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Start saying everything is related to #climate change. Just start it.

January 1st, 2016 · 2 Comments

Simply put, amid weather extremes occurring within a climate change(d) world, too many are not connecting the dots as to the relationship between climate change and the hottest year on record/North Pole warmth/Mississippi flooding/flowers in a DC garden on New Year’s day/…. This is a repost of a 2011 piece (that has a rich 290 comment discusion thread).  Some recent discussions sparked a  reread and reconsideration of the post and the comments. Sadly, as per reposting below, it is sadly too relevant today.

As the hottest year in recorded history closes (surpassing 2014’s record and with 2016 being predicted to being even hotter) with a series of extreme(ly unusuable, record-breaking) weather events/patterns, it is astounding how rarely media outlets & meteorologists connect these to climate change (an example from my breakfast table: this recent Washington Post front page story on December’s heat).While fully capable of doing so, “the media” does not treat climate change as seriously as it/they did Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress. Some do this out of ignorance (not making the connections or thinking ‘oh, everyone knows what is going on, why bother or I wrote about climate last month, there is no reason to repeat things over again) and some do this from direct climate-science denial.  No matter what the ’cause’, the reality is that this is a disservice to public understanding and public discourse of what likely is the defining public policy issue for the century (if not centuries) to come.

To be clear, as discussed below, it would be incorrect to state bluntly: “Climate change has caused X or Y extreme weather event”.  However, it is simply as (actually, arguably more) erroneous  — without some serious science behind it — to assert the reverse. The truth, in situation after situation, is that climate change is impacting (has a role) in extreme weather situation after weather event. Simply put, in our climate change(d) world, every square inch of the earth and every cubic centimeter of the atmosphere has been impacted by humanity.  “Weather” is not occurring, any longer, outside a context of climate change.

The absence of climate change from media examinations of weather extremes has moved past potentially understandable oversight to, increasingly, what might be referred to as ‘journalistic malfeasance’.  Editors and journalists should read and consider seriously these New Year’s resolutions for reporting on climate.

In simple truth, it has now become impossible to discuss responsibly weather patterns and events without putting it in the context of climate change (climate disruption / global warming). As per Bill McKibben’s Eaarth and the scientific move to the term Antropocene era, we have fundamentally altered the planetary system.     Thus, while it is absolutely true that it remains (and likely will remain) impossible to say “X” event occurred “because of” global warming, it is also true that global warming is now a factor (among many other factors) that impact weather events — all weather events.

Weatherdude posted one of those massively explosive discussions.  Stop saying everything is because of climate change. Just stop it. had 447 comments with hundreds of recommendations.  Simply put, that is a travesty even though there is truth to this statement:

Please, for the love of FSM, stop trying to link every extreme to climate change. The ice caps are melting, the oceans are rising, and all sorts of other scary shit is happening, but not every single event is due to the climate’s change. If all of this stuff is happening due to climate change, we don’t yet have the trends to back it up. Wait until we do. Until then, warn about the dangers of climate change, don’t say everything happened because of it.

In addition to truth, there is also what seems to be concern trolling (see note at end of post) — there is a difference between connected to and caused by.

From the title on, this reader (not for one) saw that post as concern trolling

Stop saying everything is because of climate change. Just stop it.

When it comes to climate disruption, knowledgeable people do not generally run out and say “global warming caused this tornado” or “we wouldn’t ever have had this flood without global warming“.  Sure, those statements occur … but relatively rarely and are not heard from credible voices (outside cheery-picked quotes). Far more frequent and typical is to have a rash of 100-year and 500-year events (floods and droughts and fires and …), a series of disruptive weather events out-of-pattern with historical events in an area, a rash of heat records being broken, etc … without climate change or global warming ever being mentioned.

No, global warming isn’t the determinate of any and all weather.

Clearly, the earth still orbits around the sun, January and July have different temperatures, etc … There are many, many factors that coalesce and influence weather patterns.

For example, re tornados and damage, let’s just talk about direct human activity (without getting into the complexity of global warming):

  1. More population, more spread out — greater likelihood that someone gets hurt/killed even with zero change in the number and strength of tornadoes.
  2. Related to above — ever more physical footprint (buildings, roads, transmissions lines, etc) means increased likelihood of fiscal damage.
  3. Better scientific instruments (and more spread out population) means that we should, writ large, be better at data collection and will have (therefore) more reported tornados.
  4. FAR LESS CERTAIN and a substantiated hypothesis: human land use could be having an impact on local-weather conditions / patterns enough to influence (in some cases .. maybe) tornados formation (think urban heat islands … and whether several degrees would matter within larger weather pattern)
  5. Etc …

Similar lists could be generated for wildfire, river flooding, hurricane damage, storm weather surges, droughts, etc …

There are many factors that influence weather events. Among them: climate disruption. We are now, however, in a situation where failure to discuss whether and how climate change / global warming / climate disruption could be a contributing factor would be, well, gross negligence.

Of course, as Weatherdude emphasizes, weather is events and climate trends. “Weird” weather events have happened, it seems, throughout Earth’s history.  There were 2-inch rainfalls in a day 50 years ago (when Co2 count was about 300 ppm) in my area — there are far more and these are a far greater share of total rainfall today.  Thus, a big thunderstorm that knocks out my power isn’t “because of” climate change but it is reasonable to discuss the increasing frequency of more severe storms within the context of climate disruption (and a Co2 count of about 394).  (PS: And, of course, the local doesn’t prove global … And, of course, decisions about tree trimming, whether to have power lines above or below ground, maintenance schedules, etc all are major players as to whether the power goes out …)

To me, Stop saying everything is because of climate change. Just stop it. was a travesty — even as there are elements within that are correct and with which I agree — because it contributes to a ‘don’t discuss it because you don’t have 100% proof of 100% causality’-type argument favored by those seeking to forestall action no matter that the author comments within the diary “I believe that climate change is real.” (Note “believe”: there is a problem of using the term “belief” related to science.)    No, climate disruption is not “the” reason for any specific weather event but, no, we don’t have the decades to wait until the evidence is in.

SIGH … TO BE CLEAR .. A NOTE FOR CLARITY. Writing that some of a discussion reads like concern trolling is not (and is not meant as) an attack on another’s character or capability or value or ….  This post began, with reason, pointing out that there was “truth in …”  And, while highlighting my arenas of disagreement, the final paragraph includes “even as there are elements within that are correct and with which I agree”.  This post points to  an — important — arena of disagreement as how to discuss a critically important issue.

UPDATE:  Jeff Masters’ piece Unprecedented: Simultaneous January Named Storms in the Atlantic and Central Pacific provides a textbook example of how to incorporate global warming & climate in extreme weather event reporting. That post ends:

Alex’s genesis
Alex can trace its genesis to an area of low pressure that formed off the Southeast U.S. coast on January 7. Between January 8 and 12, pre-Alex tracked generally eastwards over ocean waters that were 22 – 25°C (72 – 77°F); these temperatures were near-record warm for this time of year (about 2 – 4°F above average). These temperatures were just high enough so that Alex was able to gradually gain a warm core and become a subtropical storm. It is unlikely that Alex would have formed if these waters had been close to normal temperatures for this time of year. The unusually warm waters for Alex were due, in part, to the high levels of global warming that brought Earth its warmest year on record in 2015. Global warming made Alex’s formation much more likely to occur, and the same can be said for the formation of Hurricane Pali in the Central Pacific. To get both of these storms simultaneously in January is something that would have had a vanishingly small probability more than 30 years ago, before global warming really began to ramp up.

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→ 2 CommentsTags: climate disruption · Global Warming · journalism · media · weather

A call to journalists: treat #climate like a #sex scandal

December 30th, 2015 · 1 Comment

This guest post from Dean Baker provides a different perspective on inadequate media discussion and coverage of climate change issues.  In short, Dean reminds us that journalists do know how to dig to the bottom of a story and how to pressure politicians.  He asks media outlets and journalists to treat climate change with, at least, the serious energy expended on making (in)famous a certain blue dress.

The Washington Post ran a column last week that blamed the baby boom generation for global warming. Even for the Post this was extraordinarily low. This is not an issue of defending my generation; it is a question of how bad policy persists. And the answer puts the blame far more on media outlets like the Washington Post than people born in the two decades after World War II.

Most people don’t spend their days enmeshed in policy issues; they have jobs and lives. They rely on the media to let them know what is important. Unfortunately, this has generally not meant much coverage of global warming. The media have largely treated global warming as sort of a sidebar of interest to a narrow clientele, kind of like sailboat races.

Contrast the coverage of global warming with the near wall-to-wall coverage of Ebola back in the fall of 2014, a disease that infected a total of three people in the United States. Or, take the current coverage of ISIS. If we envision a worst case scenario for ISIS, there are probably several thousand times as many lives being put at risk by global warming than will ever be threatened by ISIS.

We got an excellent display of the media’s ability to ignore global warming in the two presidential debates that took place immediately after the Paris climate talks. There was not a single question on global warming in either party’s debate.

Part of the reason for ignoring the issue likely stems from the fact that one party insists that global warming is not happening, or at least that humans are not causing it. It is a basic tenet of the Republican Party that global warming is not an area for public policy.

As a result, all of the leading candidates for the party’s presidential nomination, as well as the leadership in the House and Senate, deny knowing anything about it. “I am not a scientist” is now rivaling the pledge of allegiance as an oath taken by Republican Party leaders.

But Republican denials of global warming don’t put the issue in dispute any more than their refusal to accept arithmetic would make addition a debatable topic. A responsible press would treat these denials as the scandal they are.

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→ 1 CommentTags: climate change · climate delayers · climate zombies · Congress · global warming deniers · guest post · journalism · Washington Post

Will the ‘invisible’ Porter Ranch #climate catastrophe lead to the largest lawsuit ever?

December 29th, 2015 · No Comments

That is the question that Shockwave asks in this guest post.

“Porter Ranch” refers to a massive California methane gas leak equivalent, while unchecked to 25% of that state’s greenhouse gas emissions. This is, in terms of global impact, potentially of greater real import than Deepwater Horizon. With the latter, the Cabinet was in full crisis mode with multiple members of the Cabinet up late a night dealing with the crisis and the Secretary of Energy, Stephen Chu, working all channels to find any technology that could help address the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. Not the case with Porter Ranch — unless, just like the methane gas, that crisis-mode reaction requires thermal imaging to see …

[Read more →]

→ No CommentsTags: climate change

US East Coast basks in warmth while the North Pole is melting?

December 28th, 2015 · No Comments

While pleasurable, it felt odd to bike comfortably in shorts and a t-shirt in late December in the D.C. suburbs.

Roses and Azaleas blooming in DC-area garden, late Dec 2015

Roses and Azaleas blooming in DC-area garden, late Dec 2015

The table is pretty with a vase of roses, but weird to have them coming from the garden.

And, there is nothing more Locavore than vegetables from the garden, but — really — a bed of green rather than fresh snow in the backyard?

So, DC at 72 degrees Fahrenheit on 27 December 2015 didn’t just break records  — it felt bizarre to have temperatures 30 degrees warmer than normal.

That bizarre, however, has nothing on the Arctic.  It isn’t 72 Fahrenheit in the middle of winter at the North Pole.

Do "bad kids" become global warming denying fossil fools?

Do “bad kids” become global warming denying fossil fools? (Courtesy of Skeptical Science)

The Arctic is, however, predicted to be somewhere in the range of 72 degrees above “normal” temperatures in the coming days. Talk about starting the New Year off with a bang!

We’ve probably never seen weather like what’s being predicted for a vast region stretching from the North Atlantic to the North Pole and on into the broader Arctic this coming week. But it’s all in the forecast — an Icelandic low that’s stronger than most hurricanes featuring a wind field stretching over hundreds and hundreds of miles. One that taps warm tropical air and hurls it all the way to the North Pole and beyond during Winter time. And it all just reeks of a human-forced warming of the Earth’s climate…

A massive storm, with impacts from the North Pole down through (already hard hit) England.  The storm will also warm the Arctic in an “extraordinarily” severe way.

These winds will bring with them extraordinarily warm temperatures for the High Arctic region during Winter time. By Wednesday, the North Pole is expected to see temperatures in the range of 1-2 degrees Celsius or 41-42 degrees C above average (73-75 degrees Fahrenheit above the normal daily temperature of -40 F for a typical Winter day).

Yes, roughly around New Year’s Day, the North Pole have above freezing temperatures rather than life-endangering cold building up ice packs.

Such an extreme departure would be like seeing a 120 degree (Fahrenheit) December day in my hometown of Gaithersburg, MD.

Yes, 72 degrees in the DC-area in late December was pretty nice while weird and disconcerting. 120 degrees — that is hard to fathom.

Needless to say, a 1-2 C reading at the North Pole during late December is about as odd as witnessing Hell freezing over.

Read more at Warm Arctic Storm To Hurl Hurricane Force Winds at UK and Iceland, Push Temps to 72+ Degrees (F) Above Normal at North Pole.

A note on messaging and discussion:  Remoteness does not communicate well. Focusing solely on the Arctic Circle is, by definition, remote from the daily lives and experiences of >99% of humanity.  Remote, however, does not mean irrelevant — even if people don’t see it.  Thus, linking this to what is being experienced in our backyards (e.g, the opening re how climate change(d) my backyard) or relating what it would mean in the backyard (that 120 degrees in Gaithersburg analogy) helps people bring the understandable ‘gap’ from the remote to their own lives.

→ No CommentsTags: catastrophic climate change · climate change

Shhh … when it comes to #weather/#climate links, nothing to be seen here (@WashingtonPost edition)

December 27th, 2015 · 4 Comments

Shhh … there is nothing to be seen here. Even with perhaps the nation’s top political cartoonist on climate change,CXG5n6KWQAAisRo Tom Toles, and the excellent climate/energy/science reporting of the likes of Chris Mooney, article after article in The Washington Post discussing ‘weird weather’ in the DC area and elsewhere goes with nary a mention of climate change.

See the 26 December front-page, above-the-fold article “White Hot Christmas: Some rejoice in D.C’s record-setting warmth, but others are unnerved“.

Even as Washingtonians found themselves luxuriating in the steam bath that was Christmas 2015, even as decades of meteorological records were shattered, they could not help but feel out of sorts, as if they were indulging in something that was not quite right

The article tells us that DC saw “the highest Christmas [temperature] reading in more than 30 years” amid “ever-toastier conditions” yet, amid dozens of column inches, we hear of “end times” and recipes for a warmer Christmas but the words “climate change” don’t appear.

Speaking of End Times, the online version’s headline is telling:

‘Jesus might be coming back .?.?. Or it’s something else. I don’t know.’

Within the article,

Lakisha Webster’s eyes narrowed as she struggled to make sense of the forces that may have conspired to turn what she once knew as winter into the strangest of summers.

“Jesus might be coming back,” Webster, 44, said, while her young grandson test-drove a new $800 dirt bike. “Or it’s something else. I don’t know. But it’s scary — a little bit scary.”

The voice of confusion and conflict — enjoyment and/or discomfort.  A long, front-page article without any placement of context. (For an alternative approach, capturing the dissonance between enjoying warm December weather while understanding climate change impacts, see #Climate change has changed my (and your) backyard.)
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→ 4 CommentsTags: climate change · environmental · journalism · media · Washington Post · weather

#Climate change has changed my (and your) backyard

December 27th, 2015 · 4 Comments

It is late December, Washington, DC, suburbs

Roses and Azaleas blooming in DC-area garden, late Dec 2015

Roses and Azaleas blooming in DC-area garden, late Dec 2015

and things are out-of-whack. Roses and azaleas blooming in the garden with cut flowers adorning the dining room table and enough lettuce coming up that we’re looking toward fresh salad from the garden for a New Year’s brunch.

Let me tell you: this is not normal.  Actually, correction: this was not normal and sadly is likely a sign of ‘the new normal’: weird weather, with new extremes of all types, amid a warming global ecosystem.

Washington is warm — record-setting warm.

CXG1OpvUwAEvini

Even the cherry blossoms are confused, looking like mid-April rather than December.

Lettuce growing in DC-area garden. late Dec 2015

Lettuce growing in DC-area garden. late Dec 2015

High temperature record, after record, along the U.S. east coast are getting shattered

this December as my lettuce emerges through winter cover plants.

CXG5n6KWQAAisRo

And, while it gets warm during the day, it isn’t cooling at night.

This isn’t just DC.

“According to preliminary data from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), at least 2,693 record daily highs were tied or broken across the U.S. during the first 23 days of December. An additional 3,912 record-warm daily low temperatures have been set during the same time period,” the Weather Channel reported. “By comparison, just 147 daily record lows and 140 additional record cool highs were set in the same time frame.”

Let us be clear, for a moment, this is not isolated either temporally nor geographically. Here, for example, is Minnesota with the question “what is happening to winter?” In the UK, daffodils are blooming at Windsor Castle.

Dec 2015 temperature anomalies (note: baseline is 1980-2010: e.g, a climate changed baseline ...)

Dec 2015 temperature anomalies (note: baseline is 1980-2010: e.g, a climate changed baseline …)

Temperatures are going up globally — writ large — year to year. Decade-to-decade, ever more warm temperature records are getting broken than cold ones (for daily highs and warm minimums, and for average temperatures). And, this is happening globally, with 2015 blasting through the record books and surpassing 2014 as the warmest year on record.

Back to the backyard …

Daily life is a form of cognitive dissonance.

Physically, these warm temperatures are a joy. Bike riding and walking with t-shirts, having windows open for fresh air, not having to be bundled up with heavy winter clothing.

Yet … this is beyond bizarre, the changed backyard is ominous to the extent of ‘climate changed’ rather than ‘the climate will change’.  In the past ‘normal’, roses from the garden aren’t supplying cut flowers for the household at the end of the year.  Wild lettuce never provided a New Year’s day salad.

If ‘new normal’ were only about enjoying standing outside talking to neighbors and eating fresh food from the garden, then there’d be reason to embrace it … sadly, that is not the dominant outcome.

From disrupted wildlife and agriculture, to more severe storms, to rising seas, to … climate change threatens us.

And, even while tomorrow’s impacts will be greater than today’s, as my (and your) changed backyard shows, these threats are truly upon us now …

 

→ 4 CommentsTags: climate change

Climate reality debunking

December 22nd, 2015 · 1 Comment

Debunking deceit is difficult business.

Among other things:

  • Deceit and dishonesty is easier than thoughtful, substantive, truthful engagement. As Winston Churchill put it, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”
  • People simply don’t have the capacity (think time and luxury of deep consideration) to absorb detail counterpoints on issue after issue, day after day.
  • Which means that Gish Galloping (“a debate spewed forth an endless torrent of talking points, rendering constructive debate impossible”) powerfully sways the ‘undecided’ and marginally informed as the talking points stick and detailed rebuttals sound weak, whining, and caught up in the details (rather than exuberantly thriving in 140-character Twitterdom climate-science denial like @RealDonaldTrump). Simply put, those who care less about truthful engagement have a debate advantage:
  • And, people simply don’t want their misperceptions corrected — there is a natural resistance to inconvenient truth.

All this combines to mean that fact checkers operate with inherent disadvantage.

Worsening the situation is the ever fracturing of our media and communal interaction landscape. There is no longer a Walter Cronkite nor M.A.S.H. unifying American discourse and providing true common guidestones for interaction and ground truth. Too many are getting “their truth” from “their” media and are not open to external voices or opinions.

And compounding the problem further:  most ‘debunkers’ seem not to have read Randy Olson‘s Don’t be such a scientist: talking substance in an age of style and take a rather academic and intellectual approach to the process, much like what one might have been taught in an academic class back in grammar school, with a argument structure that can fail to capture audience and, even worse, can actually reinforce falsehoods in audience’s minds.

All of this combines, as per the opening sentence, to make debunking myths extremely difficult and highlight the importance of taking this very seriously, including learning from those that dedicate serious attention to the challenges and leverage their learning to foster more effective styles.

Simply put, The Debunking Handbook (pdf) is one of the most effective pieces of literature that I’ve encountered. A short, fully documented yet highly digestible paper with a real impact on how I think about and approach ‘debunking’ and refuting truthiness-laden arguments. (See here for my review: Debunk me: Lean, mean, and easy to read.) There are five core elements:

  • Mud sticks: it is hard to change people’s mind and simply providing accurate and more information is not likely to dislodge myths.
  • Familiarity Backfire Effect: The more people hear something, the likelier that it ‘sticks’ with them.
  • Overkill Backfire Effect: More information and arguments ? more effective.  Less often is more.
  • Worldview Backfire Effect: Sadly, when it comes to climate change (or evolution or …), a simple reality is that there are unreachables that will not be convinced no matter how much energy you put into it and therefore “outreaches should be directed towards the undecided majority rather than the unswayable minority”.
  • Mind the Gap: MIND THE GAPThe debunking effort creates a void (a gap in people’s mental model) and nature abhors a vacuum.  For effective debunking, “your debunking must fill that gap” with an alternative (truthful) explanation

With these in mind, here is an Anatomy of an effective debunking. Bringing all the different threads together, an
effective debunking requires:

  • Core facts—a refutation should emphasize facts, not the myth. Present only key facts to avoid an Overkill Backfire Effect;
  • Explicit warnings—before any mention of a myth, text or visual cues should warn that the upcoming information is false;
  • Alternative explanation—any gaps left by the debunking need to be filled. This may be achieved by providing an alternative causal explanation for why the myth is wrong and, optionally, why the misinformers promoted the myth in the first place;
  • Graphics – core facts should be displayed graphically if possible.

While important in providing ‘how to’ guidance, the Handbook also provides a window by which to consider debunking efforts.

Perhaps like debunking myths, The Debunking Handbook seems to face an uphill struggle.  People “know” how to debunk and remain locked into old patterns that might not be effective.

There are many organizations and individuals across the climate (and broader science) communities who expend meaningful resources challenging various myths (and outright falsehoods) about climate science and potential mitigation paths forward.  All too often, these individuals and institutions do not follow debunking basic principles.

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→ 1 CommentTags: climate change · climate delayers

.@SenSanders releases climate plan … lots of great material but …

December 7th, 2015 · No Comments

Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign has released his climate change plan, advertised as People before Polluters.

Several upfront comments

  • To be clear, there is much of real and substantive value in the Sanders’ plan — despite some critical comments to follow.  With whatever faults it may (or may not) have, adopting (and executing) this plan would put the United States on a much stronger footing economically and help lead the world toward meaningful engagement / progress toward climate mitigation.
  • Important in (and central to) this plan are several elements that set this plan apart:
    • As discussed by Brad Plumer, “the call for all-out war against fossil fuel interests, that sets Sanders’s platform apart from traditional Democratic climate proposals.” And,
    • a serious focus on environmental and ‘economic justice — the tackling of climate challenges and seizing of opportunities in ways that foster greater equity domestically and internationally.
  • Full and robust analysis will wait until later. (And will probably involve a ‘side-by-side’ discussion of the full Sanders’ material with that of Senator Clinton and Governor O’Malley.)
  • The substantive discussion of climate change and paths to address it that is seen on the Democratic side of #Election2016 is, of course, in stark contrast with the devoted science denialism across the GOP candidate rabble.

So, understanding that this is not based on a detailed read and analysis of the plan, follow after the fold for some thoughts / comments.

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→ No CommentsTags: climate change · Election 2016

Energy COOL: Greenbuild window on better living/working spaces

December 5th, 2015 · No Comments

Since diving into the deep end when it comes to energy issues, almost every day sees new fascinating concepts, approaches, and technologies. Fascinating … exciting … even hope inspiring at times. And, as well, as the passion builds, so many of these are truly Energy COOL. Often, at conferences, the trade show floors intrigue and impassion me far more than sitting and listening to formal presentations. Simply put, I do not know what and who will catch my attention when walking into these ‘business development/promotion’ spaces but know that I will have some happy surprises.

Every year, the trade show of USGBC‘s Greenbuild provides numerous opportunities for learning and excitement about developing and, even more importantly, available technologies and systems that can help provide solutions to and create opportunities within our energy, environmental, and economic challenges.

The 2015 Greenbuild, held in Washington DC last month, had an enormous trade-show floor — essentially stuffing the DC Convention Center’s ‘basement’ with hundreds of booths. Regretfully, with only a few hours available, I couldn’t even walk the entire trade show space with limited ability to pay serious attention to booths. Even so, there were many both new items of interest and new windows on long known about items. This post provides four brief examples from Greenbuild:

  • Comfy: “intelligent software for personalized comfort in the workplace”;
  • Suite Plants‘ indoor/outdoor vertical planters;
  • Waterfence rain storage systems; and,
  • Solatube tubes for bringing sunlight into living and working spaces.

Let’s be clear, none of these is the earth-shaking panacea to climate change and all our energy challenges that Bill Gates (and others) seems to be seeking and counting on.  While these aren’t Holy Grails, each  provides Silver BB value streams to be ‘part of a solution set’ to our myriad challenges. More interestingly, each of these has intriguing system-of-system value streams and their staff that I engaged with at Greenbuild were ready to speak substantively about this.

For some discussion, follow after the fold.

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→ No CommentsTags: architecture · Energy · energy cool · energy home

Growing Dutch Electric Vehicle fleet not driving Rotterdam coal use

November 28th, 2015 · No Comments

an electric car is a relatively low-polluting vehicle today and will be even less polluting tomorrow.

A simple truth upfront:

All things being equal, electric vehicles (EVs) reduce pollution loads.

Now, there are many caveats and corollaries to this truism. For example,

  • Better to reduce transport requirements (build/live in walkable communities; telecommute; etc …) than use electric vehicles.
  • The cleaner the electricity sourcing, the lower the EVs pollution load.
  • Even with 100% renewable electricity sourcing, EVs reduce pollution compared to “BAU” (business as usual)– they don’t eliminate it.

With this in mind, lets consider a recent Washington Post article on electric vehicles in the Netherlands and the potential ‘pollution’ impacts from the growth in Dutch EV deployment.  While buried deep within the article, the author vehicles-ev-tool-promorightly looks to a recent Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) study on electric vehicles that concluded that — even in the most heavily polluting of US electricity supplies — the worst status for an EV is roughly the climate impact of a 36 mile per gallon vehicle.  And, as the electric supply cleans up (hydro, wind, solar, nuclear, …), that mpg equivalent increases — actually skyrockets — to well about 100 mpg (and, well, potentially into the 100s of mpg equivalency).

Let’s be clear, to reinforce, EVs are better pollution wise (on the street level for urban pollution loads and globally for climate change) than their internal combustion equivalents … That is not what one really gathers from this front page article.

The Post article creates a misleading image for its readership as exemplified by the online title: Electric cars and the coal that runs them.  From the opening paragraphs,

In this traffic-packed Dutch city [of Rotterdam], electric cars jostle for space at charging ­stations. The oldest exhaust-spewing vehicles will soon be banned from the city center. … the share of electric vehicles has grown faster in the Netherlands than in nearly any other country in the world.

But behind the green growth is a filthy secret: In a nation famous for its windmills, electricity is coming from a far dirtier source. Three new coal-fired power plants, including two here on the Rotterdam harbor, are supplying much of the power to fuel the Netherlands’ electric-car boom.

What would any reasonable person take away from this?  From my perspective, rather simple: growth of EVs is driving deployment of coal-fired power plants and the use of this “filthy” energy source negates any potential value streams. [See published letter to the editor below [1].]

Let’s do a quick summation of why this framing is simply at odds with a reasonable read of the situation:

  • Dutch EV penetration is growing rapidly, now. This comes well after the decision-making about whether to construct Rotterdam coal-fired plants (with a 2008 announcement of their construction).  E.g., the coal-fired power plants were being built well before “electric cars [began to] jostle for space …”
  • EV electricity usage is only a small fraction of the demand for these coal-fired plants. Even if 100% of the EV electricity comes from these plants (a simply unrealistic assumption), the total Dutch EV demand is pretty much only a rounding error in terms of their electricity production. (See calculation below indicating that this is well below two percent. [2])

 

Thus, to make it clear: electric vehicles did not drive the development of Rotterdam coal-fired power plants nor are they using a substantial portion of the generated electricity. Now, as per the UCS study, electric vehicles’ environmental advantages over traditional internal combustion engines increase as the electricity supply gets cleaner. Thus, running an EV off coal is far from optimum. However, in the Netherlands as in most parts of the world, the rapidly increasing penetration of clean-electricity options is more than outpacing the introduction of electric transportation options.

Reading the article makes one wonder … The Washington Post has long had an editorial stance questioning the viability and basic sensibility of electric vehicles (on this, see, for example, hereherehere, here, here, here, ….).  Even though real-world developments are — with every passing day — making this seem a less reasonable position, articles like this one make one question whether and/or how that editorial position is influencing the writing/editing of news articles.

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