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Published on November 18th, 2018 | by Kurt Lowder

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Why Buying A Tesla Is The Best Thing You Can Do For The Environment

November 18th, 2018 by  


tl;dr — Buying a Tesla is the most important thing you can do for the environment because it will help to dramatically lower the cost of batteries, making a 100% renewable grid affordable. Elon Musk recently said (and he is right!), “I think it’s probably fair to say that Tesla (our customers) has advanced sustainable energy by at least five years, conservatively, and maybe closer to 10, and then if we continue to make progress, we might advance it by 20 years. This could be all the difference in the world.”

And now, the long version:

Many years ago, I thought Tesla cars were green-chic play toys for rich people that would not make that much of a difference. For a short time, I was fooled by the news articles that said they were not much better than efficient gasoline-powered cars in terms of total emissions. I was convinced all cars had to go to the scrapyard. CleanTechnica and the facts have drastically changed my mind. It has been a complete 180.

First and foremost, I do want to encourage people to consume as little as possible (aside from any Tesla product), to eat a plant-based diet, to use public transportation if possible, to put solar on your roof, and to do whatever you can to lower you carbon footprint. However, I would very much like to further dispel the insidious myth that buying an EV, and particularly a Tesla, is bad or only mildly good for the environment.  

CleanTechnica has written many times about the direct emissions that electric vehicles (EV) prevent. This article focuses on the indirect emissions it will prevent.

Any person who can reasonably afford to buy a Tesla can be assured it is the best thing you can do to help prevent catastrophic climate change.

Why? How? That is not what the New York Times or CNN said? That is not what many environmental activists have said?

Wind and solar power have become insanely inexpensive. In fact, wind and solar energy will continue to improve and simultaneously fall in price. However, batteries are still somewhat expensive. Batteries are the keystone! For the most part, we just need wind, solar, hydro, and some batteries. There will be other niche players, but these are the big four. The incredible news is that only a few more million people have to buy an EV to dramatically lower the price of batteries, which will enable the world to transition to a 100% renewable energy within a few decades. This 100% renewable energy system will actually cost less than the fossil fuel energy system that we currently have. The main challenge that remains to accelerate the transition to a sustainable civilization is dropping the price of batteries while simultaneously improving their quality

Every environmental advocate should unequivocally be hammering this point over and over again:

Buying a Tesla is the best thing you can do for the environment, because it will lower the cost of batteries, making a 100% sustainable future possible.

Or

Buying a Tesla is the best thing you can do for the environment not because of the direct emissions that it prevents, but because of all the indirect emissions it will prevent!

Or

Buying a Tesla is the best thing you can do for the environment, because Tesla is leading the transition to a sustainable future!

Or

Buying a Tesla is the best thing you can do for the environment, because Tesla is leading the movement to disrupt the fossil fuel industry!

Please, in the comment section below create better messages/slogans than the ones above. I am positive you can come up with a more succinct message meant for the masses, or at least a nice variation. A troll recently called me verbose and I am thinking maybe it was a fair criticism. If you create a slogan, I will create a meme for you that you can spread through the internet. I ask you to spread the truth in your daily conversations and on social media. Get creative with this message! (You can make your own memes with this free online meme generator.)

In a recent Recode podcast, Tesla CEO Elon Musk stated:

“I think it’s probably fair to say that Tesla (our customers) has advanced sustainable energy by at least five years, conservatively, and maybe closer to 10, and then if we continue to make progress, we might advance it by 20 years. This could be all the difference in the world.”

I am not going to try to quantify the indirect emissions that result from buying a Tesla, because I think it is practically impossible. However, I believe the indirect emissions prevented is an order(s) of magnitude greater than the direct emissions which are prevented, because the early adoption of Teslas will have a colossal effect on all of clean technology and efforts to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Tesla has only sold roughly 450,000 cars as of now. Obviously, it took selling the more expensive Roadster, Model S, and Model X to bring in the revenue to drive the prices down and create the more affordable Model 3. Tesla will sell 450,000 cars in the next year or so. All of these vehicles will eventually be capable of full self-driving. Accordingly, a large number of them will likely end up becoming self-driving taxis that can easily provide shared rides. Keep in mind that Tesla may end up buying a lot of these cars back if their owners never decide to let them be self-driving taxis. Eventually, many Teslas will be returned after a short lease period.

Since Tesla started as a company, battery prices have gone down over 90%, and it is certain battery prices will continue to fall. This price reduction of batteries makes a 100% renewable grid not only possible but more cost-effective sooner. In 2016, the batteries put into EVs were greater than all other uses combined. Accordingly, purchases of EVs have been decreasing the price of batteries more than any other factor, and that influence should continue in the near future.

The cost reductions for batteries will continue as the battery chemistry is improved, greater economies of scale are achieved, and further innovation occurs in manufacturing. Additionally, the supply chain will improve. Tesla puts in a great deal of effort into ensure its supply chain is sustainable and fair, while also working to get costs down. Further cost reductions will be possible as batteries are more effectively reused or recycled.

Aside from inexpensive batteries, let’s consider all the other indirect emissions that will or have been prevented by the purchase of Tesla vehicles:

1.) Buying a Tesla has and will continue to fund the production of the self-driving Tesla Semi project. Of course, in turn, producing Tesla Semis will aid in decreasing the price of batteries.

2.) Buying a Tesla also funds the next-generation Roadster, which will completely change the public’s perception EVs. Certainly, the Roadster will beat all cars in the quarter-mile and at top speed. It’s even possible a future Tesla (or an EV based on Tesla’s technology) could win the Indy 500.

3.) Buying a Tesla will fund self-driving electric taxis, shuttles, and buses. This will dramatically lower the cost for every person. It will increase disposable income by trillions, and give people all over the world greater opportunities to sustainably pursue happiness. It will reduce the amount of infrastructure we have to build. It will save millions of lives. If a Tesla becomes a self-driving taxi, it can effectively replace 7–15 personally owned cars, depending on how often taxi rides are shared. If you buy a Tesla, soon you will be able to let it operate as a self-driving taxi, and earn enough to potentially cover the cost of the car or more. The video below goes into great depth about the future of self-driving cars. Interestingly, Rutt Bridges proposes some interesting ways certain cities can save money by switching bus service to automated shuttles and taxis.  

4.) Tesla will also be making 16 person Electric shuttles for The Boring Company, which travel approximately 125 miles per hour in underground tunnels.  Undoubtedly workers will go back and forth between the two companies as they become more intertwined.

5.) The success of Tesla has made the Hyperloop possible.  The continued success of Tesla increases the likelihood that hyperloops will be developed more quickly.

6.) Buying a Tesla will fund Tesla’s groundbreaking solar roof, and it will fund research to improve solar power generation.

7.) The purchase of Teslas has made The Boring Company possible, which will make compressed earth blocks that cost only 10 cents (compared to concrete cinder blocks that cost $1.45, at retail). Essentially, because of the incredible success of Tesla, Elon Musk can get funding for a new venture with just a few tweets — or one.

8.) Without Tesla, you probably would have never had SolarCity. Also, Tesla has of course bought SolarCity, which has meant more rooftop solar growth and popularity.

9.) It has even been theorized Tesla will create electrified HVAC for homes. It is conceivable likely that Tesla will continue to develop various products needed to prevent catastrophic climate change. Tesla just happened to start with cars. There is nothing to stop Tesla from becoming as diversified as a company like GE. Though, I hope they don’t sell candy, as Musk joked earlier this year on Twitter.  

10.) When the transition to sustainable transportation is achieved, Musk pledged to sell much of his stock to fund a colony on Mars. It is impossible to quantify how much benefit this will bring to society. It will inspire millions of students to study Science and Technology. It could help bring more Unity to the world.

The success of Tesla draws much attention to SpaceX. When SpaceX launches 5,000 satellites into orbit to provide high-speed internet, millions of people will switch their internet provider. The more that join, the cheaper and the better the internet becomes. Furthermore, we can rely on SpaceX to maintain net neutrality and protect our data. Repressive nations will not be able to stop their citizens from accessing a free internet (free from tyrannical, oligarchic control, that is). A successful Tesla will ensure that SpaceX achieves its goals.

11.) Tesla is talking about building housing for its employees, and it is interesting to think about how the company will put a spotlight on sustainable buildings. Tesla’s gigafactories will lead to thousands of innovations. Tesla employees will leave Tesla and spread this knowledge. Numerous Tesla employees have been poached by other companies. Other Tesla employees have started their own companies.

12.) Tesla employees really walk the walk in terms of sustainability. Tesla currently has about 30,000 employees. Many have become incredible environmental advocates. They are dedicated to making the world better and more fair. The Tesla mission and culture have allowed them to reach higher levels of potential than otherwise. Employees reach their full potential in part because Tesla sets very aggressive timelines. While they may miss self-imposed timelines, they have surpassed every other company on several metrics, including the most batteries sold. Therefore, despite appearance, Tesla is never really late. It is awe-inspiring to think what many will be able to achieve in their free time or if they leave the company.

13.) Tesla has made many of its patents open source. Other companies can use these patents provided they open source their patents. Open sourcing is the future — it accelerates innovation, which is what Tesla is all about. Imagine Tesla becoming one of the most valuable companies on the market after disrupting numerous dinosaurs in multiple industries. Personally, I think the dinosaurs will go extinct, because of Tesla and new companies that realize they just need to do what Tesla does, because Tesla can not do it all on its own. Tesla has the potential to dramatically improve the conscientiousness of the modern corporation.

14.) Buying a Tesla helps to drastically reduce corrupt companies’ ability to bribe our politicians and our media.

15, 16, 17…) Check the comments below.

Also, keep in mind that Tesla batteries and increasingly cars are manufactured using renewable energy. Eventually, it is conceivable a majority of Tesla owners could have solar energy to power their cars.

Also, Tesla’s goal is to make cars that last 1 million miles, not just a couple hundred thousand. Eventually, a Tesla EV could be equal to 5 gasoline-powered cars in that it will last 5 times longer (assuming an average gas vehicle will last 200,00 miles).

Additionally, in the end, the car’s battery can be reused or recycled. This provides a great residual value for the owner and provides cheaper raw materials for future batteries or other goods.

Be Weary of Clever Arguments Against Tesla and Try Not to Repeat Them!

A few weeks ago, a mentor of mine and fellow teacher was supporting a repeal of the California gas tax on Facebook. We commented back and forth. Of course, I argued for the gas tax. Towards the end, she asked if I was vegan, and she stated that was the most important step I could take to reduce emissions.  

Of course, numerous articles have stated the claim that going vegan reduces as much emissions as giving up driving or switching from a gasoline-powered car to an EV. I once frequently shared this argument. Obviously, I now rightly take issue with this argument, because it does not account for the indirect emissions a purchase of an EV prevents.

There is plenty of room for nuance when talking about this comparison. However, I have personally stopped making this argument, because I think it’s unwise to make the issues compete with one another. People who can, should do both. However, now, I feel like it has become a copout for many people. They can say to themselves something like: “Well, I have reduced my carbon footprint by eating less meat. That is good for now.” The framing of this argument allows for procrastination.  

Many other environmental advocates will state that taking public transportation creates far fewer emissions than an EV. However, in certain circumstances, this option is just not possible. Some public transportation is too slow or not safe. It is absurd to think there is a single solution to make transportation sustainable. Far too often, environmental advocates will get stuck on a single solution. It is kind of like when one advocate says we should only do rooftop solar, and another advocate says we should build solar farms.

So many cities just cannot practically develop effective, rapid public transportation systems in time to prevent catastrophic climate change. It may be politically, economically, and/or physically impossible to do so. In some situations, public transportation is unnecessarily expensive, and the industry can often be corrupt. At the least, it is an industry with such high barriers to entry that little innovation has occurred. The video above gives some great details about the failure of some public transportation. This critique of public transportation is far from condemnation. We certainly need more. However, we have to be realistic about what will be most sustainable and a proper cost–benefit analysis must be done.

So many people already own their homes. Many cannot just start taking commuter trains to work. Self-driving electric taxis are desperately needed in many areas. It is theoretically possible to increase the throughput of traffic by a factor of six as we switch from human-driven vehicles to self-driving EVs. That would make a big difference, and it would probably be led by Tesla.

Getting Your Foot in the Door

For the vast majority of  people, buying an EV is incredibly empowering and will lead to further environmental action. It is a way for them to get their foot in the door in terms of living a sustainable lifestyle. Once you buy an EV, you are more likely to buy solar, make your home more efficient, become an effective environmental advocate who walks the walk (or drives the drive), and so on.

Butterfly Effect

“You got a Tesla!!! Can I have a ride?!!!” Early adopters are real-life, walking, talking, driving commercials. This industry and the transition we are seeing offer a good example of “monkey see, monkey do.” We are about to reach the 100th monkey.

“The hundredth monkey effect is a hypothetical phenomenon in which a new behaviour or idea is claimed to spread rapidly by unexplained means from one group to all related groups once a critical number of members of one group exhibit the new behaviour or acknowledge the new idea.”

You can be one of the hundred monkeys!! If you cannot afford a Tesla vehicle, you can at least be a fierce advocate for Tesla and set the record straight. Soon, you will be able to ride in Tesla self-driving taxis anyway. Prepare yourself and others for this future.


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About the Author

I am a jock turned wannabe geek. I fell in love with science later in life thanks to the History Channel show the “Universe.” Having taught middle school science, I strongly feel Astronomy should be taught every year because nothing excites students more than learning about the cosmos. I became an avid cleantech fan because it gives me hope about the future. My wife, my dogs, and I live simply because we love to travel the world backpacker style.



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