Carbon Consciousness & Action

Archive for the tag “Climate Strategies”

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…


gasoline pumpThe timely transition away from fossil fuel-powered transportation in U.S. will not happen as a result of government edict, high taxes, high fuel prices, or running out of oil.  As long as the vast majority of consumers use gasoline and the oil companies retain their financial grip on Congress and state legislatures, high gasoline taxes and gasoline bans will remain pipe dreams.   New oil extraction technologies, vast proven oil reserves, and regular discoveries of new oil fields virtually assure that cheap oil will be with us for decades.

Rather, the transition to clean transportation will occur because consumers reject gasoline-powered cars in favor of electric cars.  Some of the motivation to reject gasoline cars will be driven by price and cost—long-range electric cars will soon attain price parity with gasoline-powered cars, and electricity is already considerably cheaper than gasoline on a cost-per-mile basis.  Most of the motivation for rejecting gas cars will be lifestyle-driven—mainstream consumers will come to see gasoline use as an unnecessary, dirty, anti-social act, and will prefer the “clean” feeling associated with driving an electric car.

America’s 300,000+ electric car owners are key leaders in the transition away from gasoline to electric cars.  We have first-hand experience with electric car technology, with charging, and have been leading advocates for building out the charging-station network.  Electric car owners already have strong associations and social media networks where we share information and collaborate on policy. We have proven our commitment to a cleaner environment by “putting our money where our mouth is” and buying electric.

Electric car owners should not be satisfied solely with reduction or elimination of our own car’s pollution, and in increasing the convenience of charging an electric car, although these are very important goals.  We also need to become leaders in convincing our family, friends, co-workers, and company fleet managers to reject gasoline.

Now that electric cars are comparable to gas cars in terms of cost and convenience, the use of gasoline has become a lifestyle choice rather than a necessity.  As such, it is possible to convince fellow consumers make the shift away from gasoline.  The critical moment to push our family and friends to buy electric is when they are buying a new car.  We need to educate those considering buying cars about the pros and cons of the wide range of different electric and plug-in hybrid models, and encourage them to test drive or buy the models that best fit their needs and lifestyles.  There is a good plug-in model for just about every lifestyle and budget.  Car purchasers need to understand that the average gas-powered car will spew about 24,000 pounds of CO2 annually for each the next 10-15 years, and that they will soon start to feel embarrassment and guilt every time they go to the gas station or even drive their car.

We must be bold and proud about the benefits of clean electric living, and clear about the severe health and environmental effects of the widespread use of gasoline.  We need to spread the word that each gallon of gasoline used spews 20 lbs. of CO2 into the air, along with a toxic stew of known carcinogens and asthma triggers such as 1,3 butadiene, benzene, and tolulene.    We must spread the ethic of “owning your smoke,” the idea that the exhaust that comes out of the back of one’s car is the responsibility of the owner of that car, and not the responsibility of society at large (and our children) to deal with.

We also need to make our electric cars as carbon-free as possible, using solar panels on our roofs whenever possible to power them, thereby providing a ready answer to those who spout the old canard that “an electric-powered car is really a coal-powered car.”

Electric car owners are the key leaders in the budding consumer movement against gasoline.   We should be loud and proud about our commitment to avoiding gasoline, and diligent in pushing our friends and family to abandon it as well.  As our numbers grow, we will achieve a critical mass which will allow for more economies of scale in electric car production, more investment in the charging network, and more social pressure away from gasoline.

Our planet, and our children and grandchildren, need us to lead the movement away from gasoline, one consumer at a time.

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.

Is it Time to Send in the Clowns?


How can deeply ingrained civic habits be changed?  How can the pessimism inherent in collective action problems be overcome?

Antanas Mockus, upon becoming mayor of Bogota, Colombia in 1995, confronted Bogota’s epidemic levels of traffic fatalities with a unique blend of statistical analysis, street and performance art, and civic education.  Statistical analysis told Mockus that the key to reducing traffic deaths (and improving traffic circulation) was getting drivers to stop before reaching crosswalks and getting pedestrians to only cross in crosswalks.   Rather than hiring legions of traffic police to write tickets to drivers and pedestrians who violated these norms, Mockus hired 40 made-up street mimes to stop cars and buses from entering crosswalks, and to poke fun at offenders of crosswalk rules.  The streets became a massive stage for lighthearted education about traffic norms, with jay-walkers,  crowds on the street, and the mimes all engaged in the performance, and television and other media drawn to the spectacle and amplifying its message. Bogota pedestrians and motorists adopted the norms promoted by the mimes, and traffic deaths began to fall, successes widely reported by the media. The mimes proved so successful that Bogota’s ranks of mimes increased to 400, and traffic deaths in the city plunged by more than 50%.

The injection of mimes into Bogota’s traffic mess has become a famous example of “cultural acupuncture”–a shot of art/culture used to change behavior and heal social problems. Read more…

The Carbon Pledge

Carbon Pledge Classic PhotoI have contributed to the carbon pollution shrouding our Earth;

Now, therefore,

I pledge to no longer add to the problem;

I will cut my carbon use by 25% each of the next three years

I will offset the carbon I emit

I will encourage my friends to do the same

I will support policies which reduce carbon pollution.

I will do my share.

. . .

. . .

What is the responsibility of each of us to reduce carbon pollution?   The Carbon Pledge defines those responsibilities as reducing our personal carbon use substantially, offsetting the carbon we do use, and supporting policies that reduce carbon pollution. Read more…

Consumer Education Key to Climate Policy Progress

Getting consumers to accept personal responsibility for their carbon usage is a critical step in building a durable political coalition to address climate change.  Consumers who are concerned about their personal CO2 emissions are likely not only to reduce their emissions, they are much more likely to strongly back carbon taxes and other climate-friendly legislation.

Key messages of a consumer-directed campaign include:  “Each gallon of gas you use puts 20 pounds of CO2 into the air,” “the CO2 you put in the air stays in the air,” and “reduce the CO2 that you can, offset what you can’t.” Read more…

Moral Pricing of Carbon

While a carbon tax or other form of carbon pricing is stuck in our gridlocked political system, a psychic or moral price that will limit carbon usage can be established without need for congressional action.

The principal constraint on most consumers’ carbon usage now is their ability to afford fuel, and given that the price of energy is relatively low (driving a car costs less than $.20 a mile), energy cost is for most people a relatively weak inducement to substantially reduce their carbon usage relative to the convenience of car travel. Read more…

Do Gasoline Consumers Deserve a Free Pass?

While public pressure mounts on universities and pension funds to divest from oil companies because of their role in causing global warming, consumers that buy gas from the oil companies are getting a free pass.   As long as a person isn’t driving a large SUV or Hummer, his or her gasoline usage is considered beyond reproach.  No moral stigma is attached to filling the gas tank up on a weekly basis, even though those 15 gallons of gas are releasing about 300 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere.

There are four main reasons why personal gas consumption is not negatively judged—the subtle nature of carbon pollution, the necessity of a car for modern life, the ubiquity and scale of the problem, and the fact that most of us are afraid of being branded as hypocrites with respect to our own carbon usage. Read more…

Carbon Education for Consumers

Strategies for reducing global warming have focused mostly on stopping large oil infrastructure projects such as the Keystone XL pipeline, enacting carbon pricing strategies such as cap and trade, and promoting divestment from carbon extraction businesses.  Relatively little attention has been paid to effectively promoting voluntary carbon use reduction by American consumers, even though changing consumer carbon usage patterns holds the potential for enormous carbon emissions reductions.   On a per capita basis, Americans emit 17 metric tons (37,000 pounds) of CO2 per capita, roughly twice the European Union average and eight times as much as the Brazilian average.

The majority of Americans understand generally that it is important to conserve energy to help the environment, but lack the conceptual foundations to translate that notion into an understanding of personal CO2 emissions.  Consumers should be given the following basic conceptual tools to understand the volume of their carbon emissions: Using 1 gallon of gas releases 20 pounds of CO2 into the air; the 15 gallons in your car’s gas tank will spew 300 pounds of CO2;  1 kilowatt hour of electricity equals 2 pounds of CO2; 1 airplane mile = 1 pound of CO2.  A firm understanding these basic equivalencies, driven home by repetition, will give people a way to measure, understand and evaluate their personal carbon output, and the output of others.    Read more…

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