Elon Musk has been called both positive and negative things over the years. But he’s never been accused of possibly killing flamingos—until now.
“Because of course I hate flamingos,” Musk wrote in a tweet on Tuesday, quipping further, “maybe try eating fewer flamingo eggs in your salad.”
If you’re confused by now, you should be. But we’ll try to make sense of it all.
The Times of India on Tuesday reprinted a Bloomberg story on how Tesla (TSLA) and General Motors (GM), which also makes electric cars, could be using suppliers in Chile that might be depleting flamingo flocks. While the Bloomberg story’s headline, “Green Cars Cause Damage of Their Own as Flamingo Flocks Shrink” and early mention of Tesla and Chevrolet didn’t quite catch Musk’s ire, it appears The Times of India prompted that ire with the reprinted story and its own headline: “How Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors maybe killing flamingos with its electric cars.”
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The story itself centers on the Atacama salt flat and activists who live near there. It claims that there are a couple of lithium battery suppliers in Chile that pump up the brine needed to supply lithium in the batteries used in green cars, like Tesla’s own. In so doing, activists argue, they might be depleting the water supply and ultimately killing off flamingos.
While a depleting flamingo population is indeed a tragedy, there are disputes between activists and the companies themselves. According to the report, the companies say that while they are indeed pumping brine from northern Chile, they keep a close eye on water levels and salt content and have not seen a negative impact on the environment or the flamingo population. Indeed, one of the companies told Bloomberg that it has in no way “affected directly or indirectly any aspect of the flamingo population.”
It’s perhaps also worth noting that the companies wouldn’t disclose which companies rely on them for the brine and whether any of their exports ever make their way into Tesla or General Motors vehicles.
So, how did Tesla and Musk find its way into a story about the flamingo population in Chile? Tesla vehicles use rechargeable batteries that rely upon lithium, a metal that’s found in the brine deposits in northern Chile, according to the Bloomberg report. Therefore, it’s possible, the report claims, that electric car makers could be indirectly depleting the flamingo population by requiring lithium for their vehicles.
Not surprisingly, the report upset Musk, who is well-known for his outspokenness on controversial topics. Indeed, his mention of a salad was nothing if not snarky: it referred to an interview Bloomberg conducted with a person who reportedly lives near the salt flats who said that once a year, elders of the local community would eat flamingo eggs in their salads. They can’t do that anymore, however, due to the depleted flock.
Needless to say, Musk doesn’t appear happy by claims he maybe, in some way, could be contributing to a declining Chilean flamingo population. And he wanted the world to know it.
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The news comes just days after Musk came under fire again for failing to disclose that a Tesla driver, Joshua Brown, had crashed and died on May 7 while operating the autopilot feature in his vehicle. While Tesla “immediately” reported the incident to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Musk made no mention of the crash on May 18 when his company sold more than $2 billion in stock. He told Fortune in an e-mailed statement that the incident was “not material to the value of Tesla.”
In a subsequent tweet to Fortune Magazine editor Alan Murray, Musk again claimed the crash wasn’t material after Murray had suggested it was. On Wednesday, Fortune uncovered a Tesla SEC filing in May after the crash that said any fatal crash related to the autopilot feature would be material to the company’s “brand, business, prospects, and operating results.” The filing added that Tesla does not have insurance against such events.
Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the flamingo issue.