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Climate Crisis: WeCanSolveIt Omits PHEVs; Jeffrey Sachs/Andew Revkin/Joe Romm Don't

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  • Felix Kramer
    One of our ongoing objectives has been to position plug-in cars -- and the broad solution of electrifying transportation -- as key way to globally reduce
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 7, 2008
      One of our ongoing objectives has been to position plug-in cars --
      and the broad solution of electrifying transportation -- as key way
      to globally reduce greenhouse gases. With some notable exceptions,
      many climate crisis leaders have simply offered a laundry list of
      steps that jumble together more efficient fossil fuel cars (hybrids),
      impractical (hydrogen fuel cells) and misdirected (today's biofuels).
      Often they justify presenting a hodge-podge by saying "we're not
      picking winners" -- at a time when existing incentives and policies
      reinforce solutions that are big losers for climate change!

      Below you'll find:
      * What the organization Al Gore founded, The Alliance for Climate
      Protection, has come up with
      Related links to exchanges and comments from:
      * Jeffrey Sachs, famed economist of the Columbia University Earth Institute
      * Andrew Revkin, reporter at The New York Times
      * Joseph Romm of Climate Progress, energy veteran
      * We end with a link to Time Magazine's devastating survey of the
      unintended consequences of our nation's recent enchantment with
      ethanol and a followup report in The New York Times.

      JAMES HANSEN ENDORSEMENT: Back in February 2006, we hoped recognition
      of plug-ins' role would grow after PHEVs got strong backing from one
      of the world's leading experts on global warming, James Hansen,
      director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Goddard
      Institute for Space Studies: "The plug-in hybrid approach, as being
      pursued by CalCars, seems to be our best bet for controlling vehicle
      CO2 emissions in the near-term. Vehicle emissions are the greatest
      challenge that we must overcome to stabilize climate."

      Since then, automakers are coming around, though too slowly. Support
      remains spotty among environmental groups. The CleanTech community
      gets it, as do many elected officials and opinionmakers; we hope at
      some point the US Mayors' Climate Protection Agreement
      http://www.usmayors.org/climateprotection/agreement.htm will get more specific.

      what might emerge from the campaign Al Gore founded, the Alliance for
      Climate Protection (to which he donated his Nobel Prize award). Gore
      has mentioned PHEVs, and we got to talk with him about them back in
      Oct 2006 http://www.calcars.org/calcars-news/559.html . Since then,
      we've been among those who've been waiting for the sequel to "An
      Inconvenient Truth" -- solutions, beyond moderate individual steps
      such as those proposed at the film's website
      http://www.stopglobalwarming.org/sgw_actionitems.asp .

      Last week, the Alliance launched http://www.wecansolveit.org , a
      $300M/three-year effort to promote awareness of solutions. We welcome
      the campaign and its inspiring messages, especially the ones that say
      we can solve it with current technologies. Yet while recognizing it's
      a work in progress, we continue to be disappointed.

      GOOD PICKS: In a section called "Adoption of Renewables," the
      campaign doesn't hesitate to identify the most consequential
      technologies in three areas.
      we find good descriptions of a great group of solutions:
      1. wind power 2. solar thermal, 3 solar photovoltaic, 4. geothermal
      we find:
      1. Building for energy-efficiency 3. Making new appliances more

      NO PICKS:
      * CUTTING FUEL COSTS ON THE ROAD: Here's ACP's take:
      CO2 emissions from cars and trucks account for about one-third of
      all energy-related global warming pollution in the United States.
      Cars bought in the United States last year averaged only 20 miles per
      gallon (mpg), which is less than half the gas mileage available on
      the most efficient cars today and about the same as a 1908 Model T.
      We can do better than a car introduced 100 years ago. With American
      innovation and technology, we can offer all cars with much better
      fuel economy and the same level of safety and features we expect. And
      the opportunities are not just available for cars: heavy-duty trucks,
      which transport about 60% of the goods we buy and use 39 billion
      gallons of fuel every year, can also become more efficient. Effective
      gas mileage standards and support for innovative technologies will
      keep our transportation system moving while greatly decreasing our
      environmental impact.

      WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS? The subject line is about cost and the topic
      is all about fuel economy. It assumes continued reliance on fossil
      fuels and aims way too low. It doesn't connect with what it said
      about those renewable fuels specifically described -- all of which
      are electricity generators! The best way to use them is with plug-in
      vehicles. What's so complicated about that? We hope that WeCanSolveIt
      will take the next step and urge citizens to join the campaign to
      fuel most transportation miles from electricity as soon as possible
      and use car batteries to store intermittent renewable electricity.

      We remain puzzled about why those who see the urgency of substantial
      fossil fuel reductions in the next decade fail to make the mental
      leap to promote and incentivize transportation solutions that do
      just that. Maybe the answer can be found in the following three
      stories, that show illustrate the consequences of a mindset that
      assumes it's just a slightly more efficient "business as usual" until
      we get "breakthroughs" permitting quantum changes.


      ANDREW REVKIN: Last Sunday, Revkin, who has covered global warming
      for more than two decades, wrote an "Ideas and Trends" story in The
      New York Times Week in Review: "A Shift in the Debate Over Global
      http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/06/weekinreview/06revkin.html . The
      story's four pie charts display energy losses by sector (from
      Lawrence Berkeley Lab). The smaller two, industry and
      residential/commercial buildings show 20% of energy lost. Electricity
      generation shows 66% of energy lost -- mostly in heat from coal and
      natural gas, and including up to 10% in transmission lines (refuting
      common assumptions that "wheeling losses" are much higher).

      The pie with the highest energy lost -- 71% -- is transportation. The
      caption says it all: "Needed: lighter vehicles with more efficient
      engines. Plug-in hybrids, using electricity generated from
      carbon-free sources, could drastically reduce energy loss and emissions."

      In the story, Revkin quotes economist Jeffrey Sachs on solutions,
      including a survey of solutions and a call for "large-scale public
      funding of research, development and demonstration programs." Here's
      what Sachs says, followed by a rejoinder from Joseph Romm, former
      Energy Department official, author of "The Hype about Hydrogen" and
      "Hell and High Water."

      JEFFREY D. SACHS, Earth Institute, Columbia University
      Keys to Climate Protection Scientific America April, 2008
      Consider three potentially transformative low-emissions technologies:
      carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), plug-in hybrid automobiles
      and concentrated solar-thermal electricity generation. Each will
      require a combination of factors to succeed: more applied scientific
      research, important regulatory changes, appropriate infrastructure,
      public acceptance and early high-cost investments to "ride the
      learning curve" to lower costs in the long term. A failure on one or
      more of these points could kill the technologies.
      <snip> Plug-in hybrid automobiles pose similar puzzles. Basic
      questions remain about the safety, reliability and durability of the
      batteries they require, as well as the need for extra investments in
      the power grid to support them. Early models may have high costs,
      lower convenience and uncertain performance.

      JOSEPH ROMM, cited in Revkin's story, takes the opportunity in his a
      must-read post at his Climate Progress blog
      to address head-on the approach implied by Revkin and Sachs, which he
      says fails to recognize that today's technologies can have a major
      near-term impact. (He doesn't directly respond to Sachs' "PHEV
      puzzles," which have been addressed many times.) He explores the ways
      those who call for breakthroughs perpetuate the status quo -- some
      intentionally, most unintentionally.

      Of course, the amount of Research and Development funds for renewable
      energy is criminally small. Yet that's only part of the point. Romm's
      posting and the comments that follow make clear that in particular,
      PHEVs and solar-thermal can of course benefit from R&D -- but they
      are now available for other Ds: Demonstration and Deployment. We have
      only to look at the past year's contracts for solar thermal and the
      announced plug-in plans of automakers to recognize that reality.

      See also the many responses at Revkin's DOT EARTH blog: the first is
      before the print story appeared, the second is after.

      Magazine's story spreads over the entire cover of its US and Asia
      editions the headline: The Clean Energy Myth"
      http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,20080407,00.html . The title
      inside is "The Clean Energy Scam: Hyped as an eco-friendly fuel,
      ethanol increases global warming, destroys forests and inflates food
      prices. So why are we subsidizing it? The story by Michael Grunwald,
      which goes beyond the conventional critique of corn ethanol to shows
      how sugar ethanol leads to destructive deforestation and how
      cellulosic ethanol may in some cases not be all that green, is at
      http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1725975,00.html .

      Perhaps this view will become the new received wisdom -- it's quoted
      in today's NYTimes column by economist Paul Krugman, "Grains Gone
      Wild," who cites "the rise of demon ethanol and other biofuels," and
      points out, "Oh, and in case you're wondering: all the remaining
      presidential candidates are terrible on this issue." The article at
      http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/07/opinion/07krugman.html is currently
      the second-most emailed story at NYTimes.com today.

      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      Felix Kramer fkramer@...
      Founder California Cars Initiative
      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
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