Today’s post is a little bit different than my usual content. I wanted to take a step back from the world of travel and really dig into my other focus here at Airplanes & Avocados, and that’s the environment. I recently wrote a paper for an environmental politics class regarding the impact of private citizens in terms of a sustainable future. In the process, I found myself relating more and more to Tesla and SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk. Today I wanted to share some bits and pieces from that research and show my readers why Elon Musk is such a crucial player in the fight against climate change and why his actions should be inspiring everyone across the world to fight for a more sustainable future.
“There are few industrialists in history who could match Elon Musk’s relentless drive and ingenious vision”.
Elon Musk is the head of Tesla and several other companies that are striving towards global change. He is paving the way to a better future and may be our planets only hope for long term sustainability – not in the sense that he can singlehandedly change the world himself – while he does have superhero like qualities, global change requires a global effort and Musk is inspiring it. Musk has become a symbol for change in today’s world and is inspiring action among private citizens and companies similar to that of his. His outspoken nature on topics related to global climate change such as clean energy and carbon taxes have already caught the attention of governments around the world, with many already pledging to steer their countries towards sustainable energy.
Elon Musk is best known for his energy company, Tesla. Since the company’s inception in 2003, Tesla’s mission has been to accelerate the transition to a sustainable energy future. Musk has been quoted several times over the years stating that he did not start Tesla nor any of his other companies in order to become a billionaire; he wanted to change the world and he believed that the key to changing the world was changing how the world sees energy. Fresh out of university Musk had the opportunity to pursue a career developing video games, “I really liked computer games, but then if I made really great computer games, how much effect would that have on the world? It wouldn’t have a big effect. Even though I have an intrinsic love of video games, I couldn’t bring myself to do it as a career”. So, Musk left behind a passion that would leave little legacy and instead embarked on a mission to change the world, starting with the automotive industry. Tesla completely reshaped the auto industry; it is the only successful new American car company in almost a century, the last being Chrysler in 1925. Originally starting out as an electric car company trying to bring cleaner vehicles to drivers, Tesla has since expanded to become a full-fledged energy company, providing alternative fuel sources for all the world’s energy requirements. The unveiling of the Tesla Model S and Model X introduced electric vehicles to the upper class, with their price tags ranging between $80,000-$100,000. However, Musk had a bigger vision for Tesla and knew that in order to truly change how the world sees electric vehicles, he needed to make them available to the middle class. So in 2017 Tesla began shipping out the Model 3, an affordable option for the average consumer to get in an electric car, with their price tags sitting under $50,000. Regardless of which Tesla model consumers drive they can expect to experience huge gas savings. With 100 miles using 34kWh and electricity costing an average of $0.12/kWh, the yearly cost to drive a Tesla 15,000 miles is approximately $612. On top of reducing their gas costs, Tesla owners will also be reducing their carbon footprint; driving a Tesla in the United States nets about 650 pounds of greenhouse gas savings. Over 90,000 Tesla’s have been sold in the United States since 2012, racking up a cumulative total of at least a third of a billion pounds in greenhouse gas savings.
With over 300,000 people racing to put down a deposit for a new Model 3, Musk has not only shown that being eco-friendly is possible, but he made it affordable and sexy. People want to drive Tesla’s and want to support a sustainable future – both inspired by Musk’s passion and recognizing their moral obligation to keep this planet healthy.
In 2015, Tesla made its way from consumer’s garages into their homes and offices with the introduction of two new energy storage products, the Powerwall home battery and the Powerpack industrial-scale battery. The Powerwall is a rechargeable lithium ion battery that provides residential homes with a way to store energy in the case of a utility outage, natural disaster, or even the Zombie Apocalypse. The batteries are compact, stackable, and contain a built-in inverter ready to integrate seamlessly with solar, making it easier than ever for homeowners to self-power their homes. Those looking to integrate their Powerwall’s with solar panels don’t need to look too far; in 2016, Tesla acquired SolarCity, the leading provider of solar power systems in the United States, and in 2017 will release the Solar Roof, an affordable energy generation product for average consumers. The combination of Tesla’s electric vehicles, energy storage solutions, and solar panels have offset almost 100-million pounds of CO2 – all through the actions of one private citizen without any government assistance.
The impact that Musk and Tesla have had on the economy and social outlook on electric vehicles has already forced other car companies to initiate or accelerate plans for their own electric vehicles; Volvo recently announced all of its vehicles will have an electric motor by 2019 and it will launch five new all-electric models by 2021. In addition, Tesla has inspired change among governments across the world; France has said it will begin banning gasoline engines in cars beginning in 2040, the entire European Union has voiced plans to make it mandatory that every new or refurbished home be equipped with an electric vehicle recharging point, while the city of San Francisco has introduced new legislation requiring all new residential, commercial, and municipal buildings to install electric vehicle charging stations.
Tesla’s unwavering mission to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy actually requires a lot of energy in itself. In order to achieve their goal the company must produce their electric vehicles in large enough quantities to permanently reshape the automobile industry. Musk has already committed Tesla to producing 500,000 cars a year by 2018 and 1 million cars per year by 2020. With these production commitments, Tesla alone would require today’s entire worldwide production of lithium ion batteries. Alas, the Tesla Gigafactory was born. This Gigafactory stretches 15-million square kilometres across the Nevada desert and will supply enough batteries to support the companies projected demand. It will also cut the cost of producing the Tesla batteries by 30%. It is estimated that in 2018 the Gigafactory will produce more lithium ion batteries annually than were produced worldwide in 2013. But the Gigafactory is not just a solution for Tesla’s production commitments; Elon Musk believes they are the world’s solution to a sustainable future. In the National Geographic film “Before the Flood” Musk takes producers and climate change advocate, Leonardo Dicaprio, for a tour through the Tesla Gigafactory, explaining that only 100 of these giant factories would be needed to meet the entire world’s energy needs. However, Musk makes a point of stating that one private company cannot save the entire world and that Tesla needs help from other companies in order to create a global shift towards sustainable energy. “Tesla can’t build 100 Gigafactories, so the thing that is really going to make the difference is if companies much larger than Tesla do the same thing,” Musk said. “If the big industrial companies in China, the US, and Europe, and the big car companies, if they also do this then collectively we can accelerate the transition to sustainable energy. And if government set the rules to favor sustainable energy, we can get there really quickly.” Musk makes a point of mentioning governments as nothing more than a way to speed up the process. Government laws and policies don’t need to exist in order to make a change; in fact, it’s just the opposite, change will force government laws and policies to favor sustainable energy. In the same film, Leonardo DiCaprio points out that society sees politicians as leaders when they are truly nothing more than followers. In order to stay in power, politicians need to obey what the people want. Thus, if people start demanding cleaner energy and more sustainable practices, these politicians will either need to comply or be replaced with someone who does. Our governments are nothing more than the last step in creating change, all of the hard work, innovation, education, and real difference making happens because of private citizens and companies.
Attempting to meet the entire world’s energy needs with electric and solar power is not even Musk’s most ambitious endeavour. Musk’s biggest aspiration is literally out of this world; he founded SpaceX in 2002 with a mission to enable humans to become a multiplanet species by building a self-sustaining city on Mars. Musk doesn’t see Mars as a way to avoid fixing the current state of our planet, but rather as insurance against a global catastrophe that leads to human extinction. For six years the SpaceX team tried and failed to launch their Falcon 1 rocket into orbit. Finally, in 2008 when the world was ready to give up hope on SpaceX and the company’s funding was drained to the last dollar, the fourth Falcon 1 rocket launch finally succeeded in reaching orbit. The successful launch turned heads from investors, engineers, astronauts, NASA officials, and everyday citizens across the globe who had a newfound hope for our world. Musk’s unwavering spirit and resilience in the face of doubt and failure inspired a global movement to believe in the future again and encourage every day, regular citizens to stand up to their governments and demand better.
After the Falcon 1 launch, SpaceX received an influx of support and continued on their path to Mars. In December 2010, with the launch of the Falcon 9 rocket, SpaceX became the only private company ever to return a spacecraft from Low-Earth orbit. The company made history again in May 2012 when its Dragon spacecraft delivered cargo to and from the International Space Station – a challenging feat previously accomplished only by governments. Once mocked and denied by NASA, SpaceX was awarded a $2.6-billion-dollar contract in 2015 by the space agency for its manned Dragon V2 capsule to shuttle astronauts up to the International Space Station. Now SpaceX has a chance of becoming the first private company to fly humans into orbit.
The efforts of Musk and SpaceX are further proof that private citizens and companies can accomplish much more than governments in striving for a more sustainable future. When reflecting on the early days of SpaceX, Musk expressed concern over the United States lack of interest in exploring other planets, “I couldn’t believe no one else was looking into this – NASA, the government – no one seemed to have any interest in exploring other planets, and so, I knew that if they wouldn’t I had to”. This type of self-starting attitude is exactly what made Tesla and SpaceX into the huge successes they are today.
The efforts and impacts of Elon Musk are enough to prove that private citizens are far more important in shaping the future of this planet than governments. One single man has delivered the biggest advances the space, automotive, and energy industries have seen in decades. In a time when governments are continuously failing their citizens and making irresponsible decisions in terms of the future sustainability of this planet, people must not lose hope, instead they must rise up. Musk is a perfect example of what can happen if private citizens stop accepting what their governments say at face value and using their own unique tools and talents to shape a better world. Tesla was founded in a world where people still made fun of the Toyota Prius and the gas guzzling F-150 was the most purchased car in the United States. Disregarding the fact that the odds were stacked against him, Musk was able to entirely reshape the automotive industry and make electric vehicles something to be lust after instead of laughed at. With carbon emissions reaching an all-time high and industries refusing to slow down production, Musk met their backlash with a solution in the form of Gigafactories. And when the only place people discussed space travel was in a dystopian novel or after one too many drinks, Musk made Mars and space travel a real possibility and sparked hope across the globe that people haven’t had in years.
Musk is proof that any private citizen in today’s world can make a difference and that citizens do not need to rely on their leader to make the right choices for them. Everybody has their own ability to believe in a better future and do what is necessary to achieve it –government policy will follow citizen action.