Brandi Buzzard: Dear Richard Branson: What's Worse, A Rocket or a Steak?

The author, a Kansas rancher, addresses space tourism and, specifically, the impact of Richard Branson's flight last week on the environment. Branson is the same celebrity who says he is giving up beef for "environmental reasons."
The author, a Kansas rancher, addresses space tourism and, specifically, the impact of Richard Branson's flight last week on the environment. Branson is the same celebrity who says he is giving up beef for "environmental reasons."
(The Author)

I can remember, as a small child, thinking how cool it would be to launch into outer space and explore our solar system. Space is a mysterious place that is by and large, undiscovered and untested. But my goals of exploring space tapered off as I got older and discovered 1) becoming an astronaut is extremely difficult and requires math skills beyond my comprehension, 2) space is way out there and you have to leave your family for months, or years, at a time and 3) I want to be here on Earth with my horses and cows where I'm not near as likely to hyperventilate from claustrophobia. So much for dreams, right?

However, if I was Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Media and someone with so much money he can literally burn it, I could just board my own rocket plane and launch into space for the heck of it. Who cares about the environment, rocket fuel, the ozone layer or climate change, right?

Well, clearly Sir Richard does not as he launched his Virgin Galactic rocket plane into space for a 1.5-hour mission that allowed him to see the Earth's horizon and experience weightlessness. Honestly, that does sound pretty cool. But wait, is that the same Richard Branson who spouted this nonsense?

Richard Branson

Richard Branson has publicly stated, numerous times, he gave up eating beef and meat for environmental reasons. I won't repeat his misinformation or drivel here, but it seems out of this world hypocritical for someone who supposedly cares about the environment enough to unnecessarily give up a healthy, sustainable and nutrient-dense protein to then turn around and launch a rocket plane into the atmosphere just for grins and giggles.

Just so we are all on the same page with actual facts, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, cattle are responsible for only 2% of greenhouse gas emissions and American agriculture, as a whole, is responsible for only about 10%.

That's a very small number for a segment of the GDP that feeds, nurtures and clothes our society. While they don't contribute much in terms of GHG, cows do contribute to carbon sequestration by grazing on lands that aren't suitable for human food production, consuming human-inedible food production by-products (pineapple bran, peanut hulls, citrus pulp, dried distillers grains, etc.) and providing a nutrient-dense protein that is healthy for people of all ages from babies to the elderly.
buzzard cows

Yes, I know, these cows totally look more environmentally harmful than a rocket.

But let's talk about that rocket plane, shall we? Space tourism is not environmentally friendly and that's exactly what he did - he took a tour of the atmosphere. He wasn't conducting research or bettering our planet with a previously unknown discovery. He had the money to go to space, so he did it. Bravo! That's the kind of attitude I am generally 100% supportive of - live your life (Hey! Ay ay ay). However, these kinds of hypocritical actions are just appalling. According to the Aerospace Corporation, rockets inject combustion products into the stratosphere, which depletes the ozone and as a result, they contribute to the interactions that determine the global climate. I don't mean to be punny, but it honestly doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that rockets are huge contributors of emissions. According to E&E News, Branson's flight has a similar carbon footprint to a commercial jet flying from London to Singapore, but international flights generally carry hundreds of passengers to their destination, not a single passenger going on a joy ride.

To be fair, Sir Richard is not alone. Billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are also advancing the space tourism and commercial space industries while also expressing concern about global warming. I don't think three wrongs make a right but apparently even billionaires feel the pressure of keeping up with the Joneses.

So, here's the bottom line: I am beyond fed up with billionaires spouting misinformation about meat and the environment while also flying on private planes to private islands, oh and also GOING TO SPACE FOR THE FUN OF IT.

If you want to make real progress against climate change here's what you can do:

Reduce your food waste - Did you know that in the U.S. we waste nearly 40% of the food we purchase from the grocery store? That’s no exaggeration. Imagine the last grocery trip you made – a cart full of protein, fruits, dairy and snacks. Then arrive home and throw nearly half of it away – true story. If you want to make an impact through food, quit throwing it away! Meal planning, utilizing leftovers and knowing the difference between use-by and best-by dates are all ways to decrease your carbon footprint via food without changing your diet.

Reduce your reliance on single-use plastics - Man, plastic is problematic. And I get it – it’s convenient and everywhere. But you can take small steps to stop fueling the production of such a harmful waste product – plastics clog up our waterways, oceans and landfills and aren’t biodegradable! So for starters, get a water jug or thermos of choice and please cut the dependence on bottled water. Secondly, you can get reusable snack bags so that you aren’t tossing out a bunch of plastic ziplock baggies after every picnic, errand run or rodeo. Also, when you go to the grocery store, there’s no need to put all your produce in the bag. Why do we do that? We just take it out of the bag when we get home and chuck the bags in the trash. Get some reusable ones OR just don’t use one at all (I’ve done it, don’t hyperventilate. It’s ok).

Park the car and walk (or take public transport) - Clearly, we have to travel but there are ways to get from point A to B without filling the air with CO2. I live in the country but even I can reduce my use of fuel – I walk to our post office and the local cafe when the weather allows. When the hubs and I visit new cities, we take public transportation rather than renting a car. You can do these things too – it’s as simple as carpooling to work or trying to run your errands on one specific day per week, rather than whenever you think of them. Are these changes convenient? Not always, but I’m more than willing to walk than never to have a mild summer or mild winter again in my life.

I don't have all the climate change answers, not even close. But I know, without a doubt, that creating space tourism ventures and allowing people to joyride into outer space while spewing rocket fumes into the atmosphere is not going to turn this ship around. Again, I'm not a rocket scientist but I do believe rocket scientists over billionaires.

Brandi Buzzard is a Kansas rancher and writer. You can follow her work at



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