CitizenMetz

Carbon Consciousness & Action

Archive for the category “Stigmatizing Carbon Use”

Making Progress on Climate in the Trump Years

nueromarketingTrump’s election is a huge setback for the transition away from fossil fuels.    Obama’s policy initiatives relating to oil and climate are very likely to be reversed.   Carbon taxes will not rise, the federal electric vehicle tax credit will be either terminated or allowed to expire, fleet efficiency standards will be lowered, and oil infrastructure projects like the Keystone XL pipeline will be given the green light.

Clearly, environmentalists must continue to defend these policies as best we can.  But playing defense is not enough:  we must also find a way to make progress during these years, so that oil consumption is less in 2020 than it is now.

While Trump and the oil companies are masters of the political process right now, consumer perception is much harder for them to control.  It is in this field–the consciousness and perception of consumers– that we have a lot of room to run. If we can turn consumers’ hearts, minds, and pocketbooks away from fossil fuels, we can make important progress on climate despite a Trump presidency. Read more…

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How the Charger Can Beat the Nozzle

charger v nozzleLast year, Americans consumed 385 million gallons of gasoline a day, more than in 2014.   Despite the broader selection of good electric cars, U.S. sales of electric cars declined from 2014 to 2015 to less than 0.6% of total cars sold, while sales of gas-powered cars and SUVs set records.  President Obama’s 2011 goal of 1 million electric cars on the road by 2015 fell short by more than 600,000 vehicles.

As long as there is strong consumer demand for gasoline and gasoline-powered cars, oil producers and gasoline refiners will continue drilling for oil and refining gasoline and enjoying consistent profits and popular support while doing so.

By contrast, sustained and consistent reduction in the demand for gasoline will eventually cause oil production and gasoline refining operations to grind to a halt, regardless of what Congress or Shell Oil decide.

How can a major reduction in consumer demand for gasoline be brought about? Read more…

Interview with Ian Monroe, Founder of Oroeco, Social Network for Carbon Reduction

ian-monroeIan Monroe is the founder of Oroeco, a pioneering social network focused on voluntary carbon reduction.  I interviewed him regarding the challenges of convincing consumers to reduce their carbon use. The interview has been condensed.

 

Matthew Metz (MNM): What motivated you to start Oroeco?

Ian Monroe (IM):        Part of the motivation is just doing anything and everything I can to help solve climate change.  I grew up on a small organic farm in Northern California and have seen the effects of climate change in drought and wild fires.

I have worked in international development on renewable energy and climate solutions throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe. Communities within the fringe of poverty appreciate that climate change is really a social justice and racial justice issue. Climate change  is a tremendous human issue which intersects with everything I care about.

We now have some amazing technology and social networking tools that allow us to connect information with incentives to shift behavior, but we are not really using these technology tools yet to shift our behavior around climate change. Read more…

Are You Secretly Invested in Oil?

resized cars platform dollarsConscientious citizens the world over are disgusted by the oil industry, hating the environmental destruction, greed, corruption, violence, and political repression it spawns. They refuse to purchase shares of oil companies because they do not want to invest in a destructive industry.  Many support the growing movement which lobbies governments, foundations, and other large shareholders to divest their oil company holdings.

Yet, most such citizens, along with 99% of car owners, have a substantial, long-term investment in the oil industry parked in their driveway.   Each gasoline or diesel-powered car represents a consistent, long-term source of cash flow for the industry.   Fueling that car (assuming the U.S. national averages of 25 miles per gallon and 15,000 miles driven per year) requires about 600 gallons a year or 9000 gallons over the average 15 year life of the car.  Those 9000 gallons translate into about $18,000 in cash flow to the oil industry and about 225,000 pounds of CO2 released into the air.

The projected cash flows from gas-powered cars underpin oil companies’ exploration and drilling.  Without the steady, long-term cash flows provided by consumption of gasoline, the enormously capital-intensive oil exploration and drilling projects would become financially untenable and grind to a halt.   The petroleum reserves of oil companies, especially in unspoiled and difficult to access areas, would become worthless and go untapped.  For the oil companies, your gasoline-powered car is money in the bank.

People who buy new gasoline cars not only prop up the income projections of oil companies, they send a message to car manufacturers that electric cars aren’t wanted.  They send a message to governments that building a charging infrastructure can be further delayed, and to oil companies that it will be business as usual for a long time to come.   They perpetuate an unhealthy and unsustainable status quo.

Until recently, conscientious citizens could fairly claim, “What alternative do we have?  We need to get around just like everyone else.”  That excuse is losing force.  Electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles now offer excellent alternatives to gas vehicles.  Many fully-electric cars, including the new Nissan Leaf and Tesla, offer more than 100 miles of range.  The Chevy Bolt, which will come onto the market in late 2016, will offer 200 miles of all-electric range and the space of a Toyota Corolla, at a cost of about $35,000   For those needing more range than a fully-electric car can offer, the plug-in BMW i3 with range extender provides 80 miles of electric range (sufficient for 95%+ of most vehicle trips), backed up by a small gasoline-powered engine for longer trips.   The operating cost of electric cars is less than for gasoline cars.  Even at today’s low gas prices, an electric car in the U.S. costs about $0.03 per mile in energy cost, compared to about $.10 per mile for a gas car.  In most of Europe, the cost is about € 0.03 per km, compared to about € 0.10 per km for gas cars.

The environmental benefits of electric cars are enormous.    Most electric cars are three times as efficient as gas-powered cars per unit of energy.  Where electricity is predominantly generated from carbon-free sources, such as in France, Spain or Washington State, the electric car results in less than 10% of the carbon emissions caused by a petroleum-powered vehicle.  A small 3kW rooftop solar system (costing less than $10,000) provides sufficient energy to power an electric car for 30+ years.

The continued use of gasoline-powered cars is a major hindrance to the effort to meet the Paris climate goals of limiting global warming to 2 degrees.  Vehicle emissions constitute about 30% of total CO2 emissions in the U.S. and many other industrialized countries.

In Laudato Si, Pope Francis wrote:

A change in lifestyle could bring healthy pressure to bear on those who wield political, economic and social power. This is what consumer movements accomplish by boycotting certain products. They prove successful in changing the way businesses operate, forcing them to consider their environmental footprint and their patterns of production. When social pressure affects their earnings, businesses clearly have to find ways to produce differently. This shows us the great need for a sense of social responsibility on the part of consumers. ‘Purchasing is always a moral – and not simply economic – act.’ Today, in a word, ‘the issue of environmental degradation challenges us to examine our lifestyle.” (Laudato Si, Para. 206)

Pope Francis is right.  We need to use our buying power to express our values and our morals.  For conscientious people, that means disinvesting in the oil industry and buying electric cars or other non-petroleum transportation options instead.  If we are conscientious with our money, business will follow us to a cleaner, lower-carbon future.

 

The Gasoline Purge

gasoline guy super slim

Many people don’t like using gasoline, but feel that they are unable to live their lives without it.  Is it possible to wean oneself off gasoline?

Most people can’t stop using gasoline overnight.  A realistic goal for most everybody is making a consistent effort to cut gasoline consumption, and to buy a plug-in electric or plug-in hybrid car when replacing one’s current car.

The average American drives about 13,500 miles per year in a gas-powered car, and consumes about 540 gallons of gas and emits about 10,500 pounds of CO2 per year doing so.

If one has a gasoline car, the best way to cut gasoline consumption is to drive less.  Avoiding the use of one’s car by taking the bus, bicycling, and carpooling are the best strategies for reducing one’s gasoline use.

For most drivers, the biggest opportunity to reduce consumption comes when one is ready to trade in one’s old car. Electric and plug-in hybrid cars are rapidly improving, and offer solutions for most budgets and driving needs.  Chevy Volts offer 40 miles of electric driving with a gasoline motor that provides effectively unlimited range when the batteries are drained. Used Nissan Leafs now start at about $10,000 and offer about 75 miles driving range, sufficient for a commuter or second car.   New options, including plug-in SUVs, are coming into the market in almost every segment, providing for a wide range of choices.  Switching to an electric car or a plug-in hybrid can reduce one’s gasoline consumption by 75-100% in one shot.  Getting an electric car and solar panels at the same time can allow a person to drive without polluting and without paying for fuel.

By contrast, buying a new gasoline-powered car is buying into years of throwing 10,000 pounds or more of CO2 into the air every year and to handing over $1500 or more every year to the oil companies.

The key is to make a consistent effort to reduce one’s gasoline consumption, especially when purchasing a car.   If we can make large reductions in our gasoline these changes, and lead our friends, neighbors, and co-workers to do so as well, we can make an important contribution to reducing the climate crisis.

Interview with Rob Shirkey, Proponent of Gas Pump Warning Labels

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Rob Shirkey

In my last post, I discussed a new initiative from Canada to mandate the inclusion of warning labels on gas pumps.  Today, I interview the guiding force behind the campaign, Robert Shirkey, Executive Director of Toronto-based Our Horizon.  The text below is a summary of our interview, not a transcript.

Q.  How do  you assess  consumer consciousness regarding gasoline?

A.   The act of pumping gas is normalized, habitual, and automatic. We scarcely even think about gasoline, and have complacent about using it.  We need to bring the conversation about gasoline and carbon reduction closer to the end user.

To the extent we think about the global warming problem, we tend to think of it as a problem caused by industry, not by ourselves.

The goal of the sticker campaign is to shake up the complacency with which we view gasoline and create demand for alternatives.

While our goal is not to create guilt, if the end user does feel guilt, that helps establish conditions where change comes from.  Change comes from dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Q.    Are there sufficiently viable alternatives to gasoline right now?  Is it fair to ask people not to use gasoline before there are viable alternatives?

“If you make them want it, then you get to build it, then they will come.” If we keep on buying the old internal combustion engine, then it will take longer for better alternative vehicles to come to market. If you can signal to a producer broader market interest, you are signaling to them an opportunity to produce at greater economies of scale.

The sticker will create a thirst for better alternatives.  You make people want it first.

As long as consumers are complacent, we will not get the alternatives we want.  Complacency doesn’t drive change.  Consumers’ distance from the global warming problem perpetuates the status quo.  If consumers become dissatisfied with the status quo, they will demand better alternatives.

Q. Why have the mainstream environmental organizations not asked their membership more directly not to drive gasoline-powered cars?

A.  There is an ideological blindspot, a disconnect.The narrative popular with many activists is that there are big, bad evil corporations responsible for global warming.

If there is a narrative that we are all conflicted, that we are all part of the problem, it is harder to go to a protest and shake your fist.  The real enemy is inertia and the status quo in which consumers are comfortable using gasoline.

Sure, there are some bad apples in the petroleum industry, but our challenge is systemic inertia, not cartoonish big, bad corporations.  This narrative is more complex, but more honest.  I think it will be more effective.

Q. Where do things stand with labeling in San Francisco and Berkeley?  What do you think will be the first jurisdiction in the world to actually adopt the warning label requirement into law?

A.  There is a group in San Francisco and Berkeley that I have been advising.They haven’t yet implemented a labeling law yet, but they are at the tail end of the legislative process, and we are looking at another month or two before it is complete.  In West Vancouver, they recently passed a resolution in favor of climate change stickers on all gas pumps throughout Canada.

Many jurisdictions are reluctant to mandate the use of stickers now because of the threat of litigation.  No one municipality has as of yet been willing to be first, but I believe a number will be willing once the law is decided that municipalities do have jurisdiction to require warning labels.

In West Vancouver, the mayor was formerly a petroleum distributor, and he has said that he will voluntarily put the warning stickers on the gas pumps he owns.  Some consumers might want to support gas stations that voluntarily use the stickers.  Voluntary placement of stickers could be a big growth area for the sticker movement.

Q.  Is the time right for a gasoline boycott or similar coordinated withdrawal of gasoline purchasing?  When will the time be right? How could it be achieved?

A. I wouldn’t go the boycott route. But it would introduce another perspective and be an interesting downstream intervention.  We need to look at where fossil fuels companies get their revenue, which is from markets.  The only reason that pipelines, tar sands, and oil drilling occur is because there is a market for the product.  If we take away the market, all of these problems will disappear.

Gas Pump Warning Labels Push Consumers to Reject Gasoline

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Our Horizon, a Toronto-based environmental group led by Rob Shirkey, is campaigning throughout Canada and the U.S. to enact laws requiring warning labels on gas pumps which inform consumers about the environmental consequences of using gasoline.   The campaign is gaining traction.  Berkeley and San Francisco governments have given preliminary approval to the idea and are in the process of drafting the warning label regulations.  The City of West Vancouver recently passed a resolution favoring the warning labels.

In a stirring TEDx talk and on the ourhorizon.org website, Shirkey argues that the labels confront the consumer with the severe yet distant impacts of climate change, thereby counteracting the total lack of feedback between the use of carbon and its consequences.  Labelhigh-Oceans-300x300He also says that the warning labels “take a problem [climate change] of diffuse origins and locate responsibility right in the palm of your hand.”

Shirkey argues strongly for the gasoline consumer’s central role in combating climate change:

“We may worry about climate change, oil sands, pipelines, etc., but we rarely question the simple act of pumping gas. There is a complete disconnect. The act of going to a gas station and filling up a car has been normalized for several generations. The warning labels take this unexamined, automatic act and problematize it. In creating a sense of dissatisfaction with the prevailing mobility solution, they stimulate demand for alternatives. The labels disrupt the status quo, shake us out of our sense of complacency, and provide impetus for us to do better. label-low_4-300x300They are a catalyst for change.

Discourse around climate change in Canada tends to overlook end-use in favour of focusing on oil companies, points of extraction (e.g. oil sands, offshore drilling) or means of transportation (e.g. pipelines, shipping). Unfortunately, the uncomfortable reality is that we all share in responsibility for this problem.   Indeed, the vast majority of greenhouse gases come from end-use; emissions from extraction and processing pale in comparison to emissions from vehicle combustion.

[W]hile a diversity of approaches is important, there is a risk that in framing the [CO2 pollution]  issue as an exclusively upstream problem, we actually distance ourselves from it and perhaps unintentionally perpetuate the status quo through demand-side complacency. A complacent, disconnected marketplace is unlikely to affect change upstream; engaging consumer demand can help us to finally address these issues in a more meaningful way.” (p.17)

The labeling campaign has attracted vigorous opposition. The Western States Petroleum Association, an oil-industry lobbying group, said the plan imposes “onerous restrictions” on businesses and “compels speech in violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”   A Berkeley councilmember said that the labeling ordinance is a “feel-good measure” that would “increase people’s guilt without giving them useful action.”

As electric cars and other transportation solutions become increasingly viable, consumer perceptions of gasoline will play a key role in determining the longevity of gasoline as the world’s dominant transportation fuel.  By graphically and repetitively reminding gasoline consumers of the environmental damage that gasoline use causes, gas pump warning labels can help shift consumer demand to other fuels and technologies and speed up gasoline’s demise.

Can a Recommended Carbon Limit Do for Carbon what Recommended Daily Allowances Do for Food?

Carbon DietWhat policies can bridge the divide between the public’s concern about the climate crisis and their unwilling-ness to pay additional taxes on energy?

Recent  New York Times polling found that 83% of Americans (including 61% of Republicans) believe that global warming will be a serious world problem if nothing is done about it.    The public’s high level of concern about global warming does not translate into willingness to pay more for carbon.  The poll found 63% of the public opposed to higher gasoline taxes, and 74% opposed to higher electricity taxes.

One low-cost, high-return approach would be for the government to set and promote voluntary guidelines and targets for individual carbon emissions limits similar to the “recommended daily allowances” the FDA sets for calorie and sodium intake.  The Recommended Carbon Limit (RCL) for Americans could be set, for example, at 27,500 pounds (12.5 metric tons) of CO2 emissions per year (30% below the existing U.S. per capita average or more than 50% above the European average), and could be reduced 5% annually from there.   Just as with food’s “nutrition facts” box, the RCL could be paired with a labeling campaign, which could, for example, inform consumers at the gas pump that using a gallon of gas emits 20 lbs of CO2, or state on their electric bills how much CO2 was used to generate their electricity.

The purpose of the RCL would be to raise consumers’ awareness of their carbon emissions and how those emissions contribute to the world’s CO2 problem, and to encourage consumers to set limits on their emissions.

Establishing an RCL would generate enormous controversy and debate about the individual’s duty to conserve carbon, the role of government in setting carbon limits, what the appropriate carbon limits should be, and whether there should be different limits depending upon where one lives.  These debates would highlight the consumer’s role in carbon reduction and raise awareness of key carbon-reduction issues that receive little public attention.  The debates would also highlight key issues hindering carbon reduction efforts, such as many communities’ dependence on coal-generated power, poor mass-transit in suburban and rural area, and the difficulties of financing home weatherization and solar panel installation.

The RCL would likely be more politically popular than carbon taxes.  Americans’ visceral opposition to higher taxes would be avoided.  The limits would be set without regard to personal wealth, and would therefore be more egalitarian than gas taxes, which fall harder on the poor than the wealthy.  The limits would be completely voluntary.

RCLs would bring out into the open the issue that has long been obscured in public debates—whether individuals’ use of carbon should have limits.  Carbon limits should have the imprimatur of government, because of government’s unparalleled reach and credibility, and because it is important that the entire population understand that everyone needs to do his or her part in solving the CO2 problem.

We are running out of time to deal with the climate crisis.  A clear message from the government to consumers about their role in addressing their carbon emissions is both critical and long overdue.  Just as the FDA’s recommended daily allowances help people establish a healthy food diet, RCLs are necessary to help us establish a healthy carbon diet.

DEMAND FOR OIL CAN DECREASE DESPITE LOW GAS PRICES

gas nooseOil companies’ share prices tumbling.  Fracking and oil exploration projects cancelled.   Environmentalist dreams? No, these are today’s headlines caused by falling oil prices.

But what about the demand side?  Will low gas prices cause consumers to use more gas and emit more carbon?    While the supply-and-demand curves of economics textbooks and some survey evidence suggest that they will, it is hardly a foregone conclusion that gasoline demand and usage must increase if gas prices remain low.  For example, bus ridership in King County, Washington is up, despite service cuts and gas prices well below last year’s. Nissan Leaf sales in December 2014 were up nearly 20% over a year earlier.

A fundamental challenge for climate activists is to find a way to continually depress gasoline demand in the face of low prices.   Reducing gasoline demand in a low-price environment represents a different challenge from the one climate activists thought they would be fighting.  For most of the past decade, high carbon prices caused by carbon taxes and/or “peak oil” were viewed as the key motivators for consumers to embrace renewable fuels.  Now, with gas prices around $2 a gallon, carbon taxes politically infeasible, and vast new supplies of fracked oil depressing prices, a new non-price-based strategy is required.

Price is only one of many motivators of consumer decisions. For example, Apple smartphones are both the most costly and the best-selling phones in the market, because Apple’s products represent the person that many of us want to be and the lifestyle we want to have—clean, elegant, and powerful.

The same logic can be brought to bear with respect to gasoline cars and gasoline usage.

As evidence of global warming becomes more pervasive, the use of gasoline becomes more morally questionable and undesirable.   Pope Francis recently said that “man has slapped nature in the face” by causing climate change.  If Francis’ statement can somehow be personalized and internalized—such that we feel each of us are personally giving an unkind “slap in the face” to nature when we buy gasoline-powered cars and use gasoline, then consumers will embrace alternatives.  If climate activists do our job well, the clean, elegant, and powerful person will not want a gas-powered car or to be seen pumping gas.

Translating the moral argument into a consumer argument against the purchase of gasoline-powered cars and gasoline is feasible, but it will require a different moral approach and vocabulary than we presently use.   We need to move away from an analysis of the relative costs of conventional versus green technologies, and instead emphasize an approach to consumer choice based on our personal values.

While a values-based argument to consumers relating to energy choices must be made with subtlety and care, it must nonetheless be made, even if consumer and industry sensibilities are ruffled.  Unnecessary burning of carbon is, as the Pope says, a slap against nature, and such violence should not be condoned or ignored.  This is particularly so as new technologies, such as the long-range electric car, become widely available over the next several years, making the unnecessary burning of carbon all the more indefensible.

There are many forms that a values-based consumer-oriented campaign against gasoline can take.   One nice example is an emerging campaign to put climate-warning stickers on gas pumps.  Messages against gasoline purchase can be spread through social media, places of worship, and ballot measures.  Theater and other arts can undermine our deep psychological dependence on oil.   The main thrust of these campaigns is to confront consumers and convince them that filling their gas tank is antithetical to their own values and unnecessary.

Low gasoline prices are in many respects a consequence of our success in limiting demand for oil. The more success we have in limiting energy demand, the lower we should expect those prices to go.    We need to find new pathways to the consumer’s sense of self and values, and then work with those values to power the transition away from fossil fuels.

Imaging CO2: An interview with laser imager Vic Miller

laser car imaging

No one has yet captured an image of the CO2 spewing from car tailpipes.  As discussed in my last post, such video images could revolutionize how we think about the copious carbon pollution (20 lbs. of CO2/gallon) we emit when we drive.

To better understand how and when we might expect to get images of CO2 tailpipe emissions, I interviewed Vic Miller, an engineering post-doc at Stanford University, and an expert in laser imaging of gases. Vic is working on a technique to image CO2 from a tailpipe (among other projects).  His team’s laser-enhanced video of a match strike was recently featured in the New York Times.

Vic Miller

Vic Miller

Q. Why has CO2 imaging been so elusive?  What are the principal technical obstacles?

A.   CO2 is an infrared active molecule, meaning it absorbs (and emits) light in the infrared (IR).  And so I’m pretty sure qualitative measurements or images of CO2 emissions can be made with currently available off-the-shelf infrared cameras that are sensitive in the mid-infrared.  The tricky part is being quantitative – or getting an actual measurement of CO2 concentration with well-characterized uncertainty bounds.  This is what the NASA OCO-2 satellite does – it’s a quantitate instrument for measuring CO2 concentration.  The challenges lie in CO2 spectroscopy (i.e., understanding how CO2 absorbs light in the infrared, and what other species also absorb in the infrared and how they could interfere with CO2 spectroscopy) – and there are engineering challenges with making good measurements (is the signal on your detector actually what you think it is?).

Q.  What are the promising new techniques/technology for imaging?

A.  New infrared light sources (e.g., lasers) and infrared detectors are constantly being improved – these new pieces will provide access to better wavelengths (i.e., wavelengths that provide a more sensitive measurement with less interference) for CO2 detection.

Q.  Is it possible to measure it with non-visual means to model how CO2 would move out of a tailpipe?

A.  CO2 measurements can be made relatively cheaply with a capnograph.  CO2 measurements are readily made in medicine to monitor patients’ respiratory health (and other conditions) – the same thing could be done near a tailpipe. Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) could be used to model and observe tailpipe emissions.

Q. When do you think the new imaging techniques might be ready for providing car tailpipe images?

A.  We might be able to have a short little paper out in maybe a year – would like to do it in 6 months, but we probably won’t finish it that quickly.

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