The UN Secretary-General has had quite enough of the way billionaires are choosing to spend their unimaginable wealth, and took to the microphone during his address to the United Nations General Assembly to slam the likes of Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson for "joyriding in Space while millions go hungry". Believe us, he didn't mince his words.
“When people see promises of progress denied by the realities of their harsh daily lives. When they see their fundamental rights and freedoms curtailed. When they see petty — as well as grand — corruption around them,” António Guterres said in his address.
“When they see billionaires joyriding to space while millions go hungry on Earth. When parents see a future for their children that looks even bleaker than the struggles of today. And when young people see no future at all. The people we serve and represent may lose faith not only in their governments and institutions — but in the values that have animated the work of the United Nations for over 75 years."
The Secretary-General Address - skip to 5 minutes onwards for the section discussed here.
The topic of these "joyrides" has been hotly debated in recent months. Many argue that pointing vast amounts of money and resources to the stars while problems on Earth grow increasingly worrisome is irresponsible. Whether it be for advancing technology and human knowledge of the cosmos or just advancing the egos of big names, critics – and the Secretary-General, by the sounds of it – point out that the sheer amount of money these people are resting on could improve renewable technologies, give millions access to clean food or water, and broaden the opportunities the next generation will have.
Alternatively, others claim that many leaps in technology have been founded in space exploration, from an array of medical technology (such as LASIK, invisible braces, and artificial limbs) to solar cells, and even the foam in modern mattresses. Were it not for these efforts, society may not have advanced as far as it has today.
There is a third argument: That while it is frustrating to watch a billionaire announce a $1 billion fund for conservation while at the same time pushing for a space tourism industry that is anything but environmentally friendly, it is the governments, world leaders, and elected officials who have the power to make the changes needed at a fundamental level that will prevent the climate crisis exacerbating, or world hunger spreading, and not individuals, however rich they are. The issue lies in a system that allows (even encourages) such inequitable distribution of wealth, allowing some to accumulate unimaginable wealth while keeping others in poverty. Billionaires may be able to plug gaps or make large donations, but change is needed on a global scale.
As Guterres pointed out, failure to deliver core values of equality, justice and peace – partly as a result of misplaced spending – is to blame for many of the issues we face today. People may lose faith in their governments and institutions without demonstrable action.
“Promises, after all, are worthless if people do not see results in their daily lives. Failure to deliver creates space for some of the darkest impulses of humanity. It provides oxygen for easy fixes, pseudo-solutions, and conspiracy theories,” he said.