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Thursday, October 15, 2015

Can hydrogen fuel-cell autos compete with EVs? Nope.

Yesterday, two news items on the future of automobiles crossed my (Twitter) radar screen. One concerned Toyota's announcement that it intends to nearly phase out gasoline-powered autos entirely by 2050 and to replace them with hybrids and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles; the other, Volkswagen saying it hopes to recover from the Diesel Debacle by focusing on electric vehicles (EVs).

I passed both items on to my Facebook group, Climate Change-Global Warming Info, and an old friend pointed me to this analysis comparing prospects for the two classes of vehicle, which concludes that EVs are far superior.  It seems very well reasoned to me.

Much of the argument is based on the difference in infrastructure (think: many hundreds of billions of dollars) required.  I have an EV (see 'Take that, Exxon!', and I've been very impressed with the simplicity of owning it.  We installed an extra regular 110-volt outlet in our garage and just plug the car into it at night--what could be simpler?  In fact, it's even easier, not to mention cheaper, than stopping at a gas station.

Based on that experience, I think the argument that EVs will prevail is very compelling.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Climate change: So many consequences, so little time

In a modest effort to supplement the tweets I've been doing with another platform, I've set up a group on Facebook to serve as an archive of sorts for the articles tweeted. The group is called Climate Change-Global Warming Info, and you can join it here. (It's set up to be an archive, rather than a discussion, so if you prefer to discuss, there are other excellent discussion groups, in particular Global Warming Fact of the Day and Climate Change: Science, Mitigation and Adaptation, which will be more suitable.)

Climate Change-Global Warming Info is organized into "topical threads," which are collections of news articles about 1) various impacts of climate disruption and 2) actions to take, or that are being taken, to combat it. As I've been assembling it and adding to it, I've been struck by the range and number of impacts that are occurring or predicted. It's quite a laundry list. You can get similar information, I'd guess, from a number of more authoritative sources, such as the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reports or the (U.S.) National Climate Assessment, but it definitely has a stronger impression for me to see the impacts in real time, as they come up and are repeated around the world.

The list includes:

Sea level rise, a heading that covers melting glaciers and ice sheets, flooding in coastal cities, and such less-publicized but equally serious effects as intrusion of salty seawater into coastal aquifers from which fresh groundwater is being depleted due to drought;

Heavy rainfall events (more cropping up regularly, due to the fact that our warming atmosphere holds more water), like those recently in South Carolina, Japan and Texas-Oklahoma;

Drought (California is of course the main event for media, but Central Europe, Central America, the Caribbean, India, and South Africa are among other areas suffering in recent months);

Oceanic dead zones and algae blooms resulting from water heated to extraordinary levels;

Wildfires and bushfires (the U.S. is currently experiencing its worst wildfire season on record, and fires fanned by drought and high temperatures are exhibiting new, explosive behavior);

Food crop damage caused by drought, flooding, and other weather extremes;

Health impacts ranging from lung damage due to wildfires to the spread of infectious diseases through contaminated food and water and even an increase in the number of low-birth-weight babies (as a result of more heat waves); and many more.

It's remarkable that a relatively modest fluctuation in global climate has such far-reaching effects, and I have to say I find them sobering to contemplate.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Big Soda takes a hit. Let's make Big Oil next.

Occasionally I run across articles pooh-poohing the idea of divestment in fossil fuels for one reason or another.  It's happened often enough that I have a stock comment/response:

"Why divestment is useful:

"1) Fossil fuel companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on image advertising. Divestment demonstrations and social media are a very inexpensive way to blow a hole in the positive images created.

"2) If you sell your shares in a fossil fuel company, yes, someone else buys them, but the price goes down. Falling prices are not what most intelligent investors are looking for in their investments.

"3) Divestment campaigns help to raise awareness of the risk of investing in companies that depend for their livelihood on wrecking the habitability of our planet. The handwriting is on the wall, and at some point, there will be a race to the exits by investors. We can see some of that happening now with coal. Jim Cramer, host of a popular daily show on investing (CNBC's "Mad Money"), has been telling callers for a while now, 'I don't want you to invest in coal. Bad idea.'

"4) Campus divestment campaigns draw attention to the complicity of otherwise respected institutions like Harvard and Brown universities in the burning of fossil fuels and give young people a way to directly play a role in combating climate disruption."

Sunday's edition of the New York Times has an excellent article about what has happened in recent years to an entirely different industry, the sweetened soft drink industry, entitled "The Decline of 'Big Soda.'" I recommend that you pass it along to anyone who doesn't understand the logic behind the fossil fuel divestment movement. It's a lengthy article, and well worth the time to read in its entirety, but the first few paragraphs are a good summary:

"Five years ago, Mayor Michael A. Nutter proposed a tax on soda in Philadelphia, and the industry rose up to beat it back.
"Soda lobbyists made campaign contributions to local politicians and staged rallies, with help from allies like the Teamsters union and local bottling companies. To burnish its image, the industry donated $10 million to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

"It worked: The soda tax proposal never got out of a City Council committee.

"It’s a familiar story. Soda taxes have also flopped in New York State and San Francisco. So far, only superliberal Berkeley, Calif., has succeeded in adopting such a measure over industry objections.

"The obvious lesson from Philadelphia is that the soda industry is winning the policy battles over the future of its product. But the bigger picture is that soda companies are losing the war.
"Even as anti-obesity campaigners like Mr. Nutter have failed to pass taxes, they have accomplished something larger. In the course of the fight, they have reminded people that soda is not a very healthy product. They have echoed similar messages coming from public health researchers and others — and fundamentally changed the way Americans think about soda." [added emphasis mine]

The article goes on to add that "The drop in soda consumption represents the single largest change in the American diet in the last decade ... "  Wow.

So, that's my thesis. The divestment movement is about de-legitimizing the fossil fuels industry. Once that is accomplished, these dirty, polluting fuels that threaten the habitability of our planet can be relegated to the slag heap of history where they belong.

[NOTE: I try very hard to tweet several times daily on key news articles about global warming. I also post the items tweeted and then archive them, by topical thread, in a Facebook group called Climate Change-Global Warming Info. If you'd like to see more information on this vital issue, you can join the group here.]