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June 19, 2020

Elon Musk should get a Nobel Peace Prize  —  Here's Why

Elon Musk is using his ventures to save the world and is arguably doing more for the future of our species than anyone else alive.

Elon Musk is the world’s most famous entrepreneur. His eccentricity, achievements, and audacious goals have led to people to compare him to Marvel’s Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man. This is rather appropriate given Musk is literally trying to save the world.

At least, that’s what it looks like.

Musk is using business — one of the most powerful social technologies we’ve developed (perhaps after the nation-state) —  as a vehicle to drive the change humanity and the planet needs so desperately. He’s working across various industries, ranging from aerospace, to energy, to automobiles, to create solutions to global problems our entire species is confronted with.

He’s perhaps the best example of why billionaires should be allowed to exist.

In what follows, I’m going to briefly describe some of the problems he’s tackling and how’s he doing it, and why this justifies awarding him a Nobel Peace Prize.

Problem: Inequality and Securing Human Rights

The ability to access the internet is now necessary for securing a number human rights, one of them being the sacrosanct foundation of democracy, freedom of speech.

And half the world can’t access it.

Internet connectivity can do more for increasing equality of opportunity in the world than arguably any other intervention. It’s also instrumental for reducing wealth inequality. This is because the internet grants  people with an inconceivable amount of resources and services that they can use as they wish (for next to nothing), as well as provides access to global markets and critical services like banking, communication, and education. The internet is the ultimate liberator.

Elon’s Solution — Starlink

Most people wouldn’t think that Musk is doing much to reduce global and delivering human rights to people. But he is. Through his company SpaceX, Musk is working to deliver internet access to the entire world using a network of tens of thousands of satellites.

Concept of a Starlink satellite with its solar array wing unfurled Source: SpaceX

The project, dubbed Starlink, is expected to have nearly global coverage by 2021. That could mean another 3.5 billion people brought online in not much time at all.

That means billions more people with access to the library of humanity, the totality of human ingenuity and creativity, now able to co-create it with us.

Problem: Climate change

Climate change could be the greatest global challenge of our time. It is devastating the biosphere, causing trillions of infrastructure damage, and will force potentially hundreds of millions of people to flee their homes in the coming decades.

The reason for the geologically-abrupt changes in the climate is the rate at which human beings are releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

These gases are byproducts of our energy consumption. While an adult human body needs roughly 2000 calories a day to survive, we require 30x that to live our technologically enhanced lives. This energy has to come from somewhere, and to date, we’ve largely relied on energy-dense, dirty dead-matter like coal and oil found under the ground to fuel our lives. Unfortunately, at the quantities we’re consuming these fuels, we’re going far beyond the ecological limit.

Musk’s Solutions — Solar Panels, Batteries, and Electric Cars

Solar Panels, Batteries, and Electric Cars. Source: tesla.com/energy

Transitioning to more sustainable energy sources is necessary for us to combat climate change. Doing so is a problem of such complexity that it requires a multi-pronged approach. So that’s what Musk and Musk and his team of geniuses are doing. Developing means for people to generate their own energy using solar panels, store that energy in batteries, and then use it to power their homes and electric cars.

Not only that, but given we need to transition ASAP, Musk has made all of Tesla’s patents open-source so that other companies can take advantage of their hard work and accelerate the rate of change.

Problem: Humanity’s Eggs are in One Basket

Earth has experienced mass-extinctions on more than one occasion. Since human beings have come into the mix, the ways in which the story of life on Earth can be cut short has increased quite substantially. Nuclear war, rogue AIs, asteroids, pandemics (engineered or otherwise) are examples of some of the things that pose a risk to the survival of our species. How likely are extinction events like these, though?

Higher than you might like to know. Dr. Toby Ord, an Australian philosopher at Oxford University, has put the chance of extinction this century at 1-in-6.

This century could be a game of Russian Roulette that we all lose.

The fact of the matter is that we have all of our eggs in Gaia’s basket and it’s not a good long term strategy for the survival of complex life on our planet.

So, we need another basket. There are a few problems though. Possible homes in our solar neighbourhood (Mars, for instance) aren’t hospitable to life. But before we even worry about that, we first need to be able to actually affordably get there.

One day the Red Planet may hopefully be a lot greener. Photo by Luca Rüegg on Unsplash

Musk’s Solution — Affordable Space Travel

That’s where Musk’s company SpaceX comes in. The team at SpaceX have developed re-usable rockets which have dramatically reduced the cost of accessing space. They’re also currently building the Starship, “a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars and beyond.” The current plan is for the first cargo mission to the Red Planet in to happen in 2022.

An image like this could be real within the next few decades. Image source: SpaceX

It’s now reasonable to assume that we could have life originating on Earth living somewhere else in our solar system within a decade or two, and it’s in no small measure because of Elon Musk’s audacity to try and create the world he wants to live in.

Nobel Peace Prize

The Nobel Peace prize has historically been given to those who: shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” These were the terms outlined by Alfred Nobel, the Swedish industrialist, inventor, and armaments manufacturer who established the prize.

However, in recent years, the requirements have shifted.

Since World War II, the Peace Prize has principally been awarded to honour efforts in four main areas: arms control and disarmament, peace negotiation, democracy and human rights, and work aimed at creating a better organized and more peaceful world. In the 21st century the Nobel Committee has embraced efforts to limit the harm done by man-made climate change and threats to the environment as relevant to the Peace Prize.

Based on these criteria, it’s hard not to see how Musk is deserving of such an award. There’s no shortage of people talking about how a better world is possible. There’s very, very few people actually building it.

Whether it be through the delivery of internet access to the world, technological developments to reduce our impact on the planet, or seeding other parts of our solar system with life to increase our long-term prospects — Elon Musk may have done more for life on Earth than anyone else who has ever lived.

**Note: I know I’ve spent a of time talking about Elon Musk. I’d just like to pay tribute to the thousands of people working at the companies I’ve listed (and others working on similar endeavours). While Musk gets a lot of the credit, it’s these people like him and those that follow and put the hard work in that make it all possible. Thank you.

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