Turns out even billionaires can feel the overview effect. They just come to slightly different conclusions than astronauts.
Noted cowboy cosplay enthusiast Jeff Bezos visited the edge of space on Tuesday.
The only hope of saving Earth from Amazon’s creeping influence was that Bezos would experience what’s referred to as the “overview effect,” a feeling astronauts have reported. It results in a realization that we need to protect the planet at all cost, and it happens when space visitors have seen the world without borders and the fleeting atmosphere that encases Earth.
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It appears Bezos felt that.
“When you look at the planet, there are no borders,” Bezos said in an interview with NBC News. “It’s one planet, and we share it and it’s fragile. ... We live on this beautiful planet. You can’t imagine how thin the atmosphere is when you see it from space. We live in it and it looks so big. It feels like this atmosphere is huge and we can disregard it and treat it poorly.”
Powerful stuff from the world’s richest man. It’s a change from the cutthroat business mindset. Could this signal a shift? Perhaps Bezos would want to back more stringent taxes on the ultra-wealthy so that billionaires don’t warp our discourse? Or maybe he had an epiphany that he should offer better conditions for Amazon warehouse workers forced to suffer through heat and so-called “power hours” while racing to fulfill orders? Perhaps coming back to Earth a changed man would convince him to end one-day shipping and its toll on the environment and people?
Please, sir. Go on. Mine ears are open.
“When you get up there, and you see it, you see how tiny it is and how fragile it is,” Bezos continued. “We need to take all heavy industry, all polluting industry and move it into space.”
Yes, that’s right. Jeff Bezos would like to move all polluting industry into space. The world’s richest man acknowledged this would take “decades and decades to achieve.” But one absolutely worth it for his bottom li... errr, the safety of the biosphere.
Moving entire industries into space is just unfathomable. Producing, say, an electric Ford Bronco or even an Amazon Echo in space is quite possibly the dumbest idea I have ever heard. It already requires skilled workers and robots right here on Earth. What Bezos is proposing would require ensuring technologies work in zero gravity (or that we perfect emulating gravity in space), getting raw materials up to your Ford Bronco space station, then transporting said Bronco back to Earth.
There are, of course, a number of other hard-to-decarbonize industries out there such as cement and steel. But the cost for a payload of cement to be shipped back to Earth is comically high. Like Scrooge-McDuck-money-vault levels of high. There are also technologies being developed right here on Earth that could decarbonize them at or sooner than the “decades and decades” timeframe Bezos is advocating for. And they have a jumpstart on Bezos’ nonexistent space cement factories. (Though some space startups are at least pitching commercial outposts.)
When Bezos saw the Earth bend below him, I’m absolutely sure he felt the elation and worried about the fragility of the planet. And honestly, good for him. We should all be so lucky to have that feeling, even for a fleeting few minutes. (And if Bezos has his way, maybe someday we all will be able to!) But Bezos is also a ruthless tycoon. So perhaps it’s not surprising that, in the rush of endorphins of coming back from the edge of space, he laid out a plan to save the planet that plays right into that.