Elon Musk's long history of controversial climate includes oil, population and nuclear power

Elon Musk’s long history of controversial climate includes oil, population and nuclear power

Elon Musk, the man who was at the top Bloomberg’s The 2021 list of “green” billionaires recently surprised observers when he called for more fossil fuel exploration at an energy conference.

“We really need more oil and gas at this point, not less,” Tesla’s CEO said Monday at an event in Stavanger, Norway, adding that he did not want to “demonize” the fossil fuel industry.

He argued that despite various efforts to build renewable technologies, the invasion of Ukraine and subsequent sanctions against Russia’s fossil fuel industry have limited energy supplies in Europe.

“Realistically, I think we need to use oil and gas in the short term because otherwise civilization will fall apart,” Musk continued. “We need oil and gas for civilization to function. In fact, especially in these days of sanctions against Russia, we really need to provide oil and gas to keep civilization going. I think any reasonable person would draw a conclusion from that while at the same time accelerating the advent of sustainable energy.”

The tech billionaire made a similar claim in March.

“I hate to say it, but we need to increase oil and gas production immediately,” he tweeted. “This would of course negatively affect Tesla, but sustainable energy solutions simply cannot respond immediately to offset Russian oil and gas exports.”

The remarks drew swift rebuke from some environmental observers.

“What is really needed is to cut energy use globally by more than half – starting with 1% in the global north,” wrote Peter Dynes of MEER, an environmental group, this week.

“I think his comment was over the top,” wrote journalist Fred Lambert, editor-in-chief of renewable transportation news site Electrek. “It’s just pointing out a simple fact, but if you want to look at it from a political point of view, it’s important to remember that we need to incentivize new energy production from renewables rather than fossil fuels to account for the environmental impact.”

International leaders say investment in new fossil fuel projects must be halted immediately to avoid the worst climate crisis.

“If governments are serious about the climate crisis, from now on – from this year, no new investments in oil, gas and coal will be possible,” Fatih Birol, director of the influential International Energy Agency, said in 2021. “More and more countries are coming forward with net zero commitments, which is very good, but I see a huge and growing gap between the rhetoric [from governments] and reality.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has said that even the war in Ukraine and its impact on global energy supplies should not mean new investment in fossil fuels, calling such thinking “delusional”.

Russia flares gas at the Portovaya compressor station in Russia. Image taken from the Pyterlahti aerial observation tower in Virolahti, eastern Finland on August 26, 2022

(Heikki Saukkomaa/Shutterstock)

“The energy crisis, exacerbated by the war in Ukraine, has seen a dangerous doubling down on fossil fuels by major economies,” he said. he wrote in June. New fossil fuel financing is delusional. It will only feed the scourge of war, pollution and climate catastrophe.”

Musk’s controversial view of oil production was just the latest in a series of comments about solving the climate crisis that environmentalists have grappled with.

There is no doubt that Mr. Musk is serious about building renewable technologies. Through his companies such as Tesla and SolarCity, he has helped develop electric vehicles, solar rooftop panels and renewable energy storage devices. Along the way, he has become an influential voice in cleantech, and his example is often followed by both politicians and legions of online fans..

But that doesn’t mean he’s always right. It has a long history of differing views on climate.

Nuclear or crash

Among the most controversial issues is Musk’s embrace of nuclear power. He called those who oppose nuclear power as a renewable energy strategy “anti-human”.

He called on countries to increase nuclear power generation, a controversial stance that has divided clean energy advocates. While some tout nuclear’s ability to sustainably provide energy without burning so many fossil fuels, others point to its high cost, slow deployment and risk of disaster.

“Countries should increase nuclear power generation!” Mr. Musk he tweeted last month. “It’s crazy from a national security perspective and bad for the environment to close them down.”

In response to Mr. Musk’s calls for more nuclear power, Stanford environmental engineering professor Mark Z Jacobson he argued: “A new nuclear facility is completely useless for addressing climate, pollution and energy security.”

The professor pointed to research that suggests the money needed to maintain nuclear power would be better spent replacing it with renewable energy, which is cheaper to design, faster to build and emits less carbon per unit of energy produced than nuclear power.

According to Jan Haverkamp, ​​an energy expert from Greenpeace, nuclear energy is a witness to over-promises and under-deficits. The world needs renewables, and fast, if it is to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

“We’ve never been against any technology in principle, but it’s very clear, every time you start doing the math, that the moment you introduce nuclear power, the costs go up and the rate of change goes down,” he said. The Independent earlier this year. “This is exactly what we cannot afford now as climate change becomes more and more real. If you start talking about nuclear power at this point, you’re either following a fad or trying to distract from what really needs to be done.”

The Independent asked Mr. Musk for comment.

More nuclear families

At the event in Norway, Mr. Musk also hit on another pet cause of his: population trends.

He told a crowd of reporters that because of the declining birth rates seen in recent years in the United States, the European Union and China, civilization will “die whimpering in adult diapers.”

Last month, Mr. Musk also said demographic trends, such as slowing birth rates in many high-income Western countries, were a bigger threat than global warming.

“Population collapse due to low birth rates is a far greater risk to civilization than global warming,” Tesla CEO said he wrote on Twitter. “Mark these words.”

According to the World Bank, birth rates have declined on average since the mid-20th century. However, this is likely more a function of improvements in public health, especially among youth, than a societal fertility crisis, demographic experts say.

“He’s better off making cars and engineering than predicting the trajectory of the population,” Joseph Chamie, former director of the United Nations Population Division, told CNN in August. “Yes, in some countries their population is declining, but for the world it’s just not like that.”

World population is not likely to peak until around 2100, when it will reach 8.5 to 10 billion people, according to the United Nations.

“Practically every developed country is under two [children per average pregnant person]and it has been like that for 20 or 30 years,” Mr Chamie added.

Even when the world’s population peaks, the UN says, the world will not be overwhelmed by the elderly. There will be more people under 20 than over 70. And unlike the new threats of climate change, governments already have a long history of policy solutions, such as pensions and state-sponsored health care, that address the needs of the elderly.

Some argue that such concerns about falling birth rates in rich, relatively white Western countries have a racist bent, since high birth rates can still be seen in various lower-income countries in Africa.

About a third of countries in Africa have an average birth rate of five children, especially in places with high youth mortality and low access to contraception.

“The real challenge is to tackle the poverty, inequality and lack of life opportunities that characterize high fertility and population growth, improve the well-being of the largest part of our fellow citizens and protect the ecosystems here on Earth – before indulging in space fantasies. a handful of competing billionaires,” Robin Maynard of the Population Matters think tank said in July.

Hyperloop — or just hype?

Mr Musk has sparked a long-running debate among climate experts over his proposals for “hyperloop” transit systems – ultra-high-speed train-like vessels that travel through vacuum-chambered tunnels. The billionaire first made the case for hyperloop systems in a 2013 white paper. Musk argued that if they run on renewable electricity, they are a more sustainable means of medium-distance travel.

And it’s an idea that caught on. The companies, inspired by Mr. Musk’s entry into the world of transit, are working on at least 15 proposed hyperloop projects across the US.

Analysts differ on whether hyperloops would actually be a greener way to get around.

Early estimates suggested they were a more carbon-efficient way to travel 250 to 500 miles than flight, according to NASA. A US Department of Transportation analysis said an ideal hyperloop could be six times more efficient than air travel over certain distances.

Others, like Cleveland State University environmental engineering professor Jacqueline Jenkins, say the systems won’t be worthwhile unless they’re coupled with massive investments in green energy to ensure the hyperloops run on renewable energy.

“Unless we do it sustainably, it’s probably a short-term solution,” she told news website GreenBiz in 2019.

Some question Mr. Musk’s commitment to truly public transportation, a much more efficient way of transporting people than individual car ownership or long-haul flights.

Mr. Musk admitted to a biographer that he got the idea for the hyperloop out of dissatisfaction with public transportation and cheered for California to scrap a planned high-speed rail system — even though train travel is much greener than driving and often than flying.

Despite being widely seen as a key solution to reducing emissions, billionaire Tesla has spoken of his general disdain for public transport.

“It’s a pain in the butt,” he told the audience in 2017. “That’s why everybody doesn’t like it. And there’s like a bunch of random strangers, one of whom might be a serial killer, OK, great. And that’s why people like personalized transport that goes where you want and when you want.”

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