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The cost of Jeff Bezos’ joyride to space

Jeff Bezos

Good morning! This Tuesday, Jeff Bezos is going to space, Amazon will stop testing warehouse workers for COVID-19 by the end of the month, Apple is apparently delaying its return to the office, and Peloton with added video games.

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The Big Story

Jeff Bezos' big climate gamble

Jeff Bezos makes no bones about it: The future of humanity resides on Earth.

"We've sent robotic probes to every planet in this solar system," Bezos tweeted in 2018. "Earth is BY FAR the best one." He doubled down in 2020, calling climate change the "biggest threat to our planet" and committing $10 billion to address the issue.

But Bezos' joyride into space this morning could jeopardize the future of humanity — and all for a speculative payoff. The environmental impact of rocket launches is projected to increase significantly in the coming years, with space tourism acting as a driving force. Blue Origin, the rocket company backed by Bezos, said as much itself.

  • On July 9, the company Twitter account posted an infographic warning of the high ozone-layer impact of space tourism.
  • The post was intended to disparage Virgin Galactic, which beat Blue Origin to the punch in sending its billionaire backer to space. It categorized Blue Origin's ozone layer impact as "minimal" and Virgin Galactic's as "high."

Overall, we know very little about the environmental impacts of space tourism, and we likely won't find out until launches occur with far greater frequency. A report published by The Aerospace Corporation provided the basis for Blue Origin's claim that its rockets have "minimal" ozone impact.

  • The co-authors don't actually share the confidence of Blue Origin. Instead, they postulate that more-frequent rocket launches could result in their atmospheric impacts being reassessed as "significant."

Lack of environmental research hasn't stopped space companies from planning ambitious schedules for space tourism launches.

  • Last week, for instance, Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier outlined a plan to scale operations such that the company can conduct multiple space tourism flights per day.
  • Ariane Cornell, director of astronaut sales at Blue Origin, stated earlier this year that the company would "love" to boost the frequency of launches and even offer flights from international locations.

How does Bezos justify the climate risks associated with space tourism? One could argue that space tourism will help drive economies of scale in rocketry, accelerating our path toward interplanetary civilization.

  • In a 2018 interview published on Business Insider, Bezos said: "The solar system can easily support a trillion humans. And if we had a trillion humans, we would have a thousand Einsteins and a thousand Mozarts and unlimited, for all practical purposes, resources and solar power unlimited for all practical purposes. That's the world that I want my great-grandchildren's great-grandchildren to live in."
  • And as a nifty little bonus, space tourism would be subsidized by thrill-seeking billionaires, allowing the government to devote its resources toward more-substantial space projects.

But some people see more risk than benefit. To Avis Lang, a researcher at the Hayden Planetarium, space tourism represents the antithesis of the mindset we need to address the climate crisis: "At a moment when we should be and need to be celebrating moderation in all things, there is the emblem of excess — the guy on this exciting little individual trip into orbit."

  • "In the era of climate change, do we not need to find ways to cut back on our use of exhaustible resources?" Lang asked. "Do we not need to find other solutions — and not merely technological solutions — but a revolution in the mindset of the consuming nations and the consuming individuals?"

It's hard to square Bezos' words with his actions. The connection between space tourism and interplanetary resource harvesting is already tenuous. Add to that the risk of space tourism further depleting the ozone, and it becomes clear that Bezos decided to take a gamble based on his particular vision for the future of humanity. Now all we can do is watch.

— Hirsh Chitkara (email | twitter)

This story appeared on Protocol.com, read it here.

A MESSAGE FROM ALIBABA

This year, more than 50 percent of all retail sales in China are predicted to take place online—the first time this milestone has been reached globally. The digital economy and massive consumer market in China present big opportunities for Alibaba's U.S. customers.

Learn more

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People Are Talking

Shalev Hulio, CEO of Israeli surveillance company NSO Group, promised to investigate potential spyware abuse:

  • "Every allegation about misuse of the system is concerning me. It violates the trust that we give customers. We are investigating every allegation ... and if we find that it is true, we will take strong action."

Meanwhile, Edward Snowden said spyware attacks could become a lot more common:

  • "If you don't do anything to stop the sale of this technology, it's not just going to be 50,000 targets. It's going to be 50 million targets, and it's going to happen much more quickly than any of us expect."

Joe Biden clarified that Facebook isn't "killing people," but said falsehoods from a small group of people cause harm:

  • "Facebook isn't killing people – these 12 people are out there giving misinformation. Anyone listening to it is getting hurt by it. It's killing people. It's bad information."

On Protocol: Expensify's David Barrett said the company's employee agreements would adopt language from an anti-NDA bill:

  • "Sounds great. Sign me up. I can't believe it's already not obvious."

Three GOP senators don't want Olympic athletes to use China's digital currency and wrote a letter about it:

  • "While the Chinese Communist Party insists their efforts are aimed at digitizing bank notes and coins, Olympic athletes should be aware that the digital yuan may be used to surveil Chinese citizens and those visiting China on an unprecedented scale."

Making Moves

Anand Gopalan is leaving Velodyne as its CEO and board member at the end of the month. Company leaders have been at odds with each other leading up to the resignation.

Tom Vice is Sierra Space's new CEO. He's done a ton of work in aerospace and most recently served as Aerion's CEO.

Graham Steele could be the next assistant treasury secretary for financial institutions. He'd have a big say in crypto regulation and the way banks address climate change.

Rent the Runway confidentially filed for an IPO. The company also tapped Gwyneth Paltrow to sit on its board.

Elon Musk, Jack Dorsey and Cathie Wood will chat about Bitcoin during "The ₿ Word" conference tomorrow. It should be an interesting conversation, if it's anything like Dorsey and Musk's twitter exchange.

Twitter suspended Marjorie Taylor Greene for posting misinformation about the pandemic. She can't tweet for ... 12 hours.

In Other News

  • Apple is delaying its return to the office by at least a month, according to Bloomberg. Sources said the decision was due to a rise in COVID-19 cases in some parts of the world, and that the company will give employees a month's notice before requiring them to head back to the office.
  • Meanwhile, Amazon will stop testing its warehouse workers for COVID-19, according to The Information. Testing will stop at the end of July, a big move for a company that has facilities in some states with pretty low vaccination rates.
  • Apple's security might not be foolproof. A report that formed part of the big NSO investigation found that thousands of iPhones were compromised by spyware and showed vulnerabilities in Apple technology. Now, security experts want Apple to work with other tech giants to patch up the issues.
  • AWS also got caught up in the spyware investigation. It shut down accounts tied to NSO after the investigation found that NSO's malware funneled data to AWS and Amazon CloudFront.
  • Dish will use AT&T as its network provider. The company is leaving T-Mobile — amid a feud where Dish accused T-Mobile of anticompetitive behavior — and entering a 10-year, $5 billion deal with AT&T for Dish's cellphone brands.
  • Peloton does video games now. The company is launching an in-app video game, called Lanebreak, that requires bikers to control a moving wheel while pedaling.
  • Daojia is pausing its U.S. IPO plans, according to Bloomberg, as China continues to tighten its restrictions on overseas listings. The Chinese home service startup follows social media platform Little Red Book, which also paused IPO plans at the end of last week.
  • China hit back at U.S. allegations about hacking, calling the claims "groundless" and a "malicious smear."

One More Thing

WeWork's boom and bust

WeWork's story is bizarre: It's a startup that went from a multibillion-dollar valuation to near bankruptcy in a matter of weeks. The company always branded itself as tech, even if that was questionable from the start (and, err, still is). Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell's "The Cult of We," which came out today, dives deep into how business leaders so eagerly gave in to the company's hype, and how quickly that fanfare went away. But if you want to brush up on your WeWork before diving headfirst into even more WeWork, the documentary about its rise and fall is a good place to start.

A MESSAGE FROM ALIBABA

This year, more than 50 percent of all retail sales in China are predicted to take place online—the first time this milestone has been reached globally. The digital economy and massive consumer market in China present big opportunities for Alibaba's U.S. customers.

Learn more

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