Elon Musk spoke to geoscientists at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco on two of his favorite topics — weaning the world off fossil fuels and colonizing Mars.
Musk told the audience via a webcast that the price of fossil fuels must accurately reflect their true cost, including damage to the environment. Amplifying on his remarks at the Sorbonne University in Paris earlier this month, he reiterated his call for a tax on fossil fuels, saying not doing so is equivalent to not paying for garbage collection.
According to GeekWire, during his talk with AGU president Margaret Leinen, Musk said that burning fossil fuels has significant economic consequences and the results of climate change are costing real money. Those costs, which Musk refers to as “untaxed externalities,” are projected to rise dramatically during the current century.
Continuing without a mechanism to make the price of fossil fuels reflect their true cost to society “is analogous to not paying for garbage collection,” Musk says. “It’s not as though we should say, in the case of garbage, ‘Have a garbage-free society.’ It’s very difficult to have a garbage-free society. But it’s just important that people pay for the garbage collection.”
“When the prices are wrong, then the wrong thing happens in the economy. … Effectively, we’re ‘incenting’ bad behavior,” he told the AGU meeting. “It’s kinda like if we had high taxes on fruits and vegetables, and low taxes on cigarettes and alcohol. That wouldn’t make sense. That’s sort of what we have now with respect to energy.”
He also told the conference that colonizing Mars is humanity’s best chance for long term survival. That’s because self-interest usually trumps social good. By the time the citizens of the world figure out that burning fossil fuels is like a “turd in the punch bowl” — a colorful analogy that Musk uses frequently — it will probably be too late for life on earth to continue.
“It will be super hard to do this and it will take a long time. I don’t expect to live to see it but I think if we aim for that objective we (our species) will be OK.”
He also offered a glimpse into where his interest in science and space travel comes from. “I used to worry about the meaning of life a lot when I was a teenager, until I read The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and it basically said that the universe was the answer.” Musk said. ” I think it helps provide meaning in life.”
Photo credit: AGU
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