This is a short note on a couple of issues related only in that they say something relevant about the future we should be planning for.
The first relates to Tesla and its production difficulties with the new, lower-priced model 3. The highly-automated production of the model 3 is well-behind schedule, to the point where it is a big hit to the cash flow of the company. We mention it here, though, because the delay is an indication that mass production of electric cars is something fundamentally new.
An electric car is a much simpler machine than an ordinary, gas-powered vehicle. In principle the construction should be both cheaper and easier to automate. Current production of Teslas is intrinsically a low-volume operation. The model 3 will be the first indication of what newly-imagined electric car production is like.
I don’t know if we’re in for a shock or not (this is after all a first go at it), but this could be another big change to conventional middle-class employment. And there will be follow-on effects for gas stations, and especially maintenance and repair. This is another of many indications that broad, technology-based disruption of jobs is going to happen.
The other story is about the commissioning of a new class of Russian icebreaker—targeted at clearing northern ship lanes freed up by the retreat of polar ice with global warming. The phenomenon is already clear, although the amount of traffic is still small. The Russians are preparing for the opportunity with multiple classes of new machines planned for release up to 2025. The Chinese have announced cooperation with the objective of reducing shipping times to Europe by a third.
The US is of course uninterested in consequences of climate change. The only Coast Guard ice breaker is 40 years old, and they have a hard time getting authorization to get a new one. The Bering strait, however, could be a shipping lane.
This is a very small example, but climate change affects many things, and as a country we’re trying to avoid finding out about them.
The current federal budget is put together for a world where the private sector will take care of everything. That has always been a fantasy—the efficiency of the private sector comes in large part from its ability to ignore everything not relevant to immediate financial success. It is particularly false for a world undergoing fundamental change. We either recognize it and help people through it, or we fall behind and revert to the nightmares of the nineteenth century.