When billionaires criticize billionaires, you can see what makes our world tick.
And earlier this week, Bill Gates took a swing at Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos' interest in space travel during an interview with CBS' James Corden, according to a clip shared on Twitter.
While this isn't the first time Gates has expressed dissent about space travel (specifically to Mars), it marks another break from the billionaire club of space barons who have taken increasing interest in building commercial infrastructure in space, especially in the budding field of space tourism.
Gates emphasizes a need to confront Earthly problems
"I don't know — I've become obsessed with things like Malaria and HIV and getting rid of those diseases, and I probably bore people at cocktail parties talking about diseases," said Gates in answer to Corden's question about what the billionaire thinks about his financial peers' passion about space travel. "Space? We have a lot to do here on Earth." Quick to affirm the words of a billionaire, Corden said Gates' reply was the "classiest burn" he'd ever heard. While it certainly does have a lot to do with class, it's significant that Gates is one of the few billionaires who's not resolutely interested in expanding his empire's reach into the final frontier. On the same subject but in a more flattering tone, the CBS comedian expressed gratitude to Gates for "being the billionaire who's not trying to escape planet Earth on a spaceship right now."
This isn't exactly the case, since, while CEO SpaceX Elon Musk has said that he wants to "die on Mars," according to a 2014 interview, he's also estimated there's only a 70% chance of making the journey to Mars himself. But Gates' latest comments come on the heels of SpaceX's latest milestone: Launching the world's first all-civilian mission into orbit. While on-site (in space) media coverage was scarce during that mission, CEO of SpaceX rival Blue Origin Jeff Bezos has already flown to the threshold of space in July of this year. Bezos' recent flight into the fringes of the final frontier came on the heels of another by his fellow billionaire and space baron Richard Branson, who shares Musk's feelings about the need to venture to space en masse. But these efforts are costing billions of dollars that are sorely needed on Earth.
The Earth's heat is breaking 125,000-year records
A great juxtaposition from last year happened when the protests that saw fires spread across several U.S. cities continued while SpaceX and its pristine launch procedures carried on like clockwork; with a gigantic white rocket sitting calmly on a vast open field, emphasizing the widening disparity in the quality of life for citizens of the Earth. And this applies not only to income inequality, but also to the basic level of human experience: while in 2020 millions suffered mass layoffs and faced the possibility of subsequent evictions amid a literal global pandemic, the few at the top of the financial spectrum continued to build a multi-billion-dollar space industry. So it's not a giant leap of the imagination to wonder why the world's economic powerhouses seem less interested in improving the human condition than they are in lifting themselves far above the turmoil of those below.
However, both Musk and Bezos have repeatedly argued that their plans for outer space will help curb the challenge of climate change on Earth. We could take them at their word, but, somehow, Musk building a human settlement on Mars, and Bezos planning to dump carbon-heavy industries into space don't seem like the most effective plans to help combat the problems most people face on Earth. For example, no one can say whether the sustainable technologies under development by Tesla will ultimately contribute to a better environment, since the lithium-ion batteries that power Musk's all-electric cars require extensive and environmentally harmful mining operations. And in 2019, Amazon's plastic packaging shipments created 465 million pounds of waste, which left 22.4 million pounds of plastic packaging in waterways and marine ecosystems. But, just because Gates isn't wrong that there's a lot left to do on Earth, doesn't mean he's part of the solution to the problems we face. After all, Microsoft's efforts to go carbon-neutral have only shown incremental progress. But, for better or worse, most will agree that some progress is better than none. Even if that progress keeps loses ground while the planet breaks 125,000-year heat records.