Tesla CEO Elon Musk told The New York Times that he felt "a bit bad about hating on the oil and gas industry."
Musk implied that most people working in fossil fuels had joined the industry before realizing the scale of the climate crisis.
His remarks were surprising, given that he has accused his critics of taking funding from Big Oil and has vowed to kill the industry.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a New York Times interview that he felt bad for hating on oil and gas and implied that most older workers in the field didn't realize the extent of the climate crisis when they started out.
"Honestly, I feel a bit bad about hating on the oil and gas industry," he told The Times' Kara Swisher on the podcast "Sway."
"For a lot of the people in the oil and gas industry, especially if they're on the older side, they kind of built their companies and did their work before it was clear that this was a serious issue," he added. "And now they feel probably kind of hard done by that, like, people are making them out to be villains when they're for the longest time just working hard to support the economy and didn't really know that it was going to be all that bad."
Musk struck a more conciliatory tone than usual; the entrepreneur has said it's his mission to destroy the fossil-fuel industry, accused critics of being funded by Big Oil, and argued against industry bailouts.
Musk said he became interested in electric cars during school when he began to worry about the finite supply of fossil fuels.
"The thing that does kind of drive me crazy is that we know that we have to transition to sustainable transport in the long term no matter what, because we'll run out of oil," he said.
"So what the heck's the point of digging all the oil out of the ground, burning it, and then having to transition anyway — but in the meantime you've run this crazy climate experiment, which could turn out to be extremely bad, and the evidence at this point is overwhelming that it will be bad?"
Musk likened climate-change denial to the debate about cigarettes, when major tobacco firms tried to argue that the science about smoking's harm was unclear.
"It's like, nope, the science is definitely not unclear!" he said.
Elsewhere in the interview, Musk predicted that "the end of the fossil-fuel vehicle is nigh."
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