I’ve never seen the Tesla-fan community so split as I’ve seen it this month. I don’t mean in a minor way, either. I’ve seen numerous longtime Tesla supporters, owners, and shareholders passionately debating matters such as the threat of covid-19, how society should respond, how Tesla should respond, the validity and persuasiveness (or lack thereof) of Elon Musk’s tweets, and who is a stupid jackass versus who isn’t. It hasn’t been pretty.
I’m not planning to pick a side in this article or even reveal my opinion on how society should be responding at the moment in terms of physical distancing and government policy. I don’t want this article to be that debate (yet again). I will certainly touch on key aspects of the situation and explain the arguments being made on both sides, but if you conclude I’m presenting my point of view on which societal response is best at any point in the piece, you’re jumping the gun or making false assumptions.
This is much more about the debate itself and how we approach the debate. It also explains my approach as director and chief editor of CleanTechnica on these topics.
The Spanish Flu of 1918
After consuming so much information about the current coronavirus pandemic, I don’t recall who shared the following, but I think it is important to pass on. Someone was being interviewed early on about the current coronavirus pandemic and briefly commented on his research regarding the 1918 Spanish flu, which is said to have killed about 675,000 Americans. He found it interesting/odd that people who lived through that period didn’t seem to pass on many stories or lessons learned from the crisis, at least not explicitly. What he found after looking into it is that people got really freakin’ nasty with each other. His conclusion was that people didn’t talk about it because they weren’t proud of themselves or our culture in those times.
As people have gotten more heated, as rallies full of armed individuals have taken place, and as some have even killed over simple rules and requests, this story has repeatedly come back to my mind.
In my humble opinion, no matter what side of an argument we are on, we should all try to make our case in a level-headed, calm, sympathetic, and thoughtful way in which our focus is on persuasion and logic, not yelling louder than the other guy (or the internet equivalent of that).
Let’s just run through some of the key elements briefly.
It doesn’t help to deny reality. Covid-19 is a nasty illness caused by the highly infectious coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Dr. Fauci recently indicated that he thinks it is more infectious than anything he’s encountered other than measles. If you’re going to wade into this matter with your own opinion on what we should do, you should at least have the basics of the virus and illness down. Otherwise, someone who knows better is, logically, going to write off your opinion on anything beyond that.
To pretend or not understand that it isn’t nasty is to immediately put yourself on bad footing in a debate with anyone who knows otherwise, which appears to be the vast majority of the US population according to polling. Many people have seen that: In New York City, one hospital had to have a refrigerated truck parked next to it to store bodies of the deceased because the hospital ran out of room for them. NYC started digging mass graves because of the rate of death there, and this is believed to have happened in some other countries as well. Directors of funeral homes said they were basically running out of capacity and didn’t have time to organize normal ceremonies for the deceased. People who get hit hard or moderately hard with the virus but don’t die spend weeks fighting it off, often in a kind of roller coaster fashion, and many say they’ve never had anything like it. There are countless first-hand accounts of people saying they thought they had fought it off and then the illness hit them the hardest toward the end. This is the point when many people die. I’ve read or seen my share of anecdotes about this surprise attack at the end. In places where there were big breakouts, I saw doctors and nurses frequently saying they felt like they were in a “war zone,” that they didn’t expect anything so bad before the cases hit their hospitals. Again, you can find tons of first-hand accounts of doctors and nurses saying this.
To cut it short — do not claim the virus is no big deal if you want to be taken seriously by most of the population.
Yes, the virus has a much higher death rate and is much harsher on the elderly. (And I’m sure many people reading this are in that demographic.) Taking that into consideration when determining a plan of action is one thing, but don’t act like people’s lives don’t matter just because they’re in the second half of them.
Yes, we still don’t know the actual number of people infected, the number who died from covid-19, or the critical figures that follow from those base statistics. We don’t know the mortality rate of people who get infected, for instance. Unfortunately, testing kits were delayed far too long in the US, they have never risen to anywhere close to the number we need, and it doesn’t look like we can count on getting enough tests to go about our business very cautiously as society opens up again. Everyone should take this into account if you’re going to debate how we have responded and how we should respond. It was said very early on that we needed to get a lot more tests, but the federal government and most state governments never secured enough to do testing the way the health professionals advising them on this topic said we need to do it. Basically, we failed step 1 — big time. No matter what side of a policy debate you are on, you have to recognize that we have failed that step and there’s no indication the US is capable (current administration what it is) of getting step 1 accomplished.
I find it very unfortunate, but many people still don’t seem to realize that deaths from covid-19 have indeed been in high volume. Obviously, when you have a ton of people dying who have multiple health challenges, there are going to be issues picking the exact cause of death — some places are surely over-counting covid-19 deaths and some are surely under-counting the deaths. In net, though, just looking at overall death counts (from all causes) in country after country, deaths have spiked far off the normal death charts for the first 4 months of the year. As far as I have seen, there is no decent explanation for that other than covid-19 is killing a lot of people.
Again, don’t pretend this isn’t a very deadly disease if you want people to take you seriously.
Between a Big Freakin’ Rock and a Horrendously Hard Place
It seems that people committed strongly to one solution or another, or who want to deny the concerning stuff I noted above about covid-19, often try to skip over a very harsh reality: no matter which path we take, society is getting a serious, painful, hard-to-believe beating. If you’re going to debate how we should proceed, concede early on that it’s going to create a lot of harm and pain. There’s no doubt it will. Your idea of the best path forward is still going to be a shitty path for a lot of people.
Very early in my coverage of this topic, nearly two months ago, I wrote the following about someone who has done an enormous amount of research in this field:
Francois Balloux is “a computational/system biologist working on infectious diseases and [has] spent five years in a world class ‘pandemic response modelling’ unit.” He’s the director of the UCL Genetics Institute. He published a 12-tweet thread about his experience and conclusions from that intensive pandemic response modelling — “what I believe I (don’t) know.” He concluded that thread with this tweet:
Health and the economy are closely linked. The correlation between per-capita GDP and health (life expectancy) is essentially perfect. If the covid-19 pandemic leads to a global economy collapse, many more lives will be lost than covid-19 would ever be able to claim. (12/12) pic.twitter.com/ZXcj2s8PAA
— Prof Francois Balloux (@BallouxFrancois) March 14, 2020
The commonly stated short form of this argument is: don’t let the cure be worse than the disease. Adding a little more nuance, many expect that we will not have a vaccine or adequate treatment in the next 1–2 years to do much better with the virus than we are doing today, and, thus, if we have to get to a 60–70% infection rate eventually anyway and a certain number of people will die accordingly, better to at least go through it without also destroying the economy in the process. In simplistic math terms, and assuming a higher number is worse than a lower one, 5+5 is worse than 5+0. (Side note that is often ignored: If society is humming, the infection rate rises quickly, and a lot of people die in a short timeframe, don’t expect the same economy as in 2019. People are going to react by staying home more. There is no real “business as usual” scenario without a miracle.)
There are still many unknowns about the virus, about covid-19 treatments and vaccines, about the economy, about political relief funding, etc., but I think it’s important for anyone debating people who are making the “open up now” case (Elon Musk’s case, whether it is made more or less eloquently than his tweets and statements on the matter) to acknowledge that there is a possibility that this is the least-harm-done route. Even if you think it isn’t likely, taking medical and political matters into account, you have to accept that it’s possible. Otherwise, like I stated above regarding scientific and medical matters, the person on the other side of the debate is just going to write you off and ignore your arguments.
The fact is, there are a lot of scenarios. There are basically countless scenarios. As Francois Balloux demonstrated above, you could spend years modeling different scenarios. You could spend decades doing so if you had the patience, determination, and time for that. There are so many things we don’t know and so many factors at play that no one can claim to know without a doubt what the best path forward is for society. So, first of all, don’t assume or pretend that you have perfect knowledge on this. Secondly, if you’re going to try to make your case, do so acknowledging the uncertainty and acknowledging the other person’s viewpoint before jumping into your talking points.
I definitely would not want to be someone responsible for making big decisions right now. There are too many unknowns and there’s going to be tremendous pain no matter what route you take. Also, although this certainly isn’t the prime concern, it has to be acknowledged that there are going to be people who hate and despise you from either side due to the path you chose. The more you can help people to understand how tough of a choice this is, how wicked of a problem the scenario is, and how hard you are working to see and enact the best path forward in net, the more people will at least perceive you as a thoughtful, caring, compassionate person doing your best in a horrible situation.
My Role as Director & Editor of CleanTechnica
Because I do not have perfect knowledge on this matter, because there are so many unanswered key assumptions for any real forecasting, and because this is such a multi-tiered issue with countless effects, counter-effects, and ramifications of ramifications, I have been letting writers voice their own opinions on how we should proceed when they feel very compelled to do so. I presume that the more people debate the logic of different options, the more we see that it’s a super complicated matter and everyone is just trying to determine the best process for exiting the crisis with as little scathing as possible.
Also, because it’s a matter of such import for our lives, I have been giving people the freedom to state their arguments in the style that suits them best, that they think is best for the scenario. I think that’s been pretty clear in recent days. …
Coming back to all of the Tesla-related (mostly Elon-related) drama of recent weeks, I’ve seen Tesla owners, shareholders, and fans more passionately and deeply split on these matters than I’ve ever seen before. I think we should all acknowledge that these differences of opinion are genuine, can easily be emotionally charged, and come with a mixture of “what’s best for me?” and “what’s best for society?” Try not to assume the worst in people, and try to persuade with facts and logic as much as possible. Ad hominem attacks probably do very little to pull anyone to your viewpoint.
I don't like paywalls. You don't like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind there. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it! We just don't like paywalls, and so we've decided to ditch ours. Unfortunately, the media business is still a tough, cut-throat business with tiny margins. It's a never-ending Olympic challenge to stay above water or even perhaps — gasp — grow. So ...
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