Jeff Bezos, upon his return to Earth, realized that the only way to save a dying planet of his own making is to build Amazon factories in space. This is, of course, a terrible idea, even by out-of-touch billionaire narcissists’ horrifyingly low standards.
Following an 11-minute sojourn to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere, Bezos spouted an impressive amount of unhinged stuff to the press. Without an ounce of self-awareness, he thanked criminally overworked, at-risk Amazon employees along with the company’s customers “because you guys paid for all of this.”
He also offered platitudes about a renewed resolve to combat climate change, and preached a tepid message of tolerance, because, after all, “when you look at the planet, there are no borders... it’s one planet, and we share it and it’s fragile.” He knows this because he saw it from way up high, where “you can’t imagine how thin the atmosphere is when you see it from space." It took him a multimillion-dollar, 11-minute journey to space to work this out.
Knowing all this, it should really surprise no one that Bezos immediately segued from his pedestrian observations about sharing playground equipment and remembering to recycle to reminding everyone of his proposed solution for saving the planet he actively helps destroy: to continue ushering in a New Gilded Age of colonialism, industrial waste, and class exploitation... but to do it farther away than ever before. You know, in space. As The Verge’s Justine Calma and others like myself remind Bezos, Cancer Alley would like a word.
Firsthand knowledge — Environmental advocates have long referred to seemingly remote, predominantly othered communities deteriorating under the weight of Western industrialization as “sacrifice zones,” places the world’s wealthiest have designated as worth destroying for the sake of profit and product. Calma lists places like their home near California’s “Inland Empire” and Louisiana’s less-pleasantly nicknamed “Cancer Alley” as examples, the latter of which is right down the road from my home here in New Orleans.
At least once a week, my girlfriend and I drive to our favorite bars in the neighboring town of Chalmette, watering holes that are literally across the street from oil and gas refineries’ billowing exhaust towers and rusted webworks of steel. Those sitting on the barstools across from us are not Bywater hipsters and vacationing Airbnb’ers, they’re the residents who will live their shortened lives in and around these sacrifice zones.
They know what those smokestacks are doing to us, the same as we do. There is no denying that my own life may be adversely affected by the years spent living near these same spaces. UN human rights advocates have explicitly called for an end to the region’s expanding industrialization and “environmental racism,” citing cancer risks in these predominantly Black areas as high as 105 cases per million compared to white districts’ 60 to 75 per million. “The combined emissions of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per year in a single parish could exceed those of 113 countries,” the UN warns.
A 2019 report from ProPublica cites EPA data showing a 25% increase in the number of industrial plants reporting toxic releases over the past 30 years, while that number has dropped 16% nationally over the same period. Sacrifice zones aren’t being reformed, they’re being concentrated.
Sacrificial zones in space — Real-world Tyrell Corporations helmed by people like Bezos think physically moving these areas from Earth to outer space and other planets would solve our problems, when in actuality it is simply kicking a cancer-laden can down the road. What’s more, they somehow believe civilization can survive the “decades and decades” Bezos himself readily admits it will take to accomplish the infrastructure and technology to make this a reality.
“Producing, say, an electric Ford Bronco or even an Amazon Echo in space is quite possibly the dumbest idea I have ever heard,” Brian Kahn at Gizmodo, who performed a sort of due diligence on Bezos’ suggestion, writes, and really, is there any serious argument to the contrary? The resources and costs to transport materials to and from these vague space factories are essentially incomprehensible, not to mention the logistics involved in doing so in zero-g. O’Neill Cylinders are technically feasible and really badass to imagine, but they aren’t exactly something to rely on saving our asses.
Devil’s advocate — But even if this were to be accomplished, there is no evidence to support industrialized space-colonialism would be any more ethical or less dangerous than its Earth-based inspirations. The history of industrialization is a history of oppression, degradation, and exploitation. What planet (get it?) does Bezos live on where he thinks moving heavy industry to space will improve these conditions?
Don’t believe it for a moment when Jeff Bezos and his sycophants look at Cancer Alley and tell fawning reporters that they see a problem. They don’t. They see a solution, just somewhere it’s far harder for them to be held accountable.