Bezos admits that the limitless growth that made him the richest man in the world is incompatible with a livable Earth.
On Thursday night, ultra-billionaire Jeff Bezos, whose net worth exceeds $ 157 billion, outlined the vision of an “incredible civilization” with trillions of people living in space, at a small guest-only event in Washington, DC.
Bezos organized the event to introduce a new lunar lander developed by his space company Blue Origin. But the specs of this lunar lander matter less than Bezos's vision of utopia.
Bezos launched a version of the future that departed from the reality of capitalism, climate change, and the intractable connections between those two things. Bezos admits that unlimited growth, the growth that made him the richest man in the world, is incompatible with a habitable land. But instead of announcing investments in renewable energy or public infrastructure, Bezos launches an escape from the ground.
Bezos argued that space "colonies" are a solution to humanity's "long-range" problems, such as the availability of energy and the limits to capitalist notions of unlimited and unlimited growth. Space colonies, Bezos said, are a way to expand the human population and offset the impacts of agriculture and industry on Earth. This strategy, according to Bezos, leaves Earth an idyllic paradise: a place to go on vacation, a place to go to college, in other words, a place for the elite.
"We have to have both," Bezos said. “We managed to preserve this unique jewel of a planet, which is completely irreplaceable. There is no plan B. We have to save this planet and we must not give up the future of dynamism and growth for our grandchildren. We can have both. "
He is wrong
Bezos argues that a capitalist logic of unending growth is the way to save the Earth from poverty, homelessness, and environmental catastrophe. (Bezos does not say "climate change" or "global warming" but "pollution.") However, capitalism is an economic system that is closely linked to colonial history, enslaving people and exploiting workers, and extracting and stripping as much of the land as possible to fuel growth. Capitalism is not the solution to the problems that Bezos describes. It is the root of the problem.
Lisa Lowe, a professor of American studies at Yale Universities who has written extensively on colonial and capitalist history, explains in her book The Intimacies of the Four Continents that the classic ideas of liberty, pro-capitalism of liberty, wage labor fair, and "free trade" has always depended on certain people who do not have access to those privileges: native or indigenous people of America, Africa and Asia.
The shift from mercantilism to capitalism in the 19th century was accompanied by economic growth in colonizing Western nations, but not in enslaved or colonized populations. The privileges of capitalism have been conditioned from the beginning.
"It is the pronounced asymmetry of the colonial divisions of humanity that is the distinguishing feature of liberal modes of distinction that privileges particular subjects and societies as rational, civilized, and human," Lowe writes, "and treats others as workers. , replaceable, or disposable contexts that constitute that humanity.
The exploitation of these people was directly accompanied by the exploitation of the Earth. In her book This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein referred to this logic as "extractivism": this mindset, which informs and feeds capitalism, holds that humans are the rulers of the Earth and therefore humans have the right to take all they want. of that.
"It is the opposite of stewardship, which involves taking but also caring for regeneration and the afterlife to continue," Klein writes. "It is also the reduction of human beings, whether in work to be brutally extracted, pushed beyond the limits or, alternatively, in social burden, problems to be blocked at the borders and locked up in prisons or reservations."
Klein explains that extractivism is also based on "sacrifice zones", places that capitalist leaders consider acceptable losses. They are places that are "drained, poisoned, or destroyed" for the sake of corporate or shareholder profits.
These “sacrifice zones” are the same place from where the colonizers enslaved, exploited and subjugated the indigenous and indigenous populations. They are also the same places that are the most vulnerable to climate change. Consider Mozambique, which has been devastated by an unprecedented wave of consecutive tropical cyclones. Think of Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, which is simultaneously sinking and flooding, and displacing the residents of a former cultural center. Think of Myanmar, a country plagued by civil war and genocide, which has just experienced a rebellion that killed 54 people.
None of these events are "natural disasters" or coincidences. They are earth-system-driven disasters hitting areas that the so-called invisible hand of the market has deemed worthy of sacrifice and destruction. This is climate change and colonialism at the same time.
Meanwhile, Bezos argues that we are going to have billions of people living in spinning cylinders in space, with zero-G trains, farms, and playgrounds. He doesn't talk about the resources that will be mined along the way, or about working-class people. whose work is necessary to create this luxury. Instead, it reiterates a classic sci-fi trope of zero-gravity adventure and opulence.
Bezos uses the same logic of climate "realists" who say that economic regulations and redistributive policies are less realistic than geoengineering, or in this case, spend hundreds of billions of dollars building the infrastructure needed to transplant humans from Earth to space.
And now space, according to Bezos, will be a place for industry. It will be a place controlled by private companies, businessmen and businessmen of the first order.
"What you are going to do is have entire industries," Bezos said. “There will be thousands of future companies doing this work. A whole system of business activity, unleashed. Creative people come up with new ideas on how to use the space. "
Private entities like Amazon will be in charge of how to divide space responsibly and treat workers ethically. But why should we expect Bezos to ethically rule an Earth space civilization when he hasn't even ethically governed his own company?
Amazon faces discrimination lawsuits against Muslim women and pregnant workers, exploiting Amazon Flex drivers and warehouse workers. Meanwhile, it receives billions of dollars in state and federal grants to build new facilities. The construction of these facilities can set off chain reactions that leave local governments without a tax base, kill small businesses, and ultimately have a hollowing-out effect on many of America's cities and towns. Amazon's revenue is only possible from the exploitation and displacement of people less wealthy and powerful than Bezos, and from building a shadow infrastructure that has quickly replaced many of the services the United States has traditionally relied on. .
Building a future in space for profit, according to Bezos, must also involve giving Earth a new purpose: being a haven for vacations and college, activities that are largely associated with the elite.
"The Earth ends up in the zone, residential and light industry," Bezos said. "It will be a beautiful place to live, it will be a beautiful place to visit, it will be a beautiful place to go to college and do some light industry."
This version of the future, at least as elaborate and specific as Bezos is releasing it, will not happen. Bezos is using the same public relations strategy that has been so successful for Elon Musk in proposing an extraterrestrial future crafted to draw people's attention to the glaring problems of his current earthly business ventures (or personal brands).
In this case, Bezos is characterizing himself as the pioneering genius with the heart, spirit, and courage necessary to advance humanity toward a better future. But this vision of a better future is completely detached from reality. He is tapping into a cowboy, frontier mythology that has always benefited the military and corporate agendas of men who look like him.
"Do we want stasis and rationing or do we want dynamism and growth?" Bezos asked. “This is an easy choice. We know what we want. "
But you're setting a false premise, and you're advocating a future written by and for industry captains without input from anyone else, or concern about how they will be affected.
Wide-ranging policy proposals, such as the Green New Deal, describe a version of the future with redistributive economic policies, with subsidies that shift away from the fossil fuel industry and turn to renewable energy, and with governments investing in transportation. public and social services. It's the version of the future that focuses on fairness, fairness, and real human bodies. It is a version of the future that is based on Earth, and not science fiction.
We don't have to buy Bezos' version of the future. The Earth, and the people who live and breathe on it, deserve better.