Yes, snakes really stopped construction on Tesla’s Berlin Gigafactory

Local activists have long worried about the environmental impact of Tesla's new Gigafactory.

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As the hellscape known as 2020 draws to a close, Elon Musk faces one last challenge: snakes. Hibernating snakes, to be precise. Apparently, a swath of sleeping serpents was found in the forests where Tesla has been building its massive Gigafactory in Berlin, Germany, forcing construction to a halt.

A German court told Tesla this week to shut down its forest-clearing operations in Grünheide, just southeast of Berlin, after environmentalists raised concerns about disturbing hibernating snakes. The news was first reported by local German news outlet Tagesspiegel.

There isn’t a set date when Tesla will be able to resume clearing trees for the factory. A spokesperson from the German court said, “The Landesumweltamt (state environmental authority) and Tesla will now be consulted, they need to make submissions by this afternoon and then we assess the situation.”

Tesla hasn’t yet commented on the situation. Maybe famously rich guy Elon Musk will come to the rescue.

Save the snakes — The concern over Tesla’s deforestation efforts goes beyond the trees being destroyed — it’s the creatures that call the land home that are most at risk. NABU, a local environmental group, told Reuters that the main concern is Coronella austriaca, commonly known as the “smooth snake,” which hibernates in the ground.

Local authorities are now reviewing claims that Tesla’s construction would disturb the smooth snake and others, like the many sand lizards that live there.

Tesla is outdoing itself here — The newest Gigafactory is set to open some time next year, eventually aiming to produce 10,000 cars per week. That kind of facility is going to come at a cost — and not just a financial one.

A rendering of the completed Gigafactory.Elon Musk / Twitter

The irony is not lost on us: Musk is tearing down hundreds of acres of forest in order to create environmentally friendly cars. Local activists have spent all year protesting against the factory, to such an extent that a German court ordered Tesla to briefly stop its work in February.

As Mashable points out, a statement on Tesla’s website used to read:

"We are committed to improving the natural environment near the factory and in the wider state of Brandenburg. We aim to replant an area three times the factory plot, with mixed trees native to their habitat and the potential to become an old growth forest, while working with environmental and other expert groups for the best possible outcome.”

The same page now simply calls the Berlin Gigafactory an “ideal work environment with modern and sustainable features.”

When the construction can begin again will be determined by local authorities in conversation with Tesla. If we’re lucky, we might get a show out of it — we’re imagining Musk dressing up as a snake or begging German authorities to arrest him, possibly while waving glows sticks about in the planned "rave space."