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Welcome to the week. Before we dive into the news, let’s look back at the most noteworthy items we came across in the past seven days…
The man behind vehicular cycling: Treat yourself to this excellent Q & A with infamous “bicycle transportation engineer” John Forester.
Bike share evolution: Interest in free-floating shared bikes has waned and some companies have removed or scaled back fleets as e-scooters have become more popular.
SF scooter bonanza: The City of San Francisco has announced long-term permits for e-scooter operators and bike advocates are thrilled to use their riders to built urgency for protected lanes.
Cycling in U.S. cities: A man shares why he stopped biking his kid to school in Washington D.C.; but we can relate to his concerns even here in Portland.
Police bias: Portland-base lawyer Bob Mionske points out how the windshield perspective of the vast majority of police officers impacts how they assign blame in traffic crashes.
Beyond EVs: A mass transition to electric cars isn’t the path to emissions reductions that many make it out to be. You know what is? Driving a little less each week.
Greg LeMond recognized: The U.S. House of Representatives wants to give former professional road cyclist Greg LeMond a Congressional Gold Medal for his contribution to American sports.
When women bike: The last issue of Governing included this doozy of a column that astutely points out that when cities’ marketing of cycling outpaces the quality of infrastructure they build, very bad things can happen.
Appeal for sanity: Brooklyn-based advocate and War on Cars Podcast co-host Doug Gordon recaps a truly unhinged neighborhood meeting about a traffic-calming project.
Fossil fuel finances: On heels of opioid drug settlements, Big Oil has reason to worry that climate change lawsuits could speed financial doom.
Video of the Week: This chainless bike system by CeramicSpeed is mesmerizing and cool:
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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Jonathan the link to the Governing article is incorrect — it takes me to the latimes.
— Sorry! Fixed the link. Should have gone here.
The article about the unhinged meeting in Park Slope made me Sad. Maybe 7% bikeshare is as good as it gets and the rest of americans are beyond help. It is nice to think we humans are better than yeast, but maybe not. Maybe we will just grow and use up more and more energy and resources until the build up of our waste products kills us like yeast in a fermentation vat.
“Maybe 7% bikeshare is as good as it gets and the rest of americans are beyond help”
Darwin rules again.
I fear the yeast-in-a-fermentation-vat analogy may prove true. It’s entirely possible that by the time human society decides to truly take on GCC issues as a whole, it will be too late to save society without shortages and wars that cost billions (and I mean that, with a “b”) of human lives. I think we all recognize that some of the incremental changes we’ve been making are solid steps in the right direction, but won’t be enough. And we won’t be able to make the bigger steps that we really need to take without getting more people to buy in.
I hope it doesn’t prove true. I’d like to think that a few disasters over the next few years trigger people’s consciousness and will to finally do what we need to do This will require overcoming the political resistance to change fueled by entrenched money, AND (perhaps more difficult) will require us all to recognize that we will ALL need to make significant sacrifices – big ones, in many cases. I think we’re still a long way from that happening. But maybe at some point, before it’s too late, we’ll have a collective realization that we all need to pitch in — and pitch out the powers that resist needed change. I’m not convinced this will happen, but I’m not yet convinced that it won’t.
Scooters: They are everywhere, no rules, like pigeons except with no wings.
Pigeons are sometimes referred to as winged rats.
Are EScootsters Rats on Wheels Then?
I think that was X’s implication.
Scooters. Not the people using them. If I felt that way about people this blog would be such a waste of time.
Places where I spend a lot of time are cluttered with scooters now. In the daytime! They’re getting rather bold.
I’m not anti-e-scooters, but do get frustrated when they block sidewalks for those with disabilities, Seniors, kids playing, etc.
My solution- we all place them in car parking spaces when left on the sidewalk. I would rather they take up car space than people space. I just need a catchy hashtag.
Maybe a good solution is that, for each and every city block in the central city area (and maybe more), there is at least (1) parallel parking space dedicated to e-scooter parking which would be the mandatory designated place to park them, and additionally (1) parallel parking space dedicated to bicycle parking. This sort of thing already exists in some areas, but not for scooters. The new spaces that are taken over from car parking should be located at the end of the block so they are near the curb ramps to maximize accessibility.
The last 10ft of the curb right before a stop sign would be a fantastic place to put bike racks, scooters, etc.
Exactly. They are usually parked on sidewalk corners and taking those parking spaces would increase the miserable sight lines we have all over this city.
I’m disappointed but not surprised about the shift from share bikes to e-scooters. Electric bikes and scooters rent for several times more than pedal bikes. And electric scooters probably cost less to make. So of course the obvious economic solution for the likes of Lime is to do scooters.
I don’t hate scooters, but I don’t think they’re safe enough. I think the data are trending towards showing that they are an order of magnitude more dangerous than bicycles. Lime’s new 3rd gen scooters, with bigger wheels and some suspension, may be an improvement, but I suspect we need to be looking at something more like the 16″-wheeled Razor sit-down scooters (which are basically electric bikes without pedals) in order to approach the safety of bicycles. Despite being a pretty experienced scooter user (I own an 8″-wheeled kick scooter) I recently crashed on a Lime scooter (on St. Paul’s brutally potholed streets). I wasn’t significantly injured (just some scrapes and bruises on all 4 limbs) but it was a sobering reminder of how risky they are.
I would not be happy to see share bikes go away because of competition with scooters. Actually, that is what has happened in St. Paul, which withdrew from the regional Nice Ride network because of competition from Lime Bikes last year, even though Lime has since switched to e-scooters. St. Paul is still hoping to rejoin the Nice Ride program, but I’m worried that scooters portend more bikesharing shutdowns around the country.
“If Americans drive their electric cars anywhere near as much as they do with their current gas-guzzlers, it would cancel out the carbon reduction brought on by electrification.”
What does that even mean?! Can’t journalists be expected to make sense anymore?
As anyone paying attention should know, EVs are no panacea; the electricity to power them has to come from somewhere, and although it is fun/cute/reassuring to imagine a lot more wind turbines, those wind-generated kWh present and future are already being counted toward offsetting our *current* non-transportation fuel consumption. No free lunch.
It sounds OK as I read it–the article agrees with you that EVs are no panacea, and that simply switching to electric vehicles without also driving less cancels out the benefits of the switch.
“simply switching to electric vehicles without also driving less cancels out the benefits of the switch.”
What are these benefits?! Forgive me for being dense, but either a switch from internal combustion to electric propulsion involves a benefit (per mile, per household, per fleet) or it doesn’t.
The amount of driving isn’t in this comoarison relevant, because in any fuel switching scenario it must be assumed to remain constant.
Driving less is always a good thing, whether we are talking about the existing fleet, or a fleet of EVs, or of any other fleet powered by a fuel that is subject to the second law of thermodynamics.
The benefits are significant reductions in the amount of energy it takes to move a vehicle around. Even without wind/solar power, this is a step forward.
If it were that simple, then why does the author whose article we are here discussing tie himself in knots over this?
I don’t know. But you can decide for yourself.
Did you read the article we are discussing here?
“…the vehicles themselves are resource-intensive to manufacture, and electric cars take about twice as much energy to build than a traditional internal combustion car…”
The comparison you are suggesting which only looks at the use phase is hardly adequate. But in any case none of this helps us understand the muddle the author introduced about driving.
The chart showing what you’re asking about is on p.3. The battery emissions are a tiny portion of overall emissions. Hopefully the electric emissions will go away in the next 2 decades.
I’m sure you’ll argue that the battery+car emissions are still too much for a steady-state 1.5C world with no large anthropogenic carbon sinks.
Which is likely true (It’s possible that someday a lot of the manufacturing emissions can be cleaned up, but AFAIK for the whole industrial sector, technologies to do the same things while eliminating emissions mostly haven’t been invented yet.) And yet, electric vehicles are going to be a huge part of reducing emissions on whatever timeline we do reduce them.
If I thought that the urban/suburban world would densify in the next 10 years to the point that cars were no longer necessary, then I’d say sure, pooh-pooh electric cars. But that amount of densification is probably an order of magnitude more politically difficult than a package to do ALL of the following: cleaning up our electricity system, electrifying everything (including most industrial processes!?!), eliminating agricultural emissions (and ideally turning ag lands into carbon sinks) and densifying/biking/transiting a good amount more over the next 20 years. Which is still incredibly politically difficult!
All of which is to say – yes, electric vehicles aren’t perfect. But dreaming about a near-term carbon reduction future without them just isn’t useful IMO.
“But dreaming about a near-term carbon reduction future without them just isn’t useful ”
Was I doing that?
No, I was lamenting a nonsensical, muddled, misleading framing of the matter of EV carbon impact by the author of the linked article.
The author ties himself in knots over this because the premise of the article titled, “The Problem With Switching to Electric Cars.” would otherwise be defeated by the facts.
Fact is that regardless of where your electricity comes from, driving electric is more efficient. It’s more efficient because electric motors convert electric energy to kinetic energy with efficiencies exceeding 90% while combustion engines convert fossil fuel energy to kinetic energy with efficiencies barely exceeding 30%. But there’s more. It’s also efficient because the energy generation is centralized. It’s also efficient because energy distribution is more efficient. It’s also efficient because most people charge their EV’s at home at night flattening out the power demand curve and allowing utilities to operate more efficiently. Of course, it’s WAY more carbon efficient if the electricity comes from renewables and far far better if the electricity is generated at point of use such as from the roof of your house!
Another thing that the author gets flat out wrong is that “people are driving more”. This is not the case. I’ve been following this trend for a while and people are actually driving LESS. At least in America.
This article is all over the place and quite frankly, I skimmed the rest because it’s such trash.
The benefits are vastly decreased energy use to move your vehicle, as well as lower lifecycle energy costs when you factor everything in (production and operation):
Note that the Pacific NW region power mix results in an average electric vehicle efficiency of 94 mpg. In no part of the country do you get WORSE fuel efficiency than from the average fossil fueled vehicle’s mileage.
This tool will give you region and vehicle specific fuel efficiency:
I’d also like to add in that the operating costs for electric vehicles are far lower than gas guzzlers. Our family saves at least $800 a year on gas and we have zero maintenance costs. Yes, we both bike as much as we can but my wife has to carry about 200 pounds of books a week to her offsite library classrooms and its a long commute. Now if we could only shutdown the boardman coal power plant the power mix would be even better.
The benefits are not just reduced GHG emissions and cleaner urban air, but also drastically reduced maintenance costs compared with gasoline-powered cars.
Do not take my comments (or the fact that I own an electric car) to mean that I think EVs are a panacea. Seeing all these politicians jumping all over themselves to force us to electrify our fleet – without also promoting alternatives to cars, and having the ‘nads to tax energy as it should be taxed – makes me want to vomit.
But they are an important part of the solution. Along with driving less, converting to less GHG-intensive forms of power generation, making buildings more energy efficient, funding lots more mass transit, capturing uncontrolled methane emissions, and the whole range of things we should do. EVs are more efficient – even on a full-lifecycle basis – than comparably sized gas cars.
(So why did I buy a used Leaf? Not to save the planet, although hopefully it will help vs. a comparable gasoline car. No, it was because it had by far the lowest ownership cost of any car I could have bought, even at Minnesota’s inflated electric rates of 15c/kWh).
And surprise, surprise; wind turbines only have a 20-25 year lifespan and create a waste problem https://www.npr.org/2019/09/10/759376113/unfurling-the-waste-problem-caused-by-wind-energy
Wonder how well the carbon material from turbine blades could be recycled into bikes and components?
I bought a couple of used blades on Craigslist a while back, which I’m using to make a giant-assed tall bike.
This is a joke right? I can’t even take anything like this seriously because it is based on toddler logic. EVERY energy source is going to require maintenance and generate waste. Where’s the waste comparison across the energy generation spectrum? How’s nuclear going to look? Coal? Of course wind is going to require maintenance and create waste. I think the expectation that it didn’t is the real flaw in the article.
Plus Al if you look at the article John references, the solutions to this waste are already in place! Just because they aren’t in use yet in the US doesn’t mean they don’t exist, and such waste certainly isn’t inherent to wind technology. Yes; John’s argument is pure straw man.
The problem is not if electric cars are better or worse than cars that use fossil fuels directly, but that electric cars are really just stepchildren of cheap and concentrated fossil fuel energy. A renewable energy system based on wind, solar , hydro and biomass is our only real future but such a system does not have a high enough EROI (energy return on energy invested) to manufacture, maintain and fuel personal electric auto’s. Depending on electric cars to keep happy motoring going while we phase out or end fossil fuel use is like keeping Buckingham palace running if the Queens only income was her paycheck from working at McDonalds.
The real problem with these 20-25 year lifespans is not the waste but the fact that when energy storage is calculated in most of these renewable systems have an energy payback time of around 10 years. In other words for a solar array with batteries or a wind farm with some kind of storage plus transmission lines the energy required to build the equipment and construct the system takes the first 10 years to payback. This means these systems are only net energy producers in the last 10-15 years of their lifespan. This is very different than say a gas turbine generator which may only have to run for a short time to pay back the energy used in creating it, but who’s energy costs are all back loaded in to the gas consumption and pollution. This is why building out an electrical grid based on renewables must commence rapidly while we still have some fossil fuels available as “seed energy”. At this point it is highly doubtful that we could bootstrap a renewable energy grid based on the energy from other renewable power sources.
What is the alternative?
Umm… this is based on outdated and doubtful-to-begin-with research.
Mean EROI estimate from 200-odd papers for solar is 11.6. That means that the solar produces 11.6 times as much energy as was used to make it. Thus, the energy payback period for solar with a 20- or 25-year lifespan is ~2 years, not 10-15 years.
I didn’t care to look it up for wind, but I doubt it’s all that different.
Given that the technology for both wind and solar has been rapidly advancing, I would expect these numbers to go up in the future.
We’ve got lots of huge problems, but this isn’t one.
The key difference here is that my statement was the payback including storage and grid connections. This is actually the 10,000 lb Gorilla which is ignored or minimized in most of the academic literature. The energy payback of wind and solar looks very optimistic when you just assume it can be fed back in to an existing grid where it makes up only a small portion of the generation capacity. But if it were to become a significant portion of the capacity the inherent hour to hour and seasonal fluctuations would require massive energy storage to run anything resembling our current economy. This storage is very energy intensive except in the rare case where it can be stored in the form of pumped hydro. That is why Germany has had so many cost problems as their system expanded in to double digit numbers and why they have had such a hard time getting a renewable system to work on the Hawaiian Island of Moloka’i, without massive swing input from diesel generators.
Most of the gains in the price of Solar have come with the substitution of cheap (and dirty) Chinese Coal fired power inputs for more expensive North American Energy and less from real improvements in energy in vs energy out. Don’t get me wrong, we should quickly abandon fossil fuels, and cut our present daily use of fossil fuel drastically so we can dump the majority of the fossil fuels we do burn in to the seed energy needed to build out a solar and wind system. I just don’t think we should expect such a system to built without massive sacrifice in the present and an entirely new vision of what the future will look like.
As an electric utility worker, I am not as concerned about the energy footprint of transmission and storage. The major change to energy use that I foresee is connected devices making use of renewables to store energy in thermal storage or electric cars when renewables are abundant, and being programmed to use less energy and make us less comfortable when renewables are not abundant for a while. I think that if policy appropriately encourages it, that could displace a large portion of the foreseen demand for utility-scale batteries with items that people are going to purchase anyway (and therefore don’t count as changes in the energy budget.)
I think we only have line of sight into the first 80% of renewables so I’m not going to speculate about the last 20% though. We just don’t have cheap enough technology developed for long-term and seasonal scale storage, so I’m not going to speculate about what will fill that gap.
Out of that first 80% of renewables, a large portion is going to be built at or near to shuttered fossil plants. The utilities already have the land and the transmission, so it’s already going in there in many cases. So no new transmission there.
And, in many cases, solar farms and offshore wind can be built easily and relatively efficiently close to major metros. So although there’s a few dozen miles of transmission involved, my guess is that the energy footprint is not that large.
Unfortunately (since it would be a great alternative to seasonal storage!) high-voltage DC cross-crossing the continent is politically really hard. So I sadly see less of a role for it (and less energy used for it) than in an optimal grid.
Anyway, we may need some material sacrifice. But we may not; we may become even more energy-rich as technology improves. The progress has been so dramatic over the last two decades that I’d put even odds on either. I am way more worried about the direct consequences of climate change than about whether we become 50% more energy rich or 50% less energy rich in the process. Either way, I foresee industrialized society continuing as long as war doesn’t get in the way. Honestly, we waste so much energy currently (or use it on stupid stuff like giant vehicles and 4000 sq ft houses) that we could take a 50% cut without life being all that dramatically different.
According to phys.org, a wind farm has a payback of 5 to 8 months out of its 20 year lifespan:
That is a full life-cycle analysis as well. Cradle-to-grave. Wind is supposed to have one of the best energy payback periods.
Solar by contrast are between 1 and 4 years, and despite 25 year warranties being common have a realistic lifespan that is really only limited by how well sealed the panels are from water intrusion and corrosion. They could last for 50 years.
True — the panels don’t simply stop working after their life is up; they continue to produce, just at a lower rate. Given the cost to keep them going is essentially zero, I suspect we’ll have some panels out there essentially forever.
The PNW hydroelectric dams are not quite as green as the utilities claim. They produce greenhouse gasses of there own during lifecycle.https://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/our-energy-choices/renewable-energy/environmental-impacts-hydroelectric-power.html
That is just dumb. Nothing lasts forever!
Anyway, to refute your article some wind turbines have lasted 40 years already:
Please point to a source of energy that lasts forever and has zero maintenance requirements. Thank you.
One thing that has not been said enough about John Forester and his Effective Cycling idea set is that it was developed by someone riding through US suburbs and exurbs. He didn’t live in Amsterdam during the years he was putting this together, he lived in LA and Palo Alto–even forty five years ago areas with high volumes of fast traffic on wide streets. He wasn’t thinking of riding three miles across a dead-flat, dense city because he didn’t live in one. Maybe I’m putting words in his head, but he might have thought better of bike paths if the ones built in parts of California during that time weren’t so truly bad. His ideas are good and valid but shouldn’t be taken as a script for living on a bike–read the book for sure if you are starting bike commuting but don’t treat it as music to be played exactly as written. It’s not a Schumann string quartet–it’s more like the chord changes to a 12 bar blues. I loved the interview, by the way; this man has been unreasonably demonized for many years for no good reason.
I like how the Ceramic Speed cassette is covered in spikes, ready to shred your face off!
Unlike current cassettes and chainrings? Does look like it has a covering over that entire mechanism.
Things are even bleaker than I expected in the Mionske article about police bias. In the examples, it wasn’t just bias to the point of relating more to the driver than the cyclist. It was bias to the point of ignoring the laws. The examples also weren’t “driver’s word vs. cyclist’s word” cases, although one police spokesperson tried to frame it as that. The police either just didn’t know the laws, or knew them but intentionally ignored them.
“why I stopped riding my kid to school”
that mirrors a couple of encounters I had with my daughter, and she won’t really ride anywhere in Portland any more. We can ride around the neighborhood, or over to the nearby shopping street, but there are too many sketchy gaps in the bike network. We live in a close-in North Portland neighborhood, and there are a lot of good bike segments like Vanocuver/WIlliams, Going, Skidmore, Concord, even Interstate- but they all have dangerous, sketchy gaps. PBOT continues to build new infra with sketchy gaps, and there does not seems to be any interest in cataloging and infilling them. I cannot imagine we will increase ridership without addressing the vast array of gaps and pinchpoint that prevents our collection bike segments from becoming a functional network
Here’s some info about what EVs could do to the power grid:
The article talking about how scooters are displacing bike and motorized bike sharing is no surprise. People are very lazy. Walking and pedaling is “hard”, motorized bikes are less hard, and scooters are not hard at all. I live a 5-7 minute walk from the local grocery store and I never take a car to the store but I find that pretty much all my neighbors drive the 1/2 mile to the grocery store. Based on the activity level and size of the average resident of the USA powered mobility is the future. Energy needs to taxed at a much higher rate so human powered transport is the norm for short distance travel. Ebikes and scooters should mainly be used by the elderly and disabled.
Be careful who you “should” on Jon. Try telling a mom with 2 squirming kids and a pile of groceries she shouldn’t be using an e-bike. Or non-athletes living in places like the West Hills. Your purist prejudice against e-bikes is outdated and past time to revamp. Let’s get more people out of their cars and onto bikes; yes even (gasp) e-bikes. You can choose to stay pure and free of such stain if you like.
Disagree. I work with someone who is a dedicated bike commuter and an avid cyclist. There is nothing “lazy” about him. He got an ebike and it’s now the primary commute bike for him because it “makes commute times more consistent and this has allowed him to commute by bike MORE!”
I think you misconstrued my comments. Driving 1/2 mile to the store is lazy. Human powered transport is better than powered transport. Human powered > eBike > scooter > electric car >>> fossil fueled car.
Jon, you had me until the “should” in your last sentence.
If all good intentioned people replace their liquid fueled cars with EVs immediately that’s a huge embodied energy hit in year one, about 30 % more than if they had bought gas or diesel cars. It will also be costly and inefficient because car makers aren’t tooled up for it. Only after about 10 years would this money / energy investment _break even_. That is not a reasonable choice.
Plan B– keep the MV you have in the best possible condition, drive it only in extremity or perhaps when you can combine trips with two other users . If you can no longer bear to own it, sell it because that displaces manufacture of an entire new vehicle. Make occasions to walk places (this will speed your car selling decision). Advocate for public investment in transit and other alternative transportation. Tell your representatives that they will lose your vote on this issue.
Not even close to true. If you look at the graph on p.3 on the below PDF, it’s clear that the embodied carbon in the battery is absolutely tiny compared to the operating carbon. Based on that, my guess is that the extra manufacturing carbon is made back in reduced operational emissions in less than one year of operations, not 10 years.
Alex, when a car is sold new an EV does in fact have a higher embodied CO2e than a comparable ICE motrovehicle. And I also more or less agree with X’s position that driving the motorvehicle “only in extremity” might be a better choice than buying a new EV and driving the same distance. (Over time this will change due to increased CO2e efficiency in EV manufacturing and energy generation.)
My opinion, based on my read of the IPCC scientific consensus, is that we must focus on wide-ranging steps that reduce the largest amount of CO2e emissions in aggregate. This will likely involve a huge increase in electrification of transportation but it almost certainly does not include a singular focus on it.
Perhaps the best argument for rapidly phasing out existing ICE motorvehicles is that they emit air toxins that have a huge impact our health. Each of them is a roving Bulls Eye Glass factory.
Oh, certainly, I agree with you on every point. But X’s statement that “Only after about 10 years would this money / energy investment _break even_” is demonstrably false for “energy” if we measure “energy” using carbon. And a reasonable person who reads X’s statement would think there is next to no carbon benefit in switching to an electric car. (how long does an *average* car survive in the US? Consumer reports says average is 8 years / 150,000 miles.) That is, in fact, far from the truth. Spreading that message conveys falsehoods that make it harder to do the political work necessary to help electric cars spread.
I don’t want to say that electrifying cars is the only strategy we need to use in dramatically reducing/eliminating transportation emissions. However, over the next 20 years, it is realistically going to be the one with a dominant impact in the US. I’m hopeful that in longer than that (I don’t know, 40-50 years?), we can make the huge densification and public transit changes necessary to dethrone the car in metro areas. We will of course need to start in the next 20 years. But expecting more than ~20-30% of transportation decarbonization in the next 20 years to come from non-electric-car initiatives seems unrealistic to me.
yeah…the average age of a vehicle today is ~12 years and growing. and this is why the goal should be to reduce 1)the total # of SOVs and 2) reduce km traveled by SOVs. imo, both these steps are more important in the next 10-15 years than switching everyone over to EVs. if we are going to dig ourselves out of this 1.3 degrees of warming hole we need to decrease aggregate emissions as fast as rapidly as possible.
If I may use the analogy of being in a tunnel and seeing an oncoming train, reducing emissions equals stopping in the tunnel. It’s pretty dark there and we really haven’t addressed the issue of the other train. Not at all. Maybe some of us will die of natural causes* or get stuck with several knives.
*This is why kids are so wound up.
This is called incrementalism I think. Do you believe that we have 40 or 50 years to sort out the energy use, climate impact, and resource extraction issues associated with the materialistic way we’re living in the United States? It’s not just carbon dioxide in the atmosphere although that is a convenient measure. See: rare earth mining. Imagine the footprint on the land of a pit big enough to extract the ore for all the batteries for all those cars
Batteries are extremely useful things but if we use our considerable wealth to commit the productive capacity and materials needed to make individual batteries for each of the many, many, many private cars that we think we need, I repeat: we are screwed.
In World War II leaders convinced us that only a total effort would defeat fascism. Besides the usual blood toil tears and sweat it also required the U.S. industrial capacity producing a lot of stuff. I don’t remember anything about new electric cars for everybody.
Consumerism will not address melting ice caps.
People may point out that our economy is different and we export, not stuff, but ideas, images, and designs. Culture. So, we are exporting images of cars and cities built around cars. Modern people have cars so where are the cars for people in developing countries? Our example in the U.S. and other developed countries drowns out any other voice we can muster in this debate, whether it’s climate activists, metropolitan newspapers or the eloquence of our children.
Ask a kid about climate change.
I think the only politically feasible thing is to sort out the climate impact, first and foremost, and leave the consumerism and massive-density-change debates to the future. Some consumerism has to die for us to decarbonize, but most of it can live. If we decarbonize electricity, electrify everything (including industry), fix agriculture, and do all of this worldwide, we’ll reduce our carbon impact by 90+% even while leaving a good bit of consumerism intact. Honestly, just to do that requires a war footing.
In 2040, once we’re not actively pumping carbon into the atmosphere more than the natural sinks can take it, I’m down for taking on consumerism and sprawl in a huge way. But for now, if we can just take some bites out of them while eating the carbon meal, that reduces the catastrophe of climate change almost as much, while also being politically feasible.
The land use, waste, and non-carbon pollution are bad – but it’s just not nearly as bad for nearly as many people and ecosystems as climate change. I believe we have to prioritize, and I prioritize climate change.
Yes consumerism, because there seems to be an idea that we can buy our way out of this by replacing our old dirty stuff one for one with cool new clean stuff. That bothers me because besides cool stuff we may need carbon capture plants which only make a difference on a scale of millions, methane digesters and corresponding devices to use the methane, more windmills, tide machines, scalable nuclear plants, heck I don’t have any idea what we might need to sustain life in worst-case conditions. Maybe I lost some people with the nukes.
Right now there are people starving in their drowning homes. Some will starve where they are but others will cross borders in numbers that boggle the mind. This is neither a White Man thing nor Wall Building. We, planet wide, have to confront the fact that a serious percentage of our people have lost their traditional livelihood and it’s getting worse. Getting a new-built car that will be a few percentage points above replacement strikes me as futile.
‘Mom, what is a car?’
To critique that Draw Down list I’d have to spend days (weeks?) studying their methodology. I was encouraged to see that education, biology, and land management were prominent. Transit seemed strangely out of place. And bicycles? Yes they are cheap and low tech so they don’t figure largely in the model but the small investment is leveraged by the beautiful efficiency of a machine that keeps working when liquid fuels are unavailable and wires are down.
“But expecting more than ~20-30% of transportation decarbonization in the next 20 years to come from non-electric-car initiatives seems unrealistic to me.”
So you think what our neighbor to the north is doing to be just a fluke?
No, what they’re doing is great! But given the existence of Seattle’s suburbs and the rest of Washington, there just isn’t enough population living in dense enough areas to get statewide transit+bike+walk to displace anything more than 20-30% of car miles without massive densification. I support the densification but I think it’s too slow to rely on as a primary short-term carbon reduction strategy.
Especially as densification would likely involve the abandonment of a significant number of developed properties, which would be extraordinarily expensive and controversial. It may be that changes to transportation make that inevitable, but it might also be that they make current development patterns more sustainable.
I didn’t realize Vancouver & Camas were that far ahead of us!
I will look at this graph expecting to find that a misreading by you, sorry, or a trove of weasel words by them.
My point that I think will stand:. parsimonious use of a thing that I own will Always have a smaller climate impact than asking the world to bring me a new thing with a 200.kg battery in it.
Alex, thank you for that pdf document. It’s an excellent source. I would point out that their results changed pretty dramatically, at least I was impressed, between 2009 and 2012. It was published in 2015. So my guess is this being nearly 2020, the numbers look even better today as the energy infrastructure transformation has been gaining momentum.
To add to soren’s comment, I recommend checking out how Project Drawdown paretos solutions. Unfortunately, we are way beyond avoiding climate change as it is already upon us. This is a last minute mitigation strategy to avoid an even worse catastrophe scenario.
How does “mitigation” square with “avoid”?
I can mitigate a subduction zone earthquake by stocking up on canned goods and bolting my house to the foundation. I can avoid that earthquake by moving to Kansas.
the ucsusa mileage tool uses DOE *production* values from a PNW region that includes multiple states. it is meant as a rough estimate.
i own a used 2012 leaf and support adoption of EVs but i do not support the promotion of ESOVs as a tool to avoid the more systemic changes spelled out here: https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/
Conversion to EV’s is one of the solutions. Unfortunately, at this late stage, we don’t get to look down our noses on some solutions in favor of others. We HAVE to pursue them ALL!
I would point out that in Drawdown, it’s not even in the top 10. It’s in 26th place.
My answer is not from the graph, but from the title. Their analysis is an answer to “which new car should I buy?” and my answer is “none of the above”. Please do not try to solve climate change by getting a Prius. The payoff period is approximately the same window of time we have to decide on, and take, action. If 70 million US liberals go buy a Prius we are screwed because those things are so far down the list of stuff that will be useful in the future.
…I often think about this documentary I saw one time about nuclear waste and how with much of it, all we know to do is to just bury it super deep under the ground with warning placards to future citizens telling them that we, “hope they can figure something out better to do with it than us.”
How did we accept an energy that “burns clean” but when it goes wrong kills thousands of people and creates waste that we don’t even know what to do with currently? Why do we keep knocking electric technologies when their cost does not include irreversibly toxic waste (problematic waste, sure, but not calamitous)? Why do we think we can get to a drastically reduced emissions rate, without acknowledging that the majority of the developed world simply will not go back to pre-industrial lifestyles, without a bridge to that lifestyle?
Someone called someone else a “purist” earlier in this thread for shaming folks that drive 1/2 a mile to the grocery store and I have to agree with that. As much as I WANT my fellow citizens to ride their bikes with me, I KNOW that I cannot push my experiences on them or force cycling to feel for them, as it does for me.
We need more GATEWAY EXPERIENCES to cycling and in 2019 for many people that gateway experience is a bike share, e-scooter rental, or gasp *buying their own e-bike*. I fully believe that we could slowly inch our way back to a society that does not drive 1/2 a mile to the grocery store, but we’re not there yet and we won’t get there by shaming folks or leaving out folks with disabilities, chronic illnesses, or unique circumstances.
signed, a heckin multi-modal transit user/bicycle commuter/30 year old truck owner/seller of e-bikes
“marketing to get more people to commute by bicycle, despite not having done enough of the more difficult work of building safe cycling networks.” Yes. Comprehensive multi-modal engineering sells itself, no “encouragement” or “education” required.
I’ve ridden in a lot of places over the decades. I have yet to encounter any engineered solutions that can function on our roadways in the absence of education for all users (including on-going education that involves tuition payments in the form of citations). There are flaws in literally every design that involves motor vehicles unless one is willing to build ridiculous numbers of tunnels and overpasses, and even that fails because of cost and the emissions of constructing them.
This is where I feel today’s self-described cycling advocates are doing real harm. They pretend that there exists some magical form of streets that will be both inviting and safe in the absence of training for new riders. When there are injuries or deaths, they decry the infra and tell everyone, directly or by implication, that cycling is too dangerous under current conditions. The result is what we are seeing in Portland, SF and Eugene: flattening or small (or large) drop-offs in cycling with large increases in driving. This approach has a predictable ending point of no bikes on the streets at all, which is a tragedy in the face of the climate crisis. We simply must do better, and soon.
The author of the piece on the two-wheeled safety illusion also make some excellent critiques of the misguided, developer-fueled ‘YIMBY’ movement in another piece:
Density without planning (and without cycling infrastructure investment) is just going to lead to more deadly incidents as we have seen in NYC and SF.
Portland is smashing the record for vulnerable user deaths this year. I wonder if the developers of the massive apartment buildings on N. Vancouver/Williams are paying anything to close off a street lane and add appreciably to the rider’s hazard by forcing cars into the bike lane.
The vast majority of the deaths are in outer-east Portland, so I’m not sure how relevant discussions of condos/apartments in close-in Portland are.
If everyone lived close in, there wouldn’t be any deaths further out.