What do the French and American governments, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Tesla’s Elon Musk and Virgin’s Richard Branson have in common?
Together, they have committed to billions of dollars in spending on new efforts to explore space.
This deployment of such huge sums of money, which will extend over many years, takes place while gigantic challenges exist back on earth.
Instead of pursuing the great virility project that is space exploration perhaps a more joined up effort by these leaders could do more that matters for most people on this planet.
Off the top of my head I can pick about five mega projects that these governments and billionaires could associate themselves with, while securing plaudits from all right thinking people and leave a proper legacy for the next generation.
Let's start with a gargantuan tree planting programme around the world that helps combat the decline in wildlife, while improving the atmosphere.
Follow that with investing in all-new technologies that can recover waste plastic from the oceans and landfill sites to be converted into safe sustainable products. Create all-new monster machines that turn salt water into water fit for human consumption and land irrigation.
All of this will absorb billions but if these entities have anything left maybe the development of aircraft and ship engines that run entirely on biofuels and have zero emissions would be a worthy endeavour.
These items are the type of things that the world’s billionaires should be considering instead of space exploration. For sure, I like the notion of tourists circling the planet and astronauts hanging around on Mars, but really?
There are those who think climate change and population growth on earth are a one-way ticket to extinction.
Others, me included, think human ingenuity has the intelligence and capabilities to manage these changes while protecting and cherishing life on this planet.
To do that, however, will require financial resources akin to the tens of billions committed to the US space race in the 1960s or the billions blown in both world wars. It will need leadership of the type that is rarely visible in today’s world.
Billionaires like Mr Bezos and Mr Musk could play a key role in driving change around the world. But, instead, they opt to devote enormous sums of money on ways to get off the planet.
The Irish Government could have a thing or two to say about this.
Many will have seen the images of huge whales surfacing around a small boat off the Kerry coast last week. Those creatures owe part of their survival to Ireland’s push to make its waters a sanctuary some time ago.
We need to go further. Positioning Ireland as a true thought and political leader in the areas of clean water, renewable energy, recycling and pure air would be a wise initiative.
Aside from the morality of such a shift, it would also help enhance our reputation in the tourism and food industries in addition to providing a beacon of light for other countries and communities who choose to tackle climate change constructively.
Sloganeering on this issue won’t suffice.
Actions that eliminate water pollution, stick and carrot policies to accelerate the shift to renewables, access to nuclear energy and a rapid advance in tree planting and biodiversity measures would be valuable steps forward in the next 12 months.
Follow it with annual projects with defined outcomes and over a five-year period shift Ireland to being something any self confident billionaire would like to be associated with.
It beats the hell out of shooting off rockets fuelled with enormous volumes of fossil fuels in my book.
- Joe Gill is director of origination and corporate development with Goodbody Stockbrokers. His views are personal.