. An inconvenient fact In the exact same yr that Arendt printed The Human Condition, a Shell govt named Charles Jones introduced a paper to the fossil gasoline business’s commerce group, the American Petroleum Institute, warning of the affect of carbon emissions from fossil gasoline combustion on the ambiance. It was early proof of local weather change. It was additionally proof, in line with lawsuits now being filed by cities and states within the US, that corporations like Shell knew it was occurring greater than 60 years in the past – three many years earlier than James Hansen’s scientific testimony to Congress in 1988 introduced world warming to public consideration. And they did nothing about it. Worse, argue plaintiffs just like the state of Delaware, lied over and once more to cowl up this “inconvenient truth”. Why such a factor may occur is now clear. Evidence of their affect was a direct risk to the earnings of a few of the strongest firms on the planet. Profit is the bedrock of capitalism. And as I argue in my new book, we have now allowed capitalism to trump all the things: work, life, hope – even good governance. The most enlightened governments on this planet have turned a blind eye to the necessity for pressing motion. Now we’re on the verge of being too late to repair it. Achieving net-zero by 2050 is no longer enough. We want rather more, a lot sooner to keep away from ending up in an unliveable hothouse. Even as I write, record-breaking temperatures, 10-20℃ above the seasonal common, have pressured residents on the west coast of North America into underground shelters to keep away from the searing warmth. Wildfires are raging in California’s Death Valley, the place temperatures have reached an astonishing 54℃. On the storm-struck east coast, floodwaters have inundated the New York subway system. Thousands stay homeless and tons of are nonetheless lacking, in the meantime, as historic flooding throughout central Europe has left virtually 200 folks useless. In the face of the blindingly apparent, even recalcitrant presidents and politicians are eventually starting to acknowledge the dimensions of the peril during which our relentless pursuit of financial development has positioned the planet. In precept, they nonetheless have time to do one thing about it. As I and lots of colleagues have argued, the pandemic provides us a novel alternative to style a different kind of economy. The twenty sixth Conference of the Parties to the UN Climate Change Convention (COP26) in Glasgow in November 2021 may properly be the place to do this. Whether that occurs or not will rely as a lot on imaginative and prescient because it does on science. And on our braveness to confront the inequalities of energy that led us thus far. It will even depend upon us going again to the primary rules and asking ourselves: how precisely ought to we goal to stay in the one liveable world within the recognized universe? What is the character of the nice life accessible to us right here? What can prosperity possibly mean for a promiscuous species on a finite planet? The query is sort of as previous because the hills. But the modern reply to it’s paralyzingly slim. Cast within the garb of late capitalism, prosperity has been captured by the ideology of “growth at all costs”: an insistence that extra is all the time higher. Despite overwhelming evidence that relentless growth is undermining nature and driving us in the direction of a devastating local weather emergency, the “fairytales of eternal growth” nonetheless reign supreme. Shouldn’t humanity concentrate on shoring up the nice life on Earth earlier than we race off into house? Tegan Mierle/Unsplash, FAL Zero gravity It’s an ironic twist within the story of the talk society child I was that I’ve spent most of my skilled life confronting these fairytales of development. Don’t ask me how that occurred. By accident principally. I toyed with the concept of finding out astrophysics. But I ended up finding out Maths at Cambridge, the place I confess to being baffled by the complexity of all of it till I spotted that even math is only a trick. Quite actually a formulation. Believe in it and you’ll journey to the celebs and again. In your thoughts, at the very least. And there I used to be wandering round in zero-G, once I awoke sooner or later (in April 1986) to search out that the Number 4 reactor on the Chernobyl nuclear energy plant in Ukraine had suffered a catastrophic meltdown. I abruptly realized that the exact same expertise I’d spent my life creating had been main humanity not in the direction of the celebs however away from the paradise we already inhabit. So sure. I modified my thoughts. The subsequent day I walked into the Greenpeace workplace in London and requested what I may do to assist. They set me engaged on the economics of renewable energy I turned, by accident, an economist. (Economics wants extra unintended economists.) And that’s when it started to daybreak on me that studying find out how to stay properly on this fragile planet is way extra necessary than dreaming concerning the subsequent one. Mine is larger than yours Not so the house race billionaires. A handful of unbelievably highly effective males, whose wealth has exploded massively all through the pandemic, are actually busy making an attempt to steer us that the long run lies not right here on Earth however on the market among the many stars. Tesla founder and serial entrepreneur, Elon Musk is one in all these new rocket males. “Those who attack space,” he tweeted not too long ago, “maybe don’t realize that space represents hope for so many people”. That could also be true after all in a world the place big inequalities of wealth and privilege strip hope from the lives of billions of individuals. But, because the partner of a Nasa flight controller identified, it obscures the extraordinary demands of escaping from Mother Earth, by way of power supplies, folks and time. Undeterred, the rocket males gaze starward. If assets are the issue, then house have to be the reply. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is fairly specific about his personal expansionary imaginative and prescient. “We can have a trillion humans in the solar system,” he once declared. “Which means we’d have a thousand Mozarts and a thousand Einsteins. This would be an incredible civilization.” Bezos and Musk have spent their lockdown contesting the highest two locations on the Forbes rich list. They’ve additionally been enjoying “mine is bigger than yours” in their very own non-public house race for a few many years now. Bezos’s private wealth almost doubled in the course of the course of a pandemic that destroyed the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands. He’s now stepping all the way down to spend extra time on Blue Origin, the corporate he hopes will ship huge human colonies throughout the photo voltaic system. The declared aim of Musk’s rival firm, SpaceX, is “to make humanity multi-planetary”. Just like Kim Stanley Robinson’s science fiction trilogy again within the Nineties, Musk goals to ascertain a permanent human colony on Mars. To get there, he causes, we want very large rockets – or, within the unique terminology of SpaceX, Big Fucking Rockets (BFRs) – ultimately able to transporting scores of individuals and tons of of tonnes of kit hundreds of thousands of miles throughout the photo voltaic system. The BFRs have now given solution to a collection of (extra sedately named) Starships. And to show his inexperienced credentials, Musk desperately needs these starships to be reusable. So a lot in order that SpaceX conspired to explode 4 consecutive Starship prototypes in fast succession in the course of the first 4 months of 2021 making an attempt unsuccessfully to re-land them. Move quick and break issues is the Silicon Valley motto after all, however ultimately, you’ve received to carry the products dwelling. Starship SN15 lastly achieved that on May 5 – three weeks after SpaceX had landed a large US$2.9 billion contract from NASA, nudging Blue Origin into the house race shadows. Not eager to be outdone, Bezos got here up with what he should have hoped was the final word comeback. When Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket – which can be reusable – made its first manned house flight on July 20, he and his brother Mark can be two of the primary few passengers on board. Wow, Jeff! Kudos man! Now you actually present us your cojones! Nobody likes coming second. Least of all essentially the most highly effective folks on the planet. But generally you get no alternative. Out of the blue, with out a lot as a by-your-leave, Virgin boss, Richard Branson swooped in to steal everybody’s thunder. On July 11, 9 days earlier than Bezos’s large day, Branson turned the primary ever billionaire to launch himself into space. And for a cool US$250,000, he promised that you can also be one in all Virgin Galactic’s 600 or so breathless prospects, ready to get pleasure from three or 4 weightless minutes gazing again in rapture on the planet you’ve left behind. Apparently, Musk has already signed up. Bezos doesn’t have to. He’s made his personal virgin space flight now. Prosperity as well being The house rhetoric of the super-rich betrays a mentality which will as soon as have served humanity properly. Some would say it’s a quintessential function of capitalism. Innovation upon innovation. A driving ambition to broaden and discover. A primal urge to flee our origins and attain for the following horizon. Space journey is a pure extension of our obsession with economic growth. It’s the crowning jewel of capitalism. Further and sooner is its frontier creed. I’ve spent a lot of my skilled life as a critic of that creed, not only for environmental causes however on social grounds as properly. The seven years I spent as economics commissioner on the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission and my subsequent analysis on the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity revealed one thing basic about our aspirations for the nice life. Something that has been underlined by the expertise of the pandemic. Prosperity is as a lot about well being as it’s about wealth. Ask folks what issues most of their lives and the possibilities are that it will come out someplace close to the highest of the listing. Health for themselves. Health for his or her buddies and their households. Health too – generally – for the delicate planet on which we stay and on whose well being we ourselves rely. There’s one thing fascinating about this concept. Because it confronts the obsession with development head on. As Aristotle identified in Nicomachean Ethics (a guide named after his doctor father), the nice life shouldn’t be a relentless seek for extra, however a continuous means of discovering a “virtuous” steadiness between too little and an excessive amount of. Population well being offers an apparent instance of this concept. Too little meals and we’re scuffling with illnesses of malnutrition. Too a lot and we’re tipped into the “diseases of affluence” that now kill more people than under-nutrition does. Good well being relies on us discovering and nurturing this steadiness. This process is all the time difficult after all, even on the particular person stage. Just take into consideration the problem of conserving your train, your food plan, and your appetites in keeping with the end result of a wholesome physique weight. But as I’ve argued, dwelling inside a system that has its sights frequently targeted on extra makes the duty close to not possible. Obesity has tripled since 1975. Almost two-fifths of adults over 18 are obese. Capitalism not solely fails to acknowledge the purpose the place the steadiness lies. It has completely no concept find out how to cease when it will get there. You’d suppose our brush with mortality by way of the pandemic would have introduced a few of this dwelling to us. You’d suppose it will give us pause for thought of what actually issues to us: the sort of world we would like for our kids; the sort of society we need to stay in. And for many individuals it has. In a survey carried out throughout lockdown within the UK, 85% of respondents discovered one thing of their modified situations they felt price conserving and fewer than 10% needed an entire return to regular. When life and well being are at stake, the ungodly scramble for wealth and standing feels much less and fewer enticing. Even the lure of expertise pales. Family, conviviality, and a way of function come to the fore. These are the issues that many individuals discovered they lacked most all through the pandemic. But their significance in our lives was not a COVID accident: they’re essentially the most basic components of sustainable prosperity. The denial of loss of life Something much more shocking has emerged throughout my three many years of analysis. Behind client capitalism, behind the frontier mentality, past the urge to broaden without end lies a deep-seated and pervasive nervousness. What does day two seem like, Bezos as soon as asked a crowd of the devoted, referring to his well-known maxim about the necessity to innovate. “Day two is stasis, followed by irrelevance, followed by an excruciatingly painful decline, followed by death,” he stated. “And that. Is why. It is always. Day one!” His viewers liked it. Musk performs out his personal internal demons simply as disarmingly. “I’m not trying to be anyone’s savior,” he once told TED’s head curator, Chris Anderton. “I’m just trying to think about the future – and not be sad.” Again, the applause was deafening. A well-trained therapist may have a area day with all of this. Take that miraculous day a couple of weeks after the Perseverance rover began sending dwelling essentially the most wonderful selfies within the universe when the Ingenuity helicopter made its virgin flight within the wafer skinny ambiance of Mars. It was the sort of end result that would have intelligence companies drooling over far much less benign makes use of of the expertise. But there was additionally one thing fairly existential happening. The faint whispering of the Martian wind relayed faithfully throughout the photo voltaic system, doesn’t simply affirm the chances for aerial flight on an alien planet. It’s grist to the mill of an important perception that human beings are endlessly inventive and fiendishly intelligent. Our visceral response to those momentary triumphs speaks to a department of psychology referred to as terror management theory drawn from the work of cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker. It was explored particularly in his astonishing 1973 guide The Denial of Death. In it, Becker argues that fashionable society has misplaced its approach, exactly as a result of we’ve turn into afraid of confronting the inevitability of our personal demise. Terror administration concept tells us that, when mortality turns into “salient”, as an alternative of addressing the underlying worry, we flip for consolation to the issues which make us really feel good. Capitalism itself is a large consolation blanket, designed to assist us by no means confront the mortality that awaits us all. So too are the goals of the rocket males. Beyond lockdown When Sputnik kickstarted the primary “space race” six many years in the past, a US newspaper headline referred to as it “one step toward [our] escape from imprisonment to the Earth”. Arendt learn these phrases with astonishment. She noticed there a deep-seated “rebellion against human existence”. It isn’t simply the pandemic that locks us down, the implication is. It’s the whole human situation. The nervousness we really feel is nothing new. The alternative between confronting our fears and operating away from them has all the time been a profound one. It’s precisely the selection we’re dealing with now. As vaccine roll-out brings a glimmer of sunshine on the finish of COVID-19, the temptation to hurry into wild escapism is very large. But for all its glamour, the “final frontier” is at finest an amusement and at worst a deadly distraction from the pressing process of rebuilding a society ravaged by social injustice, local weather change, and a lack of religion sooner or later. With most of us nonetheless reeling from what the World Health Organisation has referred to as a shadow pandemic in psychological well being, any sort of escape plan in any respect seems remarkably like paradise. And emigrating to Mars is one hell of an escape plan. Let’s dream of some “final frontier” by all means. But let’s focus our minds too on some quintessentially earthly priorities. Affordable healthcare. Decent houses for the poorest in society. A stable training for our children. Reversing the decades-long precarity within the livelihoods of the frontline employees – those who saved our lives. Regenerating the devastating lack of the pure world. Replacing frenetic consumerism with an financial system of care and relationship and that means. Never have these items made a lot sense to so many. Never has there been a greater time to show them right into a actuality. Not only for the handful of billionaires dreaming of unbridled wealth on the purple planet, however for the eight billion mere mortals dwelling out their far much less brazen goals on the blue one. Article by Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development and Director of the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP), University of Surrey This article is republished from The Conversation beneath a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.