Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
The transition to electric vehicles will be inevitable, not irreproachable

The transition to electric vehicles will be inevitable, not irreproachable

The EV future is still happening, despite a few bumps in the road

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The automotive industry is in a state of turmoil right now, as a number of manufacturers, particularly Ford, have scaled back the production of both vehicles and battery technology. But nonetheless, all of the companies have said that they will be continuing to move toward an all electric strategy, which makes sense.

But the last part of that response is something you certainly don't hear about in the right wing media coverage of these developments. And then there is, of course, another interesting and bizarre development in the electric vehicle industry, and that is the political radicalization of Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, who has gone from being a proponent of clean energy technology, and somebody who was widely respected in the industry to somebody who is a full scale radical right wing lunatic.

What does that mean for the future of Tesla? What does it mean for the electric vehicle industry? And have governments themselves also made mistakes in terms of what policies they have implemented in order to facilitate the transition to clean energy vehicles, something that must be done in order to protect Earth's environment from climate change?

There's a lot to unpack with all of these developments. And so I wanted to bring in a friend of mine named David Roberts, who writes a newsletter called Volts, which focuses on electric vehicles and other and other environmentally friendly products and services and regulations that we're going to need to have to really create a holistic solution to our climate change problems. David is a former writer over at Vox, but now he is exclusively writing over at Volts.

Theory of Change is part of the Flux Media network, please support our work and get more content like this by subscribing.

The video of this episode is available. The conversation was recorded February 8, 2024. The transcript of the audio follows. Because of its length, some podcast apps and email programs may truncate it. Access the episode page to get the full text.

Cover photo: A photo of the 2024 Chevrolet Equinox EV.

Related Content

Audio Chapters

0:00 — Introduction

02:52 — The automotive green energy transition is only just beginning

11:46 — The myth of a "free market" in vehicles

18:21 — How the initial success of Tesla made automotive manufacturers misunderstand their own business

25:32 — The role of hybrids in the EV market

29:42 — Why open standards are a necessity for new technologies to mature and spread

38:35 — The political radicalization of Elon Musk: The elephant in the room

41:58 — Climate scientist Michael E. Mann's legal battle against climate change deniers

52:56 — The future belongs to those who will make it


The following is a machine-generated transcript of the audio that has not been corrected. It is provided for convenience purposes only.

MATTHEW SHEFFIELD: And now joining me today is David Roberts. Welcome to Theory of Change. David.

DAVID ROBERTS: Hey man, how's it going?

SHEFFIELD: Good. Well, so the car industry, it is really in turmoil right now. They have made mistakes with regard to electric [00:03:00] vehicles and there's a lot to talk about in all this. I guess let's maybe start with the right wing basically is giddy, I think, with all this news of manufacturers scaling back their production whether it's Ford, or especially Ford. What went wrong first?

ROBERTS: Sure. I would just like to start with a broad point. So, and this will be the theme today, which is EVs are inevitable. They're taking over in any large scale transition like this, especially as it's just getting going, there are all sorts of short term bumps and side paths and mistakes and fluctuations.

And that's what we're going through right now. And they're interesting to talk about. But this is all like five years from now, 10 years from now, we'll look back [00:04:00] at the conservative giddiness about all this and just roll our eyes. Like, it's like saying, Oh, you know, DVDs are a fad or, Oh, cell phones are a fad because like one cell phone manufacturer, lost money one year.

It's all silly. These things are all going to iron themselves out in short order and EVs are going to take over. That's the big picture point I would make. Yeah the smaller picture point is and it's, how much of this is automakers screwing up and how much of it is just like the situation they were stuck in, it is debatable because right now we're in a situation where, because of this loophole in our fuel efficiency laws, which I'm sure most people are familiar with at this point, which basically gives light trucks, i.e., SUVs, a different economy standard fuel economy standard.

So, automakers started making more and more SUVs because they [00:05:00] could sell them for more and make more money. They make more money on big cars than they do on little ones and they didn't have to make their big cars efficient like they had to make their little cars efficient. And so they just been making more and more big SUVs.

And then of course, like. If the market is flooded with big SUVs, all the advertising is about big SUVs and all the deals and discounts are on big SUVs. People are going to start buying big SUVs. And then like the people who don't buy big SUVs are going to start getting nervous because they're surrounded by big SUVs.

So they're going to buy big SUVs. And then you're going to have a bunch of people come along and say, Oh, look. Americans love big SUVs. It's just in their character. It's just in their, it's just in our national character that we love this. This is a goofy bit of economic analysis that we do in lots of areas.

Like, it's like sprawl and single family homes and sprawling suburbs. It's the only thing we're building. It's the only thing available. [00:06:00] And so that's what people buy. And then we conclude from the fact that people buy them. Oh, this is what people want. It's just in our national character that this is what we want.

No, it's just all that's out there anyway. So, so right now, like Ford and GM, the big us automakers are making money hand over fist on giant SUVs.

SHEFFIELD: And that's and medium sized ones as well.

ROBERTS: They're in there and they've been writing that high on the hog, for several years now. So they are understandably loathe to give that up.

And so what they've been trying to do is, just make giant EV SUVs, make giant high end expensive SUVs. And I think you get the exact number, something like right around 35,000 is the sort of midway point that cuts about 50 percent of the market is below that about 50 percent of the auto market [00:07:00] is above that, and everything that's been made almost without exception, except for like the Leaf and the Bolt basically are above that threshold.

So half the market's been locked out. So that's a mistake. And then also we're just in sort of an awkward period. Like Ford only has two EV models to speak of the Mach E, which isn't really taking off. And then the Ford F150, which was supposed to be a big deal, but has run into supply chain issues and cost issues and ended up costing a lot more than they thought it would. And so it's not selling as fast as they thought it would.

And they're just in the midst of working on a bunch of new models. So they're in a sort of awkward pivot point right now. GM is in an awkward pivot point because right now their most popular EV is the Bolt. People love the Bolt. I have a Bolt. I love it. And that's just the little hatchback. It's like the only little hatchback EV available. So people are [00:08:00] buying and buying it.

They tried to, they're trying right now to shift to a new battery platform called Ultium that's going to be a much better battery with much better range. And all their new EVs are going to be built on that platform.

The Bolt is built on the old platform. They tried to shut Bolt production down so they could pivot and focus on this new battery. And then everybody got super pissed and like, there was like a revolt, popular revolt. The only thing that was affordable. Yeah. Yeah. So, so they've been forced to keep making the Bolt, but anyway, like there awkwardly in the midst of pivoting and just putting together new models. Do you know what I mean? It's just like a weird time in the market.

Whereas like, I think people should pull the lens back, look at like in China, their EV manufacturers are offering like 30 to 50 different models and there are chargers every couple of blocks, and it's just like, it's just [00:09:00] the idea that and they're standardized also. And they're standardized. And there are lots and lots of low cost models. Like there are models at every sort of point, price point along the, at every price point.

So we're just in, we're on our training wheels now and our big automakers are scrambling to catch up. And this is like Toyota's big mistake, Toyota for some reason clung to the dream of hydrogen cars for way longer than is sane or rational. I mean people have been pounding the table, trying to tell them hydrogen cars are going nowhere for literally decades.

But they clung and clung and now they've kind of let that go. And now they're frantically trying to pivot to ease and their latest line is, well, it's going to be plug in EVs are going to be the big thing. And they're still sort of resisting full battery [00:10:00] electric.

I think that will last another year or two. They will see which they will see how things are going and they'll scramble and catch up. So sort of like all the big—so my point is all the big U.S. automakers are for a lot of sort of idiosyncratic reasons in a strange moment of pivoting right now, and that's why you see all these fluctuations.

That's why you see certain models getting dialed back other models in development. And so, and Tesla, to Tesla dominating dominates this market and has been, but they only have 5 models and they really only have 2 mass market models.

SHEFFIELD: And they're, and the platforms for them are pretty old.

ROBERTS: And they're like four or five years old. Yeah. So they are also frantically working on a low end mass market, 35, 000 or under car,

SHEFFIELD: [00:11:00] Which was originally what the S was supposed to be. because if you remember—

ROBERTS: If they're really going to do it. They're really going to do it this time. It's really important for them that they do it this time because if they don't, because right now, all these big Chinese automakers are staying out of the U. S. market because they don't qualify for these big tax breaks that we've implemented. And there are giant tariffs on them. Like, we're doing everything we can to keep them out. But if, like 2026 comes and Tesla has not come out with a mass market model yet and no other automaker has yet either.

I wouldn't be surprised if BYD or some other big Chinese automaker doesn't start selling low end SUV or low end EVs in the US market.

The myth of a "free market" in vehicles

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, and just to step back to a point you made kind of at the beginning there one of the things that you often hear Opponents or like fossil fuel proponents say in regards to [00:12:00] fuel, in regards to cars is that they claim that they want a free market and but the reality is the United States with its electric vehicle policy is not a free market.

Because again, like these, you get special benefits if you make an SUV, you're exempt from the higher, more stringent cave standards. And so it's not a free market. It is actually a market that deliberately, well, maybe not deliberately, but at this point it's deliberate because nobody's changed it.

But at this point, the market subsidizes and encourages SUVs. So it's not a free market, but they don't, they never admit that. There is no, there is no market of national significance that is free. I mean, there's no such, there is no such thing. The entire auto market. I mean, even beyond all the regulations and subsidies and gifts that these, like these automakers, if they want to cite a battery [00:13:00] factory in your town, these towns and states are giving them breaks on taxes billions of dollars in subsidies to cite things different places.

Like, it's just like. Regulations and subsidies from top to bottom, and that is inevitable. There's no way around it. So we have the market that we created, right? We have the market that we designed and we designed a market for large.

And that's what they're making their money on. And now, and even beyond the internal sort of subsidies and regulations in the market itself, there's infrastructure. Like we built infrastructure around and for certain kinds of vehicles, and now we need a new infrastructure and the free market is not going to create infrastructure.

That's not what it does. I

never did. In the first place, like the American and the freeway system. Yeah.

ROBERTS: Gas station, freeway system, gas stations are hugely subsidized. Like it's all, I mean, [00:14:00] it's all designed and we designed it and and what happens is you design a market, you end up with certain incumbents, with power in that market.

Mm-Hmm. . And then they fight changes. And that's what's been going on. That's why we're late to the EV game in the first place. That's why we're sort of slowly stumblingly pivoting in that direction is because they are writing this cash cow of large SUVs and they do not want to let it go. So that's the tension where we're seeing, but yeah, there's no, no free market anywhere in this vicinity

SHEFFIELD: And in any country for that matter.

ROBERTS: Any country, in any large market.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah no, that's right. And so it's and it's an it's a point that I do think gets lost. A lot in the, Economist type articles the Economist magazine that, they, there's just this, it's just this fiction and elaborate fiction.

[00:15:00] And everybody just assumes that the current conditions were natural and they weren't, we, we made these things on purpose,

ROBERTS: this is not unique to the car. This is not unique to the car, right? Like what happens is powerful people set up systems to their benefit, and then it's also to their benefit to pretend that the system they set up descended from heaven or grew out of the earth, just natural and organic, the way things work, like any powerful incumbent is going to say that, like, I use the.

The coal industry as a, as an illustrative example of this. So like coal has been subsidized up and down the wazoo from the time it was discovered in this country. Mines were subsidized, production subsidized, consumption was subsidized. And coal was on top for a long time. And then when other cheaper alternatives to coal emerged,

SHEFFIELD: even the healthcare of the employees also let's

ROBERTS: fight off any attempt to regulate or [00:16:00] change the energy industry by saying, we believe in the free market, the free market should decide we shouldn't pick winners and losers, right?

Like once you've been picked as the winner. You have every say, ah, no more picking winners and losers. Let's just leave it here. And then the minute cheaper alternatives came along and started out competing coal, all of a sudden the free market rhetoric vanished and it became about heritage and the hard workers that we have to protect and they need subsidies.

And they just came with their 10 cup banging for more subsidies. No one truly supports free markets. The idea of free markets is a disguise that incumbents use to to obscure their privileges. It's just what I would say. And that's what's going on in energy. It's what's going on in EVs, but the F and the flip, I think people need to make, I think the sort of popular impression of this is [00:17:00] you have a market free market just shaped by consumer demand and then along come. The lefties and the climate people that and the do gooders that want to come interfere in this market and pick winners and losers and distort. That's the word, right? Distort the market with their preferences, but that's not what's going on right now.

You've got, and this is true in energy and it's true in evs right now. You've got products that are better. And cheaper on a life on a lifetime basis, then once they're competing against, and the reason they're not, the reason they're having trouble is because the incumbents are so heavily subsidized and protected, it's not do gooders coming along, trying to insert.

Inferior products in a great market. It's inferior products being protected by incumbency, by power, by regulations, by subsidies against better [00:18:00] products coming along. And that's true in electricity to, it's true. And it's true in home heating, like in a bunch of these areas. Where there's the clean energy fights going on.

It's better products coming along, trying to break into markets that are very well protected where incumbents are very well protected and that's very true in the car market too.

How the initial success of Tesla made automotive manufacturers misunderstand their own business

SHEFFIELD: Well, now at the same time, I mean, there are, it is interesting also to just to step a little bit further back in the history of, of electric vehicles that when they were first being explored as an, as a consumer product the initial electric vehicles were very small and were, they were trying to be as affordable as possible.

And as a result, they did develop a bad reputation among people for being slow and small and Yeah. I mean, and they were doing what they had to do because that was the technology that was available. But nonetheless, like, so when Tesla came along and of course as everybody I [00:19:00] think who is watching or listening knows it was not Elon Musk's idea.

Thank you very much. . We have to say that you did not the car. No. That what they did though was that it did, that idea did bring a different orientation to. The electric vehicle market, which was to say that, which was to acknowledge the fact that when you have a engine that can generate instant torque that can use much develop much higher horsepower for the weight distribution, et cetera, more equal distribution, that those are things that are useful and great in a sports car.

And a performance vehicle. And so like, kind of reoriented things. But and they kind of reoriented it too far. I feel like, which to your point, like they, they completely got out, almost everybody got out of the low end electrical, the affordable electric vehicle market and was like, no, we're going to make a supercar with a thousand horsepower.

And they all decided that [00:20:00] why do they have problems getting into the truly big market of sales?

ROBERTS: I mean, I give all praise to Tesla for what they did, which is precisely what you say. And this is not, I mean, this is just because battery technology got better and better, right? I mean, the early EVs, I mean, the early EVs were like in the 19 hundreds, like 1910, like there was a big, there's some fascinating history. There's sort of a, one of these sliding doors moments at the very beginning of the 20th century where electric cars were competing against gas cars. And it's funny, you go back and read. You go back and read about that debate, and it's almost the same debate, like the advantages of electric cars were the same then that they are now.

They're cleaner, they're less loud, they're more reliable, but it was just range. Batteries weren't. Good enough. And ultimately that plus a lot of, again, subsidies, et cetera. And so gas cars one. And so when EVs came back, like the nineties or whatever, [00:21:00] it was again, with very sort of underpowered batteries.

And so you made these small cars that didn't go very far and didn't go very fast. So what Tesla did really is just take the improvements in battery technology, which have been. Lately rapid and mind blowing and just show us consumers like, no, you can do this with, you can do this with batteries.

Now you can go really, really fast. You can go really, really far with batteries. But as you say, I think a lot of people took the long, wrong lesson, which is like, oh, like there's this huge market in high end luxury. EVs, let's all heard into that. because that's where we can make our money. because it's hard to make that.

You make more money on a big SUV. You don't make as much money with small electric cars.

SHEFFIELD: Or a smaller ICE car for that matter.

ROBERTS: They're better for everyone except for car companies. So. So you need pressure to make them, but yeah, like we're [00:22:00] rapidly, I mean, again, I emphasize over and over again, we're in a weird, awkward, early, we're like preteens in this market.

So there's a lot of sort of awkward stuff that's going on. That's going to work itself out like in short order. EVs will be able to go farther than gas cars. That's not far away. That's less than five years away. And then range is gone, right? And then charging is very difficult and we're doing it poorly here in the U S relative to Norway or or China or other markets.

But that's like, the market logic of all these EVs, profusing all over the place is going to drive charging. And in five years, like that's mostly going to have settled itself. You know what I mean? Like this stuff is short term. The range worries are short term. The charging worries are short term.

The, Oh my God, it doesn't work in the cold. Like all that stuff, all this stuff is going to [00:23:00] look silly. Within five years, we're going to figure the batteries are getting better and better. They're Toyota's about to says they're coming out with a solid state battery that goes much farther, has much better range than existing batteries.

So all like the range issues are going to disappear. The charging worries are going to disappear. And all of these sort of like the idea that these are deal breakers or some sort of substantial barrier in the way of this market, it's just silly. The market has overcome these barriers. In other parts of the world and can easily do so here.

It's just a matter of time. So, a lot of these, a lot of this is just noise short term noise. I, I just want to emphasize that over and over again. Yeah,

SHEFFIELD: Well, and, and the, kind of rejection of these. High end electrical vehicles that actually is a free market response because outside of this country where the manufacturers make and present [00:24:00] smaller electric vehicles to consumers, they buy them.

ROBERTS: And so imagine that far as I can't afford it is like a free market decision. Yeah, I don't have enough money. That's a free market decision. Yeah. Like I, I mean, we could barely afford our Bolt, but in China, like, again, like I just encourage people to read a few articles or go watch a few videos about the kinds and range of EVs available in China.

It's not just that there's all different sizes of cars and all different sort of focuses of cars is that the technology they're putting in the cars, like the cool thing about an EV is it's like an iPhone on, on, on wheels. Right. And so it gets Updated with new features the same way your iPhone does.

Like this is something Tesla is doing already. Like the big updates in Teslas are mostly over the air over wifi. It's mostly the sort of internal technology of the screen. And so the stuff they're doing in Chinese cars with [00:25:00] stereo systems and voice recognition and all the different screens and technologies, they're just like way ahead of us.

Like really cool stuff is coming that people have not seen. In cars before, like, right now, we're just sort of like. I think to the average American, an EV is just a normal car, right? It's just a car you drive and it looks and basically operates like any other car, but the technological possibilities inside an EV are unlimited.

And we're just scratching the surface of that stuff.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Yeah.

The role of hybrids in the EV market

SHEFFIELD: Um, that's true. And, but I do want to talk about hybrids though, in this context because the other thing, so I don't agree with Toyota's hydrogen fascination, but at the same time,

ROBERTS: I think they finally let go.

SHEFFIELD: I think they seem to be.

Yeah. Well, but in terms of hybrids, I think that they do have a point, especially in particular markets that are rural in country is already in countries that have very [00:26:00] little electrification period. Like there's a, there, I think they're right about that for some markets to, to say that, EVs cannot always be the answer, but of course they need to be in the longterm, but right now, this is, they shouldn't be criticized, I think for saying, look, hybrids are okay for some circumstances here.

ROBERTS: Well, let's distinguish here. There are hybrids like the original Prius. And then there are plug in hybrids. Plug in hybrids, I think are going to be big and are big in other countries. Like, we've seen in the last couple of years, sales numbers on what they call PHEVs, plug in hybrid electric vehicles.

Those numbers are starting to go up. And it is. I think ultimately a temporary solution, right? It's a gap filler. And this is a car that will go all electric for a certain number of miles, excuse me, and then flip over to gas. And that's it. And given that like 95 [00:27:00] percent of car trips are three miles or less, despite what people.

Despite what people seem to think, the vast majority of car trips are short and can be done all electric. And then you have the gas engine in there for your longer or like if you're rural or whatever. So it is a good gap filler and it is, I think, going to be big. Just the question is. How long right? So, if you're an automaker, how long is this gap going to exist?

How long will it be before EVs and EV infrastructures are so ubiquitous that you just don't need this gap filler anymore? Is that going to be. Three years, five years, 10 years, like, swinging your production line around and designing several new models of car is no small. Yeah, it's no small. So, so it's just a big, it's all like, this is true in so many areas of clean energy.

It's not a matter of [00:28:00] what's going to happen. It's just a matter of speed. It's just a matter of. How long do you think it's going to take and that can make a very big difference in your short term investment strategies in your short term success as a business like those. These are not small things like it's societally long term.

It's clear where we're going. But in these short term fluctuations. Yeah, like, so I think there is a big market for plug in hybrid electric vehicles. Like, like, we're considering 1, we have a we have a 2nd vehicle that's on its last legs and we have an and yeah, we'd like a car that is capable of going on long road trips in the charging infrastructure, especially, once you get in the interior of the country, some areas.

It's not holding up yet. So, we've thought about it but, I would just emphasize, this is not a resting place. Like P haves are not where we're going to end up. It's just a matter of bridging here to there. And so there will definitely be some successful, he have models and they're [00:29:00] already taking off.

And again, again, we have like in the U S like two or three, like. Our choice of P has our choice of plug in hybrids is so sad compared to what they already have in China. Like in China, there are make they're making plug in hybrid electrics that will go almost 100 miles. On pure electric before they switch over, which is like 99 percent of your of everybody's, literally just has the gas engine in there as like, as a backup.

So there, there's already way better plug in hybrids available in other places. And those will get here eventually. Yeah.

Open standards are a necessity for new technologies to mature and spread

SHEFFIELD: And one of the other infrastructure things and we talked about a little bit is the, the idea of the charging station. And this is yet another example of American political leaders failing to understand, take understand how things work in the rest of the world.

And, like in the [00:30:00] United States, right? And this is, so I will bring in the comparison of cell phones here that, for the longest time, Apple had their lightning standard for phone plugs and tablets and lightning sucks. It's a terrible Android. It delivers lower voltage.

It's slower from a data perspective. The plugs are less durable. It sucks, but they were continued to allow to make it, and they were only making it just as a way to force. Apple customers to buy Apple products and make it more costly to you to leave their ecosystem

ROBERTS: and charging like 35 bucks for replacement.

SHEFFIELD: Yes. Yes. For worse, a worse product. And so, the European commission, they finally got tired of that. And they said, look, everybody, if you want to sell a cell phone or a tablet in our, in our governing area, You're going to have to use USB C as your connector and, Apple and their, apologists and [00:31:00] fanboys and girls, they said this was horrible in the end of the world.

Apple couldn't possibly do this. Couldn't possibly use USB C. This was wrong. It was, communism. And then, when the law came out and flipped over, Apple said, okay, yeah, we're going to, we're going to do it already.

ROBERTS: They're on already. They're on to complaining something else is communism now, and nobody's thinking twice about lightning cables.

And that's the cycle of life. Yeah. I mean, this is the thing is like big economies. Making big transitions plan. They need to plan. They need to do things on purpose. They need to figure out where are we going and what's the most rational way to get where we're going. We just don't do that here. We pretend.

Like we have a free market. We pretend like we don't plan. So our planning ends up being ad hoc, reactive, shoveled through the tax code. So it's opaque and nobody knows [00:32:00] how it freaking works. We just do planning poorly. And so we stumble and back our way. Into these things like, yes, the entire transition to evs could be a lot smoother if there were some sort of national plan.

And if there was some sort of like, planning about where what parts of the country are best. Where should we start with EV infrastructure? What highways should we start with? We just need to do some planning, but we don't do that. So we're just sort of, blindfolded hacking our way into the future.

We'll get there eventually, but it would all be more sensible if we had. Some sort of national plan for how to switch over from gas stations to EV chargers. I mean, another the backside of this problem, the front side is how do you get enough EV chargers enough places that even people who can't plug in at home.

Right? This is the big. The big dilemma, who can't plug in at home, have enough charging around them [00:33:00] available at work or wherever that they can manage without it. That's the front end. The back end is as you're switching over to to plug in hybrids and then eventually to, to EVs the amount of gas cars in the road is going to eventually start shrinking.

And it's in all the high end consumers, all the wealthy people are going to have nice new EVs and it's going to be. Poor people left with the gas cars. And then as there are fewer and fewer gas cars, gas stations are going to start disappearing. And so what do you do to avoid the situation of the country's poorest people being stuck with cars that they can't find fuel for?

How do you dial down gas station infrastructure in a rational way? In a just way that isn't just a mess of inequality and, sort of like, who gets caught holding the bag? Nobody's even really talking [00:34:00] about that yet. But again, it would be nice to have some sort of plan or guidelines or at least rules or at least some, like, if we could just discuss openly nationally, this is going to happen.

Here's how we'd like to see it done. Here's the way we could do it where the fewest people would suffer. We just don't do that. So, so gas station is going to be an interesting phenomenon in like 5 to 10 years.

SHEFFIELD: So just with regard to the electric charging standards it is

still the case that there is no government mandate for charging standards and there needs to be. And I mean, fortunately though, at least Tesla did finally open up their standard as a as a thing that manufacturers

ROBERTS: kind of forcing the issue. It's everybody, like this with the other automakers are like, fine, we have no choice.

Like these are the, they brought their such total market dominance. That they effectively were able to [00:35:00] force their charging standard on everyone else, which is fine. We need, you're right. We need a good one and it doesn't matter that much which one it is.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, well, and, and these are things that, that again are inevitable.

And part of that planning that you're talking about, because when any new technology is in the process of becoming pervasive. Standardization is a requirement for full penetration, full establishment, and that was true with railroads, that was true with, railroad gauges, that's true with electrical plugs for just for normal use, and just a variety of things.

ROBERTS: Yeah, exactly, standardized IP addresses, like, that's what enabled the Internet to work.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, so, and, and the reality is sometimes, these private organizations can get that job done. But sometimes the government has to put their hand on the scale because at the end of the day, proprietary systems are advantageous to the proprietors. That's what it comes down to. [00:36:00] And so, but they're not, a monopoly is not a free market either. And so if you want competition, you have to have open standards. And you have and, so at least we're finally, everybody's. Seems to have adopted at least in, in North America the Tesla SAE J 3,

400 plugs.

So that's good.

ROBERTS: Yeah. Yeah. That's good. I used my first level three charger the other day. First time, first time ever. I got a level two installed, when we got our car, but I've never actually stopped, I've charged at home. So I've never actually stopped on the highway. So I had to stop on the highway for the first time ever the other day and plug into a level three and it's.

Easy peasy smooth took me 10 minutes. I peed. I peed, got a cup of coffee and I had, whatever, 100 miles enough to get home. It's already, it's already. On the verge of easy enough, especially in some places, but yeah, we're, I mean, we'll standardize over time and and charging will come along and charging will get more powerful and faster and we'll get batteries that are able to charge faster.

Like they're [00:37:00] already talking about these, like one and two megawatt chargers that can like zap you up in 10 full, a full charge in 10 minutes. Like that's, those things are huge draws on the grid. So.

SHEFFIELD: And that's what it yeah, what you repurpose the gas stations for with those like any new gas station constructed will have to have to charging ports.

That's yeah, I

ROBERTS: think that will be standard. That will be standard. But what I wonder is like, as gas stations go away. Maybe this is just like a gen X thing, but like convenience stores in gas stations are this weird thing in America that are, they're so ubiquitous and so much a part of my life.

Like so many of my memories. Rotate around them, even though they are manifestly kind of ugly and unpleasant. They never, never nice ones, they're all very like utilitarian, [00:38:00] but they're so familiar and so, like so many movie scenes, just like so much of our culture. Revolves around gas stations and convenience stores.

I wonder what's going to, like, are they just going to vanish? And you know what I mean? This will be something where our

SHEFFIELD: kids, high power chargers. That's what you do with them, man. That's a, that's what I think you turn them into.

ROBERTS: Yeah. Well, I don't know if the placement like geographically is going to be right.

And we're certainly not, I don't think we're going to need as many as we have gas stations. I don't know. I just find that whole, I'm so curious to see how that plays out. Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: Well, yeah, I mean, we'll have to see.

The political radicalization of Elon Musk: The elephant in the room

SHEFFIELD: So, I guess one of the other things though, that, we got to talk about who the person who is the elephant in the room in electric vehicles.

And that is Elon Musk. He really has gone from somebody who was widely respected in the industry and among environmental advocates to somebody who, actively He is consorting and funding and boosting, some of the people who [00:39:00] opposed his entire business. That's really what this guy's doing.

And I, I honestly, I have to wonder how much, how can he even stay like, can't, will he be forced out? Do you think what's interesting

ROBERTS: is made to shut up? We've all been watching his. Which I think is a very familiar arc, right? It's, there's nothing particularly unique about the arc he's been on.

Like people getting red pilled right in front of us is a familiar, it's pretty familiar dynamic at this point. But the question is like the end of the road. Of that, the end of that red pill road is climate change is a hoax and fossil fuels rule. Right. And so he's getting swept along so quickly.

And he started saying, not quite that, but like things in the vicinity of that. So I'm wondering if he's going to get so red pilled, he's going to end up in opposition to his own [00:40:00] business. And I would like. I would not be surprised at all. It would not. I mean, he came out the other day and said, all we need to do on climate change is a carbon tax, right?

So, and this is a very familiar sort of conservative line, like all your regulations and subsidies and standards are just market distortions and all you need is a carbon tax, but if that were true. If all we had ever done is a carbon tax, Tesla would not exist. Tesla is a creature of subsidies. It is a pure creature of us government subsidies that would not exist without the loan programs.

Office. It would not exist without a deliberate effort on the part of US policymakers to accelerate the EV space. So it's wild to sort of just on a sociological level, psychological level to see how far he'll get red pilled and whether he'll end up opposing himself, whether he'll end up trying to tear down his own business [00:41:00] because he's gotten so far up Joe Rogan's ass.

I mean, and I'm, I don't know the question of like, is him being an extremely public. A hole going to hurt Tesla's sales is interesting. I go back and forth. I don't know that it really has yet. Like there are bigger forces that, that Tesla is going to, like I said, like they need to make this mass market car.

They need to nail that, that the cyber truck is just that. Absolutely embarrassing, ridiculous time, self own waste of time, ridiculous. So if they don't get that mass market vehicle, right, then they're kind of screwed. And I think that's gotten, little to do with public opinion of Elon Musk's tweets but yeah, it's a, I mean, it's a remarkable thing to.

It's a remarkable thing to watch. Yeah.

Climate scientist Michael E. Mann's legal battle against climate change deniers

SHEFFIELD: Well, and, and related to that [00:42:00] very much so is legal judgment that was recently rendered in favor of the environmental scientist, Michael E. Mann against two right wing columnists for slander. And this is something that he kept out for 12 years and has It's incredible that he stuck at it but he won and against two guys yeah, and against Ran Sin Sinberg, who was a writer at Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian sort of junk science place and then against another guy named Mark Stein, who I guess, Not don't see much of him nowadays, but he was a Rush Limbaugh substitute host and he wrote something at a national review.

And basically, yeah, so I compared Michael Mann to a child molester. And yeah. And called him and I'm actually, I'm sorry, I don't remember which one called him a fraud or a child molesters. People can look that up

ROBERTS: of fabricating data. I mean, yeah, [00:43:00] the funny thing about this is. Just, just narrowing your view just to climate stuff, the right wing from Limbaugh on has been right wing media has been nothing but a giant cascading torrent of lies and slander.

That's all it's been. This is like, like you go, you could go throw a rock at the internet 10 years ago and hit. Slander, like it was constant in unending and still is constant and I just think it's I just think it's there's something funny and sort of quixotic about Michael Mann being such a cussed stubborn guy that he's like, I at least in this one instance, at least these one, these guys, I am not letting this go.

I am. I'm going to pursue this until there's some accountability. And this goes to show you like, yeah, [00:44:00] Any one of that massive cascade of lies and slander trying to get some accountability for it is a 12 year, ordeal. And like that dude has been through a lot. He's been subject to a lot of harassment and all the usual threats and stuff from the right.

And it's been financially difficult. And like, it was not easy for him. Like he really had to pursue this. And that just goes to show you like. The massive asymmetry here, the massive, massive asymmetry, just like lie and lie and slander all, like a thousand times a day and any one of those trying to get anyone, any third party authority to come in and say definitively, yes, this was a lie and slander takes 12 damn years.

So like, it's just like. It's just such a massive asymmetry. It's disheartening, like I'm glad he won, but it's just like, it's such a pebble in a. It's such a [00:45:00] pebble in a waterfall, you know what I mean? Yeah,

SHEFFIELD: well, and and actually I had a previous episode for people who are watching or listening about how the tobacco industry kind of pioneered a lot of the tactics of disinformation that were later put to use on climate change and later on COVID as well.

And I mean, like. And this is yet another example, though, of how, a lot of times, people will on the right or there, because there are so many people out there who call themselves moderates, but who are actually conservative and they're very, very overrepresented among elite.

National media editors, I would say they're conservative. They're not moderate. And, but what they have

ROBERTS: is reactionary centrists. That's the term. Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, and, but the thing about them is that they fetishize this idea, of free markets. So they have, they call it the marketplace of ideas.

And they say that anything is up for debate, but the reality [00:46:00] is, yeah. These people, who are out there committing slander routinely, saying some, so and so is a pedophile or, a fraud or, whatever slander they're doing. Those are, that's not how a real life marketplace works.

It's like, have you guys ever been to a farmer's market? Like you have to have a permit to be there. You have to, like people inspect your products, like people, and people are allowed to return things to you if they don't like it. Like these are all rules that are imposed on your free market, your marketplace of ideas.

All markets have to have rules. Otherwise they cannot function. And the same thing is true with regard to information markets. That if everything is up for debate, then nothing is up for reality. Then there is no reality because I can literally say, you can literally, I mean, we got people now that are saying the earth is flat and that, the moon landings were fake and all this stuff that.

You would think that we wouldn't have to talk about this shit on [00:47:00] the, people that are doing fact check websites wouldn't have to waste their time with it, but they are.

ROBERTS: Poor souls, poor souls. It's amazing. Those facts haven't worked yet. They keep fact checking the same stuff over and over again.

Is that going to stick? I mean, here's what I would say. Go back and read your Milton Friedman's, your Hayek's, your whatever, your Adam Smith's and read about the characteristics Of a free market, what it takes to create a free market. Part of that is ease of entry and exit, right? You have to be able to get into the market.

You can't be excluded from the market by non market forces, et cetera, et cetera. So if you have. A gang of billionaires who is taking your entry into the marketplace of ideas and putting millions of dollars behind it and buying up the largest cable network in the country and buying up all the local newspapers and buying up [00:48:00] all the local tv stations and buying effing twitter and pumping your lie Through all those channels and excluding other voices, you, by definition, do not have any kind of free market.

Those are market distortions. Those are monopolies. Those are, this is like, it's a classic, classic market distortion, like the reason those idiot ideas. Still are circulating and still have to be fact checked over and over and over again is not that they're succeeding on their merit. It's that they've got a bunch of malign right wing billionaires pumping money behind them, forcing it out into the public again and again and again and again, that's why they're still out there.

Like I, at this point, like. They are as refuted as refuted could be. All the conventional mechanisms for assessing ideas have been brought to bear. Like this question is settled. If there were anything like a referee [00:49:00] of any kind left. They would have stepped in and said in blown the whistle and said, yeah, this is over like TKO.

You guys are done. Let's move on there. But they have very deliberately for decades now destroyed anything like referees, slandered referees, tried to claim that every referee is actually secretly biased for the left. I mean, this was Limbaugh's thing, right? He's like government, the academy. Science.

All of it is just the media. It's all just secretly leftist. So anything that looks like a third party referee who's ruling against you, you don't have to trouble your brain about that. You don't have to trouble yourself. That's just it's a lie. It's just another. The only person you can really trust is me and they've succeeded in doing that.

So there is not, there's just science. There's no mechanism now for ending any debate. There's no mechanism now for anyone winning. There's [00:50:00] no mechanism now to settle. Yes, this is true. Let's move on. So you can like you can throw out like, Oh, it's cold today. So much for global warming. And then some poor intern will put together, a beautiful, presentation or video about.

Why that's nonsense and everybody will watch the video and be like, Oh, that's nonsense. And then a year later, they'll come out and say it again. Like, you can't stop them saying there's no one now. There's no mechanism for settling things. And so things just go on forever. Arguments just go on forever.

This is why, I mean, I'm, I know at this point I'm very much preaching to the choir, but like. This is what they learned from Watergate, right? They're like, Oh, like, like it looked like a partisan back and forth, but then this sort of set of institutions and hearings and officialdom stepped in and officially settled that it actually happened and imposed some [00:51:00] accountability and settled the thing, right?

Like, like they called it. And so this is what the right wing learned from that is like, we got to get rid of those. Not let's stop lying and cheating, but we got to get rid of those referees. We got to get rid of anything that looks like a third party referee that could, that could vote against us.

And they started with media. They, we just have to create our own media and that's what the whole thing spun out of. And so now like you can have. Trump take documents, openly steal documents, say he's stealing them, say he wants them, he's like, yeah, all the facts laid out in front of you as clear as day, but no one can come in and just say, Oh, that's settled.

That's wrong. Here's your accountability. There's like nothing left that can do that. So we just can't settle anything now. And everything looks like. An endless partisan back and forth scrum. And that is [00:52:00] what they want. That is what the tobacco people wanted. That's what the anti climate people want.

They don't want to convince the public that they're right. They, because like, what would that mean? They're right. Like anti climate people have like. 50 different dumbass talking points that don't fit with one another. Like climate change isn't happening. It's happening, but it's not bad. It's happening, but it's not caused by humans.

Like what are they supposed to be right about? They're not. Not, or it's good. They even say that, . Yeah. Or it's good. They're not trying to convince that they're right. They're just trying to create the impression that this is just a big, nasty, endless grinding fight that you moderately engaged average voter.

Just don't want to mess with like, you just don't want to think about it. You want to like, you want to get away from that. Let's just make it unpleasant. So that people just don't want to deal with it, and that's what's happened on climate.

The future belongs to those who will make it

ROBERTS: It's not that they've convinced people that climate denial ism is [00:53:00] true.

They've just made the entire subject so viscerally unpleasant that people don't want to engage or think about it at all. Like, that's the success.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, well, and ultimately, I think that's the takeaway. That I want people to have is that, their goal is to get you to give up.

It's to get you to walk away. It is, as Steve Bannon said, to flood the zone with shit. And ultimately they're not trying to win through persuasion. They're trying to win through perseverance. Two can play at that game and they should

ROBERTS: Well, can they, like, are there other Michael Manns out there?

Like he's, he's such the rare exception. This is such the rare exception to see,

SHEFFIELD: That's why I said it should!

ROBERTS: At this point, the only really institutions. Like this has been my experience of the Trump years. It's just like one institution after another, just incredibly disappointing. Just failed to stand up, failed. Like when their time came, [00:54:00] they failed miserably and like pretty much the only institution left that is imposing any kind of accountability or establishing any clear factual record is the judiciary is the courts. Like they're the only ones now restraining Trump in the right. Which is why the Federalist Society exists.

It's precisely why they are going directly after the judiciary because it's the last referee standing and they want all referees gone. And that's what filling the judiciary with hacks like Eileen Cannon is all about. It's just to make the legal arena just like everything else. A vicious It's Endless ambiguous scrum that no one wants to deal with.

They want to make it, so that to me is the, is it's kind of like the last fight. It's the last it's like, we've retreated and retreated. And that's like the last institution standing. So, I wish people would, and they've taken over the Supreme [00:55:00] court and they're busy, like undoing a century's worth of laws and they're.

Enabling Trump and already like the court is half gone. I just like, to me, if the court goes, that's, if courts become thoroughly corrupted like this and become thoroughly partisan, that's kind of it. Like there's nothing left. The media is. Completely capitulated the academy is got its tail between its legs is in full retreat.

As you can see all around you, like, science, like, there's just nothing, there's almost nothing left to stand up to the tide of a BS reactionary BS. Sorry. Not a very optimistic.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. I mean, I will say though, like if you look at polls of younger Republicans, at least on when you regards to climate change, they actually do believe that it's real [00:56:00] and they do believe that humans are causing it. So--

ROBERTS: I'm so curious about that. I'd love to interview, I'd just love to interview some of them.

Like, what do they mean? By that, like if you take what the IPCC says, seriously, what they say is. If we want to keep a safe atmosphere, a safe operating space for human beings, we need to stop emitting greenhouse gases. We need to get to zero as rapidly as possible, which involves revolutionary, rapid change directed by governments.

And if you don't, so what does it mean? What is conservative believe in climate change mean? Like, how do young conservatives propose to get to zero emissions? As rapidly as possible if they don't believe in government, I'm [00:57:00] genuinely curious and baffled by the whole phenomenon.

SHEFFIELD: I don't. Yeah, well, no, it's a good question.

I mean, I think to some extent, you look at early Ron DeSantis. His gubernatorial, his governor term for the first term, he actually had some pro environment policies. So like, I don't know what's, well, I don't know what the future holds for these guys. because you know, having been a former Republican, you're constantly any, who has any sort of heterodox viewpoints, you're constantly afraid of being canceled.

Like that's the biggest thing no one ever talks about is that Republicans love cancelling people. They invented it, in fact.

ROBERTS: I mean, it's not like, like right wingers, fundamentalists, reactionaries impose uniformity. This is not a, this is not some unique thing to the present moment. This is like a, this is like a truth of history going back to, going back centuries.

Like the whole idea that the left. Which is literally pushing more choice, [00:58:00] more diversity, more freedom for more kinds of people like this weird funhouse mirror image that they're the ones trying to be tyrannical is such a bizarre. It's bizarre to me that it persists. Like, of course, right wingers want everyone to think the same way.

That's sort of what it is to be a right winger. Like you want a male. White, Christian, landowning, hegemony. Like that's, and that's one kind of thing. That's a monoculture. That's what fundamentalists everywhere want is a monoculture. This idea that it was ever anything else is bizarre.


Yeah. Well, I mean, and I think overall. I mean, the demographics are not destiny, but you know, there's a reason that the right wing is freaking out so much is that, because I, no, because I'll tell you, I that, huh? I used

ROBERTS: to, well, no. Like I, for instance.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Well, but it only [00:59:00] happens though if you make it like the future belongs to the people who make.

And so there are trends that exist that are both positive and negative for either side of the spectrum, but they can't become real unless they are made to happen. And so, like, that's my message to the Democrats is you guys have to understand that, you can't alienate your voters. You can't forever force a choice between the lesser of two evils.

You have to give people things that are good. And if you do. They will like you.

ROBERTS: Well, it's will they, because Biden came in and like engineered the greatest economic recovery of any country in the world and sparked a manufacturing renaissance precisely in those areas of the country that were hurt by globalization.

Like he did a bunch of, he did a bunch of good things. And doesn't seem to have gotten fuck all political credit for it. Like it's not clear to me that

SHEFFIELD: one knows that he did it though.

ROBERTS: That's yes, [01:00:00] this is the thing is the media, I hate, I harp on it over and over again to the point that people make fun of me, but like objective circumstances are not driving what's going on.

In this country, like people don't know what Biden is or has done because the media is a grossly distorting filter. And so they only get negative. They only get negative news about Biden. And I just like think to anybody who thinks that some, that there's some magical other candidate that could come in at this point that the media would not find some.

Like they found her emails. They found his age. They would find something about Kamala Harris. They would find something about Pete Buttigieg and you'd get the same dynamic. It's a structural dynamic. It's not unique. The Biden is just what I would say. And the final thing is anybody who takes comfort in the idea that demographics are slowly going to [01:01:00] crush the right.

I would just say that like reactionary movements that are responding to their own perceived inevitable obsolescence have created some of the worst. Historical crimes in history. You know what I mean? Like a cornered shrinking movement is extremely dangerous. Like it's maximally dangerous at the moment when it's maximally in peril.

So, like, I just think people need to boost their tragic imagination about what could happen in the next few years, I really think people do not. Appreciate how off the rails things could go when this sort of white male Christian establishment is in a panic about it's reducing power and influence.

They could make. Lots of really bad things happen. We should not [01:02:00] feel any sense of comfort that like demographics are slowly, but surely going against them. That's precisely when they're the most dangerous.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, yeah, no, it's true. And people, yeah, people need to keep in mind what's at stake and what.

Could happen because yeah, there is no bottom for the reactionary right.

ROBERTS: I mean, I mean, Trump's out there joking about the kind of shit that would literally start a world war. Like it sounds fantastical to even talk about it, but like the idea of a world war breaking out of a nuclear exchange, like all of that is on the table.

If he wins, no, no tragedy is off the table. If he wins, I just don't know if people are really, if that's really sunk in.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. No, but I mean, I guess we can only do what we can do, right? We can only pot at the

ROBERTS: clouds.

SHEFFIELD: Well, and I got, I got clouds in the background here on our video. All right. Well, David it's been a great [01:03:00] conversation, so people can keep up with you on social platforms at dr volts.

That's a D R volts. If you're listening and then over on volts dot W T F. So thanks for being here. Thanks a lot, Matt.

All right, so that is the program for today. I appreciate everybody for joining us for the conversation. And if you want to get more, you can go to theoryofchange.show where you can get the video, audio, and transcript of all the episodes. And if you're a paid subscribing member, thank you very much for your support.

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Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
Lots of people want to change the world. But how does change happen? Join Matthew Sheffield and his guests as they explore larger trends and intersections in politics, religion, technology, and media.