BILLIONAIRES STORM HEAVEN Viriato Soromenho-Marques


In recent weeks, the names of three of the world's most famous billionaires, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and Elon Musk have been in the news for what is presented as a race of alpha males to see who goes the farthest in space. After Branson beat Bezos on his voyage on the 20th of July, he responded saying that he will be the one to reach the threshold of Kármán's line, at a hundred kilometres from sea level that separate the periphery of the Earth's atmosphere from outer space. However, what really drives these giants is not just the battle for prestige, but insatiable greed. What these billionaires want is to create a new market to get even richer. These so-called "space adventures" have been in the works for a long time. Jeff Bezos pioneered in 2000 with the creation of Blue Origin. Elon Musk followed suit with the founding of SpaceX in 2002. Despite the unpunished lies of Musk (such as sending astronauts to Mars in 2024!), his company has functioned like a taxi that drives wealthy customers to the International Space Station. In 2004, Richard Branson was the last of the triumvirate, with his Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. These companies, contrary to the propaganda that the billionaires impose on the press and social media, will contribute nothing to the expansion of scientific knowledge. Their target is the market of thousands of other wealthy and new rich, born from the brutal inequality of the global neoliberalism, emerged in the last decades. It is a market that the Swiss investment bank, UBS, estimates at $244 billion, with the potential to grow to 800 billion in 2030.

The environmental impact of these incurable narcissistic voyages will be tremendous for climate change and to the already damaged ozone layer. It goes against the efforts of the international community, notably the European Union and the United States, to radically cut greenhouse emissions. Inexplicably, or perhaps not, both the NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) seem to be open to letting this foolish enterprises go ahead. Does President Biden want to emulate Trump, an enthusiast of these projects?

The expression "storm on the heaven" (Angriff auf den Himmel) was written by Marx, with reference to the tragic Paris Commune (1871). The concept of "storm" has, in both German and English, a warlike connotation, which makes sense when applied to the armed revolution of the people of Paris. However, in this case, the storm on heaven is a blatant theft of humanity's common heritage, delivered by experts in the art of confusing illusions with false arguments, and supported by venal politicians, oscillating between obedience and silent complicity. When humanity begins to plunge into the socially most acute phase of the pandemic, and climate change affects both the farmers in Mozambique and the prosperous people of Koblenz, the billionaires - faces of the inequality that rules the planet - resolve to privatize space and the atmosphere. Common anguish serves as a strategy to earn a few more dollars. For them, the profits remain, for us, an increasingly bleak future. However, it is nowhere written that this is an unavoidable destiny. It could be an opportunity for the European Union, and the Biden administration, to show what they are capable of.

First published in Portuguese by the daily newspaper Diário de Notícias, July 17, 2021, page. 11.

Translated to English by Diana Chacón.

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