Here's What Elon Musk Really Thinks About Climate Change

While the Tesla CEO strongly believes in global warming, he's had more controversial views on combating the crisis.

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By Ryan Droste

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Where is Elon Musk on the climate change issue?

While the world's second richest man has strongly advocated for fighting against global warming over the years, his thoughts on reversing the trend have varied.

"Climate change is the biggest threat that humanity faces this century, except for AI," Musk told Rolling Stone in 2018. "I keep telling people this. I hate to be Cassandra here, but it's all fun and games until somebody loses a f---ing eye."

Musk's concern about the climate is shared by 72% of Americans, according to a survey by Yale University. Another survey by the American Association for the Advancement of Science survey found that about 97% of climate scientists concluded that "human-caused climate change is happening."

A pioneer in clean energy

Musk's actions as an entrepreneur demonstrate a strong commitment to sustainability.

In 2008, Musk became CEO of Tesla, now the world's largest electric vehicle producer. Additionally, in 2016, Tesla acquired SolarCity — a company started by Musk's cousins — for $2.6 billion. SolarCity was reorganized into Tesla Energy, a clean energy subsidiary of Tesla, Inc.

What was the motivation behind investing in Tesla?

"The fundamental intention of Tesla, at least my motivation, was to accelerate the advent of sustainable energy," he said. "That's why I open-sourced the patents. It's the only way to transition to sustainable energy better."

Related: Elon Musk Was Right To Ban Remote Work. Here's Why

Musk is funding a $100 million carbon removal competition

Musk has consistently funded efforts to fight global warming.

The Musk Foundation is involved with the XPrize Carbon Removal Program, which is funding a carbon removal competition between teams across the globe. According to the website, the goal is to fight climate and rebalance the Earth's carbon cycle, and the prize is listed as the largest incentive prize in history.

"We want teams to build real systems that can make a measurable impact at a gigaton level. Whatever it takes. Time is of the essence," Musk said.

Musk on the risks of climate change

Musk has repeatedly warned about the risks of climate change to humanity. In 2015, he made a head-turning speech on the subject at Paris-Sorbonne University.

"If we wait and delay the change (away from fossil fuels), the best case is simply delaying the inevitable transition from sustainable energy. This is the best case if we don't take action now," he said. "The worst case, however, is more displacement and destruction than all the wars in history combined. These are the best and worst-case scenarios. This is why I call it the dumbest experiment in history."

He imagined the possibility of 5 to 10% of the Earth's landmass being absorbed by water, concluding ominously that "we would be talking about maybe two billion people being displaced and their homes being destroyed and their countries being gone. So I think we should take action."

Musk said he thought the government needed to play a role in changing the course.

"There needs to be a clear message from government in this regard," Musk said. "Because the fundamental problem is the rules today incent people to create carbon. This is madness. Whatever you incent, will happen. That is why we are seeing very little effect thus far.

"The government is the setter of rules, the government decides what rules the companies play by. And if we currently have a system that massively incentivizes bad behavior."

Musk on the Paris Climate Accords

In the early days of the Trump Administration, Musk was part of two advisory councils to the former president. But Musk left the councils after Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accords. The Accords include commitments from all countries to reduce their emissions and work together to adapt to the impacts of climate change, and calls on countries to strengthen their commitments over time.

"Climate change is real. Leaving Paris is not good for America or the world," Musk wrote on Twitter.

Related: What Skills Does Elon Musk Have and Why Is He So Successful?

Musk on the Biden Administration plans for tackling climate change

As the Biden Administration took over the White House in 2021, Musk told Fortune that he was excited about the new president's goals in tackling the climate crisis.

"I think this is great. I feel very optimistic about the future of sustainable energy with the new administration," Musk said. "Not that we should get complacent or anything, but the wind is at our back for solving the climate crisis with the new administration."

Musk bristles at government spending on climate change

But as the details of the Biden Administration's Build Back Better bill surfaced, Musk began to have a change of heart about the administration. Despite the bill's provisions on climate change, Musk told the Wall Street Journal: "I would just can this whole bill. That's my recommendation."

Why was he against it? Musk expressed concern about the amount of government spending required and how it would affect the deficit.

"Do we need federal support for gas stations? We don't. So there's no need for this, for support for a charging network. I would delete it. Delete."

"It might be better if the bill doesn't pass because we've spent so much money, you know, it's like the federal budget deficit is insane," he added.

Musk on a carbon tax

Musk has consistently favored a carbon tax, which is a tax on fossil fuels, especially those used by motor vehicles, intended to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide.

During a February 2021 interview with Joe Rogan, Musk once again declared that he favored a carbon tax. Musk had also discussed a carbon tax at the World Energy Innovation Forum in 2016, noting that a "revolt" against the fossil fuel industry was needed.

"My top recommendation, honestly, would be just add a carbon tax," Musk told Rogan. "The economy works great. Prices and money are just information. If the price is wrong, the economy doesn't do the right thing."

Musk said he wanted to make sure the tax was non-regressive, based on income level so that lower wage earners do not pay a higher rate than higher wage earners. He also floated the idea of tax rebates for lower-wage workers.

"If we just put a price on (carbon emissions), the market will react in a sensible way. But because we don't have a price on it, it is behaving badly," Musk said.

Musk said that he had spoken with the Biden Administration about a carbon tax, but he said that the White House told him it would be too difficult politically to get through. However, Biden's Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, has been vocal about her support for a carbon tax.

Related: 61 Books Elon Musk Thinks You Should Read

Musk vs. Bill Gates on climate action

Musk and Bill Gates are two of the richest men in the world. Both have overwhelming resources to devote to fighting climate change. But each man has taken different routes to help with the crisis, and these differences have caused a feud.

Gates has criticized Musk for his endeavors with exploring outer space rather than using that money for work here on Earth, while Musk has criticized Gates' strategies and his financial dealings with Tesla. In brief, Gates owns a half-a-billion short position on Tesla.

This came to a head when Gates reached out to Musk about working together on climate change. Musk shut down the proposition pretty quickly.

In a leaked text message exchange (which was later confirmed by Musk as authentic), Musk replied to Gates, "Sorry, but I cannot take your philanthropy on climate change seriously when you have a massive short position against Tesla, the company doing the most to solve climate change."

Musk now believes there are bigger problems than global warming

Although Musk declared in 2018 that climate change was the most significant threat humanity would face this century, his views seemed to have changed by the summer of 2022 — at least regarding global warming.

On July 15th, Musk tweeted, "Tesla is to protect life on Earth, SpaceX to extend life beyond."

However, just over one month later on August 25, Musk tweeted, "Population collapse due to low birth rates is a much bigger risk to civilization than global warming. Mark these words."

He added, " I think global warming is a major risk."

Related: Elon Musk's Stalker Is an Uber Eats Driver Who Says Musk Is Stalking Him

Ryan Droste

Digital Editor

Ryan Droste is a Digital Editor with Entrepreneur and has written for several publications over the years, with bylines at Sports Illustrated, CBS Interactive, The Inquisitr, ComicBook.com, PopCulture.com, Sportskeeda and many others.

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