If you missed it over the weekend, Elon Musk has reacted on Twitter to a story making the rounds about the Koch Brothers’ plan to fund a new special interest group whose mission will be to publicize the wonders of fossil fuels. 30 years ago, the tobacco companies ran a similar charm offensive to convince people that smoking was good for us. That message was backed by testimony from unscrupulous physicians who placed a higher priority on fattening their own wallets than following the dictates of the Hippocratic Oath.
The group, which has not yet begun to operate, will target subsides for electric cars as one of primary missions. “Koch Industries does not oppose electric vehicles,” said Philip Ellender, a spokesman for the company, according to the Washington Post. “What we oppose is government subsidizing and mandating a particular form of energy over another. We oppose all subsidies – even for those industries in which we participate.”
That last line is what has Elon riled up. On Friday, he tweeted:
Worth noting that all gasoline cars are heavily subsidized via oil company tax credits & unpaid public health costs https://t.co/4li5E013Dj
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 19, 2016
Musk was referring to a report by the International Monetary Fund last July which calculated the cost of all direct and indirect subsidies provided to the fossil fuel companies worldwide to be $5.3 trillion. The IMF said those subsidies equal about 6.5% of the global economy. “Most of this arises from countries setting energy taxes below levels that fully reflect the environmental damage associated with energy consumption.” Part of that environmental damage is the health care costs incurred by people who breathe polluted air, drink polluted water, or live on land that has been contaminated by extractive enterprises.
On Saturday, Musk retweeted a tweet by Paul Polman he obviously agrees with:
— Paul Polman (@PaulPolman) February 18, 2016
Some have questioned whether the IMF estimate is accurate, saying the percentage of subsidies is far less than 6.5% and perhaps as low as 0.5%. Musk responded to that line of reasoning on Sunday.
There is no way it is only 0.5%, given the staggeringly massive number of fossil subsidies that exist in every country, or as high as 50%.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 21, 2016
Musk is known as a passionate proponent of weaning the world off fossil fuels. That is really the fundamental reason why Tesla Motors was founded in the first place. Tesla Energy is a further extension of that principle.
The Koch Brothers and their various companies have a total annual income approaching $115 billion, much of it derived from fossil fuels. They have a great deal to lose if the transition away from fossil fuels Musk is spearheading succeeds. They have enormous resources and access to any number of spokespeople who are only too happy to say what they are paid to say. But if they choose to take on Elon Musk, they will find him to be an indefatigable opponent. Let the war of words begin.
Photo credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Washington Post