There’s a good chance if you’re reading this blog you either have hopes of someday owning an electric vehicle (EV) or you are one of the proud individuals already enjoying cruising silently by gas stations…such as Run on Sun’s Jim Jenal in our new Volt pictured on the right! In either case your ears likely perk up at any breaking news regarding EVs.
Over the last few days I’ve noticed alarming headlines coming from multiple sources. While the key word in headlines such as “Study Finds Electric Cars May Not Be Very Green at All” is “may“, many of the articles state definitively that electric cars are not as green as gasoline cars. I decided to investigate.
On December 15th a new study by the University of Minnesota was released to the press. The study calculated the air quality impacts of manufacturing and refueling vehicles with various forms of power. Below is the study’s abstract verbatim:
We evaluate the air quality-related human health impacts of 10…options, including the use of liquid biofuels, diesel, and compressed natural gas (CNG) in internal combustion engines; the use of electricity from a range of conventional and renewable sources to power electric vehicles (EVs); and the use of hybrid EV technology.
…We find that powering vehicles with corn ethanol or with coal-based or “grid average” electricity increases monetized environmental health impacts by 80% or more relative to using conventional gasoline. Conversely, EVs powered by low-emitting electricity from natural gas, wind, water, or solar power reduce environmental health impacts by 50% or more. Consideration of potential climate change impacts alongside the human health outcomes described here further reinforces the environmental preferability of EVs powered by low-emitting electricity relative to gasoline vehicles.
Did you catch that last part? Electric vehicles, charged by low-emitting electricity (anything but coal) are preferable environmentally alongside human health impacts…to gasoline vehicles. A far cry from the grossly misinterpreted ‘electric cars aren’t green’. Which is simply not what the study says.
The straightforward lessons from the study include three main points:
In summary, don’t get an electric vehicle if you’re planning on charging it off of a coal-powered grid. Do get an electric vehicle if your grid is sufficiently green… or better yet, use a solar power system designed specifically with charging your EV in mind – see Run on Sun’s website for info! And remember that facts are frequently misinterpreted by the press. When in doubt, read the actual study, not just the headlines.
The New York Times, Washington Post and other national media all weighed in on a historic, yet divisive, announcement from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just before the Thanksgiving holiday. As part of the Obama administrations’ enforcement of the Clean Air Act the EPA proposed a regulation that would lower the current limit for ground-level ozone pollution to 65-70 parts per billion (ppb) with a possibility for seeking a standard as low as 60 ppb. This is in line with what independent scientific advisory panels have been recommending since 2008 when the current level was established at 75 ppb. The EPA had planned to release the rule in 2011 but the Obama Administration decided to delay due to election year jitters and the President preferred to wait until the economy was in a better condition to handle the economic blows that would result. Some may believe this is an issue being pushed by the Obama administration, but the 1970 Clean Air Act requires that these air regulations are revised based on the scientific evidence every five years.
The proposed standard is referring to ground-level ozone everyone in Southern California knows as smog or the infamous “haze”. As we are also painfully aware, smog is caused by emissions of pollutants which come from a range of sources including cars, power plants, air traffic, manufacturing plants, and oil and gas refineries. Ozone in the air we breathe is very harmful triggering a variety of effects such as asthma, chest pain, heart and lung disease, and premature death – particularly in children, the sick, and the elderly. For sunny Los Angeles this is no small matter since ozone causes the most damage during hot sunny days. As such, the updated standard is meant to be a public health measure and does not include direct regulation on businesses. The new rules will expand the ozone monitoring season and update the Air Quality Index to keep people informed when pollution levels are dangerous.
The fossil fuel industry, manufacturers, and their allies criticize the new standards stating they will wreak havoc on the economy. Some even calling it the “costliest regulation ever”. Indeed, power plants and factories will need to install expensive technology to clean up their pollution emissions. However, advocates argue that the economic benefits - measured in reduced health care needs and increased productivity due to improved health - significantly outweigh the costs to industry. States also have an exceedingly generous time, up to 23 years, to comply. Though some regions, including Southern California are not even complying with the 1997 standard of 84 ppb yet.
EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy, stated “Bringing ozone pollution standards in line with the latest science will clean up our air,…protect those most at-risk”, and the American people “deserve to know the air we breathe is safe.”
This is what improving regulations on air quality is all about. Though smog levels have been improving steadily over the last 40 years, there are always costs and benefits to each incremental improvement. As populations in urban centers continue to grow, these reductions in allowable pollution levels are always going to be both more difficult to accomplish and more imperative to preserve human and environmental health. Most would agree that human and environmental health trump the economic health of industries, especially industries that now have many viable solutions to damaging practices. Getting regulations in line with scientific evidence is just one more way to remind industry of how their environmental impacts are affecting the rest of us.
“Cap and Trade” - a sensible approach to addressing climate change by reducing emissions of Greenhouse Gasses - was once considered so non-controversial that even prominent Republicans like John McCain and even Newt Gingrich endorsed it. Today the idea is routinely trashed in Washington as a “big government energy mandate“ that must be stopped at all costs. And yet, in California, Cap and Trade has been up and running for nearly two years despite legal challenges and dire predictions that it would ruin the economy. (Hint: it hasn’t!)
Now the program (known as AB32) is set to expand to cover vehicle fuels, which account for one-third of all GHG emissions in the state, and industry, particularly the fossil-fuel industry, is attacking the program again. Only this time they are playing a smarter, some would say more cynical, game - hiding behind “AstroTurf” groups to conceal their agenda.
Perhaps you’ve seen this ad:
Heavens, Californians are facing a “hidden” gas tax - oh no! - and who is giving you this news? An attractive model fronting for something called the “California Drivers Alliance” who wants you to sign their petition. In reality, what is hidden here is who is actually behind this ad - the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and its fossil-fuel producing members.
In a PowerPoint presentation highlighting WSPA’s “Priority Issues” under the banner, “Energy Proud”, WSPA lays out how the current boost in domestic crude oil production should be “The Best of Times” except for those pesky concerns over the environment from fracking, oil spills, and yes, GHG emissions which threatens WSPA’s members with “The Worst of Times.” Their response? A massive astroturfing campaign designed to mislead consumers over the impact of this next phase of California’s cap and trade program all the while keeping the role of Big Oil out of the picture.
Fortunately WSPA has not been as sly as they intended, with their game plan having been made public, and now facing a coalition of pro-environment groups helping to unmask the powers behind the astroturfing. That coalition, operating under the name, Stop Fooling CA, is putting out the facts behind WSPA’s campaign to deceive the public, including clever graphics like the cartoon on the right. On their website you can sign up for news alerts and add your name to the list of people who are pushing back against Big Oil’s covert attempt to derail the most successful cap and trade program anywhere in the world, and one that even the Wall Street Journal concedes, “may hold lessons for other states.”
In a dramatic joint announcement coming out of the APEC summit in China, President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have committed to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. (H/T climatecrocks.com)
The agreement calls on China to peak its GHG emissions by no later than 2030 and increase the use of non-fossil fuels to 20% by that date. Meanwhile, the US will cut its GHG emissions by 26-28% (compared to 2005 levels) by 2025. For the two largest emitters of GHG, these steps by the US and China are historic and much needed.
“As the world’s two largest economies, energy consumers and emitters of greenhouse gases, we have a special responsibility to lead the global effort against climate change,” Obama said Wednesday in a joint press conference with Xi.
UPDATE - We noted that this was a really big deal, but the graph below is truly the picture worth a thousand words:
While the impact of the actions from the US and China alone are significant, as the graph shows, their greatest benefit is in serving as an example for other countries to follow.
Beyond the practical significance in helping to combat climate change, China’s commitment - coming as it does from the head of the Communist Party - takes away the deniers’ favorite argument: that it is meaningless for the US to act since China never will. Well guess what, China is acting.
Sorry deniers, what else have you got?
The folks over at NASA are reporting something that folks out here in the West will not find at all surprising: 2014 is on track to contend for the title of warmest year ever. (No doubt this will come as a shock to folks who regularly watch Fox News.) (H/T Climate Crocks.)
The chart shows the temperature anomaly for 134 years with the zoom in on the five warmest. 2014 is the heavy grey line; 2010 (the hottest year on record) is in red. (Oh, and contrary to the Fox canard about a global cooling trend, in fact of the five warmest years ever, two were in the past five - 2010 and 2013.)
Of course, 2014 isn’t over yet so the dotted lines provide a number of possible scenarios. To give you a sense of how far “ahead” we are so far this year, if the remaining months simply hit their 21st century averages, 2014 will tie 2005 for the second warmest year ever.
Hang on to this link, you may need to refer to it next month over Thanksgiving dinner!
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