Teslaspreading. Has anyone coined that word? It seems apt, as Tesla-related undertakings encompass ever more space in the tech world, the popular imagination, and in space itself.
Steering Tesla, SpaceX and other projects in the U.S. and beyond, Elon Musk is both a business leader and an engaged engineer — and, since March 2021, a self-crowned Technoking.
While Bill Gates is the subject of conspiracy theories about microchips in vaccines, Elon Musk’s brain-chipping project isn’t a mere disinformation narrative. Musk really wants to put computer chips in our brains. Rest assured they’ll fit quite nicely in our skulls.
Brain-Machine Connection: Neuralink
Musk co-founded Neuralink in 2016. Since then, the company has put coin-sized chips called Links into the brains of pigs. A live pig demo appears in this August 2020 video. Look out for Musk’s “three little pigs” quip and other wisecracks.
On August 28, Musk and his team unveiled the latest updates from secretive firm Neuralink with a demo featuring pigs implanted with their brain chip device. These chips are called Links, and they measure 0.9 inches wide by 0.3 inches tall. They connect to the brain via wires, and provide a battery life of 12 hours per charge, after which the user would need to wirelessly charge again. During the demo, a screen showed the real-time spikes of neurons firing in the brain of one pig, Gertrude, as she snuffed around her pen during the event.
Musk thinks brain-machine connections could be life-changing for people with disabilities. Would this technology connect with demand for Tesla cars, too? Seems so. During the pig spectacle a Twitter user submitted a question on the possibility of chipped car owners summoning their Teslas telepathically. Musk’s reply? “Of course.” Teslaspread strikes again.
When Things Get Unstable or Weird
Elon Musk predicts artificial intelligence will be ahead of humans before 2025. In the hands of the wrong company, AI will become a menace. That, says Musk, will be when “things get unstable or weird.”
Yet Musk’s company is the one wiring monkeys’ brains.
A USDA inspector called Neuralink “the nicest monkey facilities” around.
The Teslasplaining continues: “We went the extra mile for the monkeys.”
And another thing:
“One of the things we’re trying to figure out: can we have the monkeys playing mind Pong with each other? That would be pretty cool.”
Do we need artificial intelligence to tell us it’s uncool to toy with the brains of other aware beings?
And what’s the nicest monkey facility? A Thai seacoast. A mangrove forest… It would be really cool to leave primates in the spaces where they’ve evolved, rather than catching them, purpose-breeding them, confining them in prison for life.
EV Charging as Entertainment: The Tesla Restaurant Chain
The Tesla T logo appears in a recent patent filing for use in restaurant services. Why would Tesla get into food services? Perhaps to turn a battery charging wait into an entertaining experience, and another profit channel. Charging station restaurants would be open to other electric vehicle drivers — marketing Tesla cars to the curious.
With guidance from Kitchen Restaurant Group founder Kimbal Musk, Elon’s younger sibling, the new restaurants might be more nutrition-focused than standard convenience stores — but probably not vegan. Elon Musk has said veganism won’t solve global warming, because the greenhouse gas problem is chiefly about “moving billions of tons of hydrocarbons from deep underground into the atmosphere and oceans.”
So, Elon Musk evidently believes oil-extracting industries must be replaced, yet animal breeding for human consumption should be free to continue.
Both forms of divestment matter: divestment from hydrocarbon energy, and divestment from animal-derived protein. Animal agribusiness is a massive source of greenhouse gases. Musk’s restaurants ought to reject animal products or face urgent criticism. Those of us with the privilege to make the shift must divest from animal agribusiness.
Tesla Energy is collaborating with Brookfield Asset Management and Dacra to create SunHouse in Austin, Texas. The developers call it “the nation’s most sustainable residential community” and an “energy-neutral” model for “sustainable large-scale housing projects around the world.”
Can the widespread development of land to house a burgeoning human population accurately be called “sustainable”? In any case, we can assume the homes will be lucrative, especially if buyers sign up for Tesla energy subscriptions. As Elon Musk said:
The feedback we get from the solar and battery products used in this community will impact how we develop and launch new products.
Alset EHome International also works with Tesla. Home buyers at its Northpark development in Texas get Tesla battery storage and car charging equipment — and Tesla cars. Remember when we wanted the cereal with the toy in the box?
The point of the prizes is “to promote the use of electric vehicles for a sustainable lifestyle.” Teslaspread strikes again.
Tesla’s solar residential developments could supply electricity to surrounding areas. In some sense, this is about breaking through the utility companies’ hold on practices and pricing. It’s deregulation. It’s also development. It’s mining for electronic components. It’s the despoiling of habitat, and it will continue (as long as everyone’s using something other than coal or petroleum).
Then There’s the Boring Company
Musk’s Boring Company is all about Teslas in tunnels. Tunnel-making means bulldozing the subterranean Earth, exposing carbon to oxygen and sending CO₂ into the atmosphere. Studies of tunnels note their heavy use of materials, equipment, and energy. And, of course, the soil is full of living beings.
Florida groundnesting communities include native bees and birds already threatened by existing land use, floods and rising sea levels. Yet Fort Lauderdale sees the Boring Company as an answer to heavy coastal traffic. Building alternative traffic conduits will need road-building resources and places to park all the more cars.
Sure, underground trains use tunnels, too. But they carry a lot of people per car, reducing vehicle numbers rather than increasing them.
Is Any Car Culture a “Sustainable Lifestyle”?
For years, I’ve kept my driving below 1,000 miles (1600 km) each year. Not only for the sake of cutting emissions, but also because I’m just not keen on driving any more. Too much Earth is paved over for human convenience. In the era of remote work, I rarely need to drive, but a few good friends live in areas only a car can reach.
Tesla will roll out $25,000 (€21,000) cars in a few years. They already sell used ones. Tesla’s driver-assist technology could enable me to drive at night, say, if one of the cats has a medical emergency, or if I do, or if I leave a friend’s home after sunset. I’d buy a Tesla for the reason I get prescription glasses: to better handle elements of living that matter to me.
And yet, as Neuralink takes my sense of human “need” to its logical conclusion, I feel queasier than ever about my relationship with cars. I’m just one of many night-vision-challenged people who will drive after dark if technology allows it. Surely more 16-year-olds and partygoers will do the same, thanks to high-tech accident-prevention features. That’s a lot more driving, right?
Tesla’s slowly rolling out computer vision-based full-self-driving (FSD) subscriptions. Sometime in the future, cars will drive, so people can pay attention to other things. Yet another selling point for driving. Imagine a family taking a bucket-list national park trip every month. As Tesla encourages more people to drive more of the time, its sustainability credentials will become increasingly absurd.
Morgan Stanley expects Tesla to produce flying cars by blending Tesla and SpaceX technology. It’s one reason an analyst at the investment firm speculates that Tesla stock will reach $1000 a share. Never mind asking why we might need cars that fly. Teslaspreading means consumer culture stays, whatever the climate does. Along with groups such as Virgin Orbit and Rocket Lab, it’s extending that culture through space commerce. (Heaven help any extraterrestrial beings out there. Musk might try to go the extra mile for them.)
Solar power and software subscriptions create income streams for Tesla. In business terms, that’s a successful turnaround of the climate narrative. Yet factories have to be built and materials have to be dug up for it all. Already, humans together with our domesticated animals consume more resources by summer than the can replenish in an entire year. Meanwhile, Earth’s untamed living communities are pushed aside and fading fast.
Writing this series is changing me. I wouldn’t say it’s unforgivable for any of us to buy a Tesla. But the uneasiness is gaining on me. What are we doing to cut resource use, create walkable towns, improve public transportation, and protect habitat? Innovation, without deep restorative principles, encourages humanity to take up ever more resources, and ever more space. That’s unsustainable.
Part I of this series (Tesla cars overview) is here. Part II of this series (SpaceX) is here.
Thanks to: Bill Drelles, Janine Bandcroft, Pam Page, Lydia and Mauro, Chris Kelly, and Charlotte Cressey. Each provided essential support, comments that improved this series, or both.
This blog generally benefits from the support of Jack McMillan, Justin and Rosemary, Aurora Cooney, Amanda Crow, Van Luong, Kay Connacher, Nancy Kogel, Lois Baum, Mary Ann Baron, Deb Thompson, Curtis Hinkle, Project Animal Freedom, the Vegan Justice League, Mary Jo Wenckus, Allen Eckert, Cecilia Eckert, Vance Lehmkuhl, Jesse Farrell, Michael Harren, Maureen Schiener, LouAnne and Michael, Sandie Sajner, Patricia Fairey, Laura Reese, Ellie Moffat, Catherine Burt, Catherine Podojil, Paula Franklin, Nelli Johnson, Meg Graney, and Jaime, Steve, and Jackson Mazurek.
With Part I, I posted an overview of Tesla as a car company, from a vegan perspective. Here, in Part II, let me share what I’ve found while exploring one of Musk’s other holdings and perhaps the most ambitious one: SpaceX. Tesla cars and SpaceX spacecraft companies are both owned by Elon Musk and their R&D personnel overlap at least informally as they create materials for electric vehicles, renewable energy products, spacecraft and rockets.
This series of articles is meant to go deeper than the question of whether Tesla cars (or SpaceX spaceships) have non-leather seats. Because there’s a lot more to veganism than that. The way we think about Earth as habitat, and humans as actors in a bio-community, brings us to a more expansive view of veganism.
There’s an interesting video clip of Jack Ma speaking to Elon Musk (embedded in this article), suggesting that Musk’s talents and brand would be better applied to the needs of life on Earth than to staking out real estate in the great beyond. With “great respect” Ma tells Musk:
We need heroes like you, but we need more heroes like us working hard on the Earth, improving things every day. That’s what I want.
To be fair, I believe Musk earnestly seeks to improve human life here on Earth. Still, Musk is engaged in the billionaires’ anti-social habit of paying a pittance in income taxes. And in any case, good intentions do not obviate the consequences of redirecting humanity’s future and I do believe Musk’s imprint is going to be profound. That’s why I’m taking some time with this. I hope you’re with me so far.
Rocket Projects and Mining Rights
Humanity is fragmented. We have yet to take the necessary steps to treat each other kindly as a global norm on Earth. How, then, could we possibly act in concert for a supposedly greater collective future beyond Earth?
And while Musk’s work transcends borders (Musk appears more focused on advancing companies than countries), competitive national aspects are evident in some of the projects SpaceX has taken on. The proposed 2022 budget for the U.S. Air Force includes millions for SpaceX reusable Starship rockets. The Pentagon thinks they could bring people or gear from one side of the Earth to the other within an hour, a CNBC article suggests. And for what purposes does the U.S. military usually bring things and people from one side of the Earth to the other?
Meanwhile, the government of China is developing competing space travel. India and Russia have their own space stations in the works. Israel is planning lunar experiments. NASA’s Artemis Accords allow for extraterrestrial mining. The European Space Administration has been talking about creating a lunar village, and the Japanese carmaker Toyota is working on Lunar Cruisers.
These projects are not only reaching extraterrestrial destinations; they are also prospecting for energy and resources. And as Dr. Namrata Goswami writes in Trans-Asia Inc.’s The Diplomat, “space capacity is a surrogate indicator of military power.”
Internet for All… At What Cost?
SpaceX is also establishing Starlink broadband by sending hundreds and potentially tens of thousands of satellites up into space. The point of crowding space with the dizzying array of orbiting objects? To supply internet to the areas of Earth the telecoms, fibre and 5G cannot reach. Under the header Governing Law, Starlink states that its service will be controlled by the laws of California, USA. Additionally (I’m adding the bold here):
For Services provided on Mars, or in transit to Mars via Starship or other colonization spacecraft, the parties recognize Mars as a free planet and that no Earth-based government has authority or sovereignty over Martian activities. Accordingly, Disputes will be settled through self-governing principles, established in good faith, at the time of Martian settlement.
SpaceX thus acknowledges that it’s engaged in the colonization of Mars by a U.S. entity. Surely, designating California as the legal jurisdiction does put an “earth-based government” in authority!
Is There Any Limit to This Extraterrestrial Acquisitiveness?
In the 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (the “Outer Space Treaty”), the United States, the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland meant to prevent the spread of a global arms race into space. The UN-sponsored treaty declares that space and extraterrestrial scientific findings are not subject to national appropriation. Yet there’s no language that bars private ownership. Apparently, grabs by companies registered with certain nations was not how the parties anticipated dominance in 1967.
In 1979, the Outer Space Treaty was augmented by an Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (the “Moon Agreement”). The agreement regards the moon as the “common heritage of mankind” (Article 11).
Should a “common heritage” be the subject of corporate takings? The question seems already obsolete. Elon Musk is defying the spirit of the treaties, while paying lip service to a “free planet” concept.
Overall, Tesla’s founder aims to transcend environmentally harmful human tendencies with innovative technology. Yet these tendencies stand to be greatly intensified by the goal of a multi-planetary humanity. Isn’t it likely that a post-Earth afterlife is the ultimate escape from responsibility to our own native habitat and our greater biological community?
SpaceX could allow a new jet set to nuture a fantasy of escaping a beaten-down planet. A fantasy starring Musk as the one who can save those able and willing to be saved. Nonhuman life, alas, does not count for much in this fantasy. This is its ultimate flaw.
In the third and final post of this series I’ll explore Elon Musk’s underground tunnel company, solar power and sustainable town concepts, Neuralink, and plans for a restaurant chain (spoiler: it won’t be vegan).
Tesla. So far, only a few can afford it, but that may change. Elon Musk says the Model Y will become the biggest-selling car in the world (overtaking the Toyota Corolla) by 2023. And Tesla aims to produce $25K cars within a few years.
This is all good news for many working folks who have wistfully admired Tesla’s cars from afar. Is it good news for vegans?
Based on these facts, some vegans consider Tesla cars vegan. But veganism has to be environmentally aware. The reason is crystal-clear. Without habitat, animal liberation is meaningless. So we have to consider Tesla from the whole ecological standpoint.
Then There’s the Space Used for Tesla’s Giga Factories.A German court has allowed a forest to be cleared for Tesla’s new Berlin factory. Tesla points out that it was just a pine plantation for cardboard, not a natural forest. Still, Earth’s surface is limited. In short, new factories = sprawl. And tree cutting doesn’t sound like a carbon-reducing exercise.
Maybe There’s Some Relief for Deer.
Tesla’s cars come with pedestrian detection. This should be helpful for deer, squirrels, owls, and the occasional lost cat—as well as distracted human beings—on or beside roads. Tesla’s vision tech could prevent drivers from running over other living beings.
Still, it’s better to focus on mass transit, which reduces our overall reliance on roadbuilding.
I mean, just imagine all the boomers and the 16-year-olds getting excited about cars they can use without worrying about accidents. Imagine all the pleasure trips to be taken in Teslas because it’s so easy to let the car do the driving. Full self-driving sounds great, until we consider all the extra car making and car use. Isn’t this a major countereffect to the emissions savings of (even a solar-powered) Tesla?
If Tesla Isn’t Vegan, Is It “Vegan-Friendly”?
Vegan-friendly is an imprecise term, and I have no precise answer. I started exploring this question because I’m considering getting a used Tesla in a few years, after wearing out my 2013 Nissan. I could use Tesla vision tech for night driving. But I must be honest with myself. Driving is a concession to our car-centric consumer culture. Arguably, the best I can do is keep a strict cap on my mileage.
At the end of the day, we must focus on simplicity in response to climate crisis. On low-tech answers like walkable towns, reductions in discretionary travel, and divestment from animal agribusiness.