Besieged by 99 counts of criminal conduct, former President Cobblepot is doing his best to avoid thinking about life in house arrest for his pathological narcissistic tendencies. Banished to the Tower penthouse overlooking Central Park, he may become as Sauron in the tower of Barad-dûr, until age and obscurity combine and, as Tolkien described:
…it reared above the world, and stretched out towards them a vast threatening hand, terrible but impotent: for even as it leaned over them, a great wind took it, and it was all blown away, and passed; and then a hush fell.
Musk is being loosely portrayed by Jon Hamm’s Paul Marx character in the third season of The Morning Show on Apple TV+. “He obviously is a divisive individual and a person who acts as a catalyst for so much of the drama and the conflict inside of the season,” says showrunner Charlotte Strout, “but he’s also a living, breathing human being who subverts expectation in really interesting ways.”
My first takeaway is that Elon Musk should read Thunberg and Frankopan’s books and Winning should read Elon Musk.
It was only passing strange then, that on August 25, 2023, Musk tweeted, “Population collapse due to low birth rates is a much bigger risk to civilization than global warming. Mark these words.”
In 2020, SpaceX needed to keep Starship moving onward to Mars without the hassle of bureaucratic processes and red tape it had at NASA sites, so it built its own Starbase launch center on the Gulf Coast of Texas. There a 90,000-acre federally managed wildlife refuge was home to more than 200 migratory species. Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles nest on the beach shore each spring. Endangered ocelots roam the mud flats. Starbase filled in 20 acres of estuarine and non-tidal wetlands that had served to cool the Gulf and buffer the coast from hurricanes. As I posted here on September 3 in My New Trillion Dollar Annual Budget, “large-scale restoration of destroyed, degraded, and damaged ecosystems is the sine qua non for stabilizing climate at safe levels.” As one of the fastest and safest ways of withdrawing carbon from the atmosphere while providing myriad known and unknowable co-benefits, wetlands are part of the “blue-carbon” path to reversing climate change.
— Biogeophysicist Thomas J. Goreau
[T]he first integrated Starship launch on April 20… created a rock tornado that flung debris over 385 acres and a dust plume that coated Port Isabel 6½ miles away. And the 400-foot-tall rocket tumbled out of control before exploding over the Gulf of Mexico.
“We’ve got a lot of land with nobody around, so if it blows up, it’s cool,” Musk reportedly said at a press conference in 2018.
The United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), under the Clean Water Act Section 404, regulates dredge and fill in national wetlands, and requires compensatory mitigation (i.e., no net loss of “water resources”) for most projects. EPA, which would normally handle such permits, informed the Corps that the site changes could have “substantial and unacceptable adverse impacts on aquatic resources of national importance.” SpaceX’s contracts to launch defense satellites may have had something to do with the Corps’ special treatment in issuing waivers.
Jim Blackburn, a professor of environmental law at Rice University, said complaints about a lack of enforcement of environmental regulations are common. “A lot of people think that because we have these laws, the environment is protected, but that’s not how it works. People working on the ground for these agencies are often well-meaning, but if the political will is there to allow a project like SpaceX to go through, that’s what happens.”
— The Guardian
I find it odd that in none of Isaacson’s interviews by the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Christiana Amanpour, or Farzad Mesbahi following the release of the book did the word “climate” come up. Yet, in his WaPo interview with David Iglesias, Isaacson explained why Musk’s provocative tweets on the subject should not be surprising.
One of the things I learned about him is that he loves drama, he loves storm, and if things are calm he’s going to either call a surge in which excitement happens or he’s going to push chips back on the table and take more risks and excitement is guaranteed. And for me as a writer I like excitement as well but maybe don’t relish it quite as much as Elon does. And so I sometimes had white knuckles as I was holding onto my seat and we were riding through all of these storms.
Hmmm, sounds suspiciously like that malignant narcissist I mentioned earlier.
This apparent contradiction about climate change is all the more weird, maybe even improbable (Musk enjoys taunting his critics), because as Isaacson went through Musk’s formative years in the book’s early chapters, he described a youthful fascination with comic books and science fiction. Elon’s oldest son is named after the mentalist mastermind X-men character, Xavier.
Among the SciFi books young Elon loved was Asimov’s Robots and Empire. In that book, the villain, Levular Mandamus, plans to destroy the population of the Earth using a newly developed weapon, the “nuclear intensifier” that accelerates natural radioactive decay making the surface of the Earth radioactive. His base is at the site of Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station in Pennsylvania. The idea is that by forcing humanity into leaving the Earth, vigor will be reintroduced into humankind and the new settlers will populate space until all the governments of the interstellar colonies form the Galactic Empire.
So, on the one hand, Musk was fascinated as a child with Asimov and other SciFi writers who depicted humans precariously surviving in limited uncontaminated areas of Earth following a nuclear war thousands or even hundreds of thousands of years before the time of the plot — a common post-apocalyptic subgenre in the 1950s. On the other hand, Musk seems oblivious to the toxic dangers of nuclear energy and fancies that colonists will somehow make it across the long cosmic-radiation-bathed distance to Mars and set up camp in the intense radiation fields there that are antithetical to cellular biological systems. Asimov solved the space travel problem by (1) developing faster-than-light (hence invulnerable to radiation) parsec drives and (2) dispatching, as the earliest space explorers, robots that could withstand radiation when not in warp, only later to be replaced by engineered human wetware that had better immunity or repair abilities.
Jennifer Mercieca, author of Demagogue for President: The Rhetorical Genius of Donald Trump, says that over a lifetime, some of that under the tutelage of famous fixer Roy Cohn, the Gotham Crime Boss who later became President developed a repertoire of strategies to avoid accountability for heinous conduct.
So, in some cases, he is ingratiating himself with his followers because he knows he can use his followers as cudgels to defend him and protect him from being held accountable. In other cases, he is using strategies that allow him to demonize; to turn people into hate objects; to turn them into people he can then scapegoat or blame for the things he has done.
Asked about comparisons between Trump and Musk, Mercieca said there are many.
It is unfortunate that the world’s richest man has this platform (X). It does prevent him from becoming accountable. He has so much power. He has so much access to communicate with the public and like Trump, he wields it like a cudgel. He gathers followers. He attacks others and has the followers attack. It’s incredibly dangerous. It is incredibly authoritarian. And it’s very anti-democratic, unfortunately.
This could lead us into a reprise of the discussion begun with our reviews of Charles C. Mann’s The Wizard and the Prophet and the conflict between engineering mind and nature-solutions mind, but in a recent interview on The Great Simplification with Nate Hagens, Stanford professor Robert Sapolsky took us through a different mind portal that framed both wizards and prophets within a greater context. Sapolsky unpacks how the innate qualities of our entangled biological organisms shaped by past and present hormone levels, hunger, stress, and much more, make what we think are free will decisions but are in fact driven by unseen and unremarked external determinants, some in the moment, some gained over a lifetime or in utero, and some the product of tens of thousands of years of adaptation to our environments.
Given this invisible determinism in our behavioral psychology, it is little wonder that we find ourselves up a climate cul-de-sac without understanding or being willing to make the essential changes required for survival, or that our cravings for stimulation astonishingly produced a narcissistic criminal mastermind turned reality TV star at the head of the world’s pre-eminent nuclear superpower during a time when the world was under attack from a climate-induced zoonotic mutant virus (likely the first of many).
It would make for a great Asimov story if old Isaac were still alive or could be revived in machine form (like his protagonist psychohistorian Hari Seldon). Until then, I have pre-ordered Sapolsky’s latest book, Determined: A Science of Life without Free Will, which releases October 17.
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