Visionary enlightenment, or the feverish rambling of a multi-billionaire in full adrenaline rush?
On July 20, 2021, at an altitude of over 100 kilometers, Jeff Bezos and the other passengers on the Blue Origin mission had a few minutes to look our planet straight in the eye. An experience that can change a person quite clearly; many astronauts have described what has since been called theoverhang effect. It denotes a kind of awareness of our human condition, through the view of the Earth as a whole. And the founder of Amazon seems to have felt this effect very intensely.
“When you look at the planet, there are no borders ”, he explains to NBC News. “It is a planet, which we share, and which is fragile… We live on this magnificent planet. You can’t imagine how fine the atmosphere is until you see it from space. We live inside, and it looks so big; we have the impression of being able to neglect it, to mistreat it. When you go up there you see how small and fragile the Earth is ”
Bezos seems to have had his own little personal epiphany aboard the capsule. In any case, the speech contrasts with its rhetoric corporate sharpened; is capitalism’s number one standard-bearer in the midst of conscience? What is certain is that when the richest man in the world goes through a revelation of this type, we are entitled to expect concrete actions. Has Bezos finally planned to put in place some simple measures to reduce Amazon’s environmental impact? Not exactly. Instead, he had a better idea: to deport all polluting industries into space, quite simply.
A more than questionable concept
An idea which, seen from Earth, seems in any case far-fetched. Of course, lowering costs and the democratization of space travel are among the priorities of private aerospace; but such an enterprise seems quite simply inconceivable in the short as in the medium term. Bezos readily admits it would take “decades”To accomplish, but the relevance of the operation remains questionable.
The reason lies in the nature of the industries that would have to be deported to orbit to have a tangible impact on the environment. Take the example of greenhouse gas emissions. Today, according to this criterion, the three most polluting industries are, in increasing order: agriculture, transport, and energy. Together, these sectors represent, according to the sources 55% to 75% of total greenhouse gas emissions. But how on earth could we send these industries into space?
Heavy industry is often immovable
For energy, the concept itself seems aberrant. Why spend insane energy to send raw materials into orbit and then go the other way? And how do you transport electricity from orbit? For agriculture, it is even worse; this would involve building a giant greenhouse, in orbit or on another celestial body. We let you imagine the logistical nightmare that the supply of water, oxygen and nutrients would represent… And when it comes to transport, it is an industry that by definition cannot be sent into orbit.
With a little imagination, there are some other industries that would lend themselves better to this, such as metallurgy, where materials could be found locally. But there again, the problem of the astronomical cost (it is the case to say it) risks making this scenario non-viable. And above all, in this case, the ecological cost of these incessant trips to space would certainly exceed the benefit of relocation. We must also consider the fact that our species has a certain liability when it comes to ruining certain spaces before even setting foot there. Does it make sense to do the same with space, even before having been able to anticipate the consequences? Since humanity is probably going to take the path to the stars one day, this is a problem that must also be kept in mind. And above all, we can’t help but wonder if there might not be other avenues to focus on …