Elon Musk: Not Paying Carbon Taxes Is Like Not Paying for Garbage Collection

The SpaceX CEO gave a talk in San Francisco reflecting on climate change and the Paris Climate Conference.

Dec 17 2015, 3:19pm

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk recently trekked to Paris to give a talk during the climate discussions that resulted in a global treaty. On Tuesday, he spoke to a packed audience in San Francisco about the importance of innovation, renewable energy sources, and especially the need for a carbon tax.

"This is essentially analogous to not paying for garbage collection," he said. "We cannot say 'let's have a garbage free society' because it's nearly impossible to have a garbage-free society. But people still need to pay for the garbage collection."

Taxes on carbon emissions would help the world transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, Musk said. There are major costs to consumption, in other words, and we can't see the whole picture and what climate change is really costing us.

"It's kind of like if we had high taxes on fruits and vegetables, but low taxes on alcohol and cigarettes," Musk said. "That wouldn't make much sense and would reinforce bad behaviors. But, that's sort of what we have in respect to energy, and with very powerful sources trying to keep it that way."

The issue of climate change is neither a right or left, liberal, or conservative issue, Musk said; it's a global issue. As the chairman of SolarCity, one of the largest providers of solar energy in the United States, it's not surprising he views it as the energy source of the future. "You can take one corner of a state like Utah and Nevada, cover it with solar panels and power the whole country with solar power," he said.

The world's supply of fossil fuels is not going to last forever, so at some point we will have to shift to other sources of sustainable energy. The big question according to Musk is when will this shift occur and how much carbon dioxide will be in the atmosphere compared to the ground.

"We know we will end up, which is with a sustainable energy source, so we should just end the experiment that is fossil fuels as soon as possible," explained Musk. He also stressed how important it is for the general public to understand the carbon cycle.

It's no secret that Elon has his sights set on Mars. During his talk, he explained how important it is that we transition to a multi-planet species sooner rather than later. One single, catastrophic event could wipe us out, and setting up colonies on other worlds, like Mars, would help to ensure the survival of our species.

"The wise move would be to make us a multi-planet species as soon as we can," Musk said. "This is the first opportunity in history that it's been possible to do that."

He said it's not clear how long we will have the chance as things like global disasters and world wars can spring up at any time. This is why the ultimate goal of SpaceX has always been to fly humans and to see humans on Mars. "It's going to be super hard to do this and it's going to take some time," Musk said. "Unfortunately, I probably won't live to see it self-sustaining."