Climate Crisis: WeCanSolveIt Omits PHEVs; Jeffrey Sachs/Andew Revkin/Joe Romm Don't
- 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.
ALLIANCE FOR CLIMATE PROTECTION REMAINED A QUESTION MARK: We wondered
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
WE CAN SOLVE IT: SO FAR STILL A QUESTION MARK
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.
* POWER GENERATION: at
we find good descriptions of a great group of solutions:
1. wind power 2. solar thermal, 3 solar photovoltaic, 4. geothermal
* ENHANCED ENERGY EFFICIENCY: at
1. Building for energy-efficiency 3. Making new appliances more
* 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
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.
ADDITIONAL VALIDATION FOR PLUG-IN CARS & CLIMATE CHANGE:
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.
FINALLY, DON'T MISS LAST WEEK'S MAJOR DRUBBING OF ETHANOL: Time
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
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.
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Felix Kramer fkramer@...
Founder California Cars Initiative
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