An Open Letter to Elon Musk


Most of us believe you’re serious in your commitment to protecting the human race against climate change and even more disastrous events, both natural and human-made, that could wipe us out. The result of your commitment is there for all to see, in the amazing achievements of SpaceX and Tesla. We also believe that your commitment is more than self-congratulation and money, though nothing’s wrong with these personal outcomes. I do believe, unlike many others that you truly want to make a difference. That said, we have an urgent problem that you’re ignoring and that possibly only you could solve. But there’s something you’re going to have to give up in order to solve it.


The problem is Yellowstone. There’s a rising magma dome under Yellowstone National Park which is overdue for a massive eruption. Research shows that such a super-volcano erupts at Yellowstone every 600,000 years or so, and it’s been 600,000 years since the last one. Such an eruption would cover most of the U.S. in volcanic ash and most likely bring on a “nuclear winter” blocking food production for most of the world for years. So such an eruption is likely to be an “extinction-level” event. It’s got to happen sooner than later.

What’s alarming today is that seismic events around Yellowstone have been increasing in a manner consistent with an imminent eruption. There may be no eruption for hundreds or thousands of years, or the next eruption may take place within the next 100 years, even tomorrow. If it does occur within the next 100 years, your planned colony on Mars won’t be self-sufficient to protect the human race from extinction. So we have a problem, a problem that you are uniquely able to address.

NASA has in fact proposed a solution, which you can hear about here. In brief, this proposed solution involves drilling into the magma under Yellowstone and circulating water through it to cool the magma. The resulting super-heated water can be used to generate sustainable power – i.e. geothermal power generation. The costs are relatively low (around $3B to get started with NASA’s plan, probably less if you did it) and the power generated would be around the wholesale price as solar. Better than solar, the power generated is constant during a 24-hour cycle, requiring less storage to match grid demand. It sounds like a solution, but there are major problems.

There are three engineering problems to address:

  1. First, a great deal of water is needed
  2. Second, cooling a volcano quickly is not the same problem as normal geothermal energy generation
  3. ‘Third, there is a chance that drilling into the magma dome could trigger the eruption we’re trying to prevent.

What I’m thinking is that you, with your engineering experience both in energy generation and boring tunnels, might have a head start in solving these problems. Or might like to try.

There’s another problem, one that you’re also uniquely qualified to solve. You’re preoccupation with proving your indispensable role at Tesla is jeopardizing your financial resources and taking too much of your time. This is the simplest problem to solve, one you already know how to solve, as you’ve already done it at SpaceX. So I call upon you Elon Musk, to stop jerking off with Tesla, get the necessary team members to run the company with 50% less input from you, and then turn your attention to a real problem that needs you more. I’m not the only one recommending this. See the link for example. Even Sir Richard Branson is reaching out to Musk on this topic. But this isn’t news to you.

The problem is finding someone you trust. Now that Sheryl Sandberg has turned you down, newly promoted Jerome Guillen might be a good candidate. He doesn’t need another promotion. Just your trust.
Because we need YOU elsewhere.

Robert Steven Kramarz
Executive Director, Intelliversity