The Lone-Brain State

I am so happy not to live in Texas where stories like the following are commonplace:

Despite Tesla’s best efforts, the Texas legislature this week opted not to pass a bill which would have allowed the electric automaker to sell cars directly to consumers. Instead, if Tesla wants to sell its highly revered vehicles in the lone star state, it looks like it’s going to have to do it through local franchise dealers, something the company has no intention of doing.

Unfortunately, this is a story we’ve seen play time and time again in many states over the past few years. Tesla, which prefers (read: demands) to sell its cars directly to consumers, is forced to lawyer up and fight against powerful and influential auto dealer lobbyists who want to protect their cash cows.. . . .

The following criticism from Texas state Representative Senfronia Thompson highlights the challenge Tesla is up against.

“It would have been wiser if Mr. Tesla had sat down with the car dealers first,” Thompson said.

Yes, if only Mr. Tesla came back from the dead to sit down for a nice little tete-a-tete with car dealers, perhaps then they could have hammered out a mutually beneficial agreement.

The losers in all of this, per usual, are the citizens of Texas who continue to have to jump through hoops if they want to purchase what Car and Driver recently called the “Car of The Century.”

Tesla, of course, is the electric car that now boasts it can go 250 miles on a single charge. This is well beyond the range that was previously thought possible for electric cars and now makes it reasonable to expect those cars to go from coast to coast, timing their stops at well-placed charging stations. The fact that the cars cost a small fortune makes them rare, but the latest news is that they will soon have a smaller model that sells for around $35,000, which is not out of reach for a much larger buying public.

The CEO, Elon Musk (not Mr. Tesla!) has insisted that the cars be sold directly to buyers in order to bypass dealers who would tack on unnecessary costs and he has announced that he will make his technology available to other car manufacturers — in order, no doubt, to make electric cars more available to a wider buying public, and to guarantee that there will be more charging stations in this country. He is also building a large plant in Sparks, Nevada (powered by solar energy) to manufacture his batteries in this country rather than to continue to import them from Japan, and the efficiency of his batteries continues to improve. This plant will not only employ a great many people, it will help to reduce the costs of his automobile. He is a very astute business man and is so far ahead of the rest of those who make and sell gas guzzlers that Car and Driver are not exaggerating when they call Tesla the “car of the century.”

But with moron legislators in Texas making decisions like the above, cars like the Tesla will not sell as rapidly as they should — given the benefits they bring with them to the environment — and this is, once again, a sign of short-term self-interest trumping wisdom; steps backwards rather than forward toward solutions to our environmental problems.

True Heroes

Every age needs its heroes. The Greeks had Achilles the manly warrior who was flawed but able to overcome his deficiencies when the chips were down. We have our football players and professional athletes who also clearly have flaws but are able to prevail on the field — if they aren’t in jail. Oh, and we have our movie stars who live very public lives. The firemen and policemen and women who risk their lives are a better bet, as are those in the armed forces who risk their lives to protect our way of life. But, then, what is being protected for the most part are corporate interests and most of those people were either drafted or are paid to do a job. They are certainly admirable, but I prefer those who quietly and voluntarily make sacrifices to buck the tide and further the general welfare of all of us who share this planet.

One such person who is a hero in my view is Danny DeVito who is interviewed in this month’s Sierra magazine. DeVito plays the voice of The Lorax in the new Dr. Seuss movie. He is also a staunch environmentalist who realizes that (as he says) “we have maybe fifty years to get this right.” He drives an electric car and plans to install solar panels on his house so he is using less electricity generated by nuclear power or coal-burning plants. He owned an electric car before it was “hip,” in the late 1990s “then the powers that be decided it wasn’t good for the oil companies, and they took it away from us.” He knows who the true villains are in this drama we are living through. And he knows what needs to be done.

One would like to think the new Dr. Seuss movie will open the eyes of our children to the fact that as they grow up they will need to do whatever they can to repair some of the damage their parents and grandparents have done to the planet. They will have even less time to do so. This is not to say that there are not more heroes like DeVito who are doing their best right now. There certainly are — just not enough of them.  I have a friend who became the third customer of a company in the Twin Cities to install solar panels on his garage to supplement the electricity he draws from N.S.P. He watches it like a hawk and delights to see the sun taking money out of the pockets of the corporations. We need more people like this, and we need to modify our notion of what makes a person a hero. It certainly doesn’t need to be the football player or the sports star. It doesn’t even need to be a man. In fact, there are a great many women in our culture who are truly heroic in their day-to-day struggle to survive in a man’s world where the cultural role models are totally unlike themselves. Our notion of what makes a person admirable needs to be brought up to date.

In the Dr. Seuss movie, taken from the book, the antagonist Once-ler (a financial titan who sells cans of fresh air) is, according to DeVito, “simply misguided, taken in by his commercial ability to make Thneeds [‘a Fine-Something-That-Everyone-Needs,’ which require cutting down the forests].” There lies the ugly truth about our urge to increase wealth no matter the cost. In the end, the message calls for individual responsibility (there’s a new idea!) by saying “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” This is a message we can take to heart, and the man who wrote it — not to mention the man whose voice is that of the main character — is truly heroic.