At COP21, Elon Musk pushes for revenue-neutral carbon tax
By Felix Kramer
Elon Musk made a surprise trip to Paris last night to an event accompanying COP21, the climate summit. His speech may become part of a climate solutions turning point.
He chose not to speak at a large high-level institutional event. Rather, he addressed the engineers and designers of the future at the University of Paris-Sorbonne. Instead of a grand keynote, for 13 minutes, he described the challenges and presented a simple, elegant solution. He empowered his audience to get involved politically. Then he took 38 minutes of questions. Here’s a quick tour.
As a physicist and businessman, his explanation of climate change and its risks ended with a question: why are we doing “the dumbest experiment in history?” He didn’t worry about talking over his audience’s heads, explaining “unpriced externalities,” an essential economics concept often seen as too complex. (10:45)
Then his key point — perhaps the reason he tore himself away from from his all-consuming responsibilities at Tesla, SolarCity, and SpaceX. He said we can end $5.3 trillion-a-year in subsidies to fossil fuel industries and make them pay for their poisonous emissions. (12:48) His solution to climate change is rapidly gaining support: revenue-neutral carbon taxes. He recommended just three actions: talk to politicians and ask them to enact a revenue-neutral carbon tax; talk to your friends about carbon taxes; and fight carbon industry propaganda. (15:20)
In questions, he repeatedly praised revenue-neutral carbon taxes. He called for governments at COP21 to put their feet down and get started. He showed how low but rising carbon taxes will change business practices in five years. (25:10) That matches the timetable for the just-announced international Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, which aims to get in place carbon pricing everywhere by 2020.
He also answered respectful questions thoughtfully and imaginatively. See the video — or, in less time, read the transcript here. You’ll pick up nuggets on why we can’t wait for new technology “miracles,” what climate-concerned young people should do with their lives, batteries, electric cars, and space. The event’s Youtube video is catching on, currently growing by thousands an hour.
We’ll see if COP21 negotiators respond to the the groundswell. But even if they don’t, Elon Musk is inspiring people around the world to price carbon in their countries. They can share the spirit of this very practical guy, invoking elementary moral principles: governments don’t have to wait for others to Do The Right Thing. (43:30). And people have the power to make change. (45:30)
For more about carbon pricing during and after COP21, see Heads of State and CEOs Declare Support for Carbon Pricing to transform Global Economy.
Press coverage of Musk’s speech:
Elon Musk calls for carbon price to halve the transition time to clean energy, The Guardian, December 2
Elon Musk just demanded a carbon tax in Paris, UK Business Insider, December 2
Elon Musk croit en la taxe carbone, Le Point, December 3
Elon Musk Is Probably Our Best Hope Yet For Moving Beyond Fossil Fuels, Gizmodo, December 3
Elon Musk pleads for a “revenue-neutral carbon tax” during speech in Paris, Treehugger, December 3
Felix Kramer is CCL volunteer from the San Francisco Bay Area, with climate projects at BeyondCassandra.org.