There is no planet B, unless ‘B’ stands for billionaire

Pari Walter is a sophomore at UM majoring in journalism and a new contributing columnist at TMH. As an aspiring environmental activist, she decided to write her most recent piece about the growth of the space tourism industry and how it may negatively impact environmentalist efforts.

If we begin to perpetuate the idea that our planet is disposable, people will treat it as such. Billions of dollars have been poured into the space exploration economy recently, as many of the world’s most wealthy begin to stake their claim on this relatively new market. This made headlines around the world in the past few weeks as the first ever flight of exclusively amateur astronauts to enter earth’s orbit was completed aboard a SpaceX aircraft.

SpaceX is an aerospace manufacturer and space transportation company founded by Elon Musk, an American centibillionaire and Chief Executive Officer of Tesla, Inc. According to SpaceX, their mission is to make humanity “multiplanetary,” aiming to bring people to Mars and other planets that they may be able to colonize. But, this is more of an excuse to make humanity transplanetary and a test of modern technology than a true humanitarian movement. Instead of using the available resources to save our own planet, companies like SpaceX are treating planets as though they can be replaced with another once they are no longer of use.

Pari Walter, a junior at UM majoring in journalism, says she feels SpaceX's money would be better spent preserving earth than traveling to a different planet.
Pari Walter, a junior at UM majoring in journalism, says she feels SpaceX's money would be better spent preserving earth than traveling to a different planet. Photo credit: Pari Walter

While the 2008 Disney film Wall-E may seem like a purely fictional children’s story, it serves as a cautionary tale, warning us of the exact path we are headed down. Earth is deteriorating and whether people can agree on why or how or when, we have the resources, the technology and the minds to stave off its destruction. Instead, the people with such resources focus on distracting people with the idea of getting off of the planet because it sells better.

SpaceX’s launch of the amateur-led Crew Dragon capsule of four was estimated by Time Magazine to cost around $200 million. The common man is not getting off of the planet before they feel the effects of climate change. If anything, the top 1%, likely those contributing most to fossil fuel burning and therefore to climate change, will be the sole beneficiaries. While companies like SpaceX advertise space tourism and commercial flights to sound as easy as booking a flight on United, their market is not the general public.

The commercial opening of space is planned to continue with “The Challenge,” a Russian movie set to be shot in space and with a Discovery Channel reality TV show in the works titled “Who Wants to Be an Astronaut?” People keep pushing for further and further progress, but how can we expand when our home is dying? We have enough to fix without venturing off of the planet.

The United Nations reports that nearly 690 million people today live with food insecurity. Recent research projects that Earth could cross the global warming threshold as soon as 2027 — and what then? The wealthiest people on Earth escape, leaving the rest to deal with the aftermath? The socioeconomic divide would reach a new level — a transplanetary level. Leaving this planet is a luxury that most of us will likely never have, so we must protect what we can while we can.

We have formed a narcissistic view of what the planet’s purpose is. Earth was not made for humans. Humans were made to be a singular species in a complex system. Even if space travel becomes sophisticated enough to make humanity “multiplanetary,’’— what then? The human race hops from planet to planet, leaving a trail of ruin? What gives us the right to treat planets as if they are ours for the taking? SpaceX says that space travel is “about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past.” I have to wonder if this quote applies to Earth and all of the species on it or just to humans. We are not bigger than our planet and we need to remember that, no matter how much money or power some of us may have.