In a series of guest posts, Assaf addresses — from the perspective both of an EV owner and an analyst — myths about electric vehicles. The first post addressed the life-cycle CO2 Footprint of various types of cars … and … the simple truth (in line with Debunking Handbook guidelines):
Electric Vehicles have lower
carbon dioxide implications
through their life cycle
This post follows up with addressing a series of issues such as the importance of reducing oil demand and other greenhouse gas emissions.
In a very broad way, climate specialists have laid down a target for climate mitigation: keep global warming below two degrees centigrade and we have a decent chance at avoiding catastrophic climate change.
This target has always troubled me. Problems include speaking “centigrade” to metrically-challenged Americans; the esoteric nature of “2 degrees” toessentially every thinking person; and the serious uncertainty as to how much risk actually exists.
One particularly troubling element: How do we define “catastrophic”?
How many species going extinct is acceptable “cost” before it is “catastrophic”?
How much disrupted agriculture acceptable?
How much sea rise?
How much damage before we say it is “catastrophic”?
When it comes to ‘catastrophic’, it seems plausible that reasonable people — if presented with data about climate-change influenced events like Hurricane Sandy and 2012’s drought/heat wave in the United States (with a cost of $30 billion or so) and other climate implications — might see what is occurring as already “catastrophic” with that ‘catastrophic’ getting worse with each passing hour with continued/increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
For decades, scientists have suggested that limiting warming to 2C above pre industrial figures would (likely) be ‘acceptable’, enabling humanity to avoid the worst damages while providing breathing space to wean ourselves from fossil fuels. While the global economy is not on track to meet this target (actually, on track to blow through it), that 2C target is one for which global politicians, global institutions, and most nations have made some form of commitment to supporting and achieving.
Now, however, as research knowledge advances and we gain a greater understanding of what is happening around the world, an increasing share of the relevant scientific community is rethinking that esoteric and confusing 2C target. Sadly, for humanity’s future prospects, the scientists don’t seem to be concluding ‘hey, things aren’t so bad and we can acceptably take a lot more pollution and a lot more warming’. Instead, a group of 18 scientists will publish a paper tomorrow in PLOS One in which they conclude that the 2C target
“would have consequences that can be described as disastrous”
With a 2°C increase,
sea level rise of several meters could be expected …
Increased climate extremes, already apparent at 0.8°C warming, would be more severe. Coral reefs and associated species, already stressed with current conditions, would be decimated by increased acidification, temperature and sea level rise.
The argument is pretty straightforward — and no surprise to readers of this blog:
humanity has evolved in the Holocene climate …
a 1C warming keeps us close to the Holocene range and thus not majorly disruptive …
A 2Ce warming, however, would cause “major dislocations for civilization.”
The title of this paper is far from what one would expect to see in a scientific journal:
Assessing ‘dangerous climate change’: required reduction of carbon emissions to protect young people, future generations and nature
Not too surprising, the climate denial world will almost certainly scream that there aren’t the typical caveats, disclaimers, and otherwise that pepper virtually all scientific literature. These scientists have clearly come to the basic understanding that the uncertainties, which exist, are at the margins of the core issue: if the worst outcomes (which are plausible and possible) turn out to be true, humanity will face catastrophic implications.
These scientists are — in a sense — changing the climate mitigation scenario in a serious way. Rather than 1000 gigatons of total emissions (another truly difficult number for the average person/most people to process), we have ‘only’ 500 gigatons. In essence, we have already burned through the limit and most be quite serious about carbon emissions reductions rather than opening more climate pollution sources with virtually ever passing day.
“Although there is merit in simply chronicling what is happening, there is still opportunity for humanity to exercise free will.”
While there are many bottlenecks that constrain the deployment of renewable energy, two fundamental challenges that inhibit significant deployments seem eminently solvable even within realistic understanding of political, cultural, and financial constraints.
When it comes to renewable energy, a simple reality:
Renewable energy electricity options (with the general exception of biomass) are capital intensive and low-cost maintenance/operational cost. Pay upfront and reap the benefits for a long time to come. A hydroelectric dam is far from cheap but — assuming reasonable maintenance and upgrading investment — will provide electricity for a century or more to come with nearly zero marginal cost for each additional generated electron. If we look at the major hydroelectric dams around the nation, they were developed with low-cost government money and leveraging existing technologies (even as they were, such as Hoover Dam, significant engineering challenges). America’s hydro-electricity was therefore developed with the model of low-cost public money (with public ownership) + low-cost technology to deliver affordable electricity for generations.
For a variety of reasons — good, bad, indifferent — decisions occur that drive projects toward the “high” rather than “low” cost option.
Erratic, with this guest post, made me think … Perhaps you will find it interesting as well. And, well, perhaps you agree with me in hoping that “people” do / that humanity does “survive this bottleneck”.
In Ondaatje’s Running in the Family, the father describes a persistent delusion where his family is surrounded by a cloud of poison gas, but he’s the only one that can see it, and if he tells the others, they’ll become aware and be poisoned by it. It’s a tragic and remarkable image for a man whose toxic alcoholism has seriously compromised his ability to be a good father to his family. Sometimes, I feel similarly about climate change, that there’s a gathering poisonous cloud that we’re really not taking seriously.
When I do env ed programs with students on stormwater runoff and habitat, part of me feels they’d be better served if we were teaching wilderness survival skills - how to build shelter and stay warm. When I plant native plants and create habitat, I wonder how likely they are to survive the coming climate instability which is apparently locked in.
In a series of guest posts, Assaf addresses — from the perspective both of an EV owner and an analyst — myths about electric vehicles. This post, as per title, addresses the life-cycle CO2 Footprint of various types of cars … and … the simple truth (in line with Debunking Handbook guidelines):
Electric Vehicles have lower
carbon dioxide implications
through their life cycle
A few days ago we celebrated our own first anniversary as EV drivers. Ironically, it fell exactly as we were on a camping trip with our non-electric car. This coincidence is a great reminder that life consists of compromises and shades of grey. Indeed, the series will steer clear of ideological purity, and instead discuss the real-worldproperties and impact of EVs as areal-world, imperfect solution toreal-world problems.
Arguably, 2013 might be remembered as the year of the modern EV’s breakthrough.Across most of America, EVs have now entered mainstream consciousness - not only as a consumer choice for ordinary people planning to get a car, but also as a discussion topic. 2013 is also when the United States has established itself as the #1 place the EV story is being played out. US EV sales have mushroomed, leaving other regions in the dust (currently we’re on pace to a 80%-100% increase over 2012). And the US is also - rather impressively and surprisingly considering the state of US auto industries over the past generation - the place where the unquestioned technology and mass-market leaders of the two branches of the EV market (all-electric, and plug-in-hybrid/extended-range) have been designed and are being made: namely, the Tesla Model S and the Chevy Volt.
Such dramatic changes, and their even greater disruptive potential, rarely come without controversy. The flamboyant and media-monster persona of Tesla’s founder Elon Musk adds some spice to the media EV mix, but this goes far beyond Musk himself. Everyone and his brother (yes, automotive journalism still seems to be a nearly exclusive male territory) now feels the need to opine or “analyze” some aspect of EVs every other week. As a whole, the mainstream media vibe is still predominantly anti-EV. If you disbelieve me, take some time to fish out EV “analysis” articles from 2011, 2012 and this year. According to mainstream analyst consensus, the EV segment should have withered and died in shame by now multiple times over. I might deal with media coverage on a later post. But first things first, and more important than anything else is dispelling myths about EVs’ environmental impact.
The fossil fuel industry — with predictable political allies — has repeatedly sought to convince Americans (via an all-too often gullible media) that the Obama Administration is engaged on a “War on Coal” (. While reasonable analysis would suggest that one can say that it is actually ‘coal industrial interests’ that is engaged in warfare on humanity, the Administration’s on-again, off-again actions to address health and environmental (including global warming) implications from the mining, transport, and burning of coal is hard to describe honestly as a “war”. With an “all of the above” strategy that includes investing in coal-fired electricity carbon capture and storage along with rather slow development of regulation that Supreme Court decisions have said should occur, the Obama Administration has — if anything — been engaged in a Phony War on coal’s threat to Americans (both living and unborn).
If there were an actual, serious ‘war on coal’, one would expect that the Administration — in face of a global warming denying majority in the House — would be going with all guns blazing, using every possible tool for leverage to demolish the coal industry. This, however, does not seem to be the case. Let’s use one case to illuminate this: the Export-Import Bank’s continued subsidy of coal exports.
Today, I’m calling for an end of public financing for new coal plants overseas — (applause) — unless they deploy carbon-capture technologies, or there’s no other viable way for the poorest countries to generate electricity. And I urge other countries to join this effort.
“An end of public financing for new coal plants overseas …”
That is a rather clear statement.
There is a part of the Administration that is directly involved in the “public financing” of international projects and activities: the Export-Import Bank.
If the Administration has been engaged in a “war on coal”, the Export-Import Bank clearly doesn’t seem to have received the notice of a declaration of war. Export-Import Bank funding for fossil fuel projects has shot up from just under $3 million in fiscal year 2009 to $9.6 billion in 2012.
In fiscal year 2011, Ex-Im Bank financed the 3,960 megawatt Sasan coal power project in India and 4,800 megawatt Kusile coal power project in South Africa. Sasan and Kusile will rank among the world’s largest coal power projects with combined 56.9 million tons of annual CO2 emissions, plus extensive pollution to local water and air, causing community displacement and health problems that potentially include increased rates of cardiopulmonary diseases and cancer deaths.
In the same time period, under the Obama Administration, the Export-Import Bank has essentially remain unchanged in its support for one of the fastest growing sectors in international business activity: clean-energy projects and technologies.
As an example of a troubling ExIm Bank project, we need look no further than the hills of Appalachia. As the mountains of West Virginia disappear via mountain-top removal and the environmental/health impacts mount, The Ex-Im Bank is subsidizing XCoal Energy and Resources export of Appalachian coal to India. In this case, not only is American territory getting devastated but we– the taxpayers — are subsidizing another nation’s costs to move coal half-way around the world to burn it in dirty plants. This subsidy therefore helps undercut efforts to foster a cleaner energy future in India. When it comes to this situation, the ExIm Bank is being sued for not sufficiently reviewing the effects on health and the environment when making the loan.
The Export Import Bank continues to assist the dirtiest energy solutions secure business around the globe while giving clean energy solutions short shrift. This not only helps foster continued environmental damage (from local impacts from mountain top removal in Appalachia to global impacts like increased mercury in the food stream and increased climate change risks), but undercuts the ability of American clean energy firms to secure a stronger place in this 21st economic powerhouse arena.
It’s clear from these projects that the administration needs to take a closer look at the Ex-Im Bank’s activities. Their subsidies aren’t just harming foreign nations and natural habitats; they’re also doing damage to our businesses and natural resources here at home.
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 trulyEnergy COOL. One pleasure of attending energy-related conferences is the chance to wander the trade show and talk to (and learn from) a range of innovators and experts from a diversity of firms. Yesterday morning, with the government shutdown, I wondered whether a four-day demonstration at National Defense University (oops, website down with government shutdown) in Washington, DC, would actually be open … and was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was.
For the seventh year in a row, the STAR-TIDES program is running a combination mini-conference and demonstration on NDU’s parade ground in southeast Washington, DC. On the conference agenda (note: that provides a free sign up, although that is not required to attend the sessions/see the demonstrations), today, for example is the following:
1200-1300: Lunchtime Speaker Series: Mr. Dennis McGinn, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations and Environment)- Lunch provided for first 200 people with Authentic Ethiopian dishes BY Babington Technology, Inc. at their Disaster Relief Mobile Kitchen Trailer.
1500-1545: Facilitated Discussion: Soft Power (Sheldon Himelfarb, Director, Center of Innovation: Science, Technology and Peacebuilding at United State Institute of Peace)
A bit late, of course, for most readers of this post to run over today but the TIDES demonstration will be open from 9 to 5 today and tomorrow, and for the morning Friday.
There are some quite interesting — Energy COOL — systems and companies on display. These include:
biolitestove which has a small wood (or dung?) burning stove that also generates limited electricity (enough for limited LED lighting and cell phone recharging). BioLite has a version for the developed world (camping) and another for the developing world. They claim that their stoves (for developing world) reduce biomass requirements by 50% and actual emissions by over 70% due to greater burn efficiency while then also providing that limited electricity for those off the grid — as they phrase it, “Bottom Up Power”. On that camping version, they offer a really cool grill option that, among other things, drains the fat from cooking back into the stove to be burnt for energy (both cooking/heat and recharging your cell phone or providing light).
HybridPetals is a firm specializing in electric bikes along with figuring out how to leverage solar pv advances to provide additional range and capability for these bikes. For example, an electric assist bike with a stretcher and another with a medical support trailer that is covered by solar panels that power up a small refrigerator element for medicines.
Rain Catchers with a system for rainwater harvesting and water sanitation for disaster relief and other expeditionary environments.
There are just a few of the several dozen firms at the TIDES demonstration.
And, this is just a taste of an Energy COOL opportunity amid a government shutdown as I am about to leave my computer to go visit it again today.
The recent Australian elections represent a significant set-back for climate sanity within Australia and represent a serious step backward when it comes to climate change issues in the Anglophone world. Now, two major Commonwealth nations (Canada, Australia) are governed by political parties that are lock-step with fossil fuel extraction industries and the Australian government seems well down a path toward censoring it scientists as is going on in Canada (and Canadian scientists fighting back …).
voters were probably not sending a message about carbon policy. Only 37 percent of Australians support eliminating the carbon tax and replacing it with the policies of Abbott and the Coalition. The tax didn’t even break voters’ top three concerns, with those spots going to concerns about the economy, asylum seekers, and health care. In fact, most Australians think the country’s climate policies should remain the same or stronger.
Instead, voter antipathy toward the center-left government may be rooted in an aversion to political hypocrisy and broken promises. Leaders of the Labor Party, including former PM Julia Gillard, previously promised there would be no carbon tax, then flipped on the issue and instated one any way. A reporter for The Guardian’s Australian edition noted that the Labor Party was thrown out of power because for voters, it “became an issue of her [former PM's] credibility really rather than carbon pricing.”
The Coalition’s complaint that everyone wants to get rid of the carbon tax is not backed up by the numbers.
The issue that seems to have resonated was the twisted path to the carbon pricing … not the existence of such a program. (E.g., ‘character’ rather than ‘policy’ swayed Australian voters …)
Yet, whether listening to the new Australian Prime Minister, the climate denialist/anti-clean energy world, and a huge share of the media world, carbon pricing was central to the election results. In a sense, they are right — the results of the election will have a detrimental impact on Australia’s climate policy even if the majority of Australians understand that climate change is a reality, a reality impacting Australia already, and a reality that will have ever more devastating impact on their nation.
Missed, for so many, in discussions about the Australian election is a simple reality: MMfA or Media Mattered for Australia.
Murdoch’s News Corp is the dominant voice in Australian media.
Denial … I’m in denial
When I see those eco-nazis, I raise my arm and shout Sieg Heil
I’m in denial … deep in denial
And as the waters rise around me I’ll just hold my breath and say
It isn’t so
Those fires are not raging, No floods deluge the land
Those hurricanes and tornadoes are just flashes in the pan
The animals are doing fine, No species dying out
And half the bloody climate isn’t choking in drought
The ice is not receding, from either polar cap
I’d go with Tony Abbott, It’s just a load of crap
This round-the-world disaster is an evil greedy trap
‘Cause everybody knows the world is flat
PS: Another Canada and Australia linkage: they are both nations being hit by significant climate impacts on a more accelerated pace than many other regions/nations of the world. The Canadian Arctic is melting and Australia has been (seemingly) oscillating between burning (and burning and burning and …) and flooding (and flooding and …).
As even the most casual student of history knows, yesterday’s friends can be tomorrow’s enemies and vice versa. Germany and Japan as America’s most mortal allies transformed, post World War II, into two close allies. It is worth keeping this in mind to consider the overheated rhetoric about a supposed “war on coal”.
Coal was critical for the industrial revolution and was a serious player for transforming the world over the past several centuries. However, somewhat like international relationships, technology and energy systems can evolve and change. And, our understanding of costs and benefits can shift as well.
While coal for a long period was an absolutely critical part of our energy scene, technological advances have changed that. For example, ships and railroads that once ran on coal now run more efficiently with petroleum fuels and electricity. And, the same thing is an ever-increasing reality in the electricity market. Once the ‘lowest price’ out there for new electricity, natural gas is beating coal down right now due to depressed gas prices. And, increasingly, renewable energy projects are beating coal on a price-point basis — even without considering ‘externalities’.
As to those externalities, we now know that there are very real, very serious, very significant costs that fall outside the price contact — are external to the financial relationship — that are costing us as individuals and adults.
We now know that the mining and burning of coal causes tremendous damage, creates costs from …
While fossil fuel promoters, uncaring about the havoc they create on others (living and unborn), scream that the Obama Administration is undertaking a “War on Coal” there is a quite different angle. They — the promoters of coal — long ago determined that their own profitability was more important than the pain and suffering that they cause others, that cash in their pocket was more important than the damage they cause for all of us. If there is such a thing as a “war”, they declared it a long time ago. It is well past time to recognize that and act accordingly.