Disaster management and climate crisis: Growth industries for the next few decades

A consensus seems to be emerging that a vaccination will be tested and safe enough to be accessed by the general public sometime next year — from summertime to New Year’s Eve. The infection and fatality rate is expected to stabilize before or after, and health and safety concerns should life enough for the global economy to recover. At least that’s the theory.

Climate change isn’t getting that kind of high hope and positive expectation. Climate crisis has become the norm in the past few years with evidence of it coming from Western state wildfires and regular tropical storms hitting the East Coast; and events like it occurring around the world. Then there’s the temperature continuing to go up, with California’s Death Valley reaching 130 degrees Fahrenheit recently, the highest temperature ever measured on the planet. The death toll has been increasing from all of the devastating impact of climate change, such as cities like Phoenix recording their hottest months ever.

Stakeholders in emergency management services, land development, healthcare, waterway restoration, and transportation, have been hearing alarms sound over it for years; but it has become more pressing in the past five years with brush fires destroying millions of acres and tarnishing air quality.

So, what’s the latest?

—The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been doing much better since the president invoked the Stafford Act in March and declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency. FEMA has been getting more funding and support, but onlookers acknowledge it could be much better if the federal government could play a more clear and decisive role. While FEMA and other agencies are getting better marks for responding to Covid-19, climate change continues to be ignored.

Climate change “affects almost every single thing in emergency management,” said Samantha Montano, assistant professor of emergency management and disaster science at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. “We’re not ready for what is coming.”

—Bill Gates would like to see the US clean up its act on bringing a vaccine to people in this country — and coordinate with the best of what’s going on around the world. He has that suggestion for clean transportation as well. Gates said that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has played a matchmaker role between several possible Covid-19 vaccine makers, based on the connections the group made on vaccines for other diseases, like malaria.

Gates has also been leading the $1 billion Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund to fight climate change. Startups need to showcase a scientifically sound technology that has the potential to reduce annual global greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 500 million metric tons. And last month, Gates posted in LinkedIn on his ideas on how to meet one of his objectives: “We want more people to be able to travel without contributing to climate change,” he wrote.

—What about investing in technology that could support firefighters in their battle with brushfires? Could there be a way to spur cloud formation and rain in given areas? Well, it’s a great idea but doesn’t appear to be approaching reality anytime soon. One methodology that is available is more realistic weather forecasting, which can be utilized for disaster preparation.

In late 2013, biotech giant Monsanto bought Climate Corporation for approximately $1.1 billion. While Monsanto was then under fire from activist groups for its role in propagating genetically modified organisms (GMO) in agriculture, the company’s Climate FieldView system is now a standard in agriculture.

While some leaders like President Trump are climate deniers, scientists are getting it right and forecasting climate change more accurately. Earlier this year, NASA found that 10 of 17 increasingly sophisticated model projections of global average temperature closely matched observations. And after accounting for differences between modeled and actual changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide and other factors that drive climate, the number increased to 14. Authors of the NASA study found no evidence that the leading climate models in which they had evaluated systematically overestimated or underestimated warming over the period of their projections.

And in other news……..

At its much-hyped Battery Day, Tesla Inc. yesterday unleashed a list of innovations that CEO Elon Musk said could make battery-making cheaper and would assist rolling out a $25,000 Tesla electric car within three years. At Tesla’s socially distanced outdoor Battery Day event, Musk said the company is moving toward eliminating cobalt in its batteries; a new powertrain for the Model S that could get to speeds of 200 mph; and a new cathode plant to streamline its battery production.

Sad news for those who own the GenZe electric scooter. After setting up a temporary shutdown plan to survive Covid-19 earlier this year, the company is now in the process of closing its shutters for good. The Mahindra-owned company did look very promising a few years ago with its functional bikes and a factory that built vehicles in the US. The holding company liquidated GenZe’s assets after deciding to shutter a number of its unprofitable subsidiaries and is working on completely dissolving the company in months ahead. One friend of mine found out from a West Hollywood maintenance ship that GenZe isn’t getting any support — no parts that can be shipped, and no one answering the hotline. GenZe says more will be coming out later.

Worried about breathing air during brush fires and climate catastrophe? Volvo Cars has introduced a world-first premium air quality technology to address these issues for its 90 and 60 Series models, based on its Scalable Products Architecture (SPA). The company’s new Advanced Air Cleaner technology comes with a sensor that measures PM 2.5 levels inside the cabin, creating a feature not available in any other car currently on the market. It’s staring out in China, where PM 2.5 measurements and related information services are well-established. Volvo drivers in China can compare air quality inside the cabin to that outside the car. PM 2.5 has become a widely-used measure for air quality, the company said, as its indicates the amount of fine particulate matters in the air.

Connecting the Dots — looking at data and analytics in economics and Covid-19

These indicators seem to look better now than in March and April, but economists warn that it’s still too early to assume that stability has returned. Unemployment has come down, but there’s concern over the accuracy of the reporting; and that it’s still way above the 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent rate when the economy is within a stable rate. The GPD being down so dramatically is a significant indicator to follow.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows mixed messages on the economy and public perception of it. The current unemployment rate and rising stock prices may be part of what could be recorded as the deepest and shortest downturn after Covid-19 hit the US. An economic recovery has started, but its growth and stability are still unknown; and that recovery is accompanied by large amounts of government borrowing. The opinion poll showed support for President Trump on the economy, but some of those who gave him a good economic leadership rating don’t plan to vote for him in November.


While the three stock market indices are looking better, the stock markets are still going through waves of volatility. Stock performance is expected to stay in the green into the new week. On the other side, it looks like Covid-19 relief spending may not be coming from Washington. Democrats and Republicans are still more than a trillion dollars apart from striking a deal.

As for economic forecasts in the pandemic climate — Global economies are expected to be several quarters away from returning to pre-pandemic levels with Asia seeing its first regional recession in 60 years……… OPEC and BP are predicting oil prices will be staying down for quite a while………. Automakers and their suppliers have been returning to near-normal activity in production plants; engineers and designers are getting back to work on the next-generation electric vehicle propulsion, and autonomous systems are still drawing support with delivery drones and robots getting the most push lately. Amazon, FedEx and other companies are lobbying for favorable regulation as automated e-commerce delivery becomes more popular due to the pandemic.


US consumers did quite a bit of online shopping in the second quarter — increasing 31.8 percent from the previous quarter; and 44.5 percent year over year, according to US Census Bureau of the Dept. of Commerce. That made for $211.51 billion in revenue — up from $160.41 from Q1. But it wasn’t enough to level out the negative impact of numerous losses from brick-and-mortar store closures; and total retail sales were down 3.9 percent from the prior quarter.


Amazon’s recent financial performance ties in closely to the online shopping numbers. The company’s sales skyrocketed 40 percent year-over-year to to $88.9 in its fiscal second year. Profits also doubled year-over-year to $5.2 billion during that quarter. The company also reported spending about $4 billion on Covid-19—related expenses such as adding additional safety measures at the company’s warehouses and facilities, personal protective equipment employees, and $500 million for bonuses to logistics and delivery workers. The company will continue hiring in its fourth round this year — 100,000 workers to meeting growing order and delivery demand; and 33,000 in corporate and tech roles with pay averaging $150,000.


Tech firms are creating new jobs — as employees have been stuck at home, employers have brought in new managers to manage the new, virtual workplace — and to prepare for a lasting remote workplace for many workers. Tech firms like Facebook are doing most of the job postings for jobs such as, “director, remote work.”


US debt last month reached its highest level compared to the size of the economy since World War II and is projected to exceed it next year as the coronavirus pandemic continues on. The Congressional Budget Office reported that federal debt held by the public is projected to reach or exceed 100 percent of US gross domestic product, the broadest measure of U.S. economic output, in the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1.

Questions have never been clearly answered by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on why reducing the cases and fatalities was so positive for the state in March, but so awful by summer time. California and several other states seemed to be bending to large employers and other interests. But what is the real cost of going this rate in fatalities, medical care and emergency services, and what it may be doing to education and the workplace?


Asian countries are credited with enacting strict social protocols and seeing much lower infection and fatality rates — as shown above in China’s numbers, the country where all of it began in December 2019. The trade war between China and the US has been behind many of the actions taken by both governments this year. Two Chinese companies were hit with trade sanctions last week by the US Commerce Dept., something that continues on a regular basis in the US and China; with the White House citing national security as the reason for restricting exports.

And in other news………..
General Motors is partnering with Nikola to engineer and build the Nikola Badger for both the battery electric vehicle and fuel cell electric vehicle variants. Nikola anticipates saving over $4 billion in battery and powertrain costs over 10 years and over $1 billion in engineering and validation costs. GM expects to gain more than $4 billion of benefits between the equity value of the shares, contract manufacturing of the Badger, supply contracts for batteries and fuel cells, and EV credits retained over the life of the contract. The Detroit automaker’s CEO Mary Barra said Monday that the company conducted “appropriate diligence” in the $2 billion deal with Nikola. That follows fraud claims made last week by short-selling firm Hindenburg Research. But the Securities and Exchange Commission will be examining whether the deal could be violating securities laws.


NGVAmerica’s Annual Industry Summit will transition to an online format for Fall 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which will go online Oct. 20th to 22nd from 12:00 p.m. to 3 p.m. ET daily. Registration for the virtual sessions is now officially open at NGVShow.com. On-road, off-road and everything in between will be featured, from traditional freight, refuse, and transit applications to growing marine, rail, and construction use in vehicles powered by natural gas. Program details are being finalized now built around daily themes: Market, Sustainability, and Public Policy.

Possible scenarios for the next phase of these tumultuous times

Summertime is coming to an end with Labor Day over now. Students are going back to school; if the school will be opening and allowing them to attend. We’ve got a big election coming up, and interest remains high on other fronts — including whether a Covid-19 vaccine will be available soon, protesting continues, fires and hurricanes surge on, and what impact all of this is really having on the economy (more on that topic next week).

What could happen to transportation, mobility, and fuel in this environment? Election results will be the main event to answer that question, with a wide chasm between the Trump and Biden campaigns on climate change, clean fuels and energy incentives, low-interest loans for cleantech, and other key issues.

Here’s a look at some of the news coverage, polling, and forecasting that’s analyzing what’s going on out there during such a turbulent time.

Are kids going back to school?
Students in K-12 school districts, colleges/universities, and technical training programs— both public and private — have been going back to classrooms across the country; and some will have to wait a few more weeks before the school opens; or stay at home and attend through online courses for the time being. At the college level, many of the announcements came out in late July or early August, with some of them surprising students and their families by retracting earlier plans to open up again; many of these announcement came from private colleges and universities. The real challenge has been discerning when its safe enough to open up, and what health and safety protocols have to implemented. Experts have been looking at zone mapping and other reports on red zones to avoid, and yellow and green zones that can be accessed following strict guidelines.

Who’s winning electoral college votes?
Lessons learned during the 2016 election seem to be taken very seriously this year by both presidential campaigns. Hillary Clinton may have had about a 2.8 million lead in popular votes, but didn’t have enough electoral college votes to score the victory. Sifting through polling data and electoral college state forecasts show Joe Biden so far to have a clear lead. The Economist, as of Sept. 8 data, shows Joe Biden taking 334 and Donald Trump taking 204 with a minimum of 270 needed to win.

Mail-in ballots — what could be the impact?
President Trump has been sounding an alarm about mail-in ballots ruining this election, which he’s called “the greatest scam in the history of politics.” Election experts say the US is not mired in election scams, as is the case in many countries around the world. Cases of mail-in voting fraud, and electoral fraud in general, are exceedingly rare in the US. While it was common to see fixed ballots in US elections many years ago, especially in small towns, the issue this year appears to be about the huge change coming from polling booths being closed due to Covid-19 and the necessity of mail-in ballots. Will the head postmaster at USPS be able to carry it out on time, and is he willing to do so? Trump may be stirring the pot in this election since he’s been trailing behind Biden in early polling surveys. If he does challenge the results from Tuesday, Nov. 3, it could be dragged out for several weeks; something like former vice president Al Gore calling out an investigation of Florida votes from the 2020 election.

Covid-19 vaccine testing and hope for recovery
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has asked public health officials in the states to prepare to distribute a coronavirus vaccine by late October or early November. It that coming from pressure by the Trump administration to look good for the election? Readiness to start testing? The need to pressure key players to get it started? It may take longer than hoped for, now that Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and other vaccine developers are said to be planning to issue a pledge not to seek government approval until the vaccinations prove to be safe and effective. The pharmaceutical companies might issue the pledge soon, according to two people familiar with the matter.

How candidates are addressing police tactics and protesting
Messages given by the two presidential campaigns could be their most significant and long-lasting statements this year; though stopping Covid-19 and restoring the economy are up there on the list, too. The Trump campaign is downplaying charges of racist law enforcement tactics, especially treatment of black Americans; Trump instead is speaking about bringing back order and safety to cities torn by police shootings, protests, and upheaval. The Biden campaign is coming from the other side — as clearly represented by Biden speaking on the phone with Jacob Blake, the black man shot in the back and paralyzed by police in Kenosha, Wis., and visiting sites in that town where demonstrations had taken place. That was soon after Trump had visited the city to praise law enforcement and reiterate his party’s messages over urban unrest.

Extremist groups taking advantage of protest demonstrations
Protests have taken a deadly turn in the last three weeks, and authorities say extremists are responsible. The Wall Street Journal released a podcast last week detailing it, with what happened in Charlottsville, NC, in 2017 during the Unite the Right rally as a predecessor of what’s been taking place in Wisconsin and Oregon. Protests started by some of these right wing groups (and a few left wing groups) in April over what they saw as extreme measures take by government to contain Covid-19. Left wing, anti-fascist Antifa groups started showing up at protests too for Black Lives Matter along with extreme groups on the right. Boogaloo Boys, Patriot Prayer, and other right-wing groups have been champions of chaos, which some would like to see take the form of another civil war. These are not like right-wing groups in the past with well known leaders showing up at events. Now these activists can just show up somewhere, cause damage, then quickly exit. The far-right vigilante who killed two protesters on the streets of Kenosha, Wis. on Aug. 25, raised more concerns about these killings increasing. Tension was added with 1,000 pro-Trump, right-wing protesters gathering outside Portland, Ore. yesterday in a show of force against left-wing protestors. Law enforcement may have to use what worked well in containing ISIS in the Middle East, analysts say; another tactic would be banning guns at events and strictly enforcing it.

California ballot initiative could stop AB5
If a California court allows the state’s AB5 implementation to precede in the coming weeks, which is expected to be the case, the business model for Uber, Lyft, and other mobile app-based company operating in the state, will be overturned. But they’re at war with the state, and may block enforcement of AB5 through Proposition 22. The ballot initiative has been funded by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart, and Postmates. While AB5 established three criteria that workers must meet to be independent contractors rather than employees, Prop. 22 would exempt app-based drivers from this test, labeling them as independent contractors. So far, they’ve raised more than $110 million to promote the bill, while opposition has only raised $900,000. If it does get passed by voters, the legal issue won’t be automatically resolved. That will probably take more time in courtrooms, which could mean years before it’s legally defined. Uber, Lyft, and the others will probably continue to operate under their current business models — unless an appeals court decisively rules that AB32 will be protected.

Auto sales and EVs
US car sales were down 19.8 percent in August, and automakers expect sales to remain depressed for the remainder of the year. Those looking for more affordable, smaller new cars and crossovers, are being nudged out to the market as automakers have limited their inventory to larger, higher-margin vehicles. “We’ve just been amazed at how resilient the market has been,” said Michelle Krebs, an analyst for Cox Automotive. “The people who have money have plenty of it, and they are spending it on expensive vehicles. The low end — that’s where the job losses are.”

China’s auto market is expected to grow only slightly in the next five years, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM).
Auto sales are expected to record 27.75 million vehicles in 2025 up from 25.77 million in 2019. Sales of new energy vehicles came in at 1.24 million units last year. The government would like to see 2 million NEVs sold per year, but that will take a while to get through the Covid-19 crisis and for more government incentives to come back to the market.

It’s been fascinating to watch Tesla’s stock perform well during Covid-19. The worst thing that’s happened lately is that company isn’t quite ready yet to be added to the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rating; but CEO Elon Musk probably doesn’t care. Tesla retained 19 percent of the global plugin vehicle market during the first half of this year. What changes is that top selling corporations that own several different automotive brands as well as “alliances” of brands had higher percentages of the overall market.
Volkswagen Group had 13 percent of the market; Renault-Nissan Alliance had 9 percent of the market, and BMW Group and Hyundai–Kia each had 7 percent of the market. Sales are down from last year, unlike Europe where EV sales doubled last year’s rate, coming in at 8 percent of the market in the first half of 2020. The overall market plunged 38 percent while Europe’s EV market grew. The numbers were skewed and represent only 14 countries making up 98 percent of the battery electric vehicle market.

Mobility, travel, and fuel
Ride-sharing/hailing through the major global brands has been hard hit, while autonomous vehicle test runs where put on hold in the spring. The long-term trends may be positive for traditional automakers. For car shoppers who had used mobility services, about 39 percent say they plan to use services like Uber and Lyft less often from now on, according to a June survey. About 44 percent say they plan to take public transportation rides less often. About a third of those surveyed plan to use their personal vehicles more often when Covid-19 comes to an end. “The conclusion is that people are really seeing cars in a new light, both as an escape – a way to get away from the quarantine and stress that we’ve all had over the past several months – but also as a safe way to get around,” said Madison Gross, director of consumer insights for CarGurus.

As for travel and tourism, that global industry has seen its worst performance since 1950. Smaller countries completely dependent on the travel business have been particularly hard hit. That comes as no surprise given that cruise ships, airlines, and airports were put on hold before other industries in early 2020.

On the freight transport side, the US Dept. of Transportation unveiled the National Freight Strategic Plan on Sept. 3. The plan’s objectives include improving the safety of the freight system, modernizing infrastructure, and supporting the development of data and technologies as primary goals.

Oil prices, along with gasoline and diesel, are expected to stay down for the near future. The world’s largest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, cut pricing for oil sales in October, as the oil producer sees fuel demand wavering amid more coronavirus flare-ups around the world. WTI Crude has been trading around $40 per barrel lately, a modest improvement over the crash starting in the spring. For gasoline and diesel prices in the US, the Energy Information Administration forecasts that gas will average $2.12 per gallon this year and $2.23 next year. For diesel, the EIA said it expects the average national price to stay at $2.54 per gallon this year and $2.57 next year.

Natural gas and electricity are expected to stay at about their same levels as experienced since 2018, with only a slight cost increase expected for next year according to EIA. As reported in ACT News, stability in natural gas fuel prices continues to help commercial fleets make the case for investing more in clean transportation. Compressed natural gas has been the widely used alternative to diesel in heavy freight transportation.

And in other news:

Sustainable Transportation in a Post-Covid World: Creating opportunity from uncertainty the focus of AltWheels Fleet Day

AltWheels Fleet Day will be bringing together corporate and municipal fleet managers and clean-fleet stakeholders to reduce emissions, lower costs, and create solutions for tomorrow’s sustainable transportation needs. The virtual event takes place on Monday, Oct. 5., 2020. The event consists of panels, exhibits, and vehicles offering a showcase of alternative transportation solutions.

The event’s keynotes include:
Strategies and best practices for decarbonizing transportation: how to make progress during the COVID cloud by Bill Van Amburg, CALSTART.
Overview on critical shifts: Transportation post COVID-19 and where the economy is going Anirban Basu, Chairman & CEO Sage Policy Group  
Keynote speakers this year including Anirban Basu, Chairman and CEO of the Sage Policy Group. Anirban serves as Chairman of the Maryland Economic Development Commission, teaches global strategy at Johns Hopkins University, and serves the Chief Economist function for a number of organizations around the country.

Leading strategies from fleet managers managing in uncertain times: How to move forward and find opportunities in the current environment with speakers from UPS, NACFE, National Grid, and Trucking Association of Massachusetts.

Green Auto Market is co-hosting AltWheels along with several Clean Cities coalitions, NAFA, NACFE, and other organizations. You can register for the event here on this site.