Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been outspoken on many issues over the years, and as the leader of the most successful electric car company in the world, it’s not surprising when his comments are aimed at skeptics of climate change and promoters of oil and gas industry expansions. That said, Musk is also quite aware of the nuances involved with industry that make things less binary than green energy advocates often frame them. In a recent podcast hosted by Kara Swisher called Sway, the serial entrepreneur took a more diplomatic tone than usual when discussing our planet’s future, fossil fuels, and the people involved in their production.
Swisher’s interview style is straightforward, and her opinions on matters under discussion are barely veiled. After a rocky start that prompted Musk to become a bit combative in his replies (“Sell your stock, I don’t care. What’s the point of this podcast?”), their discussion made its way to the emerging climate-focused market and steps being taken by governments both in the US and around the world. “I think these are all indications that the end of fossil fuel vehicle is nigh,” Musk replied in reference to his thoughts on California Governor Gavin Newsom’s latest executive order banning the sale of new fossil fuel vehicles by 2035.
Building further on that topic, the Tesla CEO also offered less-dire thoughts about where Earth is headed if the transition to sustainability is hindered. “I do not think this is actually the end of the world. I just think things get riskier,” Musk said after referencing the unprecedented growth of CO2 ppm currently in the atmosphere. “We need to think in terms that are not super binary… The actions that we take change the probability that the future will be good.” While his comments were somewhat positive, he still kept a realistic focus. “If you think of how civilizations have developed, we’ve put ourselves right on the edge of the water. If that water level rises even a little bit, you’ve got major problems.”
In yet another unusual diplomatic stroke, Musk also had sympathetic words for people who’ve worked in the oil and gas industry as a career. “Honestly, I feel a bit bad about hating on people in the oil and gas industry,” he admitted. “For a lot of people in the oil and gas industry, especially that are on the older side, they kind of built their companies and did their work before it was clear this was a serious issue… And now…people are kind of making them out to be villains when for the longest time they were just working hard to support the economy and didn’t really know it was gonna be all that bad.”
Swisher pointed out that it was odd for Musk to speak on behalf of the industry he’s been so tough on in the past, but Musk reminded her that his foray into electric cars was more about running out of oil vs. the dangers of burning it and releasing the CO2 into the atmosphere. In his early years, the Tesla chief wasn’t aware of the environmental impact of fossil fuels as much as understanding that running out of them would bring the collapse of civilization.
Musk’s diplomacy then made it all the way to the White House. “Arguably, he’s been as supportive as he can be on the electric car front, recognizing that a massive part of the Republican support is coming from oil and gas,” he noted in reference to US President Donald Trump after Swisher inquired about his political positions in the upcoming elections. After a further challenge from the podcast host over policies taken up by political parties, the CEO refrained from taking a hard-and-fast position. “If you’ve got a two-party system, then the problematic issues are gonna kind of fall somewhat randomly into one party or the other. Like, it’s not clear to me that there’s a cohesive set of reasoning why these things are in one party vs. another. They seem semi-random.”
The Sway episode touched on nearly every topic Musk is involved in – artificial intelligence, Neuralink, and SpaceX included. There was one other issue, though, that he had not-so-diplomatic words to offer. “The press coverage of [Battery Day] was sad. Most of the press takeaway was a sad reflection of their understanding, really,” he lamented. “I’m also not trying to convince people that much. The results will speak for themselves… We have had cars driving with those cells since May.”
You can listen to the full Sway podcast interview with Swisher and Musk here.