Opinion – Musk: Make Austin an Ecological Paradise: Time for Tesla to Lead the Green Charge in Austin – Columns

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Like many Austinites, I was excited to learn that Tesla was moving its headquarters to Texas. As a practicing physician and Climate Health Equity Fellow, I was particularly pleased to learn that Tesla founder Elon Musk promised the new factory would be an “ecological paradise.”

Musk’s promise appears to be limited to the Colorado River shoreline, where his factory is located, and he has yet to deliver. But why stop there? Musk, the richest person in the world, could help make all of Austin an ecological paradise. In fact, with Musk’s help, Austin could show how cities can enjoy resilient growth while protecting people and ecosystems. The challenge is real. Climate change is already affecting our daily lives, in Austin and around the world.

Our carbon emissions – mostly from burning fossil fuels – have heated the planet by almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit; we could reach 3 degrees by 2050. As a result, we are seeing an increase in extreme weather conditions such as heat waves, storms and flooding.

And climate change is affecting our health. For example, carbon emissions act like a growth serum – allergens like pollen and mold grow faster when exposed to carbon dioxide. I treat many more cases of severe allergies, recurrent sinus infections and asthma exacerbations in my GP practice and the patients are unhappy. At the same time, we are seeing new waterborne diseases that have not appeared in the US for a very long time. And extreme heat – the deadliest effect of climate change – is taking a growing toll on life and health.

These health effects also take an economic toll. More severe allergies and asthma mean more visits to the emergency room, more frequent use of urgent care, and higher drug costs. The average cost of a vial of allergy injections is $600, and daily use of allergy/asthma medication can cost thousands a year. Collectively, the health care costs of air pollution and climate change in the US already well exceed $800 billion a year

As our city grows (Austin is now the #1 relocation destination in the US), our carbon emissions will only increase, with more severe climate and health impacts. But it doesn’t have to be that way. And this is where Elon Musk can really make a difference.

Tesla’s electric cars are a great way to reduce emissions, but most people can’t afford them. The cheapest Tesla starts at around $45,000 — that’s more than 60% of the annual income of the average Austin resident. To remedy this, Tesla could offer incentives and deep rebates that allow its own workers and neighbors to buy electric vehicles.

Second, Tesla could play a bigger role in ensuring Austin has the means to go “green,” with improved access to bike lanes, parks, electric vehicle charging stations, and public transit options.

Finally, Tesla needs to be transparent about its factory’s carbon emissions and put in place a plan to reduce them over time.

It’s not much to ask. Tesla received millions in state and local tax credits for locating its factory here in Austin. And unlike some world leaders, Elon Musk says that “climate change is the greatest threat facing humanity this century…” It’s time for Tesla to confront that threat and bring us closer to “ecological paradise.” Protection of the climate and human health in the community on which it depends.


dr Jessica Edwards is a second generation specialist in osteopathic family medicine. Her prevention-based primary care practice is located in Austin, Texas. She is a 2019-2020 American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine Health Policy Fellow and is currently completing a Climate Health Equity Fellowship through the Medical Consortium for Climate Health. She has received many awards and honors.

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