Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, doesn't hesitate to face a crisis.
He is actively involved in solving existential problems such as traffic gridlock and climate change.
He has also attempted to resolve immediate problems like shortages of ventilators with varying degrees success.
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Although Elon Musk has been controversial and headline-grabbing for the wrong reasons, he has also achieved remarkable success in developing technology that will change the world.
He is working to solve some the most serious problems facing humanity, despite all his bravado, attacks on journalists and eccentric behavior. Climate change? Musk's electric car company Tesla has made electric cars more exciting. Congestion-caused pollution and traffic woes. Musk founded The Boring Company in order to build a network tunnels that would avoid gridlocked freeways. To save ourselves from extinction, we can colonize other planets. SpaceX is currently working on this.
Musk has achieved real results beyond these ambitious moonshots. Musk donated hundreds upon hundreds of solar-powered battery packs to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017. As the coronavirus spread worldwide, Tesla started working on ventilator parts as well as shipping medical devices to hospitals that needed them.
He is now challenging UN's request for $6 billion to aid millions of starving people. However, he said that he might cash in Tesla shares to help.
We look at a few of the problems Musk stated he would like to solve.
Thai rescue teams enter a cave where 12 Thai boys and their soccer coach were stuck in Mae Sai province, Chiang Rai, northern Thailand. Royal Thai Navy via AP
The crisis: Saving the cave boys of Thailand
The solution: A "kid-size submarine."
Musk assembled engineers from SpaceX, Tesla and Boring Company to build a "kid-sized" submarine from rocket parts during the rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach in a cave in Thailand.
Musk's device was not practical according to the chief of the rescue mission. The rescue was successful without Musk's device. The rescue mission was also carried out by a British diver who called Musk's actions "PR stunts" and stated that the submarine would not work in this situation. Musk called the diver "a pedo guy" in a Twitter response. It has since been deleted.
Musk was cleared by the California court that Musk was sued for defamation in September 2018.
A Thai military official stated that Musk's submarine could still be useful for future missions. SpaceX engineers met with members from the Thai Navy to teach them how to use it. Musk tweeted that engineers received feedback from British divers regarding the technology's improvement.
On March 6, 2016, protestors demonstrated against Flint's contaminated water crisis. Rebecca Cook/Reuters
The crisis: Flint's lead-contaminated drinking water.
The solution: Replace pipes and add water filters.
Flint, Michigan continues to struggle with the effects from a water crisis. In 2014, dangerous levels of lead were discovered in the water supply. People who fell ill reported having skin lesions, depression, memory loss, and other symptoms.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, water with lead levels exceeding 15 parts per billion must be treated in order to reduce exposure. Flint had lead levels exceedingly high in homes, with some reaching 4,000 parts per billion.
Officials say that the water is safe to drink now that the lead levels have fallen to 12 ppb at the end 2016. Some Flint residents remain skeptical.
Musk pledged in July 2018 that he would fix pipes in homes that have water contamination above FDA levels. Musk also tweeted that he would host a weekend to install filters in Flint homes and "hopefully fix perceptions of those that actually work."
The Musk Foundation donated $424,000 to Flint middle school students in 2018 and more than $480,000 for new water filtration systems. The new filtration systems were tested by Flint schools in August 2019. Two years later, the district reported that the filters had been approved for testing.
A Tesla car drives through the Las Vegas Convention Center Loop. John Locher/AP Photo
The crisis: Traffic and the adverse health effects of gridlock.
Solution: A network of underground tunnels.
Musk, like many others, hates being stuck in traffic. Musk's solution to congestion-ridden freeways? Digging underground tunnels.
Traffic is not just an inconvenience. A 2014 study found that traffic pollution can increase stroke and heart disease risk in areas near congestion. Studies have also shown that those who live near busy roads in cities can experience an increase in mortality and emergency room visits, as well as other adverse health effects.
Musk, through the Boring Company, is looking to connect dense urban areas via an underground "Loop", which could transport autonomous vehicles up to 150 miles per hour. This would reduce travel times and traffic-caused pollution.
It's been a slow process for the company. Musk stated that the company's initial plans to build tunnels in Los Angeles or Chicago never materialized. The first completed project in Las Vegas is a 1.7-mile loop that connects people to the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Musk still plans to build an underground tunnel in Fort Lauderdale. He is also reportedly in discussions to expand Texas. Recently, Clark County in Nevada approved Musk's plan to construct a network of tunnels that runs beneath the Las Vegas Strip. This would be the company's largest project.
After Hurricane Maria struck Salinas, Puerto Rico on September 21, 2017, a woman attempts to leave her home. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
The crisis: Puerto Rico's destruction by Hurricane Maria.
The solution: Powerwall batteries
Tesla promised to install solar panels and battery packs on Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria struck in September 2017.
Although 64 people were killed in the official death toll, the New England Journal of Medicine published a 2018 study that found over 4,000 deaths in the three months following the hurricane. This was largely due to difficulties getting medicine or medical care. According to George Washington University researchers, the death toll could be closer to 3,000.
Carmen Cruz, San Juan Mayor, stated that it could take six months to restore electricity grid. Tesla sent hundreds Powerwall batteries to assist residents.
Musk tweeted in April 2018 that Tesla batteries were providing power to 662 locations in Puerto Rico and that employees were working on hundreds more. Musk posted two months later that Tesla had "about 11,000 projects in Puerto Rico." According to HuffPost's May 2019 report, most of the equipment that was delivered to Puerto Rico is now in disrepair.
Musk has provided power for areas that have been affected by natural disasters before. Musk and SolarCity, then SolarCity, donated a solar power plant to Coden, Alabama's hurricane response center. The Musk Foundation funded the project and SolarCity built it.
The Musk Foundation donated $250,000 the following year to help build a solar energy system in Soma in Japan's Fukushima Prefecture.
FILE PHOTO Rita Ebel (nicknamed "Lego grandma") builds a wheelchair ramp out of donated Lego bricks in her Hanau flat.
The crisis: Affordable housing
You can fix it with Lego-style bricks that are cheap for building houses.
Musk's Boring Company construction crews dig through soil and rock to bore tunnels. Musk posted in March 2018 that he plans to use the earth left over from these projects to create interlocking Lego-style bricks that could be used to build houses.
Musk reiterated the plan in May, stating that bricks would help to create affordable housing. Musk wrote that two people could build the outer walls for a small house in one day, but didn't specify the cost of the bricks. The Boring Company posted a YouTube video in July 2018 showing how the bricks were made.
Musk and the Boring Company didn't provide any updates on this idea for well over two decades. Musk has applied for permits to open a Brick Store, where bricks can be sold. He has also stated that he plans to construct a 50-foot watchtower from bricks left at his headquarters. According to the company's website, bricks can be used as pavers and "great for patios!" However, that information has been removed.
Tesla Model 3 Feature China: Barcroft Media via Getty Images
The crisis: Climate Change and Weaning Humanity from Fossil Fuels.
The solution: Solar energy and electric cars.
It's the solution to climate change, a grand vision that unites all of Musk's seemingly different ambitions. The solution to this problem lies in moving the world away from fossil fuels and converting to renewable energy.
Tesla, his electric car company, made the Model 3's most profitable electric vehicle. However, the stock price of Tesla is volatile historically (though this era seems to be over), and Musk continues making headlines for the wrong reasons.
Musk also has struggled to meet the needs of his investors and customers at Tesla. Musk called building and delivering Model 3 "production hell", as Tesla tried to produce enough to fulfill Musk's promises.
A large part of Tesla's business, beyond electric cars, is in solar energy. However, this sector has also seen its fair share of difficulties.
Musk is still the most successful entrepreneur of recent times to mainstream electric cars in our collective imagination.
SpaceX launched its first super-heavy-lift Starship SN8 rocket on December 9, 2020, during a test at their Boca Chica facility. Gene Blevins/Reuters
The crisis: A mass-extinction catastrophe that wipes out all life on Earth.
The solution: Colonize Mars and become a multi-planetary species.
Musk's rocket company SpaceX has high goals. Musk stated that one of the company's main ambitions is to colonize Mars and eventually push humanity towards becoming a multi-planetary species.
Musk's thinking on this topic was expanded upon in 2013. Musk stated, per Futurism, "Either our species spreads to other planets or we risk becoming extinct." "An extinction is inevitable, and we're increasingly doing our own in."
Musk stated that he plans to build 1,000 rocket ships measuring 387 feet, which he calls Starships. The Starships will be used for deep-space travel and he hopes to launch three of them each day. Musk initially stated that the company would send a cargo mission on Mars in 2022. However, he has since increased this estimate to 2024 and a crewed mission on Mars in 2026.
We are still far from colonizing Mars. Technology to make Mars a bustling metropolis is not yet available.
Firefighter watches a fire at a burn on Highway 50 near a home partially covered in foil. Crews continue structure prevention at Caldor Fire in Strawberry (Calif.) Sunday, August 29, 2021. Carlos Avila Gonzalez/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images
California wildfires are the crisis
Solution: Use Tesla products to assist people living in fire-prone areas.
The Camp Fire in Northern California is the most deadly fire in California's history. The fire destroyed more than 153,000 acres and left 85 people dead.
Musk posted that Tesla cars had "hospital-grade HEPA filters" which could be used to transport people in disaster areas. Tesla owners have praised the filters' ability to help them breathe easier, while Musk was criticized by Mercury News for introducing himself into another crisis.
Musk once more plugged Tesla's products when the California fires erupted in 2019.
"Order Tesla Solar + Powerwall batteries for clean, 24/7 power with no blackouts!" Musk tweeted October. Musk included a link that took him to Tesla's website. The Washington Post pointed out that Tesla's solar system can power a home for a few days during blackouts, but it costs thousands of dollars.
The crisis: A shortage of medical supplies due to the coronavirus.
Solution: Use Tesla factories to make ventilators and ship medical devices to hospitals that need them.
Musk made a lot of statements on Twitter about the coronavirus in the first months of the pandemic. He offered medical advice and made unverified claims such as the belief, "essentially immune", to COVID-19.
He also stated that Tesla would address the problem of ventilator shortages. These machines are vital for patients suffering from the severe respiratory effects of the virus. Tesla will work with SpaceX to build new ventilators and procure medical devices for hospitals.
Musk's ventilator efforts have been repeatedly questioned by critics who questioned whether he was actually delivering the most critical COVID-19 machines and if he even delivered the promised number of devices.
During this time, Tesla engineers began to build ventilators. Other automakers such as Ford and GM also did the same. They have since finished production although it is unclear if Tesla ever delivered ventilators.
Elon Musk, Tesla CEO, in Germany Friday. Patrick Pleul/Pool via Reuters
42 million people are at risk of starvation.
The solution: $6 billion in Tesla stock.
David Beasley, executive director of the UN's World Food Programme, stated last month to CNN that "the billionaires must step up now on an one-time basis" to help millions of people who are at risk of starvation.
Musk, however, was skeptical about Beasley's claims. He tweeted that if the organization could "describe on this Twitter thread exactly what $6B will solve global hunger", he would sell Tesla stock to fund his donation.
He said, "But it must also be open source accounting so that the public can see exactly how the money has been spent."
Beasley responded that Musk's team could "review" and "work with us to be completely confident" in the organization's accounting and clarified that he wasn't saying that a $6 billion donation would solve world hunger, as Musk claimed.
Beasley tweeted, "This is a one time donation to save 42 millions lives during this unprecedented crisis of hunger."
Musk's intentions regarding the donation are not clear.
Peter Kotecki contributed to this earlier version.