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Musk: Make Austin an Ecological Paradise

by Jessica Edwards

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

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

Our carbon emissions — mostly from burning fossil fuels — have heated up the planet by nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit; we could reach 3 degrees by 2050. As a result, we are seeing an increase in extreme weather conditions like 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 am treating many more cases of severe allergies, recurrent sinus infections, and asthma exacerbations in my family medicine practice, and patients are miserable. At the same time, we’re seeing new waterborne illnesses that haven’t appeared in the U.S. in a very long time. And extreme heat — the deadliest climate change impact — takes a growing toll on lives and health.

These health impacts also take an economic toll. More severe allergies and asthma mean more ER visits, more urgent care utilization, and higher medication costs. The average cost of one vial of allergy injections is $600 and the daily use of allergy/asthma medications can cost thousands per year. Overall, the health costs of air pollution and climate change already far exceed $800 billion per year in the U.S.

As our city grows (Austin is now the №1 relocation destination in the U.S.) our carbon emissions will only increase, with more severe climate and health impacts. But it doesn’t have to be that way. And here’s where Elon Musk can make a real difference.

Tesla’s electric cars are a great way to reduce emissions, but most people can’t afford them. The least expensive Tesla starts at around $45,000 — which is more than 60% of an average Austinites’ annual income. To remedy that, Tesla could provide incentives and deep discounts that enable its own workers and neighbors to buy electric vehicles.

Second, Tesla could take on a larger role in making sure that Austin has funding to go “green” with increased access to bike lanes, parks, electrical vehicle charging stations, and electric public transit options.

Finally, Tesla must be transparent about carbon emissions from its factory, and roll out a plan to decrease them over time.

It’s not much to ask. Tesla received millions in state and county tax credits for locating its factory here in Austin. And, unlike some state leaders, Elon Musk is on record saying that “climate change is the biggest threat that humanity faces this century …” It’s time for Tesla to address that threat, and bring us closer to “ecological paradise,” by protecting climate and human health in the community it depends on.

Dr. Jessica Edwards is a second-generation board-certified osteopathic family medicine physician. 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.

This article was published in collaboration with the Island Press Urban Resilience Project, which is supported by The Kresge Foundation and The JPB Foundation. It was originally published June 29, 2022 on The Austin Chronicle.

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Urban Resilience Project

Urban Resilience Project

A changing climate means a changing society. The Island Press Urban Resilience Project (URP) is committed to a greener, fairer future.