LOS ANGELES - Following his trip to the edge of outer space Tuesday, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said he is inspired to fight climate change by exporting all industrial pollution to space.
In an interview, Bezos said the launch of his Blue Origin space rocket made him realize how "fragile" Earth is.
Bezos said he wants to reinvent industries that negatively harm the environment — calling them the "polluting industry" — by moving them from Earth and into the void of space.
"We have to build a road to space so that our kids and their kids can build the future… when you get up and there you see it, you see how tiny it is and how fragile it is, we need to take all heavy industry, all polluting industry and move it into space, and keep Earth as this beautiful gem of a planet that it is," Bezos said.
"That's going to take decades and decades but you have to start," he added.
Bezos said his recent off-world experience also made him realize the need for unity and collaboration among the human race.
"So for me it reinforces my commitment to the climate change, to the environment, I think if you look at it to about, we have too much vilification in society today not enough unity," Bezos said. "So we want unifiers, not vilifiers and when you look out at the planet, there are no borders... there’s nothing, it's one planet and we share it, and it's fragile."
Despite Bezos’ stated desire to fight climate change, his company Amazon said last month that its carbon footprint grew 19% last year as it rushed to deliver a surge of online orders during the pandemic.
The online shopping behemoth said activities tied to its businesses emitted 60.64 million metric tons of carbon dioxide last year — the equivalent of burning through 140 million barrels of oil. Amazon’s carbon footprint has risen every year since 2018, when it first disclosed its carbon footprint, something employees had pushed the company to do.
The company has been buying up solar energy, making its gadgets out of recycled plastic and even renamed a Seattle hockey arena after its climate-change initiative.
However, Amazon depends on fuel-burning planes and trucks to ship billions of items around the world. In fact, it announced earlier this year that it would buy 11 jets to get packages to shoppers faster. Amazon’s emissions from fossil fuels soared 69% last year.
According to Everyday Astronaut, an online rocket science publication, rockets similar to the recent Blue Origin launch account for approximately 0.0000059% of all CO2 emissions in 2018. But that number could steadily increase.
A bigger concern is that since the purpose of Blue Origin is to capitalize on the rising demand for commercial space travel, that rise could contribute to more harmful emissions in the environment.
Bezos’ company Blue Origin launched its New Shepard rocket into space Tuesday with Bezos and others on board in what was the company’s first-ever astronaut flight.
Bezos, the founder of both Blue Origin and Amazon, was launched from West Texas on what he deemed to be the "best day ever." He was joined in the 10-minute flight by his brother, Mark, 18-year-old Oliver Daemen from the Netherlands and 82-year-old female aviation pioneer Wally Funk.
Bezos became the second billionaire to ride his own rocket after Richard Branson’s ride on July 11. New Shepard reached an altitude of roughly 66 miles — more than 10 miles higher than Branson's Virgin Galactic trip.
The two private companies chasing space tourism dollars have drawn criticism for catering to the rich while so many are struggling amid the pandemic.
Following the flight, Bezos expressed gratitude to Amazon workers who he said made his brief trip into space possible. But for some, Bezos' expression of gratitude went over like a lead rocket.
"I want to thank every Amazon employee, and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all this," the 57-year-old Bezos said during a news conference Tuesday after becoming the second billionaire in just over a week to ride in his own spacecraft.
Labor groups and Amazon workers have claimed that the company offers its hourly employees not enough break times, puts too much reliance on rigid productivity metrics and has unsafe working conditions. An effort to unionize workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama failed earlier this year.
Robert Reich, former secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton and a professor of public policy at University of California, Berkeley, wrote on Twitter that Bezos has crushed unionizing attempts for decades.
"Amazon workers don’t need Bezos to thank them. They need him to stop union busting — and pay them what they deserve," Reich wrote.
"Billionaires rocketing off to space isn’t a sign of progress. It’s a sign of grotesque inequality that allows a select few to leave earth behind while the rest of humanity suffers," Reich wrote in another tweet.
Others tied his spaceflight to reports that Bezos hasn't paid his fair share of taxes. According to the nonprofit investigative journalism organization ProPublica, Bezos paid no income tax in 2007 and 2011.
"Jeff Bezos forgot to thank all the hardworking Americans who actually paid taxes to keep this country running while he and Amazon paid nothing," Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., tweeted.
Allen Adamson, co-founder of marketing consultancy Metaforce, says it's challenging for Bezos to say where the money from the space trip is coming from without being offensive. He says he should have left out those comments and focused on thanking the Blue Origin team.
"For people who have an issue with inequality and his compensation versus the average employee compensation, this was rocket fuel," Adamson said.
Bezos stepped down earlier this month as Amazon’s CEO and just last week donated $200 million to renovate the National Air and Space Museum. Most of the $28 million from the auction has been distributed to space advocacy and education groups, with the rest benefiting Blue Origin’s Club for the Future, its own education effort.
Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000 in Kent, Washington, near Amazon’s Seattle headquarters. The company is working on a massive rocket, New Glenn, to put payloads and people into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It also wants to put astronauts back on the moon with its proposed lunar lander Blue Moon.
This story was reported from Los Angeles. Kelly Hayes and The Associated Press contributed.