By Anders Lorenzen
People who view climate change as a serious risk clearly have a lot to thank Elon Musk for. Because of his innovative efforts with Tesla and Solar City we are entering a stage where electric vehicles are about to go mainstream. Surely it is just a matter of time. That is a big deal. If you care about tackling climate change, it is fundamentally necessary that we electrify the world’s transport systems. Population growth and a growing middle class have made this essential.
In the field of solar, due to his engagement in Solar City, the tech entrepreneur is continuing to innovate and take this exciting technology to new levels, such as the solar roof. This is truly exciting, and we need innovative breakthroughs like this if we are to tackle the climate crisis.
I would even argue that PayPal, his digital money payment system, is making money transfers and payments more efficient and simple. This reduces the need for heavy inefficient banking systems, which in return reduce emissions. However, I’m still to find any research to back up this claim.
But what about space travel? Should we see it as a positive sign and something that will help us in the fight against climate change? Well, this might be so if you adopt Stephen Hawking’s theory that Earth is doomed due to climate change, and so we urgently need to colonise other planets. There’s also a plausible argument that space R&D is actually helping us on Earth because the research going into the technology is of positive benefit to a clean energy world.
However, having said all this, serious questions must be asked about Musk’s space travel dream. Is it just a mad consumerist idea with no respect for materials and natural resources? If such space travel is adopted on the large-scale intended this could mean seriously damaging emissions of carbon
Let’s just take his latest successful Falcon X rocket launch. According to Ian Whittaker from Nottingham Trent University, the carbon emissions from that one launch is serious. Writing in The Conversation he says: “The amount of kerosene in three Falcon 9 rockets is roughly 440 tonnes and RP-1 has a 34% carbon content. This amount of carbon is a drop in the ocean compared to global industrial emissions as a whole, but if the SpaceX’s plan for a rocket launch every two weeks comes to fruition, this amount of carbon (approximately 4,000 tonnes per year) will rapidly become a bigger problem.”
Other entrepreneurs are also pouring lots of capital into this field, including the founder of Virgin, Richard Branson, who is thinking of offering space explorations to rich tourists. If this were to go mainstream as those entrepreneurs are hoping, and if we assume the technology would not change much, still use rocket fuel instead of electric power, then we could look at space travel as the next big carbon problem.
Then, of course, there is the whole debate around the decision by Musk to launch his sports car on the tip of the rocket for no other reason than to show that he can transport cars up to space. This, in my view, shows little respect for materials and natural resources and feeds the argument that we can just continue to consume. Buy a car, throw it away, then buy another car, just because you can.
One can quite rightly ask what is Musk`s real motive? Is he concerned about tackling the climate crisis or merely driving his adventurous spirit? While I very rarely draw such conclusions, it is symptomatic of how the rich elite can continue to spend and discard without thinking about the consequences. Musk, I’m afraid to say, has now entered that club – just because he wants a bit of fun. Could he have launched Falcon X without adding his sports car to the mission? Of course, he could, but he just had to show off.
This also points me to another misconception in the tech world, one for which there seems to be little sympathy, and which is not addressed. Yes, technology has a huge role to play, and the innovative spirit in the sector is absolutely fundamental to us beating the climate crisis. But we do happen to live on a planet with finite resources. We are not yet tackling the problem of the promotion of over-consumption, while we maintain the myth that there is a limitless supply of natural resources.
Oh, and I nearly forgot about his latest gadget idea, a flamethrower. He has already sold 20,000 of them – just another gadget to support the Musk brand – and another example of pointless and relentless consumerism – telling or convincing people they need products which have absolutely zero use.
I look forward to him getting back to dealing with the task at hand of fighting climate change, not increasing it. In your own time Elon Musk – there’s no rush.