Economics 101

Three Things a Tesla Teaches Us about Stewardship

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The Tesla is becoming an increasingly frequent sight in the area in which I live, as are many other kinds of electric vehicles. Commercially, this technology is relatively new, but despite the political undertones inevitable to any discussion involving environmental technology, it can teach us a lot about our call to stewardship.

The Importance of Innovation

Oil is scarce, and electric vehicles offer creative ways to steward this diminishing resource. We should, as with all things, try to use resources as efficiently we can. This doesn’t mean that we will completely eliminate its use.

In fact, according to freelancer Michael Schirber in an article for LiveScience.com, “Even if cars soon start running entirely on electricity or hydrogen, they’ll still need 100 gallons or more of oil to make their plastic parts, such as seats, dashboards, bumpers, and engine components.”

Due to considerations of weight, plastic is greatly preferred over steel or aluminum in auto production. Because of this, oil is an inevitable component of even electric vehicles. Electric cars do not eliminate the demand for oil, but they do make us use it more effectively.

Similarly, as electric vehicle technology develops, it requires us to think innovatively about how we use electricity. We will experience surges in the demand for electricity during the early stages of electric vehicle adaptation, but this forces us to think about how we use this and other resources.

According to the MIT Technology Review, “Plugging in an electric vehicle is, in some cases, the equivalent of adding three houses to the grid. That has utilities in California—where the largest number of electric vehicles [is] sold—scrambling to upgrade the grid to avoid power outages.”

There are certain times during the day during which electricity use eclipses the rest of the day, generally after people get home from work and use energy to cook dinner and source their TV. Newsworthy events also trigger spikes in electricity usage, and the demand for the electricity necessary to charge car batteries would mimic those spikes. As technology continues to develop, these issues will likely be resolved.

The Tesla—and electric vehicle technology in general—will spark other areas of innovation. As researchers and developers explore new kinds of transportation, discussions about how we are to use our resources have already begun.

The Place of Creative Destruction

Creative destruction is the process by which industrial technology and capabilities morph to address growing needs in the economy. The fact that technology is constantly developing and adapting to meet new needs is easy to overlook. Often, the process happens so quickly that we don’t notice.

Sometimes it’s a bit more painful. The debate surrounding the transition from traditional car to electric vehicle shares undeniable similarities with the transition from horse and buggy to the early car. The automobile solved significant environmental and sanitation issues inherent to the use of the horse as a key means of transportation.

Simultaneously, it eliminated the need for certain craftsmen involved in the making of buggies and wagons. The demand for smiths and carpenters decreased as automobiles became more popular. Ultimately, these jobs were recouped in the automobile industry, but training and adaptation had to take place first.

It is still too soon to know how the story of the electric vehicle will unfold, but it’s safe to guess that it will include a similar process of destruction and adaptation.

Practical Stewardship

As has been referenced earlier, we’ve been called to fulfill the cultural mandate by being faithful stewards of our resources. In instances like this, where there are many considerations of financial means, logistical needs, and other variables, there may not be a right or wrong approach.

Depending on her constraints, a mom might opt for a minivan. Another individual might need a pick-up truck, given his or her resources and calling. If we’re going to choose to use our resources in one way or another, we need to be able to justify our decisions and become informed.

The fundamentally important lesson of stewardship brought to us through economics is about finding innovative ways to use our scarce resources.  The market process has and continues to help us do this. We now have many more “substitutes” than we did even thirty years ago, including hybrids, increasing public transportation, telework, and electric cars.

How we decide to steward our resources can aid or detract from fostering an entrepreneurial and innovative environment that promotes healthy relationships with those around us.

We each have been entrusted with a specific realm that we are called to tend. For some, this may fall within a department at work, for others their discipline at school, or for some it may be the home.

Each comes with a set of challenges and rewards, and it’s possible to fulfill our calling in these areas well or poorly. We were made by a creative God, and we are called to probe into an issue or situation to achieve full understanding, think innovatively, and be the best stewards we can of the resources we have been given.

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