Upon entering the SpaceX store, it’s nearly impossible to miss the sight of the men’s t-shirt that reads the striking phrase “Nuke Mars,” in large, bold letters. Clearly, Elon Musk has big goals for the red planet: he released a plan for an uncrewed spacecraft to be sent to Mars in two years, and aims to land the first human on Mars by 2026. The kind of space travel Musk plans for could potentially lead to a promising future filled with innovations and opportunities that can’t be found on Earth. However, as is the case with most powerful, cutting-edge technologies, these advances come with a price.
The underlying intentions behind Musk’s trip to Mars are questionable. His climate activism is largely performative, as he uses climate change as a tool to push his own personal agenda and support his public image as a self proclaimed “technoking.”
Musk’s “climate agenda” is at the forefront of his endeavors to get to Mars. Musk is known as a climate advocate, and recently pledged to donate 100 million dollars to whoever comes up with the “best carbon capture technology.” With such financial dedication, it is easy to assume that Musk cares deeply about fighting climate change. However, as generous as his offer for a sliver of his salary is, it doesn’t prove much about his values. Musk is a wealthy scientist, yet the only climate-conscious plans he has released are the carbon-capture technology reward and his electric cars. He may believe in climate change– most scientists do– but he does not distribute his wealth productively and refuses to help bypass the systemic barriers to overcoming climate change. Musk’s wealth equips him with the capability to pressure governments into systemic change and to offer resources to put each nation on a level playing field to combat climate change, yet he has not done so.
In addition to his lack of monetary action to alleviate climate change on earth, Musk’s calls to “nuke Mars” also complicate the narrative that he is a climate activist. This plan seeks to release enough carbon emissions to make the planet habitable for humans, but in reality, it is completely unpredictable and not guaranteed to achieve a desirable living environment. For a so-called climate activist, his work towards deploying nuclear bombs on Mars do not align with climate science priorities, which would put saving planet earth first. Musk’s plans for nuking Mars do not take climate science into account, only have a slim chance of success, and are not guaranteed to achieve his temperature goal even if his plans run smoothly, so we must question both the motives behind Musk’s activism.
When Musk proposes nuking Mars, it is possible that he is just posing a theory rather than describing a concrete plan. In the past, he’s justified the nuclear idea as nothing more than a “step in the right direction.” However, his unpredictability is harmful, as he is garnering public support and attracting considerable attention for something he himself isn’t entirely sure of. What’s particularly disconcerting is the lack of coverage on the potential negative effects of nuking Mars in discussions of Musk’s ideas; the radiation alone would make Mars uninhabitable for decades. Currently, many large media sources describe Musk’s hard work towards innovative new beginnings with the potential to save humanity, but his positive public image only disguises all of Musk’s transgressions against the climate.
While in fairy tales, the good side always wins out, in real life, finding a happy ending isn’t guaranteed. With each gear turned and screw inserted into a SpaceX spacecraft without stricter regulation or public awareness of the issue, the threat of a Musk-led Mars grows more pressing. Musk presents an ultimatum: make Mars our plan B or eventually die on our burning Earth. I wonder, however, if we would even need that plan B if we just loved our plan A enough.