The disaster that is Elon Musk

June 13, 2023 by Joshua
in Leadership, Nature

It’s tempting to think because we feel we’re acting, or that someone else is, that we’re acting effectively.

I’ll share a post I responded to, then my response to it on a discussion board of people supporting degrowth.

The other person’s post

I’ve been a nut case environmentalist before the first Earth Day and sported a ZPG sticker on my Supervan at the time. A couple months ago I would have agreed we’re up shits creek. Tesla Master Plan 3 was unveiled showing a clear path to a fossil fuel free world using 1% of global GDP for 10 years. A white paper followed giving the plan in fine detail, it’s a must read for anyone who wants to know what the real solutions need to be. Hydrogen will be discussed and it’s only needed in a small industrial sector, using it for cars, building heating etc is fossil fuel at work again trying to kill us all. 

Fossil fuels, automotive, big pharma and governments are all spending billions to smear Elon, in part because he allows free speech on Twitter so the globe can start a two way conversation again. Don’t fall for it. Tesla’s mission statement is “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”   They mean what they say. 

I don’t agree with everything Elon says, but I do acknowledge he’s the Einstein of our day and he’s playing three level Go while most of us are struggling with checkers. When a kid grabs too much candy on Halloween we tell them to eat it all up, they get sick, and learn a lesson. Elon’s not stupid regarding population, he just doesn’t want to give people another reason to hate him. When he says we need to populate Mars he’s not stupid, he just knows there’s a kid in all of us that loves space, rockets, and an occasional fireworks display. Without Tesla’s courage to buck the system we wouldn’t have this rapid miracle change to an electric future. Spend 21 minutes watching Tesla Master Plan 3 and grab yourself a bottle of Champagne, like a wedding it’s a crapshoot worth toasting.

My response:

I can’t tell if you’re seriously promoting Musk as helpful or skillfully satirizing him in a case of Poe’s Law (Wikipedia: Poe’s law is an adage of internet culture saying that, without a clear indicator of the author’s intent, any parodic or sarcastic expression of extreme views can be mistaken by some readers for a sincere expression of those views.) In case you’re serious:

To understand Elon Musk, it helps to understand Robert Moses and Eli Whitney.

car pollution

Robert Moses was the main force behind building the highways in and around New York City, covered in the book The Power Broker and many works since. He built for cars. The core relevance here is a pattern with many roads he built. When first built a road, there would be little traffic. Soon it would become congested. Concluding there was more demand than expected, he’d widen it or build another. The pattern would continue. At first, you could excuse him and his team, but soon enough people realized the roads led people who weren’t going to drive to drive — the roads “induced” demand, we now say. He didn’t see the pattern that his intended “solutions” caused the problem he purported to solve. The long-term result is a perpetually congested nation, polluted, communities ripped apart, etc.

ball and chain

Eli Whitney saw the labor necessary to pull seeds from cotton fibers. He invented a device to reduce that labor — his cotton gin. No one knows his thoughts, but I’ve read that he thought reducing need for labor would reduce slavery. But the people who bought his cotton gins didn’t value less labor. They valued more profit, so they bought as many as they could and planted more cotton. Historians credit his cotton gin for creating the largest slave power in history and prompting the US Civil War.

I believe both men wanted to improve the world and help people. They didn’t understand systems and how systems operate differently than simple cause and effect. As a result, they augmented the problems they wanted to solve.

Elon Musk is today’s Robert Moses and Eli Whitney. He is no genius. He didn’t start Tesla. There are huge profits to be made in growing our current system. He is simply the top person surfing that giant wave, cloaking himself in green when he is augmenting humanity’s overshoot accelerating our path to a collapse he is deepening.

Among the many things we can learn from Moses, we don’t need more cars, electric or otherwise. We need fewer cars, meaning fewer roads and redesigning cities as described in the video series Not Just Bikes, which described how Amsterdam and many other cities did the opposite of Moses. But Musk is building more roads and cars.

Among the many things we can learn from Whitney, making the system more efficient won’t help if it’s a system of dominance producing cruelty. We need to change the system, especially the dominance produced by control over resources Musk is augmenting.

Norman Borlaug, often called the father of the Green Revolution, saw this pattern in his work. He wanted to help the people he saw starving in front of his eyes. He worked tirelessly to do so. Unlike Moses and Whitney, he saw the system he inadvertently augmented, which is why he said in accepting his Nobel Peace Prize,


The green revolution has won a temporary success in man’s war against hunger and deprivation; it has given man a breathing space. If fully implemented, the revolution can provide sufficient food for sustenance during the next three decades. But the frightening power of human reproduction must also be curbed; otherwise the success of the green revolution will be ephemeral only. Most people still fail to comprehend the magnitude and menace of the “Population Monster”. . . Since man is potentially a rational being, however, I am confident that within the next two decades he will recognize the self-destructive course he steers along the road of irresponsible population growth…

As I understand, Borlaug spent half his life fighting to reduce the “Population Monster” he saw he helped accelerate.

Musk shows no sign of reflection or recognition of the monster he is unleashing. He is not Einstein. Again, he is more like Robert Moses and Eli Whitney. We can only hope he learns what Borlaug did, but I don’t see it.

Read my weekly newsletter

On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

1 response to “The disaster that is Elon Musk

  1. Pingback: The stages of environmentalism leading to counterproductive work or capitulation (and how to avoid them) » Joshua Spodek

Leave a Reply

Sign up for my weekly newsletter