With Part I, I posted an overview of Tesla as a car company, from a vegan perspective. Here, in Part II, let me share what I’ve found while exploring one of Musk’s other holdings and perhaps the most ambitious one: SpaceX. Tesla cars and SpaceX spacecraft companies are both owned by Elon Musk and their R&D personnel overlap at least informally as they create materials for electric vehicles, renewable energy products, spacecraft and rockets.
This series of articles is meant to go deeper than the question of whether Tesla cars (or SpaceX spaceships) have non-leather seats. Because there’s a lot more to veganism than that. The way we think about Earth as habitat, and humans as actors in a bio-community, brings us to a more expansive view of veganism.
Ten, Nine, Eight…
SpaceX is designed to advance Elon Musk’s concept of a multi-planetary humanity.
There’s an interesting video clip of Jack Ma speaking to Elon Musk (embedded in this article), suggesting that Musk’s talents and brand would be better applied to the needs of life on Earth than to staking out real estate in the great beyond. With “great respect” Ma tells Musk:
We need heroes like you, but we need more heroes like us working hard on the Earth, improving things every day. That’s what I want.
To be fair, I believe Musk earnestly seeks to improve human life here on Earth. Still, Musk is engaged in the billionaires’ anti-social habit of paying a pittance in income taxes. And in any case, good intentions do not obviate the consequences of redirecting humanity’s future and I do believe Musk’s imprint is going to be profound. That’s why I’m taking some time with this. I hope you’re with me so far.
Rocket Projects and Mining Rights
Humanity is fragmented. We have yet to take the necessary steps to treat each other kindly as a global norm on Earth. How, then, could we possibly act in concert for a supposedly greater collective future beyond Earth?
And while Musk’s work transcends borders (Musk appears more focused on advancing companies than countries), competitive national aspects are evident in some of the projects SpaceX has taken on. The proposed 2022 budget for the U.S. Air Force includes millions for SpaceX reusable Starship rockets. The Pentagon thinks they could bring people or gear from one side of the Earth to the other within an hour, a CNBC article suggests. And for what purposes does the U.S. military usually bring things and people from one side of the Earth to the other?
Meanwhile, the government of China is developing competing space travel. India and Russia have their own space stations in the works. Israel is planning lunar experiments. NASA’s Artemis Accords allow for extraterrestrial mining. The European Space Administration has been talking about creating a lunar village, and the Japanese carmaker Toyota is working on Lunar Cruisers.
These projects are not only reaching extraterrestrial destinations; they are also prospecting for energy and resources. And as Dr. Namrata Goswami writes in Trans-Asia Inc.’s The Diplomat, “space capacity is a surrogate indicator of military power.”
Internet for All… At What Cost?
SpaceX is also establishing Starlink broadband by sending hundreds and potentially tens of thousands of satellites up into space. The point of crowding space with the dizzying array of orbiting objects? To supply internet to the areas of Earth the telecoms, fibre and 5G cannot reach. Under the header Governing Law, Starlink states that its service will be controlled by the laws of California, USA. Additionally (I’m adding the bold here):
For Services provided on Mars, or in transit to Mars via Starship or other colonization spacecraft, the parties recognize Mars as a free planet and that no Earth-based government has authority or sovereignty over Martian activities. Accordingly, Disputes will be settled through self-governing principles, established in good faith, at the time of Martian settlement.
SpaceX thus acknowledges that it’s engaged in the colonization of Mars by a U.S. entity. Surely, designating California as the legal jurisdiction does put an “earth-based government” in authority!
Is There Any Limit to This Extraterrestrial Acquisitiveness?
In the 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (the “Outer Space Treaty”), the United States, the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland meant to prevent the spread of a global arms race into space. The UN-sponsored treaty declares that space and extraterrestrial scientific findings are not subject to national appropriation. Yet there’s no language that bars private ownership. Apparently, grabs by companies registered with certain nations was not how the parties anticipated dominance in 1967.
In 1979, the Outer Space Treaty was augmented by an Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (the “Moon Agreement”). The agreement regards the moon as the “common heritage of mankind” (Article 11).
Should a “common heritage” be the subject of corporate takings? The question seems already obsolete. Elon Musk is defying the spirit of the treaties, while paying lip service to a “free planet” concept.
Overall, Tesla’s founder aims to transcend environmentally harmful human tendencies with innovative technology. Yet these tendencies stand to be greatly intensified by the goal of a multi-planetary humanity. Isn’t it likely that a post-Earth afterlife is the ultimate escape from responsibility to our own native habitat and our greater biological community?
SpaceX could allow a new jet set to nuture a fantasy of escaping a beaten-down planet. A fantasy starring Musk as the one who can save those able and willing to be saved. Nonhuman life, alas, does not count for much in this fantasy. This is its ultimate flaw.
In the third and final post of this series I’ll explore Elon Musk’s underground tunnel company, solar power and sustainable town concepts, Neuralink, and plans for a restaurant chain (spoiler: it won’t be vegan).
Love and liberation,
Photo credit: SpaceX, via Pexels.