As a follow up to my earlier post, this is part two of Tim Urban's four-part series on Musk and his companies. So far, this might be my favourite article that I've ever read. I'm really loving Urban's writing style, and of course, the subject matter is right up my alley.
I don't know how to say this without it sounding like hyperbole, but this is a life-changing article for me. Reading an objective take on what we're doing to our planet and all the reasons and motivations behind why we can't and won't change our bad habits is really eye-opening. We all kind of know what we're doing, but almost none of us is doing anything to change the disastrous course we are on. Elon Musk and Tesla are working on that problem. I just hope it's not too late.
Urban starts off by explaining how energy works, as he's building up to talking about electric vehicles vs. gas-burning ones. First, he explains what a joule is:
Almost all of the energy used by the Earth’s living things got to us in the first place from the sun. The sun’s energy is what makes the wind blow and the rain fall and it’s what powers the Earth’s living things—the biosphere.
The joule is a common unit of energy—defined as the amount of energy it takes to apply a force of one newton through a distance of one meter. While the sun’s joules can provide any animal with heat and light, the joules that power all of us from the inside enter the biosphere in the first place when the sun gives them to plants.
That’s how food is invented—plants know how to take the sun’s joules and turn them into food.
At that point, all hell breaks loose as everyone starts murdering everyone else so they can steal their joules.
He progresses from burning wood, to coal (for the steam engine), and then to fossil fuels. I love this section:
The problem is that unlike wood, most of the coal in Britain wasn’t just sitting conveniently on land—it was underground. When the Industrial Revolution got going, the British started digging—they were gonna need a lot of coal. As the revolution spread through Europe and to North America, Europeans and Americans started digging too—they also were gonna need a lot of coal.
As everyone dug, they started finding other things too. They found pockets of burnable air we call natural gas and underground lakes of thick, black burnable liquid we call crude oil. It turns out that this whole time, humans had been walking around with a vast untapped treasure of tightly packed, burnable joules right underneath them. It was like a dog digging in the woods to bury a bone and uncovering an underground cave full of pulled pork.
And what does a dog do who finds a cave of pulled pork? Does he pause to think cautiously about how to proceed or consider consequences for his health? No—he eats the shit out of it. Mindlessly, at full speed.
Urban eventually works his way to Tesla and electric vehicles. He did many weeks of research for this article, and after all that work, here's his take on the future of cars:
I didn’t feel strongly about this topic before I spent a lot of recent time learning about it—and now that I have, I kind of think the only way someone could feel positive about a gas car future is if they’re misinformed, personally financially interested in gas cars, hopelessly old-fashioned, drunk with politics, or kind of just being a dick? Right? They would have to be one of those five things to be super pro-gas car—right?
The battle going on isn’t about gas cars vs. electric cars. That one’s already decided. This is a war about time. Oil companies will try to slow things down, and they may succeed—but they’re not winning this one. I just don’t see how they could. A company that makes lantern fuel can stay strong for a while by shielding the public from understanding what a light bulb is, but eventually, people will figure it out and lanterns will be out of business, bringing the lantern fuel company down with it. Greasy hoods are old, noisy acceleration is old, overheating engines are old, oil changes are old, and it won’t be long before everyone realizes that. A fun field trip in 2050 will be taking your grandkid to see an old 20th-century gas station and explaining how it worked. Driving a gas car is like littering on a camping trail, smoking on an airplane, and throwing a big stack of paper in the trash, and it’s just a matter of time until public disgust catches up to it.
He certainly has a way with words. I strongly, strongly recommend that everyone give this article a read, and pay full attention. It's informative, entertaining, and covers a very serious topic that does and will affect everyone on earth. My next car will be an electric vehicle, and most likely a Tesla.