Carbon Consciousness & Action

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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…

Why We Liberals Deserved to Lose the Election

We, meaman-in-mirror-croppsedning upper-income, highly-educated folk living mainly on the coasts, deserved to lose the election.  Most of us participated in and benefited from the mismanagement of the country for many years.  We each had our little prosperous niches, many of us making over $200,000 a year.  To pick on my own group,  trial lawyers, a key Hillary constituency, we honed our communication skills with the sole end of getting huge personal injury damage awards (on which we were 40% partners), and utilized our political clout mainly to maintain laws permitting our big verdicts and paydays.   We never used our fabulous oratorical abilities or political clout, however, to protest a plant closing or speak on behalf of the carpenters, factory workers, maintenance men, and Walmart clerks who were getting squeezed.  We worked the political and legal system almost exclusively for our own benefit.  The same could be said for many others in the U.S. coastal elite, who secured prosperous and comfortable niches in medicine, finance, pharmaceuticals, software, academia, and other areas much less subject to foreign competition.

The sympathy and support we extended to others mainly went to minorities.  It did not extend to lower-income whites, the people most affected by global trade deals and job competition with low-wage illegal immigrants.

Inequality has been rising sharply in this country for a long time.    The design of our economy is not working for most people—the global trade deals and free labor markets aren’t leading to broad-based prosperity. But we liberals have scarcely challenged that design because we prosper from it—our narrow economic interest group is protected within it.   We  might well protest a far-away police killing or oil platform, but it would never occur to us to protest over a nearby plant moving to Mexico or a call center moving a hundred jobs to India, let alone seek to modify any existing trade deal.

Working class whites reasonably perceived that Trump was the first politician in a long time (other than Bernie Sanders) who was paying any attention to them, who said that he would put their interests first, who offered a solution to the economic stresses caused by globalization and immigrant labor (other than the standard Democratic Party line of telling/helping people affected to get more education.)

The white working people in this country aren’t stupid and most aren’t racist.  They are angry and bitter for being ignored for so long.  They have been without effective political representation or leadership for decades.  Shame on us for ignoring them.  When they tried to adapt “Black Lives Matter” to “All Lives Matter” they were derided as racist.  We should have embraced their slogan instead.

So where do we go from here?  A lot of it is about jobs.  Trump has said that he will put a lot of money into infrastructure and to creating opportunities in rural areas.  We need to support interventions in the market to create higher-income manufacturing jobs in outlying and rural areas, especially where they coincide with our interests, such as jobs in green tech.  We need a workforce of millions to make and install solar panels, wind turbines, long distance electrical transmission wires, electric charging stations, electric cars, and batteries.   Let’s push Trump to include this in his plans to increase infrastructure spending, and show the country the enormous benefits that investment in these areas.  Many red states such as Texas and Iowa that voted for Trump have done extremely well with wind, and would be open to such appeals.  There may be other similar opportunities that we can exploit to help American workers in the coming years.

Beyond policy, we need to step out of our wealthy, educated enclaves and make common cause with people across the economic and class divide.  Invite our plumber to dinner.    Do a program with a church or civic organization in an outlying community.  Get beyond our own narrow circle and see what we can do to help, or at least understand.

The Democratic Party is supposed to be the common people’s party.   We walked away from the common people, and they walked away from us.

We need to walk toward the people again, leaving our assumptions and prejudices behind.

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…

Tesla’s Model 3 and the Future of Gasoline


The unprecedented 275,000 pre-orders for the Tesla Model 3 in the three days since its March 31 unveiling signals a tectonic shift in the dominance of gasoline as the country’s principal transportation fuel.  The stunning number of Model 3 pre-orders, more than 2.5 times the number of electric vehicles sold in 2015, suggests there is enormous pent-up consumer demand for electric vehicles offering range, performance, and affordability comparable to (or better than) equivalent gas-powered vehicles.

What does the Model 3’s early success mean for auto manufacturers, oil companies, consumers, and governments, the four pillars supporting America’s 375 million gallon-per-day gasoline consumption habit?

For carmakers, the Model 3 pre-sales are a wake-up call after sluggish sales for electric vehicles in 2015.  With the partial exception of GM and Nissan, most major car manufacturers have invested halfheartedly in the design, production, and sales of electric cars.  They will now be under increased pressure to increase investment in electric cars and battery technology, or risk being left behind in a major transformation of the auto industry, especially given Tesla’s big lead in technology and its construction of the Gigafactory battery plant.   GM and Nissan, both of which have 200+ mile range economy cars expected to reach market about a year before the Model 3, must be wondering whether the enthusiasm for the Audi-like Model 3 will also extend to their downmarket offerings.   Apple, rumored to be working on an electric car to rival Tesla’s for launch in the Year 2020, is likely encouraged by Tesla’s success to bring their own offering to market.

The shift towards electric vehicles signaled by Model 3 pre-sales represents a significant threat to the long term interests of oil companies.  California’s 200,000 electric cars reduced gasoline demand in California by 56 million gallons in 2015.  If electric cars become popular with consumers, as the Model 3 pre-sales indicate they will, then consumer demand for oil will slip and oil companies’ investments in petroleum reserves look increasingly uncertain.  We can look for the oil industry to defend itself by funding studies and propaganda questioning the value and environmental benefits of electric cars, much like the tobacco industry did when smoking came under attack in the 1960s.  We will also see well-financed lobbying efforts from the oil industry seeking to stop public dollars going into investments in public charging stations and subsidies for electric car purchases.

Governments will be increasingly challenged to respond to increased demand from their constituents for access to convenient electric vehicle charging, although Tesla is adding to its own charging network to help meet the increased demand from Tesla customers.   Highway rest areas and public buildings will increasingly be targeted for charging stations.  Urban dwellers will demand legislation to encourage apartment building owners to make charging access the norm in apartment parking areas.  At the same time, governments will need to come up with a mechanism to replace tax revenue from the gasoline tax, because an increasing proportion of drivers are avoiding gasoline purchases entirely.  Carbon taxes may become more palatable to the public, as alternatives to gasoline become commonplace.

Finally, the Tesla Model 3 raises many questions for consumers, who are probably the most important players determining the future of the electric car. Will consumers on the pre-sale list wait 2-4 years for Tesla to deliver their car?  Does the Model 3 raise the standard for affordable electric cars so high, that would-be purchasers of the Chevy Bolt, Nissan Leaf, and other electric cars with a 200 mile range decide to wait for the Tesla Model 3 to become widely available?    Is Tesla’s brand and mystique the real reason for the huge pre-sale numbers, or do consumers simply want a quality, reasonably spacious, and affordable electric car with a 200+ mile range, regardless of brand?

The aftershocks of Tesla’s stunning Model 3 pre-sales will be felt throughout the auto industry for many years.  How automakers, oil companies, governments, and consumers respond to the Model 3 will shape the auto industry for the decade to come, and will determine whether our consumption of oil falls sharply by 2030, as it must if we are to meet our goals to reduce America’s CO2 output to the levels required by the Paris Climate Accords.      

The Emerging Anti-Gasoline Coalition

coalition graphicA powerful new coalition is emerging to push accelerated phase-out of gasoline.   The coalition is comprised of broad sectors of the public who are demanding clean air, climate activists, clean tech businesses and enthusiasts, and people concerned about the strategic and financial consequences of oil imports.  It has the power  to break the dominance of gasoline as the country’s principal transportation fuel.

The arrival of a new generation of electric and plug-in hybrid cars makes radical reduction of gasoline use feasible.  If social attitudes and morays about personal pollution can be altered, extraordinary change in consumer buying habits and tolerance of gas taxes is possible. 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.


Interview with James Turner, Communications Head of Greenpeace

I interviewed James Turner, Communications Chief for Greenpeace about how consumer consumption patterns can be changed, and role of major environmental organizations such as Greenpeace in promoting that change.  MM

james turner photo

 What is the way forward in moving consumers to curtail their gasoline usage?

JT: Greenpeace doesn’t work on the consumer side in terms of trying to change personal behaviour. You know, we sort of suggest things that people can do if they’re looking to reduce that footprint, but our attitude is very much, the most effective thing you can do is to lobby your Congressman or woman in order to change the legislation, to change the top-down measures that could, for example, increase engine efficiency or increase the use of public transport or cycling in urban centres.

So that’s very much where our focus is right now. I think that historically there has been some hesitation or some fear, I suppose, about talking directly to people (I prefer to use the word “people,” rather than “consumers”) about their personal choices and personal behaviour – fear of being seen as lecturing them or preaching at them.

Personally, I feel as if the time has come for a grown up, adult conversation with our supporters and with other members of the public, which looks at that construct actually of the idea of the consumer and starts a conversation about how we construct our identity and our measure of success in the modern world. And I do think it’s time for a new conversation where that becomes replaced with how happy you are, how much time you spend with your family, and how healthy you feel.

MM.   Can you just give me a little bit of history on the origins of that original decision to avoid talking to consumers about lifestyle? Where did that decision come from and how long has it been in place for?

JT.  I’m not sure there was ever a specific decision on that. Greenpeace’s modus operandi since the early 70s is to look at very iconic examples of environmental harm and then lobby the decision makers and the power brokers to fix them or to introduce, for example, a ban on nuclear waste dumping at sea, which was a huge environmental crime that was occurring in the 1970s, and so we’ve continued with that kind of strategy.

The other thing to remember is, we are a relatively small organization. We don’t have the advertising budgets of a government or a large corporation, and so our ability to reach large numbers of people is quite limited, and I think we feel as if it is the best strategic use of our resources to try to effect these top-level decisions which can have a large effect over huge numbers of people.   Certainly in the 1970s and 1980s we relied almost entirely on traditional media and broadcast media, and news media in particular, which is not a good format for behaviour change messages. You know, they are looking for a cause, a decision maker, a conflict, and that doesn’t fit well with an address to the public at large.

So, I think it’s a combination of our resources, our size, but also the way in which we have campaigned historically that’s led us to this point.

I do wonder if we were to work on behaviour change if we would be able to measure success and progress in such a distinct way, and I wonder whether or not that’s one of the reasons behind this – that if you’re trying to essentially change behaviour, but also culture, really, public opinion, that can be very hard to measure; it can also be very, very slow. It can take 5/ 10/ 20 years. Sometimes our planning cycles and the way we measure success needs something a little bit more quickly than that.

MM:  At what point do you think conditions are right for more of a mainstream push towards consumers on behavior change? What needs to be in place or what needs to happen for that to really start to work and be effective?

JT:   Well, I think one of those things has already happened, and one of those things that I’m thinking of is the move from traditional media, the very high concentration of power and influence amongst a relatively small number of media outlets being really collapsed by the arrival of social media, social sharing, peer-to-peer sharing, and I think that now gives us an advantage or a leg up against the large corporations and the large channels of yesteryear. So that part has already happened.

The second thing that I can think of is actually whether or not a Sierra Club or a Greenpeace is the right organization to be doing this, and the reason I say that, certainly in the US and this is true in the UK as well, is that the environment has become a highly politicized issue and those groups are seen as on the left. Now, whether or not that’s correct or not, environmental action and the groups who campaign on it are seen very much on the sort of far left on the spectrum.

So, for one of those groups to be the messenger for any kind of message on personal behaviour change, I think we get very polarized very quickly and you might see some quite vitriolic attacks from, you know, the GOP and potentially from their supporters in the country. So, what I think needs to happen is for perhaps a new, less politicized organization to emerge which is based on some, you know, universal tenets: things like the fact that spending time in our community and with our family is, you know, makes us happy and makes us more fulfilled.

Things like – I know, this may sound slightly heretical – the idea of owning less stuff, or buying less stuff as a root to wellbeing, you know, that is not by nature a political statement, but I mean, it would be seen as highly controversial for Greenpeace to say that at this time.

So, maybe it is, you know, about spinoffs of these organizations or entirely new organizations emerging to say these things, but I also think they would then require funding, they would require donations, and it’s interesting to think about how they could get the visibility and the news, sort of, profile of a Greenpeace or or a Sierra Club if they are working in this new space.

MM: It was a very strong campaign against Shell and there was even action at gas stations, but you didn’t quite take it to the point of “Don’t buy.” It didn’t quite make it there.

JT: I think consumers want to take action, they want to do things, but I think sometimes the environmental groups are in quite a difficult position with regards to what you can actually have people do, and that the received wisdom on boycotts is that it needs to be huge in order to have any direct financial impact, and that, in fact, if your boycott is ineffective, or if it goes on a long time and not many people engage with it, then it actually make you look weaker to the oil company. So, that’s some of the qualifications we have for that.

One of the big challenges I think we face is to not sell this as a sacrifice or as a thing to do on behalf of others, but to actually make the benefits of this more visible and attach prestige and status to these behaviors in the same way that we have around driving fast cars.  I do see examples of that happening in California, in Los Angeles, where a lot of cultural thought leaders and artists and creative people are starting to leave these different behaviours, but I think it will take some time to trickle down and I think it needs to be accelerated massively and I think that there is a role for art and culture to do that, but I also think there is a role for the creative industry in terms of advertising and marketing.

Advertising traditionally worked by making behaviors or choices seem attractive and desirable, whereas campaigning normally works by making people feel worried and gloomy and depressed. And it’s very interesting that certainly the campaigning organizations, the charities don’t seem to learn an awful lot from advertising, even though it’s clearly the most effective form of communication out there, and I think they should learn some of those tricks and that the consequences of that in selling the solution, selling the alternatives rather than kind of carping on about the problem so much, but again, that’s very difficult for an organization like Greenpeace to do.

It is very possible to think of an ad where fossil fuels are denigrated and seen as socially unacceptable, but which big advertising agencies take on that brief when its other clients are Ford and GM? So, you know, there’s an awful lot of vested interest and money on the other side.

Bringing Paris Home

logo_copcoltura (3)American households, if mobilized, hold the key to achieving enormous CO2 emissions cuts, well beyond what President Obama is offering at the Paris Climate Conference.

Paris represents the traditional top-down approach to carbon reduction, where leaders at a “summit” announce broad emissions reduction goals which they promise to implement over long time periods.  While climate summits such as Paris are indispensable, their essential complement is a bottom-up commitment of the citizenry to reduce carbon emissions.

The U.S. pledge at Paris is to reduce U.S. CO2 emissions by 28% by 2025 relative to 2005 levels.  This level of reduction can be achieved by closing coal-fired power plants, increasing vehicle efficiency standards, and implementing other measures which will not require new legislation nor significantly affect consumers.   Unfortunately, the U.S. pledge, combined with the anticipated pledges of other nations, will be insufficient to meet the goal of stabilizing global temperatures at 2 degrees above present temperatures by 2050, unless followed by draconian cuts after 2025. In short, we are pledging too little and leaving the hard work until later.

There is a way that emissions cuts can be realized sooner: An enormous, largely untapped source of CO2 emissions cuts is in the hands of citizens like you and me. Households’ use of energy to fuel cars and heat and light homes is responsible for nearly half of all U.S. CO2 emissions.  If the CO2 emitted in the manufacture and transport of consumer goods and services is factored in, consumers account for approximately 71% of all CO2 emissions.  U.S. per capita CO2 emissions are 17 metric tons annually, among the highest in the world, and nearly double the European average. Read more…

Aos Meus Amigos Brasileiros

Aos meus queridos amigos no Brasil,Brazil flag face

Muitos brasileiros vem visitando meu blog. Fico contente em ver que ha interesse na conexao entre o consumidor e a producao de gas carbonico. Os brasileiros estao cientes de sua propria contribuicao a geracao de gas carbonico? Existe alguma pressao social para que a diminuam? O governo, propagandas, ou a midia promove essa atitude? Existe ja alguma estrategia que tenha funcionado?

Obrigado pelo seu interesse, e espero ouvir suas opinioes em breve.

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