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, “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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  • Bill

    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.” – See more at: So how is this stewardship? especially when Tesla receives rather large subsidy from taxpayers. Do my tax dollars need to go there? How is this considered stewardship? Seems like I don’t get a choice in the “practical” stewardship.

  • Pete Smith

    It is hard to discuss Tesla without discussing the tax policies that unfairly favor this company over its competitors. Governments have given tax breaks and other benefits to this company that are not available to other car companies. Stewardship pertains to taxes as well as resources.

  • roberterasmus

    Nice start to the discussion
    of the electric vehicle, but it would be nice to include the fact that politics
    place an ever increasing role in how electricity is being utilized. Electricity is still made (primarily in the
    US) from fossil fuels; so where in the food chain of producing and driving said
    electric car are we? I’m an electrical engineer, state Solar inspector and a
    minister (wildly fun life, BTW) and in the main I’m for nuclear power,
    innovation in the grid, PV in general, Stewardship of the earth (duh) and even
    the enigmatic electric car. I’m also for utilizing the planet’s not-as-scarce-as-they’d-like-us-to-think
    fossil fuels and affording not only the US of A, but emerging countries with
    cheaper energy. I’m for being responsible citizens of the world in that regard. I have to wonder if a dialogue about the
    politics of top-down mandates by the political anointed is the way to go. So
    many issues…so little time… and that ubiquitous Lord of ours coming back at
    any moment. Talk about imminent issues!

    Dr. Bradley, thanks for an opening salvo, but the depths to plumb on
    energy, politics and God could use some help.
    Oh, yeah, and add a dash of “climate change” in there for good measure…sorry
    it is no longer global warming…right…climate change.

  • Larry

    We use Tesla to help people think differently about change at corporate governance and Christian leader conferences. Instead of debating new (Tesla) vs old (your father’s Oldsmobile) transportation-test drive a Tesla- and take the best and leave the rest.

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