David Beasley, executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), rocked the world on June 26 when he tweeted out a challenge, laden with moral weight, to some of the world’s wealthiest men. Directly addressing moguls Richard Branson, Elon MuskElon Reeve MuskPrince William urges focus on saving planet instead of space travel Democrats' electric vehicle push sparks intense lobbying fight Blue Origin is taking William Shatner to space — but can it distract from internal criticism? MORE, and Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosDems look to keep tax on billionaires in spending bill Matt Stroller: Amazon's Bezos likely lied under oath before Congress The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Biden, Democrats dig into legislative specifics MORE, Beasley said he was “excited” to see them competing first in the private-sector space race.
And yet, Beasley continued, there’s an essential mission in need of doing here on earth: making sure that 41 million people don’t starve to death. He added that the tycoons can prevent that tragedy, “It only takes $6 [b]illion. We can solve this quickly!”
In subsequent tweets, Beasley noted that Bezos’ wealth has risen by $65 billion in the last year alone. And Musk’s fortune has jumped $137 billion. As Beasley put it, “Elon, just 5 [percent] of your net worth INCREASE would save 41 million people about to die from hunger. We need you, NOW!”
Beasley’s words were heard worldwide. The communications chief for the U.N. secretary-general retweeted Beasley, adding the quip, “@WFPChief brings the discussion back to earth.” And U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed said, “Humanity counts on you all. Thanks in advance.”
Beasley may have rocked the globe, but he’s no radical. After all, he was the conservative Republican governor of South Carolina in the mid-90s (I worked on his staff back then); he later became active in international relief work. In 2017 he was named to head up WFP. In 2020, Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the organization.
Now, Beasley is making the spacefaring moguls an offer they shouldn’t refuse. Indeed, a grand bargain — those seeking to leave the earth helping those remaining behind — is a win-win-win-win.
How so? First and foremost, it would be a win for those who are hungry.
Second, victory over famine is a win for world stability, and stability — fewer refugees, less chaos — is what keeps business humming and stock portfolios rising.
Third, a greater focus by tech brains on the hunger issue would be a win by bringing new ideas to the problem. As we have seen with the historic success of Operation Warp Speed, a concentrated attack on a problem can yield up great results. And victory in the fight against hunger might be found in ways beyond the production of more food; it could also be about better food distribution. For instance, it’s estimated that Americans waste 30-40 percent of their food supply. Indeed, someone in Silicon Valley can code an algorithm that could direct some of that surplus toward hungry mouths.
Fourth, a Beasley grand bargain would be a win for the tycoons’ standing, as they would gain a more stable platform of political and moral support for their space ventures. The current perception of many in the international public, however unstated, is that the space-directed tycoons plan to abandon earth; the secession of the successful. This was the scenario of the 2013 Hollywood movie “Elysium” — impoverished masses are huddled on hot and overcrowded earth while the rich have migrated to orbiting penthouses. Where is the nobility in such abandonment?
Branson, Bezos and Musk have not publicly responded to Beasley. In fairness to them, they are doing amazing things that can shape our future in ways that we can barely imagine, and yet how much more amazing would it be if they could also help save the hungry? So, Beasley’s call to conscience is worth a listen.
After all, one has to believe that the most brilliant people on the planet can figure out how to solve terrestrial problems, leaving them with a freer hand to tackle extraterrestrial issues. And in the meantime, there could be a Nobel Peace Prize to be earned. Such a treasure could make a nice keepsake, a fond souvenir of earthly good works — on display in a mansion on Mars.
Elizabeth Dial Pinkerton served as director of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships from 2017 to 2021.