Richard Branson went to space.
He’s very excited about that and I think he thinks the rest of us are too.
“To all you kids out there,” he said when he got back, “I was once a child with a dream, looking up to the stars. Now I’m an adult in a spaceship… If we can do this, just imagine what you can do.”
I don’t know of any kids who were listening, nor should they be. What he did isn’t that remarkable; he was only at the very top of the atmosphere, for a few minutes. As has been pointed out by many, Yuri Gargarin went to space sixty years ago and stayed a full 108 minutes, back when no one had done it before and the technology was brand new. That was revolutionary. That was a first. Branson’s trip does nothing to further our scientific understanding of the vast universe we live in. It hasn’t taught us any new ways to lead better lives on earth either. It was just an obscenely rich man having fun for a bit, and opening the door for other obscenely rich men to have fun in obscenely expensive ways: he’s charging $250,000 or so for tickets to his next space adventure.
Remarkably, Branson is not the only or the wealthiest billionaire who wants to waste money on a quick trip to the top of our heavily polluted atmosphere in a carbon-belching machine. Jeff Bezos isn’t far behind. Elon Musk is planning a trip before long. They’re spending more money than you can possibly conceive on little vanity trips into space, just to say they did it.
A billion is a thousand million. A billion is ten to the ninth power: ten times ten times ten times ten times ten times ten times ten times ten times ten. A billion is more money than you could possibly spend no matter how careless you were. Remember when we all read The Baby-Sitters’ Club and thought it was so luxurious that Kristy’s stepfather was a real live millionaire with a mansion? A billion is a thousand of Kristy’s dad. A billion is a thousand of Adam West’s Batman. A thousand of that decadent fool and his wife who got trapped on Gilligan’s island. If Mr. Scrooge sat down to count a million dollars, and each dollar was one gold coin, it would take him over a week. If he sat down to count a billion dollars under the same arrangement, it would take three decades. Richard Branson has five of those billions. Jeff Bezos has 212. Elon Musk has just shy of 163. Imagine having that much money– that many resources at your fingertips, to do whatever you want with, with no consequences, at a minute’s notice.
And what billionaires want to do, is fill a giant cannister with fuel so they can bounce around in outer space for a few minutes. They could get the same effect by riding the Vomit Comet or going into one of those weird cylindrical chambers with fans in them that make you hover, but they want to do it the expensive way. And then they want to come back to earth and pretend that’s a really exciting achievement which should inspire future generations of children.
Why are billionaires so boring?
If I was worth as much as a Jeff Bezos or an Elon Musk or a Mark Zuckerberg or a Richard Branson, I’d realize my daydreams and revitalize Labelle, and ever other poor neighborhood I could get my hands on. But that would barely make a dent in my billions; that’s how big a number a billion is.
So, with my extra money, I would also buy de-forested land and plant native trees on it, all over the world. And I would buy rainforests in danger of being cut down and make them my private rainforests, with guards on the border to repel tree poachers but with the indigenous people free to keep living there. And I would buy prairies to keep them un-mowed and let the buffalo roam. Millions of acres of carbon sink, all over the planet. And I would patronize inventors the way DiMedici patronized DaVinci, only instead of paying them to invent weapons I’d pay them to invent carbon capture and interesting new ways to make energy, and then I’d post the blueprints online for free for anyone to build. I would buy big agriculture corporations and I would pay whatever it took to make them carbon neutral, and to pay everyone who worked for them a just wage, and to make sure the poor animals would not suffer too much. And I would still have plenty of money left over, because that’s how big a number a billion is.
So I would pay off people’s student debt and help poor kids become lawyers and doctors. I would sponsor good quality women’s health centers with actual doctors and nurses instead of those fake CPC’s without so much as a nurse on staff. I would buy season passes to excellent museums for poor children, and I would put solar panels on their apartment homes so their parents wouldn’t have to pay utility bills. I’d feed the poor and house the homeless.
And that wouldn’t stand in the way of my making a decadent pig of myself. I would still have plenty of money to have a good time. I’d eat steak and lobster and go on vacation. I’d build myself a private island made up to look exactly like Myst Island and have my friends over for escape room parties. I could do that, if I had billions of dollars, because that’s how much money a billion is.
Actual billionaires want to go to space for a minute, and charge others six figures to do so. They think this will inspire children.
I wish they’d stay up there.
Woe to you rich. You are not only greedy but also boring.
Image via Pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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