Climate change is real for large institutions but it’s not making the case for cost-cutting fleets and consumers

Climate change polar bearWhatever you want to call it – climate science, climate disruption, or global warming – climate change is still coming up all over the map. Institutions of all types – large corporations, government agencies, research centers, and the United Nations – quickly set aside arguments that climate change isn’t happening. Their concern is whether it’s too late to stop devastating weather events, ocean acidification, melting ice caps, and massive losses of natural resources.

Most automakers and other major stakeholders tend to agree with making the case for climate change. Volvo Group renewed its partnership with World Wide Fund supporting its Climate Savers program. Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn says that climate change is one of his company’s primary concerns. Honda has been pleased to announce that it’s further reducing carbon footprint by building a wind farm in Brazil that will produce enough energy to power its car factory in that country. Alternative Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo has made a partnership with Carbon War Room and The North American Council for Freight Efficiency for the Trucking Efficiency joint effort. Thousands of diplomats from around the world are meeting in Lima, Peru to make a United Nations agreement on the long dragged-out debate on implementing its Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Even though ground transportation makes up a big share of greenhouse gas emissions, it’s been a very tough sell to gain green vehicle acquisitions from fleet purchasing managers, truck transportation companies, corporate and government procurement officers, car shoppers, and consumers with influence over what their peers may purchase. Declining gasoline prices recently have had a big impact on retail car buyer decisions dipping on hybrids and electric vehicles. Those pump prices may drop down to $2 per gallon by Christmas-time at some US gas stations. OPEC failing to cut down on oil production should have something to do with dropping gasoline prices.

Fleets are shying away from investing in natural gas vehicles and fueling, and to some extent propane, when they can better contain costs with fuel-efficient internal combustion engine vehicles. Consumers are facing similar challenges – the economic collapse of 2008-2009 is over, but the environment has definitely changed. There are still a lot of layoffs going on, sending kids to college is incredibly expensive, medical coverage hasn’t been turned around yet by Obamacare, and the cost of living can quickly creep up on each month’s bill-paying cycle for many Americans. Making an investment in a new vehicle technology is a tough sell, and the early adopters are done with their fascination with electric vehicles and other alternative powertrains.

So how does one make the case for green vehicle acquisitions in this landscape? Wearing my consultant hat, and being a rabid consumer of news and peer conversations on the topic, here are a few strategies that seem to be working:

  • Make the case for return on investment (ROI). Fleets are finding they can reach payback in about two-to-three years in duty cycles after making the acquisitions; sometimes that happens within a year-and-a-half. After that point, the fleet saves money on that vehicle acquisition through fuel cost savings and sometimes through reducing maintenance costs.
  • Green vehicles support the organization’s sustainability priorities. Many government and corporate employees will tell you impressive stories about their leaderships’ programs designed around handing over a clean environment to future generations. Their fleet vehicles make up a lot of that environmental impact, and today there are many practical and viable options for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in transportation.
  • Don’t forget infrastructure. For alternative vehicle technologies to take off, they need a lot more fueling and charging stations out there. That takes a lot of funding and support, but the resources are impressive for those willing to build a network of leaders in the community. Go to your local Clean Cities Coordinator to get the ball rolling.
  • Speak to other reasons besides climate change. While many key stakeholders accept climate change as a given, some don’t and will shut down their attention and support if that’s the cause they’re asked to buy into. When you’re making the case for gaining funding support from your city council, corporate board, investors, or your spouse, also mention other top issues. These days, air quality and health hazards would make top of the list; independence from foreign oil imports still gains support out there (anti-OPEC is still a good one); and a broad sustainability perspective usually works, especially the idea of being responsible for what’s handed over to future generations.
  • Don’t forget economic growth. In this day and age of economic globalization, fast-changing technologies, and industry shutdowns, supporting clean transportation makes more sense. It’s usually part of political lobbying and grant funding applications; but it also goes over well with business leaders looking for growth opportunities as the economic landscape continues to become more of a moving shell game. Job creation, public and private investment, infrastructure development, training and education programs, and technology innovations generally support the case for growth in clean transportation.

Big Picture: GM takes on Tesla, How to market green vehicles to nerds

GM CEO Dan Akerson’s strategy to wipe Tesla Motors off the map
GM CEO Dan AkersonThere’s more information coming out on General Motors’ agenda taking on competitor Tesla Motors. It seems to be based on the historic trend of a giant automaker wiping out a small startup. GM is willing to become the loss leader, and has the deep pockets to make up for it long term. GM CEO Dan Akerson told The Detroit News: “We’ll sell more (Chevrolet) Volts and lose less money on the Volts than they’ll lose on the (Tesla) Model S.” GM’s executive management wasn’t happy with the findings from a market study conducted during the summer and led by GM vice chairman Steve Girsky. Akerson is also skeptical that Americans will ever buy plug-in vehicles in large numbers. (Detroit News Reporter David Shepardson wrote that Tesla’s profits came entirely from California’s zero-emission vehicle credits and other credits – though many would disagree with that statement.) GM’s strategy to knock out Tesla seems to be based on a three-fold plan:  1. Flood the market with cheaper Chevy Volts.  2. Launch and flood more with a soon-to-be released $30,000 200-mile range electric car. 3. Go head-to-head against the Model S with the extended range, and comparably priced, Cadillac ELR. “But I do think when the (Cadillac) ELR comes out late this year, early next — it’s certainly in the same postal code as Tesla, but now we’re going to move up,” Akerson said. “It’s not going to be a mass-produced car.”

Toyota going very direct in its marketing of RAV4 EV
Marketing strategies used by automakers are changing at a consistently fast pace these days as unexpected trends and opportunities continue popping up; for example, what was initially a DVD rental company – Netflix – now produces and promotes its own TV series. Toyota has one of its own – marketing the all-electric RAV4 to go after tech-savvy early adopters who subscribe to DirecTV’s satellite service in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego. The TV ads are ending up on the TV screens of this micro-niche audience through what’s called dynamic advertising. Marketing data firms provide DirecTV with consumer information from credit cards and other sources to identify the most likely prospects that would have interest in the electric RAV4. These are consumers likely to buy new gadgets.

Already maxed out selling to early adopters? Don’t forget about nerds
Check out my post on Autoblog Green covering the launch of RideNerd.com. This could be the ultimate car shopping site for those consumers demanding detailed information on new car choices based on fuel economy, smog and greenhouse gas emissions, and cost of ownership. Nerds are hardcore researchers and analysts – and do comparison shopping to the nth degree.
Here are a few other points I would make about this unofficial market segment that could be of interest to those marketing new vehicles….

  1. They’ve loved gaming from an early age – Dungeons and Dragons, Playstation, X-Box, and Nintendo.
  2. They tend to have expertise in what’s being displayed at Comic-Con.
  3. They tend to have an odd sense of humor – enjoying gallows humor, social satire, and bizarre movie scenes such as the Knights of the Ni demanding shrubbery in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
  4. They’re generally strong in mathematics and science during their school years.
  5. Being right about something is a very big deal; debates go over well unless the nerd can be proven wrong – then it doesn’t go so well.

If you’re wondering how I’ve become so well informed about the lifestyle habits of nerds…. Let’s just say I only performed above average in math and science classes, but I’m good at asking engineers (aka “engi-nerds”) and scientists to explain, in layman’s terms, the nuts and bolts. I’ve never been too interested in gaming and haven’t purchased graphic novel superhero biographies. I do watch the Monty Python movie whenever I get a chance.

Tesla-Mania:  Tweeting for engineering staff to deliver self-driving cars
Of course Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk couldn’t let self-driving cars slip away as major automakers have announced plans to roll out autonomous cars by 2020. Musk and his company have covered it all – Tesla’s own branded version of fast chargers, battery swapping, the fastest commuter rail line concept ever conceived, customized lease packages, fashionable retail stores and service centers, Model S road trips, and chumming with loyal Twitter followers. Musk recently tweeted a “help wanted” ad on the social media site. He’s calling it an “autopilot system” for the Model S. Engineers who’d like work on that project for Tesla should contact the company at autopilot@teslamotors.com.

Car sharing is here to stay, and growing to large numbers
Navigant Research thinks car sharing is set to fly – from the current number of 2.3 million subscribing members around the world to more than 12 million by the end of the decade. Global revenue is expected to be growing by a large volume – from $1 billion this year to $6.2 billion in 2020. Automakers and car rental companies have jumped in the pool, taking on Zipcar (owned by Avis) and a few other upstart brands.

Chesapeake leaves natural gas vehicle market
Chesapeake Energy Corp. has eliminated its seven-member natural gas vehicle team, which had been responsible for part of the Oklahoma City-based oil and natural gas company’s efforts to develop additional markets for gas usage. Chesapeake has played an important role in adoption of NGVs and development of the infrastructure, and these vehicles play a major role in its own fleet, as Tim Denny, Vice President of Administration, explains in this video. Rich Kolodziej, president of Natural Gas Vehicles for America, said Chesapeake has been an important player, but other companies and organizations have taken on that role now.

Ford employees gaining access to workplace charging stations
Ford Motor Co. is joining ranks with what a few competitors have been doing – installing electric vehicle charging stations – at more than 50 of its US and Canadian offices and manufacturing plants. It’s being done to offer employees a perk – making workplace charging available. The automakers will start installing its 200 chargers in November and will continue rolling them out next year. Employees will be able to charge free for the first four hours on any Ford vehicle.

My day at AltCar Expo and thoughts on what it takes to create a strong green vehicle event

AltCar ExpoI had mixed feelings about once again attending AltCar Expo at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and its outside parking lot. I’ve been attending since 2009 (it started in 2006 and just completed its eight year), and it’s always  been a must-attend conference – the most comprehensive ride and drive out there; excellent speaker panels with veteran experts in the field (government agencies, university research centers, automakers, infrastructure partners, consultants); display booths from automakers and organizations; and usually something very distinct you won’t forget (“Oh, I didn’t know the ports were using all-electric drayage trucks.”)

I’ve also had concerns about it. If you do a news search on AltCar Expo, you’ll see very little coverage of this significant conference. The attendance is also pretty light. I would think there would be a lot more people showing up (for example, on the fleet-focused sessions on Friday) in a city that’s considered to be a bellwether  for alternative fuel vehicles and EV charging stations – not to mention that it’s one of the trendiest, wealthiest cities on the west coast. There are a lot of residents who own electric vehicles and support the basic premises behind alternative fuel vehicles – not to mention that Southern California is usually one of the leading markets where automakers first deliver green vehicles.

As for this year’s AltCar Expo, a few moments really stood out – Terry Tamminen – former head of California’s EPA during the Schwarzenegger administration when AB 32 and the Low Carbon Fuel Standard were being implemented – gave a clear picture of what’s happening in policy; Jon Coleman, fleet sustainability and technology manager for Ford’s North American Fleet, Lease and Remarketing Operations, had some very direct comments to make about the value proposition that needs to be fulfilled for EV charging and CNG refueling stations to go beyond symbolic to practical; Genze is launching an electric motorbike in the first quarter of next year that should stand out as utilitarian and hip to Millennials; and the Cal State Los Angeles EcoCAR 2 team was on hand (and so far is in second place among 15 universities in the US and Canada in this EPA and General Motors sponsored competition), displaying its converted Chevy Malibu plug-in hybrid flex fuel version. It was interesting to hear how strong sales have been since the recent introduction of Ford’s new F-150 natural gas pickup (the first half-ton CNG-powered pickup to come to market). I’ve always looked forward to attending AltCar Expo, and have always enjoyed the experience and learned a great deal about this important, new industry. I’ve just wanted to see a lot more people show up and have their own experiences with the technology.

It’s not the only green vehicle conference that faces big challenges increasing attendance, sponsorships, and other revenue to cover costs and pay for promotional campaigns – and playing a much-needed role helping to set a foundation for business growth. The Green Fleet Conference & Expo is coming up, put on by Bobit Business Media, publisher of the flagship Automotive Fleet; but there are only a limited number of people likely to attend even though it’s an excellent conference. ACT Expo is the most successful, highest attended green fleet-focused conference, and has successfully filled the void that opened up when the Alternative Fuel Vehicle Institute annual conference ended in 2010. Plug-In 2013 is coming up soon in San Diego and has been influential; the Electric Drive Transportation Association annual conference has been essential for EV stakeholders for several years; and NGV America’s annual conference is the flagship natural gas vehicle event. Still, attendance is limited at all of them, and their influence in media coverage, government policies, public opinion, and vehicle buyer decisions is slim. For those wondering what it’s going to take for green vehicle sales to increase along with all the positive environmental, energy, and economic impacts that many people are quite articulate about, I would say that successful conferences, trade shows, and vehicle displays are the meat and potatoes that need to go on tables.

Here are my thoughts on what could raise the numbers….

  1. Get connected with major car shows. What about moving AltCar Expo in front of the LA Auto Show? Sure, it might be competing with the Green Car of the Year award, but it’s likely that efforts could be combined – such as continuing to have the ride and drive at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium parking space; but what about having the speaker sessions at the LA convention center during the media days or during a dedicated event promoted by the auto show? There’s going to be a very interesting connected car event at LA Auto Show in November – maybe it could have been fused together as a broader topic? Smart transportation?
  2. Coordinate the event with trade groups, research centers, and exhibitors. Last year, it was very productive to attend a pre-conference hosted by the Luskin Center for Innovation prior to the global EVS26 conference (put on by Electric Drive Transportation Association) at the LA convention center. It was fascinating information offered during presentations, but to a very limited audience. A much larger number attended EVS26, but once again, it was pale in comparison to many other events at that conference center. Organizations and businesses want to make gains in marketing exposure, public education, and through supporting technologies and sometimes controversial issues. I would think they should be included in the event planning process way ahead of time – and that could be one to two years out.
  3. Get connected with fleet managers and Clean Cities coordinators. NAFA is doing a lot of it now through its relationship with Calstart and US Dept. of Energy’s Clean Cities leadership. But fleet managers and Clean Cities coordinators are down in the trenches and bring a lot of experience and expertise to the table. Put them on your conference planning committees.
  4. Get celebrities to show up. Certainly, it would be tough to get big names to be placed on conference brochures – I doubt Elon Musk would be willing to be a keynote speaker; Neil Young and Willy Nelson support biofuels but are unlikely to put on a concert; T. Boone Pickens might show up and speak, but is likely to charge a hefty speaker fee; Tom Hanks was proud to drive an EV1 but would be very hard to get ahold of unless you’re a Hollywood insider. Ed Begley, Jr., is passionate about electric vehicles but might not be willing to speak at a conference in Chicago. Still, there are a lot of interesting and somewhat famous people out there who advocate and drive green vehicles – and could be convinced to come support the cause. Celebrities could include politicians, newscasters, experts (such as authors of influential books in the field), academics, actors, singers/musicians, athletes, and leaders of advocacy organizations. They might not be widely known, but could be icons to a sophisticated audience. And let’s be honest about it – we live in America, and celebrities are as big it gets. You might find that superficial, but just about every cause I can think of utilizes celebrities in their promotional campaigns whenever they can, and it tends to grab attention and conversation.
  5. Location, location, location – and timing. Some markets usually deliver higher attendance than others, and it’s probably best to not have these types of conferences scheduled too close together.
  6. Find sponsors willing to monetize the event. They’ll want a lot in return, but how unreasonable would that really be? All of the major conferences have a handful of large backers and sometimes a long list of companies willing to pay their dues to get on the list and perhaps exhibit at booths and host gala events – product unveilings, award shows, keynote speakers, etc.
  7. Work together with organizations looking for such an event. The automotive and transportation sectors are chock full of organizations striving to better serve their memberships. Many are chomping at the bit to host an annual conference that elevates their importance and influence and brings together key stakeholders for valuable networking and education activities.
  8. Make the ride and drive and vehicle displays distinct. One measure of an influential conference is the number of unveilings that happen during press conferences. There is a difference between what’s referred to by the conference planners as a product introduction and the actual launch of something. And if there’s no major unveilings to be announced, there are other ways to go – introducing a new mobile app; an upgrade to a vehicle’s features and color options; engine and powertrain enhancements; and infrastructure launches. If it’s been displayed at five conferences already, don’t claim it to be an introduction. As for ride and drives, there are ways to make it unique for that location – and user friendly for people standing in line waiting for their turn. Automakers sometimes offer incentives for car shoppers to earn when they show up at the ride and drive and go buy one of the new cars soon after.
  9. Get lots of media coverage before, during, and after. Some conferences are good at getting media sponsors and offering perks for them to show up and create valuable content in articles, videos, podcasts/radio, and photo galleries. Targeted trade, professional, and special interest publications are critical to draw and reach important niches, but don’t forget about mainstream media. Getting reporters from Bloomberg, Reuters, Wall Street Journal, major media from the hosting city, and business publications, is a given for the big auto shows. Getting them to show up at niche conferences is a tough sell, but it becomes more newsworthy if a governor or a championship-game-winning coach are scheduled to drive up in their plug-in cars (or hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, natural gas vehicle, propane-powered truck, biodiesel bus, or hybrid vehicle) and say great things about the cause. Blogs and social media will also play a vital role in getting the word out.
  10. Hold the speaker panels somewhere nearby that upgrade the professionalism and appeal of the event – such as at a nearby hotel where business conferences are popular these days.

Automakers are willing to send newly launched vehicles to car shows all over the world. They’re spending lots of money to reach eager consumers who love attending annual car shows and conferences. Green vehicles are unlikely to see anything of this size and scope, but the sales numbers are slowly inching up; and at some point, we’re going to see millions of them on the roads. To keep these vehicles running safely and efficiently, it will take a lot of people skilled and experienced in the field to be networking with and educating each other at significant industry conferences.

ARI’s Brian Matuszewski on what fleet managers are doing on the sustainability front

Matuszewski_Brian_ARIDoes your organization have a sustainability officer on staff? The last time I counted, there were 19 of these filled management positions at US-based vehicle manufacturers; nine at automotive supplier companies; 16 at transportation companies (including fleet management, cargo transport, and delivery companies); and 12 in the energy sector (and that includes NPOs and research centers). Not all of them have the word “sustainability” in their job titles. They’re typically responsible for carrying out environmental and energy efficiency initiatives for their organizations; it tends to cover the end result of the entity (such as manufacturing clean, fuel efficient vehicles) and internal processes such as energy efficiency, recycling, and waste management. Sustainability has to do with what gets handed over to future generations.

Brian Matuszewski is one of the few sustainability officers, so far, in fleet management. He serves as manager – strategic consulting, sustainable strategies at ARI, one of the top fleet management companies based in the US. Matuszewski spoke to me last week about his duties at the company – and what it’s like to be among the growing movement of management professionals focused on sustainability issues. ARI’s clientele includes fleets in the corporate, government, and NPO sectors. The Cornell University graduate previously served at the US Environmental Protection Agency, as an analyst at P&L in Mexico City, and joined ARI earlier this year.

He’s primarily focused on supporting clients’ efforts to operate sustainable fleets with alternative fuel vehicles, fuel efficiency, and research and consulting services. Fleet managers are interested in implementing organizational targets to reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, supporting their country’s energy independence, and maximizing operational efficiencies and cost reductions. Matuszewski starts out by assessing fleet data and working with clients on integrating what makes the most sense for them.

Along with green vehicle acquisition decisions, Matuszewski said that ARI’s Environmental Management System helps clients monitor energy efficiency, manage waste going to landfills, implement recycling programs, and track baseline data globally. These days, fleet managers wear a lot of hats – their duties go way beyond fleet management; ARI assists fleets in reducing emissions and increasing efficiency in different facets of fleet management duties. Some fleet managers are working closely with sustainability managers within their organizations. “Fleet managers are getting some pressure from sustainability officers – buy more hybrids, etc.,” Matuszewski said. “The fleet manager’s job is a lot more comprehensive.”

European fleets are dealing with taxation on emissions, and in the US, several government and large corporate fleets are implementing sustainability initiatives – generally designed to meet carbon emissions targets. Smog emissions are not a priority for fleets these days due to advanced technologies that are commonplace in new vehicles; reducing CO2 emissions is a top priority for a growing number of fleets. Diesel powertrains are being tracked, too, and a lot of that is being dealt with effectively by regulatory compliance including diesel being sold now at fueling stations that “combust fuel in a clean way,” Matuszewski said.

As for alternative fuel vehicles, that varies fleet by fleet – plug-in electric vehicles, hybrids, natural gas vehicles, propane autogas, and biodiesel are being looked at. “Alternative fuels are not the only way to go green,” he said. “They’re optimizing fuel efficiency, and gasoline and diesel engine vehicles can be pretty clean.” At the end of the day, fleet managers have to meet their organization’s goals when making fleet vehicle acquisitions. “Whether you believe in global warming or not, you need to make a strong business case,” Matuszewski said.

You may notice that quite a few Millennials (along with Baby Boomers and Gen Xers) can get pretty fascinated and passionate about sustainability – and might end up choosing to travel down that career path, as did Matuszewski. “At the university setting, it’s become a hot topic and not a fad,” he said. The terminology now includes cleantech, clean transportation, and sustainability. Whether it be students majoring in engineering, architecture, public policy, or business management, a lot more of them are adding it to their degrees and are becoming active in campus in organizations such as Net Impact. “A lot of people coming from college see it happening and feel good about it,” he said. It makes a lot of sense to them – in creating economic growth and innovation. It was a hot topic at Cornell University while he attended, and he’s been seeing a lot of topical conferences taking place across the country.

Matuszewski also emphasized that automakers are not getting enough credit for embracing sustainability. For example, Ford’s Rouge plant now utilizes a zero emissions building, and soybeans are being used inside Ford vehicle interiors, he said. Fleets are going in that direction, too, and are making a solid contribution to sustainability through the volume of vehicles they’re purchasing, setting up onsite alternative fueling, and are part of building the infrastructure. ARI works with clients to extract and analyze data and “customize sustainable solutions,” he said.

Climate Change and transportation policies: Are skeptics right that it’s really a lost cause?

Climate change polar bear

Stakeholders striving to bring green transportation to the mainstream tend to articulate one, two, or all three of the following reasons for supporting their missions:

1. Petroleum: Reducing and eventually eliminating America’s (and Planet Earth’s) addiction to oil and all its negative implications on geopolitics and energy security, economic stability, and environmental issues.
2. Economics: A seismic shift has been in the works for years, long before the Great Recession, with globalization and adoption of new technologies driving change. As America sees several industries and jobs diminish or disappear, looking for new opportunities is a very good thing. Alternative fuels and vehicles offer the possibility of return on investments, OEM and infrastructure sales, good paying jobs, and sales tax revenue.
3. Emissions: On the regulatory front, along with sustainability policies being adopted by several corporations, green transportation tends to be primarily pushed forward to reduce tailpipe and carbon emissions. Air pollution and its health-hazard implications are there on the tailpipe smog side of the analysis, and for many organizations, climate change is the central issue.

I’ve recently heard persuasive arguments made that climate change is certainly occurring, but there’s very little humans can do about it. While reducing fossil fuel consumption and emissions is the clear path to reducing CO2 levels, it will only address one end of the scale; there are environmental forces – including what’s happening deep within our oceans – that are outside human-caused climate change and there’s very little we can do about it.

Whether these arguments have weight or not, it’s very important to stay current on what’s happening out there, as it will affect government and corporate transportation policies. So here’s the latest on the climate change debate….

The US Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just released a report stating that the scorching hot heat that hit the north central and northeast US during the summer of 2012 was impacted by man-made climate change. The report’s analyses found evidence of human-caused climate change in half of the 12 extreme weather and climate events analyzed from last year. It started with unusual warmth in the spring season of 2012. “Approximately 35 percent of the extreme warmth experienced in the eastern U.S. between March and May 2012 can be attributed to human-induced climate change,” NOAA said about one study in the report. From another study in the report, NOAA stated, “High temperatures, such as those experienced in the [north central and northeast] U.S. in [summer] 2012 are now likely to occur four times as frequently due to human-induced climate change.”

The California Air Resources Board has a legal battle to deal with that’s attempting to undercut the Low Carbon Fuel Standard Program, which came out of AB 32 when it was enacted in 2006. Oil and ethanol companies want to void the rule and claim that the fuel standard discriminates against crude oil and biofuels producers outside California. There are two lawsuits in the works. CARB lost the federal court case and is waiting to find out if the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the case. Ethanol producer Poet LLC has another case filed with the state court claiming CARB violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when it adopted the standard. Poet claims the rule unfairly penalizes ethanol producers by counting their indirect carbon emissions.

National Geographic’s September cover story, “Rising Seas,” shows the Statue of Liberty waist high in seawater. The lead feature article starts out with three statistics – 136 large coastal cities are now at risk from sea-level rise; 40 million people are at risk in those cities; and there’s $3 trillion value of assets at risk. A fold-out map shows what the planet would look like if all the ice caps melted – the southeast US is underwater; California doesn’t break off and sink to the bottom of the ocean, but somehow its central agricultural region becomes a giant lake. The global map forecasts 5,000 years into the future when the sea level rises 216 feet, perhaps much faster if we add five trillion more tons of carbon to the atmosphere. The average earth temperature will be shooting up from the current 58 degrees Fahrenheit to 80 degrees. Most of magazine’s special section focuses on tactics for surviving flooding and other consequences that come out of disasters like last year’s Hurricane Sandy. In June, Mayor Michael Bloomberg outlined a $19.5 billion plan to defend New York City against rising seas. Tim Folger, author of the article does mention the role of human decisions impacting melting ice caps…. “Unless we change course dramatically in the coming years, our carbon emissions will create a world utterly different in its very geography from the one in which our species evolved,” Folger wrote in the summary. “No matter how much we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, Foster (Gavin Foster, a geochemist at the University of Southampton in England) says we’re already locked in to at least several feet of sea-level rise, and perhaps several dozens of feet, as the planet slowly adjusts to the amount of carbon that’s in the atmosphere already.”

In June of this year, President Barack Obama came back to the issue of climate change, which he’d basically avoided during his reelection campaign last year. In June of this year, the White House published the “Climate Action Plan” and the president gave a speech that month on climate and energy. The theme of the transportation portion of the report digs into increasing fuel economy standards and developing and deploying advanced transportation technologies as the way to address climate change. The report does start out with a quote from the president’s reelection inaugural speech in January where he mentioned the overwhelming majority of scientists convinced that climate change is for real ….. “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms,” he said. Our moral obligation is to hand over sustainable energy sources to future generations, according to the president. Obama addressed the topic during the G20 summit, though the issue of what to do about Syria was much more important. Five Scandinavian nations (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden) agreed with the president on the goals outlined in the Climate Action Plan.

Transportation produced 31% of total carbon emissions and 26% of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the US during 2011, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Electricity, industry, residential and commercial, and other non-fossil combustion make up the rest of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the EPA analysis. GHG and CO2 emissions go through ebbs and flows of interest and action by government entities, researchers, and businesses. The published B2B and consumer surveys make the issues look vulnerable to fluctuation on priority lists for elections, investments, purchase decisions, and lifestyle concerns. Climate change is not going away as a pressing issue – especially in the wake of natural disasters and weather catastrophes – but it’s probably best suited for success in league with petroleum and economic issues.

Don’t shoot me, I’m only the messenger! Why you should read John DeCicco’s commentary

Obama driving Chevy VoltThere’s an article you should read, even though many of you are going to hate it.

John DeCicco gets very blunt and criticizes the Obama Administration’s push for electric vehicles and alternative fuel vehicles – along with presidential programs going back to Ronald Reagan that he says were a waste of taxpayer’s money. Government subsidies and mandates haven’t worked, he says. He lambastes Obama administration policies, which are usually considered to be very green. He thinks that the policies are “under the misguided presumption that alternative fuels emit significantly fewer greenhouse gases than gasoline, and goaded by green groups and alternative fuel business interests.”

I do think you should take DeCicco and his article in a Yale University journal very seriously. He’s a noted academic researcher, has been a senior fellow at Environmental Defense Fund, and he pioneered US green car ratings for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

He thinks the best way to go will need a three-prong strategy:  1. Continue to raise fuel economy standards. 2. Implement policies that will reduce driving. 3. Control carbon upstream in energy and fuels used downstream in our daily lives.

As for the upstream/downstream argument, he thinks much of it boils down to the source of the energy. DeCicco makes the classic argument about the downside of EVs. About two thirds of the electricity that powers plug-in electric vehicles comes from fossil fuels – coal and natural gas – which removes the good side of EVs. Carbon emissions need to be cut down at electricity power plants – although he does acknowledge that this is included in Obama’s new climate plan.

And, of course, he rips into biofuels:  “Similarly, for biofuels such as ethanol, any potential climate benefit is entirely upstream on land where feedstocks are grown. Biofuels have no benefit downstream, where used as motor fuels, because their tailpipe CO2 emissions differ only trivially from those of gasoline,” he wrote.

He’s painting a picture that can be bleak and depressing. At the end of the day, stakeholders in this field must stay well informed and effectively get the word out on their green transportation campaigns. That requires adopting strategies that have a good chance of accomplishing their intended goals. Using hybrids and highly fuel-efficient vehicles is part of reducing emissions. Natural gas, electricity, propane autogas, ethanol, biodiesel, and hydrogen – in their current realities – are far from perfect or ideal. You could think of it as “transitional fuels” that are a step forward away from petroleum and have their role to play in reducing carbon emissions, job creation and economic growth, and curing our addiction to oil. Electricity made from 100% renewables, algae and cellulosic biofuels, renewable natural gas, and hydrogen extracted from clean sources, are targets to aim for – but they’re still a long ways off.

Hot Potato #1: Keystone XL pipeline heading for approval

Keystone pipelineThe Keystone XL pipeline is probably the leading “hot potato” energy issue to environmentalists, energy companies and legislators this year, possibly bumping “fracking” (hydraulic fracturing in shale fields for natural gas) to number two. The Keystone XL pipeline would deliver Canadian oil sands from huge reserves in Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the gulf coast of Texas. Most of it is currently in operation, but the final phase is awaiting US State Department approval. It’s a critical issue to follow for those interested in the future of energy in the US.

The main question has been the impact the Keystone XL will have on greenhouse gas emissions, with environmentalists forecasting serious increases. The US Environmental Protection Agency expressed concerns in April over the environmental impact. This was a response to a US State Department analysis that the Keystone XL pipeline will have “no material impact” on US greenhouse gas emissions. The State Department findings were just backed up by a study from the IHS CERA consulting and research firm, which is likely to influence President Obama’s decision on whether to support approval. Like the State Department’s environmental impact review, the IHS study thinks that transportation by rail will probably play an important role in meeting environmental and economic targets. Alternate transportation routes could lead to oil sands production growth going to a higher level or remaining unchanged.

These findings won’t go over well with everyone. Cleanteach analysts and environmental groups tend to be skeptical about bias coming from firms like IHS toward more traditional oil industry backers and not so much toward alternative energy. It’s certainly a mixed bag – many would like to see the US free itself from the power of OPEC nations in setting domestic fuel prices causing economic disruption that goes back to the oil embargoes of the 1970s. To them, creating a strong relationship with Canada’s oil industry is a much better deal. Others would like to see America weaned completely off its addiction to oil, replacing it with alternative fuels and energy. To them, Keystone XL continues to not only support vehicle tailpipe CO2 emissions but increased greenhouse gas emissions to transport the Canadian oil in the first place.