Greta in Winter

https://mailchi.mp/0f7569e82bdf/greta-in-winter?e=5b4a442b0a

My cousin’s husband writes a good, chatty blog about life in Vermont and other things. He just sent this one on, which is a revelation about the trials of running an electric car in the harsh Vermont winters. At the same time Bill Schubart sees the value in electrics, in fact their necessity.

This fall for only the second time in my life, I bought a new car. It’s an emission-free Nissan Leaf. I named it “Greta.” Last night, I ran into a friend who has a Tesla all-electric vehicle (AEV) also named “Greta.” I’m now wondering how many AEVs there are in the world bearing the Swedish teenager’s name.

I’m comfortable saying it was the extraordinary courage of this young woman who could be my granddaughter that drove my decision to go all-electric. “Okay boomer,” I said to myself, “It’s your turn to help leave a habitable world for the next generation.

When Green Mountain Power held a get-acquainted session on AEVs for its customers, my wife and I drove up. They had most current models available there for customers to test drive and dealers to answer questions. I chose the Leaf and, thrilled that I fit in it, took it for a spin. It was a distinctly different experience… silence, no auto-shifting clunks. I learned that by using the eco-pedal, I didn’t need the brake pedal and could extend Greta’s range. I was hooked!

I’m 1200 miles into Greta and my early experience with her sent me searching for the encyclopedic instruction manual in the glove compartment. Like most consumers, I had read the FAQ’s and thought I knew it all. At the time of purchase, my key question was driving range between charges, a deciding factor for most potential buyers. The range is nominally 150 miles. My benchmark was the 88-mile roundtrip between my home in Hinesburg and Montpelier.

I set out on my first excursion with a full 152 miles on the meter. When I got to Montpelier, I expected to find it down 44 miles, but it was, in fact, down twice that – about 66 miles left to go before I needed a charge. This didn’t register, so before heading home, I pulled out the manual and read what I’d neglected to read before committing to Greta.

Like all living things, her capacity is temperature-dependent. It was 10 above zero when I left the house and I had turned on the heat to make it worse as both heat and lights reduce Greta’s range. I risked the straight shot home and made it with 12 miles to go by turning off the heat and arrived home in a near cadaverous chill, scraping my frozen breath from the inside of the windshield with a credit card. Did this mean driving at night with no lights and no heat? Should I buy a flashlight and a wool blanket for Greta?

I also learned Greta’s batteries can be severely damaged by exposure to temperatures below minus 13. I’ve lived in Vermont for 70 years and have yet to experience a winter where it didn’t get colder than that. I remember a sunny, dry winter day in Lincoln at 38 below. Could Greta even survive here, much less provide frigid transportation beyond a few miles from home? I began to worry.

But I’ve learned that by monitoring the temperature and my energy usage as I drive, using the eco-pedal to recharge as I drive, charging every night at home during off-peak hours, I can manage quite well and I haven’t eaten in a gas station in two months. I’m finding more and more charging stations, all searchable on my cellphone. Besides if it’s freezing cold and I have a round trip to Montpelier, a stop at Red Hen Bakery in Middlesex for a quick charge, a latte, and a croissant isn’t much of a price to pay for doing my part. Sometimes, slowing life down enhances  it.

But more important than my comfort are the larger environmental implications of continuing to burn fossil fuel. According to a recent VTDigger article, transportation accounts for 43% of the state’s carbon emissions and in spite of earnest expressions of concerns and many unfulfilled commitments, emissions have increased in recent years and are 16% higher than they were in 1990.

. . . As I get even older than I am now, I know that much of the remaining work I have left to do on earth is to try and leave a better, more just place for my children and grandchildren.

It’s disheartening to hear special interests and climate deniers froth on about their temporal material interests. I wonder what they think when they gather over the holidays with their children and grandchildren. As they play together, do they never imagine their progeny trying to make it in a world of uncontrollable fires, floods and rising sea levels, massive climate migrations, and dying food systems, all so they can drive a fossil fuel car or get their convenience foods in unrecyclable plastic? Our children comprise a quarter of our country. They will inherit our mess.

In Matthew 5:5 from the Sermon on the Mount, one of the Beatitudes tells us the meek shall inherit the earth. Our children are finding their voice and are no longer meek. We owe it to them to listen.

Sometimes when I’m driving Greta late at night. I stare at the energy meters on the dashboard anxious about whether I’ll make it home, I hear Greta whisper to me, “Okay boomer, you did good.”

To a brave New Year !

The Politics May Kill Us

Interstate 66, west of Washington, DC

The Challenging Politics of Climate Change

 How the Climate Crisis Is Killing Us, in 9 Alarming Charts

 Americans Increasingly See Climate Change as a Crisis, Poll Shows

 Elaine Kamarck of the Brookings Institution leads off her piece on climate and politics with a great quote from Colin Jost of Saturday Night Live (10/13/18):

We don’t really worry about climate change because it’s too overwhelming and we’re already in too deep. It’s like if you owe your bookie $1,000, you’re like, ‘OK, I’ve got to pay this dude back.’ But if you owe your bookie $1 million dollars, you’re like, ‘I guess I’m just going to die.’

So there are many reasons Americans (in particular) resist climate change, and Kamarck goes on to document these in a lengthy but very worthwhile essay you should read. In the most recent decade of Gallup’s polling, for instance, we learn that “almost half of the public believes that the seriousness of global warming is generally exaggerated.” A series of natural disasters and dramatic weather events leaves the public mostly unmoved. Jobs, the economy and healthcare top their list of concerns.

Then there’s partisanship. And the complex nature of the climate crisis. Plus jurisdiction and accountability: who’s responsible? by whose laws? And the lack of trust in government—at a new low since the administration of G.W. Bush. Finally, our elites demonstrate a lack of imagination, such as described by Amitav Ghosh in The Great Derangement (reviewed here): we don’t talk about climate in fiction or television or film. Is it too threatening?

Matt Simon in Wired tells us how climate is slowly killing us, referencing a massive study in The Lancet, a medical journal, on climate change and human health. Says one of the authors about living in a world 4 degrees warmer than in preindustrial times:

We have no idea what that looks like from a public health perspective, but we know it is catastrophic. . . . We know that it has the potential to undermine the last 50 years of gains in public health and overwhelm the health systems we rely on.

Simon’s series of graphics should properly scare you. Here’s one:

Scorched by Heat Waves

On he goes, with measures of wildfires roaring, diseases blooming, air conditioning heating up cities, crops declining, etc.

In the face of all this a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll tells us that “A growing number of Americans describe climate change as a crisis, and two-thirds say President Trump is doing too little to tackle the problem.”

About 8 in 10 “say that human activity is fueling climate change, and roughly half believe action is urgently needed within the next decade if humanity is to avert its worst effects. Nearly 4 in 10 now say climate change is a “crisis,” up from less than a quarter five years ago.”

That story was posted September 13 of this year, Kamarck’s on September 23. So who’s right? With a well-earned mistrust of polls, I vote for Kamarck because she uses a wider time spread.

We have a lot of work to do.

The Big Heat

Facing unbearable heat, Qatar has begun to air-condition the outdoors

Days of 100-Degree Heat Will Become Weeks as Climate Warms, U.S. Study Warns

Heat waves and climate change: Is there a connection?

Air conditioning the outdoors? insanity reigns everywhere and it’s not just over Trump. Three days ago the Washington Post published this lengthy and frightening account of what’s happening in one of the world’s hottest regions. It may be the scenario of our future.

Here are some of the takeaways, but you need to read the full piece to understand their implications. And the photos are most revealing.

    • Preparing for the 2022 World Cup, Qatar is air conditioning its eight open-air soccer stadiums.
    • “Yet outdoor air conditioning is part of a vicious cycle. Carbon emissions create global warming, which creates the desire for air conditioning, which creates the need for burning fuels that emit more carbon dioxide,” this in a country that is the world’s largest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases.
    • The region expects temperatures to increase about 4 to 6 degrees Celsius by the time the rest of the world hits 2⁰ C.
    • The country relies more than ever on fossil fuels, including natural gas.
    • Doha, the major city, is progressively roasting, having warmed “by an astonishing 2.8 degrees Celsius since 1962.”

Water temperatures in the Persian Gulf are rising much faster than in the world’s other seas, and the “urban heat island effect” of heating asphalt and concrete makes cities the other focus of this increase. The prospect of growing heat and humidity may “one day exceed the capacity of humans to tolerate the outdoors. In such conditions, air conditioning would no longer be a convenience; it would be essential to survival.”

With its vast resources of fossil-fuel money Qatar can afford to do something as crazy and yet necessary as air conditioning the outdoors. It can’t, of course, do this forever. Some two-thirds of its electricity goes toward air conditioning. So there is planning and engineering to change building and construction requirements—but mostly now for the World Cup sites. Recently and hopefully, however, “Qatar Petroleum announced that it would construct a facility to capture and store 5 million tons of carbon from the company’s liquefied natural gas operations by 2025.”

Meanwhile, heat waves everywhere are going to get much more frequent and hotter. It’s not just athletes and outdoor workers who will be affected, though they have the highest exposure. How will human beings begin to endure such extreme heat? By mid-century many areas of the U.S. will face many more days of 105-degree heat, more than triple those of the previous fifty years. It will be worse elsewhere.

Qatar is one of earth’s richest countries, yet some are predicting that cities throughout the Middle East could well become uninhabitable. You can imagine the scenario for the poorer parts of the world.

The Gasbag-in-Chief Is Leaking Methane

Scientists Underestimated How Bad Cow Farts Are

Trump’s Methane Rule Rollback Divides Oil and Gas Industry

Fracking May Be a Bigger Climate Problem Than We Thought

In its continuing war on all regulations—to include those on greenhouse gases and anything Obama passed—Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency last Thursday said it would basically allow “oil and gas operators to largely police themselves when it comes to preventing [methane] from leaking out of new wells, pipelines and other infrastructure.” It turns out that there are lots of leaks.

The big companies (Exxon, Chevron, BP, Shell) came out against the new rollback. They don’t want to be seen as “climate villains” or dirty well operators. The little guys, with thousands of leaky wells, can’t afford to clean them up, so they welcomed the Trump plan.

The methane scare got started a couple of years ago when it was revealed that cow farts were major contributors to global warming. The methane in animal burps and farts was seen to play a major role in the big heat-up because methane is eighty-four percent more potent than CO₂ in trapping heat and causes one-quarter of our present global warming. The notion that cow farts are funny sort of undercut the seriousness of these findings.

What got covered up was the fact that livestock and farming, plus landfills, were not the major source of methane. It was, you guessed it, the oil and gas industry. These guys, the drivers of our economy, were “creating one-third of all methane emissions,” says a science writer for ideas.ted.com. “As companies extract and transport oil and natural gas, methane leaks from their pumps, pipelines and wells at a rapid rate . . . leaking 60 percent more of the harmful gas than government estimates had predicted.”

Now we’re told that the recent spike in atmospheric methane could likely be caused by the preponderance of fracking, which produces vast amounts of shale gas and methane. Fracking is done mostly in the U.S. and Canada. The industry touts it as the best replacement for coal and is building out more than 700 fracked gas projects, LNG terminals, and gas-fired electricity plants.

Environmental advocates were universally opposed to the EPA’s action. “This is an unnecessary leap backwards,” adds Rob Jackson, an environmental scientist at Stanford. “Very few people in the public or the industry want this rollback.”

But to eliminate all fracking, as Bernie Sanders and Jay Inslee have proposed, would be to take on one of the largest, most profitable industries in America. The battle over that would be epic.

Climate Awareness, Like Ice Cream, Doesn’t Last

Americans demand climate action (as long as it doesn’t cost much): Reuters poll

It takes about three weeks for Americans to stop paying attention after a mass shooting

Amazon rainforest fires: global leaders urged to divert Brazil from ‘suicide’ path

You have to wonder why something as dramatically urgent as climate change doesn’t seem sustainable in the public’s consciousness. Another way of saying this is that a majority gives it a high priority but doesn’t want to pay for the fixes. Ice cream tastes better than wormwood and gall.

Or maybe people just have shorter attention spans (though perhaps not) because they are constantly distracted with disorienting and irrelevant information. They are too busy with their freaking phones. Or being caught up in the latest cultural drivel. Or scandalized by Trump.

It’s also the enormity of the climate problem, as we have discussed, and the complex conundrum of a solution. For many, that tends to force climate onto the back burner.

The analogous situation is gun control. Philip Bump of The Washington Post analyzed Google searches interested in recent high-profile mass shootings. He found that interest always spikes high after the event and then greatly subsides after about twenty days. “People have moved on.” You and I know that finally the climate will not allow us to move on.

It’s certain that the crisis isn’t going away, and the media will necessarily cover the latest shocking events. Last week it was the fires in the Amazon rainforest and their consequences. You have a political story about the lunacy of Bolsonaro’s policies, and there’s an agricultural/environmental story about the ranchers and loggers who set the fires, and a story about the effects of the fires. A smorgasbord of climate stories.

Yet much of the major media, like The New York Times, still seems obtuse about running climate stories. I did a search query there for “Amazon fires” and the first four items that came up had to do with Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet! I guess the search editors know which side of their bread is buttered.

The Unreality of Climate Change

Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement

Bill McKibben, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?

Ganges delta flooding

For many of us, climate change is simply beyond imagining. These two excellent books offer quite different ways of understanding what it is, how the threat grew, and what if anything we can do about it.

Ghosh is an acclaimed Indian novelist; McKibben has been writing for at least thirty years about climate and fighting for recognition of the crisis. In these books, Ghosh is the Platonist, looking at the history, artistic rendering and power politics of climate change through a meta lens. He moves us through vast areas of space and time to uncover trends and events that we never suspected controlled the evolution of climate.

McKibben is the Aristotelian here, writing a detailed story of his investigation about why and how we’ve failed to do anything. A reviewer sums up the message:

“Our lives now are only part biological, with no clear split between the organic and the technological, the carbon and the silicon,” McKibben writes partway through. That transition feels like the heart of the book, which he frames as a look at what he calls the “human game”: How do we balance technology and the natural world? What dark, selfish parts of human nature got us here? And what are the options that might make things better, from installing solar panels to genetically engineering more altruistic babies?

McKibben’s book is more accessible; Ghosh writes of grand, sweeping trends, connections you never thought of. For instance, he explores how literature moved from concern with the epic and the supernatural, the presence of unpredictable nature, to exploring the personal, the subjective, and how that has kept us from seeing climate change developing.

Politics has undergone a similar change, becoming focused on identity and personal (moral) development rather than pushing for the collective action that is essential. The economics of capitalism created the carbon economy, but so did the 19th-20th century drive for empire. Industrialism came late to China and India but their vast populations rapidly brought the crisis to its present peak.

For Ghosh, the imaginative, psychological and cultural failures keep us from talking about climate change or confronting it. So does our concept of time as something linear, progressing, moving always forward. In fact, progress is the spurious idea behind modernity, which fostered the separation of mankind from nature.

Climate change thus remains something beyond our ken, something uncanny, to use his word. Language—and our present use of it—has become inadequate to deal with its strangeness. Finally, however, Ghosh has found ways to describe our great derangement, our divorce from the natural world and, just maybe, turn our despair into at least a wisp of hope.

The scale of the climate challenge is beyond enormous, and Ghosh is not an easy read because he forces you to think in complex new patterns. If you make the effort, you’ll find the patterns make sense and some of the clouds will part.

Entombed in Plastic

US Produces Far More Waste and Recycles Far Less of It Than Other Developed Countries

We’re Buying Into a Giant Lie about Plastic

Microplastics Have Invaded the Deep Ocean—and the Food Chain

As many of you know, I live in Oaxaca, Mexico. Saturday morning was garbage day, and I watched a brand new truck pull up in front of my house for one of three pickups a week—better than most communities here get. The truck had big plastic bags attached to sort cans, glass and plastic bottles. The truck also collects flattened cardboard boxes.

From its collection points, the truck proceeds to an enormous, long over-capacity dump on the outskirts of the city. The dump has been the site of frequent controversies, closings, political fights and fires. Its history is documented here. One way the dump manages to survive is through the presence of “pepenadores” who sort and salvage the stuff they can sell to recyclers. They make far less than a living wage and their efforts, in terms of the local and global problem of plastic and garbage generally, are like shoveling shit against the tide, as the saying goes.

We need to be particularly and regularly reminded of the problems that plastic is causing in all our environments. Recycling was never the panacea for the problem; no country but maybe the US has the resources to deal with it. And US waste is the biggest culprit:

    • Last year, the equivalent of 68,000 shipping containers of American plastic recycling were exported from the US to developing countries that mismanage more than 70% of their own plastic waste.
    • The newest hotspots for handling US plastic recycling are some of the world’s poorest countries, including Bangladesh, Laos, Ethiopia and Senegal, offering cheap labor and limited environmental regulation. . . . 
    • Reflecting grave concerns around plastic waste, last month [May 2019], 187 countries signed a treaty giving nations the power to block the import of contaminated or hard-to-recycle plastic trash. A few countries did not sign. One was the US.

You may not know that only 9 percent of the world’s plastic trash gets recycled because it’s too expensive. China won’t take it anymore, so most gets dumped in the ocean or burned or put in over-burdened landfills. You may be familiar with what this dumping is doing to the ocean and its inhabitants, an abominable story with enormous consequences.

Like climate change itself, there is no real solution to this but to stop producing plastic and work on source reduction, as it’s called—like not burning fossil fuels in the first place. How to bring industry and consumers and politicians to this state is the conundrum of the age.

Recognizing the severity of the problem is the first step. Mexico’s giant supermarket chain Chedraui recently decided, without much fanfare, to just stop giving customers plastic bags. This I discovered last month with happy surprise on a shopping trip. Such bags are banned in at least 68 countries worldwide, but not in the US. Bangladesh, victimized by plastic and trash dumping, has banned them since 2002. Neither bans nor charges for bags are much more than quick fixes. But they are small and necessary steps forward.

Hansen’s Recent Thoughts on Climate Change—and Some History

Saving Earth (June 27, 2019)

Thirty years later, what needs to change in our approach to climate change (June 26, 2018)

Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change (August 1, 2018)

Once one of the few scientific voices crying out about climate change, James Hansen has become a renowned, and sometimes vilified, spokesman. That trek took him more than thirty years, as he documents in a Boston Globe editorial. He’s a controversial figure still—both in his political views and in his opinions on nuclear power (with which I concur; see below)—but to many he is the father of climate change awareness.

A journalistic history of the climate change threat, its people, politics, and science is parsed in Nathaniel Rich’s lengthy New York Times piece, “Losing Earth,” published a year ago. It is a dramatic account in which Hansen is naturally a principal figure. I list it here as essential background reading on Hansen’s role in how the climate issue developed.

I got an early copy of “Saving Earth” forwarded from a friend. It struck me immediately as the most authoritative yet personal view of where the climate change arguments came from and how they need, in Hansen’s singular view, to be implemented.

It’s eleven pages long in pdf form and I doubt most of you will plunge into that. So I’ve excerpted some of the more significant passages.

It is wonderful that more people are waking up to the fact that we have a climate emergency. The emergency was clear more than a decade ago when it was realized that the long-term safe level of atmospheric CO2 was less than 350 ppm. Already, we were well into the dangerous zone. . . .

[The threat of an ungovernable planet] derives mainly from two large-scale climate change impacts. First, low latitudes during the warm seasons could become so hot and inhospitable to human livelihood as to generate an unstoppable drive for emigration. That potential future is emerging into view for regions as populated as India, Bangladesh, Southeast Asia, and huge swaths of Africa. The tragedy would be that these regions are, in a ‘less than 350 ppm climate,’ among the most spectacular and livable regions on the planet.

The second climate impact is sea level rise, which is an ominous threat on multi-decadal time scales. This sea level threat may be less immediate than the low-latitude, over-heating, climate-change threat, but it is more ‘non-linear,’ implying that it has the potential to grow exponentially, becoming unstoppable and irreversible. Note that the sea level threat is near-global, because most of the world’s large cities and infrastructure are located on coastlines. Nations that would be devastated by large sea level rise include the greatest economic powers of the 21st century, the United States and China. These two climate impacts are the heart of the ‘existential threat.’ . . .

Most of the warming still ‘in the pipeline’ is associated with deep-ocean warming. Thus most of this ‘in the pipeline’ warming will not occur this century. This permits the possibility of avoiding most of that warming, if we reduce the amount of gases in the air on the time scale of a century or two. . . .

Faced with realization that we could hand young people a climate system running out of their control, political leaders took the easy way out. With the Paris Agreement in 2015 they changed the target for maximum global warming from 2°C to 1.5°C. A temperature ‘target’ approach is ineffectual. It has practically no impact on global emissions.

Global energy policies remain inconsistent with professed emission targets. Emission targets will never overrule the desire of nations to raise their standards of living. Effective energy policies, not professed targets, are the crucial requirement for phasing down fossil fuel emissions. . . .

The two essential energy policy requirements are: 1) honest pricing of fossil fuels, i.e., the price must rise to include the cost of fossil fuels to society; 2) government support of breakthrough technologies, including clean energy research, development, demonstration and deployment programs. . . .

The missing technology for China, and now for India, was a clean source of power to replace coal in massive energy requirements for electricity and industrial heat.

Later this century, when scholars look back at what went wrong, the single sentence likely to stand out will be one uttered by President William Jefferson Clinton in his first State of the Union Address, almost three decades ago: “We are eliminating programs that are no longer needed, such as nuclear power research and development.”

How could such a spectacularly bad decision have been reached? Readily available empirical data showed that nuclear power was the safest energy source, with the smallest environmental footprint.

The potential for inexpensive, modular, ultrasafe reactors – built in a factory or shipyard – has not been developed. Support for research, development, demonstration and deployment – lavished on renewable energies for decades – only recently has been initiated in a small way for modern nuclear power. . . .

The most urgent task is to phase down fossil fuel emissions. There is no one simple solution to this. It will take a lot of positive actions, and also pressure on the fossil fuel industry, from multiple directions, pressure on them to become a clean energy industry. . . .

The legal approach is slow and no panacea, but it is an essential part of the solution. [It] must be pursued simultaneously with the political approach. . . .

[Voting Trump out of office is not the answer.] The public has tried that recourse. They voted in Barack (‘Planet in Peril’) Obama and Albert (‘Earth in the Balance’) Gore. The accomplishments by those Administrations in addressing climate change, to use a favorite phrase of my mother, “did not amount to a hill of beans.” Democrats and Republicans are both on the take from special interests, the fossil fuel industry. Both parties work with industry, approving and subsidizing fossil fuel extraction and use.

I wanted to write something today about the impact of tanks on the environment but then thought better of it.