Here’s a new ad that premiered today. It’s a satirical tourist ad for Mars, brought to you by Fridays for the Future.
It’s only the reveal at the end that brings the ad back to earth and highlights its climate justice message. The prospect of escaping climate change is only for the richest. For everyone else, we’d better fix the climate.
Fridays for the Future are not the first to highlight the waste of space exploration when there is so much to do on earth. “No hot water, no toilets, no lights, but Whitey’s on the moon” goes Gil Scott-Heron’s famous poem, showing how hollow the Apollo missions rang in some quarters.
This is more a matter of priorities than of zero-sum choices. America could have solved social problems and also gone to the moon. The scientific and technological legacy of those missions have brought benefits to billions of people, so it’s not as if they should not have happened. The injustice is in the fact that the big projects for the rich and powerful get funded, and the basic dignity of running water and sanitation doesn’t.
Scott-Heron pointed out in the 1960s that there was a racial inequality at work. Despite NASA’s promise to include women and people of colour the next time it goes to the moon, that’s no less true today. Globally, those still waiting for basic amenities are disproportionately black and brown. It is those same people who will be most affected by climate change.
It stands to reason that global warming will be most dangerous where it is already very hot. The equatorial regions of the Earth face greater risk. (Here’s the Climate Vulnerability Index map with the equator hastily drawn on it to make the point.) The majority white nations of the global north, despite being the biggest historical source of emissions, face much lower risk.
This is, ultimately, a much bigger deal than Mars. The rich don’t need to go to another planet to dodge the worst of climate change. It doesn’t have to involve a bunker or a private island, or a sea wall protecting your denialist ass from rising seas, as a certain US senator has. For most, escaping climate change just means living in a safe country in the first place.
I like the ad from Fridays for the Future, and it makes its point. But the big injustice of climate change is not a speculative future divide between those who can afford to go to space and those who can’t. It’s already with us – a global disconnect between those who have caused climate change and those who suffer its worst effects.