The Exchange

Kelly Evans: Space Flight Vs. Gasoline


I'm with Eamon here. "Would you fly into space on one of these contraptions?" He tweeted this morning. "I'm happy to let the billionaires go first." 

Did you hear the news? Richard Branson is planning to launch himself into space on July 11th--beating Jeff Bezos by nine days. This CNBC article by Michael Sheetz is a fascinating encapsulation of the race to be first. Branson is not only reshuffling Virgin Galactic's spaceflight test schedule to beat Bezos, but the launch date also requires the company to prepare its spacecraft faster than ever--in just 50 days since the last launch. That said, shares of Virgin Galactic have more than tripled since mid-May and are up 11% today.  

The Bezos people are sniffing at Branson's plans, saying their flight (carrying Bezos, his brother, an auction winner, and aerospace pioneer Wally Funk) on July 20th will be going slightly higher into the air--above the "Karman line" that apparently delineates what actually counts as being an "astronaut." "It's a very different experience," the CEO of Bezos' space company, Blue Origin, told CNBC.  

Okay. I love it. The race, the snarking back and forth, the fact that the U.S. is leading the era of passenger "space" travel, etc. As I've mentioned many times, one of my all-time favorite books is "One Summer" by Bill Bryson, which similarly recounts the dawn of the aviation era in the year 1927.  

I also love it because this is what billionaires should be doing. Risking their own necks for the innovation they want--and uniquely can deliver--for the rest of society. (That's not to say Charles Lindbergh was a billionaire, but it costs a little more to build and launch a space shuttle.) It's not to say there are no negative externalities, but there are presumably a lot fewer than with the "ESG" movement that is pushing to defund fossil fuels.  

When Calpers divested from cigarette maker Altria twenty years ago, it was part of a societal trend that raised the cost of doing business for cigarette makers and raised the price of cigarettes to discourage their consumption. (Calpers also forewent billions in investment returns.) Fine--anyone "harmed" by that could stop smoking cigarettes, and theoretically be better off.  

Now, the trend is towards divesting from oil and gas companies--or forcing the companies, like Engine No. 1 is doing with Exxon--to produce fewer fossil fuels going forward. That is going to raise their cost of doing business, and raise the cost of fuel. Have you checked gasoline prices lately? They're at a seven-year high, and few analysts think a decline is nigh.  

OPEC no longer needs to drive prices down to elbow U.S. producers out of the game--the "ESG" movement is doing that for them. So OPEC can keep prices high, pocket the gains, and U.S. customers can't look for relief to U.S. oil producers. Like I joked with Steve Auth yesterday, the "ESG" movement is now an ally of the OPEC cartel.  

Which, if we were talking about cigarettes, would all be fine. But instead we are talking about fuel. Fuel for cars, fuel for homes, fuel for businesses. Fuel bills that need to be paid today and that will be higher today--and going forward--as a result of the "ESG" tax. Are the investors driving this movement willing to compensate lower-income Americans in particular for this hugely regressive tax that's meant to usher in a greener future?  

So, my point is, "progress" that heralds the dawn of space flight, the iPhone, solar panels, electric vehicle engines--this is exactly where billionaires can help society. But "progress" that forces lower-income Americans to subsidize societal goals feels less fair to everybody.  

See you at 1 p.m! 


Twitter: @KellyCNBC

Instagram: @realkellyevans

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