Where technology and economics collide
Elon Musk is severing ties with the Trump administration over Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate deal, he announced in a Thursday afternoon tweet.
Musk was one of several Silicon Valley leaders who urged Donald Trump to remain in the agreement. Apple CEO Tim Cook called the president on Tuesday to urge him to keep the US in the climate deal.
Musk’s voice matters here because he is one of the few Silicon Valley CEOs who has maintained close ties to the president. After the 2016 election, he agreed to serve on Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum, a group of prominent CEOs who advise the president on economic policy issues. He also agreed to participate in Trump’s Manufacturing Jobs Initiative to promote manufacturing employment in the United States.
Musk faced pressure to quit these groups after Trump announced his controversial immigration order, but Musk insisted he could do more good from the inside.
“Advisory councils simply provide advice and attending does not mean that I agree with actions by the administration,” Musk wrote in February. “My goals are to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy and to help make humanity a multi-planet civilization. Engaging on critical issues will on balance serve the greater good.”
But Musk cares a lot about climate change — that’s why he’s building a company that makes electric cars and solar panels, after all. And so announced on Wednesday that the Paris agreement represented a red line for him.
The stakes are high for Musk because his other company, SpaceX, counts NASA as its top customer. Some reports suggest SpaceX gets the majority of its revenue from NASA. While NASA’s contracting decisions are supposed to be apolitical, Musk can’t be sure that burning bridges with the Trump administration won’t hurt SpaceX’s chances of getting government contracts in the future.
Under the Paris framework, nations around the world have established targets for reducing their carbon emissions. These commitments are not legally binding, but supporters expected that even voluntary targets will spur countries to take action. They feared that pulling out of the climate deal would be a big blow to the Paris framework and could lead to other nations taking their Paris commitments less seriously.
Musk isn’t the only tech CEO who pushed Trump — unsuccessfully — to remain in the Paris framework. A coalition of companies — including tech giants like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft — have taken out a series of full-page ads in the New York Times and other papers to urge Trump to stay.
Major technology companies like Google, Apple, and Tesla are global companies, and so they tend to take a broader perspective than just the United States. They believe that pulling out of the Paris agreement will damage America’s standing in the world — and in the process hamper their ability to sell high-tech goods and services around the world.