Make me change my ways

Individuals support policies they don’t live by voluntarily

Over at the New Yorker, James Surowiecki draws our attention to this oddity: The curious fact is that many people buying three-ton Suburbans for that arduous two-mile trip to the supermarket also want Congress to …

Toyota moves to corner the 'plug-in' market

Announces development plans

Plug-ins are on the way! We've said it many times, but then we aren't the world's leading auto maker. The Christian Science Monitor reports: Toyota's revelation Tuesday that it will develop a new "plug-in hybrid" - which uses a wall socket at night to charge and relies on an electric motor to go many miles before sipping any gasoline - could presage a major shift in automotive technology, some industry analysts say. Detroit's Big Three have each said the technology is being looked at - after years of outright dismissal. But Toyota's announcement was more significant because the company is presumed to have the technology to actually bring such cars to market, they say ... On Tuesday, the president of Toyota's North American subsidiary, Jim Press, said the company is looking at developing a plug-in vehicle that can "travel greater distances without using its gas engine." The technology would "conserve more oil and slice smog and greenhouse gases to nearly imperceptible levels." The latter claim assumes, of course, the electricity is greenhouse-gas free, which it will have to be if we are to avoid catastrophic global warming (though even running on current grid electricity, a plug in is much cleaner than a regular car). Looks like we may have a race for the first practical, consumer plug-in between Toyota and G.M. Targets can be troublesome things. If they're set for some distant future date, the target setter may not live long enough to see if they've been met. Interestingly, much discussion about tackling climate change anticipates having achieved something by the middle of this century. What's the target? Both the European Union (EU) and, at a national level, the United Kingdom have focused on a CO2 emissions cut of at least 60%, which is intended to reduce average global warming by 2°C. (The June G8 summit also spoke of an emissions cut of 50% globally, but only in the context of exploring such a goal and with no greenhouse gas stabilization target in mind.) What are the chances of meeting the 2° objective? Not likely, according to Malte Meinshausen of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, who presented the scientific evidence in a report of the 2005 Exeter climate change conference and who's been quoted since, both by UK government economic advisor Sir Nicholas Stern and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. His analysis of 11 climate sensitivity studies of the effect of global CO2 atmospheric concentrations on temperature shows that settling for a 60% cut in atmospheric CO2 (which corresponds to 550 parts per million by volume) leaves a probability between 63 and 99% of missing the 2°C target. Both the UK and EU proposals indicate that their emissions reduction targets might be toughened. Perhaps, like an athlete attempting the high jump, we are warming up at lower heights first. But scant evidence supports that luxury. Not only must we reduce anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, we need a timetable that reduces the risk of positive feedbacks and sink failures that could lead to runaway catastrophic climate change. In a democracy, it is difficult to convince voters that they should take actions, especially expensive ones, to avoid an as yet largely unseen and unquantifiable danger. How do you base a policy that is likely to have significant economic impacts on model data and forecasts that some might regard as guesswork? We only need to recall the false economy of not spending taxpayers' dollars on building up the New Orleans levees to realize how actions taken today could avert a long-range problem. Delay, combined with the risk that skeptics may accuse the Al Gores of this world of "crying wolf," could make tougher policies harder to adopt later. In setting a UK target, the government must also ask what the United Kingdom's share of the burden is. Its national target must necessarily relate to reductions in other countries, including the developing world, where industrial growth to alleviate poverty is increasing emissions, as foreshadowed in 1992 by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. We cannot make a random national calculation and throw it into the global pot of targets; rather, we have to determine what the global need is and figure out how to distribute it -- a calculation that must combine science with justice. A successful global climate change framework will have to pay as much attention to the latter as to the former; countries such as China and India will be more inclined to budge if developed countries fully embrace their own responsibilities. Why should anyone sign an agreement that cements their own disadvantage? The UK government is the first to take on this challenge, with publication of the draft Climate Change Bill in March of this year. Its leadership carries the responsibility to get emissions targets right. The final bill needs to make explicit the formula used to arrive at any target that government sets. That formula should tell us not only the size of the cake but also how we calculate our share of it. The draft bill proposes a figure that cannot be explained in terms of either criterion. If it did, that would surely boost confidence that the result is designed to solve the problem faster than we're creating it. I suspect I have set myself a target of living until I'm 97 to see what transpires. This post was created for, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Go Get ‘Em, Plugger

Plug-in hybrids would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, says new study Plug-in hybrid vehicles, long extolled here at Grist HQ, seem always to elicit one question from doubters: Wouldn’t running cars on electricity just mean more emissions …

Thames Fugit

England walloped by historic floods It’s a “summer of suffering” in England, as severe flooding wreaks havoc across the country. This weekend, floods in the central and southern part of the country left more than …

Sticker shocker

Cars are more expensive than you think

Everyone knows that cars are expensive, right? Still, it may come as a surprise to find out just how much money we spend getting from place to place. The cost of the car itself -- typically the second biggest purchase many families make in their lives -- is just the start. When you start adding in the cost of gasoline, and car insurance, and maintenance and repairs, and parking, and taxes to build new roads and maintain old ones, and license fees, and the medical costs of traffic accidents ... boy, I could go on all day ... suffice it to say, the zeros start adding up.

Speaking of rural communities

Renewable energy is good for them

Renewable energy is good for rural communities — at least in the UK: A study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, of community renewable energy projects in Britain has found that so far, …

New study finds that plug-in hybrids rule in all possible futures


If you haven’t already heard, yesterday saw the release of an important new report: In the most comprehensive environmental assessment of electric transportation to date, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and the Natural Resources …

Loan star

Making energy efficiency possible for cheapskate homeowners

Apropos of my recent realization that if I had bought a new furnace on credit rather than waiting to save up the cash I'd have saved a bundle of money over the last 5 years, here's something I've been meaning to write about for months: a Vancouver developer that came up with a smart -- I mean, diabolically smart -- financing scheme to build a super-efficient condo complex. (Proving, I suppose, biodiversivist's point that spreadsheets are, in fact, wonderful things.)

15 Green Cities

These metropolises aren’t literally the greenest places on earth — they’re not necessarily dense with foliage, for one, and some still have a long way to go down the path to sustainability. But all of …

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