Tesla practiced sustainability before it was cool. And no, we aren’t talking about the sustainability of Tesla cars.

Nikola Tesla was a Serbian-American inventor and futurist best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current electricity supply system.

His ideas propagated inventions like the radio, microwave, X-ray, remote control, hydroelectric power.

In fact, “there’s not a lot of modern conveniences that we currently enjoy that weren’t touched by Nikola Tesla in some way,” said Marc Alessi, executive director of the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in New York.

Tesla saw the world in a unique way. He believed in the Earth’s untapped potential as a ball of infinite energy. Tesla brought sustainability to science in every way imaginable, without even realizing it.

He sought to create an energy grid that not only harnessed renewable forms, but also accelerated mankind in an economic sense.

Here’s just a few ways Tesla embodied sustainability in the early 1900s.

Busy? Try the speed read.

The scoop: Tesla is probably the most famous and influential inventor/scientist you never heard of.

A few things Tesla did:

  1. In 1904, Tesla invented an efficient bladeless turbine.
  2. Tesla proposed electric power generation through geothermal, solar and wind energy.
  3. Tesla speculated on the existence of the ionosphere (an electrically-charged layer of the atmosphere) years before we discovered it.

In many ways, Tesla imagined the world more like a philosopher than a scientist. But his scientific mind was as infallible as any.

Bottom line: The modern world would be far behind without Nikola Tesla.

Dig deeper → 5 min.

In 1904, Tesla invented an efficient bladeless turbine.

Dating back to his youth, Tesla experimented with the idea of bladeless turbines playing with homemade waterwheels.

Without the need for propellers to catch air or water as they move in a certain direction, Tesla believed he could power “automobiles, locomotives and steamships,” and in a more modern sense, airplanes and ocean liners.

Could his invention be used for wind turbines too? Critics of wind energy point to the the millions of bird deaths per year from turbine blades. A bladeless unit would be less invasive on its surrounding environment.

Unfortunately, the device did not find a commercial application in its time.

Tesla proposed electric power generation through geothermal, solar and wind energy.

Tesla believed in the Earth (and the universe more largely) as an abundant, organic life force capable of re-harnessing energy on an infinite scale. He called it cosmic energy. That was how he approached electricity – he saw the world as a collection of frequencies and vibrations.

In the post-Einstein world (a man whom Tesla despised), Tesla’s outlandish theories about the universe are generally dismissed. But given his exceptional IQ, relentless work ethic and pretty accurate vision for the future of electricity, perhaps we should give his ideas a second look.

Thomas Edison famously said genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Tesla was much different. He worked as hard as anyone, but he was a deeply inspired, other-worldly person.

In his later years, he was convinced he could communicate with outer space, he was obsessed with the number 3 and talked to pigeons. Many wrote off his eccentricity as the effect of genius.

Side note on Edison/Tesla:

Nikola Tesla used to work for Edison.

According to archives, at one point during his employment, Edison told Tesla he would pay $50,000 for an improved design for his DC dynamos.

After months of experimentation and rigorous, sleepless nights with his crew, Tesla presented a solution. He asked his boss for the money, straight-faced.

Edison quipped that Tesla did not understand American humor. He didn’t pay him. Tesla quit shortly after and set up a competing lab in lower Manhattan… right down the street from Edison’s New York factory.

Tesla worked harder than anyone, notorious for a 10:30 to 5:30 AM work day.

Edison too operated on little sleep at night, but took frequent short naps during the day.

If you visit Edison’s main factory in West Orange, New Jersey, they still have his office bed up on display that he used to nap in.

Back to free energy:

Here is an excerpt from Tesla’s research outlining his vision about harnessing Earth’s energy:

“This new power for the driving of the world’s machinery will be derived from the energy which operates the universe, the cosmic energy, whose central source for the earth is the sun and which is everywhere present in unlimited quantities.”

Eric Dollard, an avid Tesla adherent and electrical engineer, explains that

Tesla’s aim was to produce a worldwide power system based on this principle and the power system would be tuned to the natural resonant frequency of the Earth. And you could just simply disconnect all the generating stations, because the solar system would run the electrical plant. It would be one with the electrical system of the Earth.


This is a diagram of Tesla’s first radiant energy receiver. It was basically an early version of a solar energy panel. Tesla was the first scientist to identify “radiant energy”. He noticed how the Sun acts as a source of this kinetic energy.

As NuEnergy puts it, “Tesla’s intent was to condense the energy trapped between the earth and its upper atmosphere and to transform it into an electric current.”

Tesla speculated on the existence of the ionosphere, years before we discovered it.

The ionosphere is an electrically charged layer of the earth’s atmosphere. Tesla realized that if such a layer existed, it could use it to wirelessly broadcast news, pictures, radio waves, and other forms of energy. That’s a pretty heavy idea for the 1900’s.

Today, Tesla’s altruistic vision for wireless energy transmission has been little studied. Even his famous Tesla coil, found in science museums around the world, remains nascient in terms of research.

In some capacity, Tesla’s work is used in a US government program called HAARP. The project was set up in the 1990s with hundreds of millions in funding; their primary objective is to study the ionosphere.

Some speculators believe the secretive program may be designed for less benevolent reasons than Tesla imagined (reminder: Tesla thought the ionosphere could be the source of free renewable energy for Earth).

HAARP spans multiple branches of the military in the middle of Alaska. Some people say it is used for the propagation of military-grade death rays (another Tesla idea/invention). Others suggest they are building electromagnetic pulse (EMP) shockwaves to disable weapons and radar systems as a war tactic. More fringe-theories suggest it is used for weather control.

All we know is… there’s a lot of research & funding poured into HAARP… and they study the ionosphere. We don’t know too much else. Even the European Union has called for the US to be more transparent about HAARP research.

The legacy of Tesla, 100 years later

The broader point about HAARP?

Most of Tesla’s more innovative and imaginative ideas were not continued in the 21st century lab. Where research does still exist, it appears in garages of genius outcasts, or shady research centers in remote places like suburban Moscow. These labs are obscure to the general public.

When Tesla died at the age of 86 in the New Yorker hotel, the FBI ceased his documents and research.

Fun fact: Tesla was convinced he would live well into his 100s. According to Cancerrd.com (and the multiple biographies I’ve read), this was Nikola Tesla’s diet:

The Tesla Diet:


One or two glasses of milk, alongside some eggs he prepared personally.


Tesla never ate lunch, and he never broke this rule.


– Celery or something similar

– Soup

– A small single piece of chicken, meat, or fish

– Potatoes

– One additional vegetable


While so many people like cake or ice-cream for dessert, Tesla only indulged two options most of the time. An apple and a slice of cheese.

And, of course, Tesla loved water and milk.

Donald Trump’s uncle, John G. Trump, was called in to analyze the late Tesla’s work.

John Trump was a MIT Professor and well-known electrical engineer serving as a technical aide to the National Defense Research Committee.

According to primary sources obtained by PBS, after a three-day investigation, Trump’s report concluded that there was nothing which would constitute a hazard in unfriendly hands, stating:

[Tesla’s] thoughts and efforts during at least the past 15 years were primarily of a speculative, philosophical, and somewhat promotional character often concerned with the production and wireless transmission of power; but did not include new, sound, workable principles or methods for realizing such results.

Regardless of his strange and often unsung legacy, Tesla helped shaped the modern world as we know it. In the lifelong debate between alternating versus direct currents, he was right after all. Edison’s famed direct currents are not the standard today.

Tesla’s lack of business sense most likely cost him a more ordained legacy like that of Edison. He was a scientists, not a business man. It ultimately cost him to die a broke man. Westinghouse owned most of his patents.

Tesla embodied sustainability – a system of permanence where society is able to meet their needs and express their greatest potential in the present, while preserving biodiversity and natural ecosystems – in a time where ruthless industry and crony capitalism ruled innovation.

If a man like Nikola Tesla existed today, we could begin to unravel the deeper mysteries and possibilities of  ‘cosmic energy’. In the meantime, we are still figuring out how to break up with oil.

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