OPINION: Bezos, Musk & Branson should be using science to save this planet

Elon Musk, Sir Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos who are involved in a billionaire's space race

Elon Musk, Sir Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos who are involved in a billionaire's space race - Credit: PA

When I was small I was told the story of the little Dutch boy who, heading home in the evening and spotting a hole in the side of the dyke, ran forward and plugged it with his finger, preventing catastrophic flooding.

Also I had witnessed the east coast floods in 1953 with the loss of more than 2,000 lives. Are we going to to be able to plug the hole and prevent the worst consequences of catastrophic climate change?

Some of the solutions put forward are the dreams of hi-tech billionaires like Sir Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.

Branson recently returned from the edge of space via his Virgin Galactic craft, supported by the ship named after his own mother, Eve.

With recent biblically apocalyptic storms, fires and floods, there is something of a Boy's Own adventure in this wizardry of building space craft to deliver us.

Are these men trying to be twenty-first century Noahs? We are going to need all the hi-tech knowledge we can muster to save the planet but it has to be Earth-bound and pragmatic and not the stuff of science fiction.

Cycling into Norwich through the traffic I was caught up in a cavalcade of Extinction Rebellion activists heading along the inner ring road.

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Then I spotted outside the Forum a sleek purple-blue electric powered Porsche (other brands are available) - a manifestation of the dreams of Musk & Co.

An enthusiast was talking to sales staff seemingly unaware that the car was powered by a 630 kilo lithium-ion battery, in order to achieve 0-60 in 2.7 seconds and 155 mph.

Handy, with a national speed limit of 70mph and the dream price of £130,000 plus!

He and I discussed things to come and found common ground on battery storage solutions, a fully integrated public transport system, more cycling and less dependency on individual car use.

He upheld the Muskian notion of airborne cars, Automated Lane Keeping Systems, hands-free driving and electric vertical take off vehicles.

Imagine lifting off from your back garden and zooming to the supermarket among a swarm of similarly minded shoppers or popping over the rooftops to land in granny’s drive. Heathrow and Stansted have problems enough with a centrally co-ordinated air traffic control system. And then there are the drones...

We acknowledged the massive future demand for electricity and raw materials. And the need for business park-sized sites for storing excess energy for feeding back into the grid during times of low generation.

This year Norfolk was knocked back by an individual objection when Vattenfall wind farms lost the go-ahead in February, a Luddite decision.

Yet the county council ploughs ahead with grand tarmac, concrete and steel projects, massive emitters of CO2 and drivers of the greenhouse effect.

At current numbers, 32 million electric vehicles will be coming onstream as fossil fuel is phased out from 2030. Branson’s space flights and Musk’s mining on Mars is going to further mess-up our world with space junk.

We need to build efficient recycling and reprocessing units to re-use the precious elements in these batteries and re-purpose plastic. We need a freeing up of planning to enable householders to generate more of their own energy, free from the grip of global power cartels.

We need to retrofit homes with insulation and build affordable Passivhaus homes which use up to 90% less energy, like the award winning Goldsmith Street in Norwich.

We don’t need sci-fi whizz-kids but we do need the latest tech, AI and visionary planners to work for the benefit of the planet’s future.

The industrial revolution created these problems, now science is needed to mitigate them, but this doesn’t mean flying to Mars.

The story of the little Dutch boy stopping the flood was a myth, a children’s fairy tale, but can we harvest something from the spirit of that and find technological solutions to prevent the worst of climate change before it’s too late?

I sincerely hope so.

Peter Offord is an artist and former Norwich city councillor