FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Problem With Elon Musk and the Hyperloop

If you’ve seen or heard any corporate news in the last couple of days, you’ve heard that Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, has just announced his “plan” for an imaginary boondoggle called a Hyperloop.  I put the scare-quotes around the word “plan” here because Musk’s ridiculous proposal is clearly little more than a cocktail napkin fantasy being publicized to keep Tesla’s stock price in the rarified strata where it presently resides so undeservingly.

The Hyperloop imagined by Musk, who is invariably described as “a billionaire” as if that should-be-unspeakable status somehow renders one a technical genius in one’s chosen field of exploitation, would be a giant techno-tube shooting people from Los Angeles and San Francisco in half an hour.  Aside from the obvious question of who would be willing to risk traveling at such a velocity in constant, extremely close proximity to terrestrial solid objects, the rank silliness of the “plan” merely magnifies the three fatal flaws in all of Elon Musk’s over-hyped Rube Goldberg schemes: expense, energy use, and complexity/impracticality.

For starters, take expense.  It’s humorous to watch Musk, whose entry-level Tesla S sedan costs $69,900 and also relies on huge public subsidies and tax breaks beyond those already flowing to all car owners via street construction and foreign oil wars, assure his hapless admirers that his Hyperloop, which would require not only large numbers of extremely specialized forms of the motors used in Tesla cars but an unspecified source of solar self-power for the whole system, could be built for a mere $6 billion.  Cats everywhere ought to be laughing themselves unconscious over this assurance.  Building an L.A.-to-S.F. high-speed railway will probably cost $70 billion–if it ever gets done.  A Hyperloop will somehow come in at under one-tenth of that
dawsonconsumerprice?  You really have to marvel at the gullibility of the mainstream press here.

Even more importantly, the matter of energy use is treated with equal un-seriousness by Musk.  On this front, consider not only the substantial difficulties that plague Tesla car owners trying to make use of their purchases, but remember that “electric” vehicles are really coal, natural gas, and nuclear vehicles, given the fact that 88 percent of U.S. electricity is still made from those sources, with little prospect of serious reduction.

Musk, of course, is silent on this front, not least because selling Teslas depends on keeping targeted buyers suspended in the sponsored childish energy ignorance that underlies the whole of mainstream U.S.
transportation policy and politics.  People who understand Physics 101 aren’t going to fall for preposterous phrases such as “zero emissions vehicles” and “electric cars.”

Musk is also silent about the wild impracticalities of all his products.  Why should tourists be visiting Earth’s low orbit on a planet that has yet to get serious about either poverty or ecological sustainability?  How could 200 million drivers ever possibly recharge electric vehicles in a way that would sustain present time economies, bad as those already are?  What happens when the Hyperloop experiences its first serious malfunction?  Elon?  Elon?  [Crickets chirping…]

The fact of the matter is that Elon Musk is no innovator at all.  On the contrary, knowingly or not, he is a mere shill for the overclass’s project of perpetuating the ecocidal yet massively profitable cars-first transportation order of the United States.  Given the laws of physics and the finiteness of Earth’s resources, to sell “electric” cars is to suggest that having everybody use a 3,500-pound machine, 95 percent idle machine for everyday intra-urban locomotion could ever be environmentally and energetically sane.  That, of course, is a capitalist’s pipedream as well as a geo-physical impossibility.

To peddle Muskian diversions is also to distract attention from the nub of the matter, which is our pressing need for radical reconstruction of our towns and cities to facilitate walking, bicycling, and public transit.  What we really need — and soon — is political courage and innovation, not more capitalist-cornucopian tricks and fantasies.

Michael Dawson is the Portland, Oregon-based editor of www.deathbycar.info. He is the author of  The Consumer Trap: Big Business Marketing in American Life.

More articles by:

Michael Dawson is the Portland, Oregon-based editor of deathbycar.

Weekend Edition
June 22, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Karl Grossman
Star Wars Redux: Trump’s Space Force
Andrew Levine
Strange Bedfellows
Jeffrey St. Clair
Intolerable Opinions in an Intolerant Time
Paul Street
None of Us are Free, One of Us is Chained
Edward Curtin
Slow Suicide and the Abandonment of the World
Celina Stien-della Croce
The ‘Soft Coup’ and the Attack on the Brazilian People 
James Bovard
Pro-War Media Deserve Slamming, Not Sainthood
Louisa Willcox
My Friend Margot Kidder: Sharing a Love of Dogs, the Wild, and Speaking Truth to Power
David Rosen
Trump’s War on Sex
Mir Alikhan
Trump, North Korea, and the Death of IR Theory
Christopher Jones
Neoliberalism, Pipelines, and Canadian Political Economy
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Why is Tariq Ramadan Imprisoned?
Robert Fantina
MAGA, Trump Style
Linn Washington Jr.
Justice System Abuses Mothers with No Apologies
Martha Rosenberg
Questions About a Popular Antibiotic Class
Ida Audeh
A Watershed Moment in Palestinian History: Interview with Jamal Juma’
Edward Hunt
The Afghan War is Killing More People Than Ever
Geoff Dutton
Electrocuting Oral Tradition
Don Fitz
When Cuban Polyclinics Were Born
Ramzy Baroud
End the Wars to Halt the Refugee Crisis
Ralph Nader
The Unsurpassed Power trip by an Insuperable Control Freak
Lara Merling
The Pain of Puerto Ricans is a Profit Source for Creditors
James Jordan
Struggle and Defiance at Colombia’s Feast of Pestilence
Tamara Pearson
Indifference to a Hellish World
Kathy Kelly
Hungering for Nuclear Disarmament
Jessicah Pierre
Celebrating the End of Slavery, With One Big Asterisk
Rohullah Naderi
The Ever-Shrinking Space for Hazara Ethnic Group
Binoy Kampmark
Leaving the UN Human Rights Council
Nomi Prins 
How Trump’s Trade Wars Could Lead to a Great Depression
Robert Fisk
Can Former Lebanese MP Mustafa Alloush Turn Even the Coldest of Middle Eastern Sceptics into an Optimist?
Franklin Lamb
Could “Tough Love” Salvage Lebanon?
George Ochenski
Why Wild Horse Island is Still Wild
Ann Garrison
Nikki Haley: Damn the UNHRC and the Rest of You Too
Jonah Raskin
What’s Hippie Food? A Culinary Quest for the Real Deal
Raouf Halaby
Give It Up, Ya Mahmoud
Brian Wakamo
We Subsidize the Wrong Kind of Agriculture
Patrick Higgins
Children in Cages Create Glimmers of the Moral Reserve
Patrick Bobilin
What Does Optimism Look Like Now?
Don Qaswa
A Reduction of Economic Warfare and Bombing Might Help 
Robin Carver
Why We Still Need Pride Parades
Jill Richardson
Immigrant Kids are Suffering From Trauma That Will Last for Years
Thomas Mountain
USA’s “Soft” Coup in Ethiopia?
Jim Hightower
Big Oil’s Man in Foreign Policy
Louis Proyect
Civilization and Its Absence
David Yearsley
Midsummer Music Even the Nazis Couldn’t Stamp Out
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail