When governmental leadership in industry and philanthropy have let us down, there have always been pioneering souls that pick up the slack. Andrew Carnegie, George F. Johnson, Bill Gates: all supremely wealthy, and all of them concerned with the well-being of the planet and the humans who call it home.
For the millennial generation, Elon Musk is that kind of captain of industry. And the vehicle he’s using to improve the world is called Tesla. Make no mistake: Tesla exists to make money, and it does so by selling what, by any standard definition, may be referred to as “luxury” automobiles.
But according to Musk, Tesla’s real job, particularly after its recent merger with SolarCity, “remains accelerating the advent of sustainable energy, so that we can imagine far into the future and [see that] life is still good.”
And though many conservatives still believe that the idea of man-made climate change is too hyperbolic, or something “only God can cause,” the fact remains: Our wasteful ways are marching this planet toward destruction. We need quality leadership now, more than ever.
Tesla in the age of Trump
Sure, at some level it’s ironic that Tesla is using the engine of capitalism — arguably the institution that got us into this mess into the first place — to save the planet, but it’s looking more and more likely that he’s going to succeed.
By capturing the luxury market first with his clean and efficient cars, his residential battery packs, and his audacious “solar roof,” Musk is ensuring Tesla has both the wealth and the maneuverability to continue its pioneering research into the technologies that could help us halt — and one day reverse — our influence on climate change.
And since Americans are now living under an administration that has scrubbed the official White House website of any mention of climate change, is rooting out climate change workers, and has a Congress actively pursuing the destruction of the Environmental Protection Agency, it’s never been more important for people like Musk to lead the way — not just with innovative products to purchase, but also with public information campaigns to raise awareness of the very problems he set out to address.
Yes, the stakes are high — but quality American leadership has never been uncommon. You just need to know where to look.
Powered by Powerpack
Take Tesla’s new Powerpack facility in California. While relatively modest compared to Tesla’s other installation, the monolithic “Gigafactory,” this Powerpack facility is nevertheless doing remarkable work. By using just shy of 400 batteries, the factory collects and stores energy throughout the day and then distributes it back into the grid at night, or when demand is otherwise high.
It’s a de facto power plant, but it’s extremely clean and reliable in a way our country’s aging and environmentally dubious infrastructure is not. And it’s just the beginning. Coupled with solar panels, Powerpacks like this one could soon dot America’s landscape and provide clean energy to thousands of homes and businesses.
Due in no small part to Tesla’s influence, we’ve also seen the price of solar panel installations fall with “unprecedented” speed in the past couple of years. Estimates place the drop in cost at 5 to 12 percent in 2015 alone. We’ve now reached the point where adoption is within reach of many, many homeowners — to say nothing of businesses large and small that maintain a physical presence.
The genie’s out of the bottle
While Elon Musk will and should receive much of the praise for bringing us this far, despite the countless roadblocks, it’s average Americans speaking truth to power and insisting on economically and environmentally responsible business practices that will ultimately push us over the finish line and save our planet.
American president No. 45 has said climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese, although most people know this isn’t the case. The hoax hypothesis won’t be enough to halt what’s already in progress: the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This will both be powered by, and deliver remarkable advancements in, the field of clean, alternative energies.
The highest levels of government have turned their backs on the problem, but cities, states, and, yes, ambitious capitalists are still persisting.
We’re not out of the weeds — not by a long shot. In 2008, the global average temperature was .88°F above the norm. By the end of 2016, it had jumped a worrying 1.69°F. That’s a trend that should have anybody — no matter your political party of choice — worried about the future our children will be inheriting.
Ideologues in Congress have dedicated themselves to sweeping our government clean of Barack Obama’s influence, in particular his leadership on the 2013 Climate Action Plan, but the genie’s out of the bottle.
There’s no going back, and there’s no unlearning what we’ve learned, both about our impact on the planet and about the leaders who ignored the problem for so long.