Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Elon Musk's plan to use a new business model to help save the planet

Elon Musk was the founder of Paypal and he is now, among other things, the CEO of Tesla Motors.

What's interesting about the NY Times article below is that it seems to indicate that Musk has developed a new business model based on his awareness of human nature and his concern for the environment. 

For example, everybody knows that gas-burning cars pollute the environment. Few people have, however, abandoned their gas-burning cars because these cars make their lives easier. So although people know they are polluting the environment, they just don't seem to think about it nor does this make them want to switch to electrically generated cars (which would not contribute to adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere).

Therefore, Musk wants to appeal to everyone's self interest since appealing to the interests of the planet does not seem to work. It is Musk's intention to make a car that is better and cheaper than fossil-fuel (gas-burning) cars so that people will want to switch to cars which are better for the environment, and they will switch for completely selfish reasons.

Here is an interesting and thought-provoking article followed by interesting vocabulary from the article and some good discussion questions. 

The article:


to be unveiled - to be revealed

to hit a speed bump - a speed bump is a literal bump in the road that drivers have to slow down for; these speed bumps are often placed near schools so that drivers will not speed through areas where there are children. Figuratively, a speed bump is anything that slows your progress down. The speed bump in this article is the fact that a man died while driving a Tesla run by auto-pilot and this is causing problems for Tesla.

premature - too early

fatality - a death

to hail something as - to praise something as 

to be bent on - to be committed to; if you are bent on something, you have determined you are going to do something and it might not be possible to stop you

muttering - when you are upset and can't stop saying something quietly to yourself, but you don't want others to hear what you are saying

schadenfreude - this is a German word...it means to feel happy when someone you don't like is suffering 

a sheer need - a pure or obvious need

to crank out - to produce

ramping up production - increasing production

his wit is dry and understated - his sense of humor is very subtle

the turd in the punch bowl - a turd is a piece of crap or shit; a punch bowl is a bowl filled with a type of fruit drink that you often find at parties (people scoop the punch out of the bowl with a scooper and fill their cups with it). So to have a turd in your punch bowl is to have something disgusting in something you would like to use. He is saying that we are ignoring these greenhouse gases but we would not ignore a turd in a punch bowl.

to epitomize - to be the best example of (so here the Paris accords (meetings) were the perfect example of how slowly the governments around the world work to solve problems)

to be agile - to be flexible

resentment - when you dislike someone or something because you think they have hurt you

a disruptive entrepreneur - usually the word disruptive has a negative meaning but here it means Musk has disrupted the way entrepreneurs usually do business and he is forcing them to change

a nagging question - a question that won't go away; one person nags another person if he keeps bothering him: i.e. Did you take out the garbage? When will you take out the garbage? Didn't you say you were going to do this? Can you do this soon? etc.

volatile - unstable

audacity - being bold, showing courage when nobody expects you to

to muse about something - to think deeply about something

the advent of something - the beginning of something

flaws - problems or errors in some type of system 

detractors - people who disagree with Musk

full throttle forward - to go forward as fast as possible


What do you think motivates Elon Musk?

How does he want to contribute to saving the planet?

Should he be held accountable for the man who died in the auto-pilot car?

Is Tesla using its drivers as guinea pigs? (A guinea pig is a small furry animal that some scientists use for experiments. So let's say there is a new restaurant in your neighborhood but you don't know whether it is good. And let's say your roommate says he is hungry and looking for a restaurant. You might tell him to go to the new restaurant because you want to use him as a guinea pig - you want to test the restaurant on him first before you try it.)

Was the death a big deal to you?

Why do energy companies view Tesla 'warily'?

How might Musk be the Henry Ford of this era?

What will finally motivate people to buy electric cars?

Who would be more successful in regard to protecting the environment - business or government?

How is the government helping business to create 'greener' technology?

What impact will Tesla cars have in the immediate future?

How is Musk influencing other businesses?

Should more scientists try to be entrepreneurs?

What is Musk's background?

Do we really need autopilot cars?

Can autopilot ever really work?

Did Brown cause his own death?

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