Those who deny the scientific consensus – those who insist that human-made climate change is a fantasy – apparently enjoy snuggling together under an intellectual rock. But the smartest, most forward-thinking car company bosses are not to be found with them.
Already, more than a few car company CEOs are promoting products and policies that suggest agreement with Pope Francis's views on climate change – that global warming "represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day."
Renault-Nissan Alliance CEO Carlos Ghosn is a believer. Last December, when accepting the Action Against Hunger Humanitarian Award in New York, Ghosn said climate change represents an "unprecedented humanitarian challenge." The Alliance has been aggressively pushing electric vehicles (EVs) because of climate change, he suggested.
Certainly the numbers are impressive. In a LinkedIn Influencer post this month, Ghosn noted that the Alliance has sold more than 250,000 EVs. Half the EVs in the world come from the Alliance, he said, but there is room for more car companies to join the fight.
"I don't see other auto makers as competitors when it comes to zero-emissions vehicles. They're allies," he wrote.
Among the allies: EV maker Tesla, whose outspoken CEO Elon Musk has made clear his views on climate change – that the science is convincing, but that even if there is a one-per-cent or less chance of a human-made climate catastrophe, the risk is too great, he told Alison van Diggelen of Fresh Dialogues. Mining and burning trillions of tons of hydrocarbons is playing Russian roulette with the planet, Musk said – a "crazy chemical experiment on the atmosphere."
It's obvious that unprofitable Tesla's outsized share price is not a reflection of the bottom line. Tesla's appeal lies in being a car company that might earn massive profits selling zero-emission vehicles to a public increasingly worried about climate change. The New Yorker points out that Musk, the top Tesla car salesman, seems surrounded by a cult of personality that "suggests how desperately we need a climate hero."
Car-company boss as climate hero? Precisely. Tesla benefits from the public's climate-change concerns because it promises a technological solution to a fearsome problem. Musk is selling hope.
Young people are buying. TD Ameritrade managing director of online broker trading Nicole Sherrod told Forbes Tesla has captured the imaginations of millennials "for both its tech prowess and environmental focus."
All the world's established car companies are furiously working on low-emission and ultimately zero-emission vehicles. They must. Increasingly stringent government regulations are coming on stream, aimed at slashing climate-changing CO2 emissions. There's a race on.
We should know the winners by the end of the decade. The smartest, most progressive car companies will see what Musk and Ghosn and others see – that there is a potentially massive business opportunity in embracing the scientific consensus on climate change. If the science eventually sticks, more of the buying public will turn to car companies selling zero-emission technologies.
And the potential here is massive because so many people remain confused about the climate-change scientific consensus. A Yale University poll reported by the Huffington Post found that just 42 per cent of Americans believe that scientists are in agreement on climate change. In fact, one-third of those polled believe there is "widespread disagreement" among scientists on climate change.
There is no climate-change skepticism among scientists, though. John Cook, of the University of Queensland, reported in Environmental Research Letters that, after combing through thousands of research abstracts, his team found that 97 per cent endorsed the notion of human-driven climate change. Moreover, among the 10,000 scientists who had expressed a position on human-driven climate change in the peer-reviewed literature, 98.4 per cent endorsed the consensus, he told the Huffington Post.
So half the public incorrectly believes there is no scientific consensus on climate change. What happens when the public as a whole – with all its millions of car buyers every year – realizes there is consensus? A massive bounty for car companies positioned properly? That's the Tesla gamble in a nutshell.
If you are a climate-change denier, you don't have a future leading a car company.
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