Climate Change and the Election

The end of the 2016 was a challenging one for most Californians.  People have been in various states of shock, anger, disbelief, and sadness. During the fall I took a Stanford Continuing Studies class about the election.  I have a friend who is a political nut, and I thought the class would be interesting and had many renowned speakers.  David Plouffe, the campaign manager for Barack Obama’s successful 2008 presidential campaign, spoke to the class and said that he was 100% sure that Clinton would win.   So I believed an expert and was shocked when Clinton lost.

Since the election, I have chosen not to blog about some of the more mundane aspects surrounding owning a Tesla waiting to summarize my thoughts about this last month and a half first in this post.  Although politics is a challenging topic to discuss, I believe the current state of the U.S. is very relevant to both a healthy green environment and the long term success of electric cars including Tesla.  I won’t discuss many of the other horrific things that have been said about women and minorities during the election, but just focus in on our environment.

Elites and Technology Elites

During the aftermath of the election, many pundits spoke of the movement being a revolution against the elites.  Income inequality is higher than it has been since the 1920s, and the unorganized Occupy movement a few years ago tried to address the growing discrepancy.

The Industrial Revolution shifted society from an agricultural and handcraft society to a machine driven one.  The Technological Revolution has shifted society from a machine driven one to a highly automated one.  Many people who formerly worked in machine driven factories have lost their jobs to robots.  Additionally because of the ability to communicate globally, we have become a global not national economy, and jobs have moved to places with lower cost of labor.

My career had a direct affect on changing our society.  In Silicon Valley (outside of the defense industry) we always believed that what we were creating was going to be useful and not harmful for people.  Yes, some early chip companies had problems during the manufacturing process that resulted in some major toxic Superfund sites.  But by and large, the technologies we created have freed people up from mundane tasks and have allowed us to communicate in ways that we could not have imagined a century ago.  The large majority of people would be very upset if they no longer had the ability to use the internet or their smart phone.

I do not believe most technological elites realized the deep impact these changes had on some parts of the country.  Looking forward, the biggest change technology could be self driving vehicles.  3.5 Million people are truck drivers today.  If all these jobs were automated in a short period of time, how will these truckers be able to find jobs with comparable incomes?

The Environment and Global Warming

The reason I started this blog was because I care about the environment deeply.  By sharing my experience driving an electric car, I could encourage other people to make similar purchases.  My solar panels on my home are ten years old, and according to my calculations I have recovered all my upfront costs including considering the opportunity cost of the investment.  So my electricity at this point is completely free for both my house and Tesla.

Scientific evidence for warming of the climate system is unequivocal.

– Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

I am baffled by how many people in the U.S. still do not believe that climate change is occurring and that it is man made.  I have a friend who is a scientist by trade, who watches Fox news and still refutes the fact that global warming is man made.  We had a long civilized discussion about it and now matter what facts he is presented, his only argument is “There are just so many factors that could cause these changes.”  In the end I concluded that talking to him about any facts was futile and he has a deep embedded story that he believed – akin to a religious or non-religious belief.  I also think if he admitted to the reality of climate change, his sense of personal story and ego would crumble.

Trump selected Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of the oil and gas-intensive state of Oklahoma, to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Pruitt has fought regulations on our environment and even defended ExxonMobil when it tried to deny climate change and disavow the oil companies’ evidence.  He also stated “The American people are tired of seeing billions of dollars drained from our economy due to unnecessary EPA regulations, and I intend to run this agency in a way that fosters both responsible protection of the environment and freedom for American businesses.”

This quote is incorrect, a 2016 survey of the world’s major economies also found that strict environmental policies improved, rather than handicapped, competitiveness in the international market according to the growing consensus among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) economists.  For example, California has the strictest environmental regulations in the country and enjoys the most robust economy in the U.S.

How the environment became a political issue is bizarre.  Richard Nixon created the EPA, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, and George W. Bush signed the extension of the Clean Air Act.  The environment and the future of our planet should not be a political issue.

Conclusion

I am very saddened that my country elected a racist, sexist person without compassion who does not care about the environment.  I will do whatever I can to help make America a good place for everyone not just rich white men.

How does the election impact Tesla and the environment? I think Tesla does need to consider the impact of autonomous vehicles on those who depend upon driving as the source of our income.

My far my biggest fear is climate change as the U.S. needs to be the leader in solving global warming, and if we don’t act fast the problems may be irreversible.

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Autopilot & Self-Driving

Today I spotted what I suspect is a Tesla self-driving test vehicle on the day of the sad news that a Tesla owner died while driving his Tesla autopilot vehicle.  Autopilot is not a fully autonomous self-driving vehicle.  Tesla’s autopilot feature automates more of the driving experience by maintaining the car in the lane and controlling the speed of the vehicle based upon traffic in the front.  If it senses a hazard, the system will do the best to respond, but I doubt any amount of hardware or software will ever completely avoid all collisions.

Tesla’s Self-Driving Test Vehicle

A complete self-driving vehicle would allow the driver essentially to sit in the back seat and be chauffeured around town.  Both Google and Apple have efforts in this area.  Today I saw the first car that I strongly suspect is a Tesla self-driving test vehicle.

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Tesla Self-driving Test Vehicle on Palo Alto Roads Jun 30, 2016

The Tesla self-driving test vehicle is disguised as cleverly as possible.  A giant Stanford logo on the rear windshield and a Stanford license plate frame with a paper plate.  Clearly, Tesla is trying to convince locals that this is part of a Stanford research project.   Although Stanford is a very wealthy university, I doubt they would be using a brand new Model S for experimental purposes.  My suspicions were confirmed that this was a Tesla corporate vehicle when I saw it enter the back parking lot of Tesla headquarters!

The Google test vehicles always have the tell tale device on the top.

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Original Google Self-Driving Vehicle Used a Lexus SUV

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Newer Google Self-Driving Test Vehicle

Autopilot Crash

The Tesla owner died in a collision with a large truck.  Ironically Joshua Brown had earlier posted a dash cam video of how autopilot had avoided a crash on youtube.  Unfortunately, the more recent circumstances were different and explained by Tesla:

What we know is that the vehicle was on a divided highway with Autopilot engaged when a tractor trailer drove across the highway perpendicular to the Model S. Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S. 

A Model S or X with autopilot is not a self-driving car.  Drivers still need to maintain their hand on the steering wheel and watch their surroundings.  Whether or not this unfortunate incident could have been prevented by a driver or an automation system is not known at this time.

Self-Driving Roads

I’m not super enthusiastic about self-driving cars.  I have test driven autopilot and since I don’t commute in heavy traffic, I don’t find it of much interest in its current state.  Although I only performed the test one day, I found it hard to not pay attention to the road but still be alert.  I think this awkwardness would likely become more natural over time.

I also wonder if we are going in slightly the wrong direction with self-driving vehicles.  We have Tesla, Google and Apple each working on their own technology.  Perhaps a better approach would be to have self-driving roads.  If all cars were self-driving and using the same standard, the road would in a sense drive each car.  The road would control the speed of each car and when you could enter or exit a lane.  The road could be virtual using cell signals between cars or a larger software system in the cloud.  If the road would control the speed and the driver had no control, you would be essentially having your private railway car.  The hard part of this vision would be incorporating all the non self-driving cars in the picture and working very co-operatively.  But Elon is good friends with the Google founders.